Bear Mountain Suspension Bridge

Recently I got to spend a week in the Hudson River Valley, and while exploring the region I also crossed the Bear Mountain Suspension Bridge, which carries US 6/US 202 across the Hudson River between Rockland/Orange Counties and Westchester/Putnam Counties. At one point in time, specifically in 1924 and part of 1925, it held the record for the longest suspension bridge in the road. The bridge is flanked with a pedestrian walkway as well, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to park and walk across it. Granted, with storm clouds on the horizon, the more I walked out towards the middle the more I was being plastered against the railing by the force of the wind tunneling between the mountains. I didn’t go all the way across, I figured half way in those nerve-wracking conditions was good enough.

While I tend towards nature photography, I do enjoy some more architecturally flavored photography from time to time, playing with light and shadow, geometrics, positive and negative space, and geometric shapes can be rather entertaining for a photographer.

 

 

 

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The Fort Davis Area of Texas

Fort Davis is a very small town with a population of 1200 (2010 Census), and has the highest elevation in the entire state for any Texas county-seat at 5,050 feet above sea level. It’s really known for

  1. The National Fort Davis Historic Site, which preserves the best remaining examples of old US ARMY Forts from the Southwestern United States. Fort Davis was established in 1854.
  2. McDonald Observatory, while key scientific discoveries and research occurs at the site, this observatory is one of the few in the world that invites the public to special programs like their Sky Parties.
  3. Davis Mountains State Park
  4. Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Garden

 

While the Dallas / Fort Worth area was skirting with temperatures just shy of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, I escaped in the middle of July to the Davis Mountains in the Southwestern corner of the state of Texas, highs were in the low 80s, and overnights low were briskly cold. The Davis Mountains not only offers some of the most picturesque vistas throughout the entire state of Texas, the cooler temperatures had the land lushly green, which wasn’t something I was expecting to see.

 

The state park has two bird blinds, which are great for bird watchers, photographers, and the curious. This is where I nabbed this great shot of a Pine Siskin. Plus you can get a special pass for access to the park after dark to make use of the scenic overlook to enjoy some Dark Skies for some star gazing without camping over night there. In my case, rain storms came in during the night and rained out my plans for some night photography, but it’s a great resource I plan to use when I next make a try at night photography. The State Park is within line of sight of McDonald Observatory, if you look very carefully at the vista on the top right and bottom right, the tiny white dots on the top of that mountain in the difference is the Observatory.

In less than 15 minutes you leave the Davis Mountains State Park behind and can find yourself on the fringes of the Chihuahuan Desert, and a Nature Center that showcases the flora and fauna of the region’s desert. This is an important corridor for hummingbird migration, and scientists do tag the birds in their attempts to learn more about them.

 

 

 

Marfa, Texas – One “Giant” Movie, & The Arts

As mentioned previously, Marfa’s claim to fame:

  1. the movie Giant was filmed here
  2. it’s a well-known Arts destination

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Giant (1956) was directed by Hollywood artistic juggernaut George Stevens (who won an Academy Award for Best Director for his work on the film), and earned a total of 9 Academy Nominations for work both behind and in front of the screen. Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean in his last role (and only third film) before his untimely death. Even though the film came out in the 1956, there continues to be a dialogue about this cinemas Classic. There’s been at least two different documentaries: Return To Giant (2003), and Children of Giant (2015). Giant has withstood the test of time, because it dared to be about matters of substance. The film was ahead of its time as it spotlighted racial prejudice and segregation against latinos. One only needs to turn the news on to see how these are still relevant issues today as the nation is indulged in conversations about Mexican Immigrants and DACA.

One of the go to tourists destinations is the restored Hotel Paisano. The Hotel was designed by famed architect Henry Trost in the 1920s. In the 1950s Hollywood came to the Hotel, when the movie Giant was in production. Many of the cast and crew stayed at the hotel, or made use of its amenities. Today there’s some film memorabilia up around the hotel, and there’s a number of small shops (including one that sells Giant film related merchandise), and a gallery attached to the hotel too.

 

Despite being a town of around 2000 residents, Marfa boasts well over a dozen art galleries, the most preeminent Art destination being the Chinati Foundation. While Marfa may feature numerous art galleries plus a number of retail shops specializing in artisan wares. Many of them have limited hours primarily focused to Friday – Sunday. I knew this going to the town, but even so I found half the places I tried to visit closed the Saturday I went. Between vacations, and galleries between installations my luck was not with me.

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Still I managed to make it to Book Marfa, which features a specially curated book store, artisan made goods, as well as a mini art gallery with works for sale. I love their regional book section. Anyone with an interest in ancient art especially of ancient man the book the White Shaman Mural is a must read.

The White Shaman Mural: An Enduring Creation Narrative in the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos by Carolyn E. Boyd, Kim Cox

Winner, Society for American Archarology Book Award, 2017

The prehistoric hunter-gatherers of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of Texas and Coahuila, Mexico, created some of the most spectacularly complex, colorful, extensive, and enduring rock art of the ancient world. Perhaps the greatest of these masterpieces is the White Shaman mural, an intricate painting that spans some twenty-six feet in length and thirteen feet in height on the wall of a shallow cave overlooking the Pecos River. In The White Shaman Mural, Carolyn E. Boyd takes us on a journey of discovery as she builds a convincing case that the mural tells a story of the birth of the sun and the beginning of time—making it possibly the oldest pictorial creation narrative in North America.

Unlike previous scholars who have viewed Pecos rock art as random and indecipherable, Boyd demonstrates that the White Shaman mural was intentionally composed as a visual narrative, using a graphic vocabulary of images to communicate multiple levels of meaning and function. Drawing on twenty-five years of archaeological research and analysis, as well as insights from ethnohistory and art history, Boyd identifies patterns in the imagery that equate, in stunning detail, to the mythologies of Uto-Aztecan-speaking peoples, including the ancient Aztec and the present-day Huichol. This paradigm-shifting identification of core Mesoamerican beliefs in the Pecos rock art reveals that a shared ideological universe was already firmly established among foragers living in the Lower Pecos region as long as four thousand years ago.

I swung by the famous Ballroom Marfa for their installation at the time, and was rather taken by this artists use of electrical current through tobacco to the cooper sheet metal. I think in this case, it brings back fond memories of me working with copper during my metal & jewelry days. There was also an interesting exhibit that tackled political issues of identity as found in language and how various countries were using accents to authentic paperwork and grant or deny admittance to their country for foreigners. I also tried to visit the artisan retail fronts of both Freda,and the Wrong Store but they were also closed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marfa, Texas – The Chinati Foundation

Marfa may be a city with only a local population of around 2,000 (according to the 2010 Federal Census), but with dozens of art galleries and a film festival the small town certainly packs quite a punch in the Arts world. But Marfa’s iconoclast status as an art destination is due to Donald Judd’s works, and the fosterage of New York’s Dia Art Foundation to help establish the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas on the remains of an old military base. Here’s what they have to say about themselves:

The Chinati Foundation/La Fundación Chinati is a contemporary art museum based upon the ideas of its founder, Donald Judd. The specific intention of Chinati is to preserve and present to the public permanent large-scale installations by a limited number of artists. The emphasis is on works in which art and the surrounding landscape are inextricably linked. As Judd wrote in the foundation’s catalogue:

It takes a great deal of time and thought to install work carefully. This should not always be thrown away. Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved again. Somewhere a portion of contemporary art has to exist as an example of what the art and its context were meant to be. Somewhere, just as the platinum-iridium meter guarantees the tape measure, a strict measure must exist for the art of this time and place.

 

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The Chinati Foundation

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Stardust & Astrophotography in Southwest Texas

Despite being a bit daunted by the long drive it was from my home base of Dallas / Fort Worth to reach Fort Davis and it’s neighboring city of Marfa, Texas I had been incredibly excited for my trip to McDonald Observatory, and that part of the country for the rare opportunity to be in true Dark Sky area to try my hand at Astrophotography.

If you’re trying to see the stars whether it’s with your own eyes, a telescope or a camera lens, you’ll have the best visibility in areas that are classified as Dark Sky. We just don’t see the stars anymore except the most brightest (like Polaris) from our cities, because we have too much light pollution surrounding us. The light from our urban environment washes out the most distant light from the heavenly bodies around us. Think of it like how your night vision is ruined when you have lights turned on around you.

So much work goes into the preparation for Astrophotography. First it was time to do some research. Thanks to Wikipedia’s entries having elevation information and GPS coordinates of Latitude and Longitude I then plugged that information into the Stellarium APP on the days of my visit to see when and where the Milkyway would be rising and visible. Luckily for me it was going to be visible at that time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere (May through August), and I found the hours where I’d have the best opportunity to shoot the Milky Way each night. Once I had the basic information and reference points in the sky I was able to combine that information with my free Sky Maps APP (which shows the night sky), so I could orient myself with nearby celestial objects the day/night of to get my camera pointing the right way.

If you’ve ever seen the meme:

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This is because cameras have in some ways not yet neared the complexity of what our eyes can do. Vision with our eyes and with a camera works under the same base principle in that it requires light to see. Our eyes make complex changes rapidly, a camera lens has to be set up just so. The darker it is the wider the aperture needs to be opened and the longer the shutter speed should be kept open as well to allow the most light to come in. This requires more sophisticated camera equipment that allows you to manually manipulate those settings, and also requires a tripod (otherwise there’s too much camera shake and the images will be blurry). Ideally you also want a lens that can infinity focus as well, and you need to be able to turn off auto-focus and image stabilization.

Because our galaxy, our solar system, and our planet are in constant motion if you leave the shutter speed open too long you begin to get star trails [example follows].

Startrail 227 finalWM
http://www.lincolnharrison.com/startrails/

Now I wanted to focus this trip on Milky Way Photography so Star Trails were NOT the desired result. There’s actually a mathematical formula used to calculate how long you can leave a shutter speed open based on the capability of your specific camera before you start experiencing the streaking of a Star Trail (it’s very long exposures that show rotational trails like above). So finding that number in seconds (a little over 17 seconds) I then adjusted my settings to JUST under that so I could maximize the light I took in. Additionally I had to use the Photographer’s Ephemeris to find out when Moon Rise was so I could avoid it. Why? The Moon is detrimental to Milky Way shots because the stronger light of the Moon causes it’s own light pollution drowning out the fainter Milky Way.

Luckily everything was lining up beautifully for my shots from an astronomy stand point. And then, Mother Nature decided to rain on my parade. 3 Nights of potential shooting, and I only got about an hour here and there of sporadic breaks in the cloud coverage across those 3 nights (usually the breaks were NOT conducive to MilkyWay shots at all) where I had a chance to shoot something, and even then there were still wispy hazy clouds that prevented me from getting clear shots, or other people ruining my shots. This is sadly the best shot I got.

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The Milky Way Rises from above the Davis Mountains in Texas.

As frustrating as my trip was, the experience I took away from the attempt will pay dividends in the future. Thanks to my cousin’s invitation I was at least able to listen to some amazing talks at the annual McDonald Observatory’s Board of Visitors Meeting, by scientists and researchers like Dr. Fritz Benedict’s “The Joy of M Dwarf Binaries and How One in the Hyades Gives Me a Headache” and Dr. Rob Robinson’s “Astronomy Questions that Remain Unanswered.”

This is my best Stardust shot from my trip:

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This neon sign is all that remains of Marfa’s Stardust Motel, it can be found on US-90 as you head West from Downtown Marfa immediately next door to the Apache Pines RV Park. The sign has since had it’s neon restored and it’s lit at night time. The sign’s neon now reads “Marfa” instead of “motel” (most likely to avoid confused travelers), though the original motel lettering on the sign can be seen during the day.