Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Heavy Lifts & Big Trucks

I spent some time in a fabrication yard last week to witness and participate in the testing of some newly built equipment. This stuff is special, custom-built equipment for subsea pipelines. It will be installed thousands of feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico, and we must be sure that it all fits together and operates correctly.

testing in progress

Testing like this always goes about the same: slow. I had some time to check out the other work going on in the fab. yard (work not related to our job).

Jo Ann
(click for larger version)

This is a heavy duty Pacific truck/tractor helping move a Goldhöfer hydraulic platform trailer. The load on the trailer is some sort of large steel framework/foundation. I didn't find out what it was for.

This is the first time I've seen a truck like that, and I had to do a little bit of research on it. Turns out, Pacific built large, heavy duty trucks like this for a long while but are now out of business. There's a great write up of Pacific's history here. Apparently, what's left of the company is now part of this place, which should help keep old Pacifics, like Jo Ann, running for a long while.

Jo Ann is operated by Palletized Trucking of Houston.

Below is a different truck and trailer combo being loaded out with a part of a very large pressure vessel (or a piece of some sort of vessel for the refining industry, most likely).

Pressure Vessel Load-Out
(click for larger version)

The truck is a Peterbilt. My wife's brother is an engineer and works for them. So, this one's for you, Clint.

Peterbilt Loaded and Ready
(click for larger version)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Big Bend Badlands - Dawson Creek

Part 4 of 4

My last badlands target was the low escarpment just south of Dawson Creek. This area is within the park boundaries, but it's outside (west of) the west gate of the park. You can see this area to the LEFT of Highway 118 as you drive towards Study Butte. I emphasize LEFT because typically, the "painted desert" badlands area that most people think of is seen to the RIGHT.

I've not found a firm definition of the Painted Desert, a somewhat official term used by the locals, but I would assume it encompasses the whole area of badlands to the north AND south of Highway 118 just outside the park's west gate.

out west
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The shot above is looking east directly towards the west gate of the park. You can see the curves of Highway 118 as it snakes through the area.

Colored Hills
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The view from atop this escarpment is amazing. Below the rim, badlands flow north and spread out towards Dawson Creek. In some spots, it's feasible to hike down into the soft soil areas. It's also possible to hike down to the desert floor and out towards the creek.

Maverick Mountain
(click for larger version)

I camped up top, just inside the rim, and enjoyed expansive views towards Study Butte and Maverick Mountain, and, of course, great views of the colored hills in the Painted Desert. This area was the most colorful out of the previous spots I'd visited and the hike was the easiest. It was interesting to be so close to civilization, yet completely alone. I saw not one person while out there.

That's it for now. I have other photos from my badlands trip and will post those later. Eventually, I'll update my photo website with this new content.

Big Bend Badlands - OMR

Part 3 of 4

About 2.5 miles south of the west gate of the park along Old Maverick Road, you'll see a low hill to the east of the road. Ansel Adams once stood atop that hill with his camera.

My tribute to Ansel Adams

Note: you can find his photo if you do a Google image search for "Ansel Adams Burro Mesa".

Below this overlook is a wide and deep arroyo. A tributary of Alamo Creek runs through the flat bottom and, you guessed it, there are badlands down there.

Rose Soil
(click for larger version)

I spent over an hour roaming around before I embarked on my third overnight hike. These badlands do not contain as many interesting features as the Rattlesnake Badlands, but they are unique and beautiful in their own way.

They are mostly flat and follow the wash in the bottom of the arroyo. The spots of badlands are broken up between small, low, and rolling hills - some with vegetation and and some without. Some are patches of soil carpeted with dark red and purplish rocks. It's a very different and alien landscape, and again, goes beyond what you think of as typical Chihuahuan Desert.

Up next, last stop, Dawson Creek and the Painted Desert. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Behind the Scenes on Recent Big Bend Trip

I've emphasized the photos and locations in my posts about the badlands I visited. But I wanted to show you a few other aspects of my trip just for fun.

Big Bend National Park is a long way from anywhere. For me, living in Houston, it takes quite an effort to reach the park. From my house to the center of the park is well over 600 miles.

The Looong Drive
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I decided it was best to spend the night in the areas I was interested in photographing. It allowed me to spend more time shooting and be present for all lighting conditions from afternoon until the following morning. Plus it's interesting and worthwhile to shoot the same area both in afternoon/eve and morning light.

Packing, managing, and carrying all the gear I would need was quite an effort. Anyone who has done overnight backpacking will appreciate what's required and the hardships encountered when you forget just one, little item.

It's also hard to overcome that spoiled desire for a cold beer or frozen margarita late in the evening. A few hours of sweating and hiking will bring about strong cravings that just can't be satisfied easily way out in the desert ;-)

Goin' Hikin'
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I know, looks like I packed a little too much :-) But that was for my first night only. I took less junk... er, gear the second and third nights.

The areas I visited were not accessible by any trail. There were no campgrounds at my destinations. I expected to see no one during my hikes, and I didn't. I was "way out there" in every sense of the term. My life was completely in my hands and help was far away.

Of course this is what I wanted. The solitude and time alone in the desert by itself made the trip worthwhile. I need this type of experience to reset my spirit and soul and remind me what is most important in my life (my family).

Making an Early Breakfast
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Aside from spending great amounts of time photographing, tending to the necessities of life alone in the desert required a lot of work. Making/breaking camp, eating, cleaning, and packing/repacking gear (especially when camping at a different spot each day) occupied a lot of time.

But after all the required activities of my plan, I still found a few moments here and there to sit back and really connect with my emotions and savor the experience.

A moment to relax
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Having a camp chair was awful nice too.

Big Bend Badlands - Rattlesnake Badlands

Part 2 of 4

My second hike was to visit what I call the Rattlesnake Badlands, an area just south of the Rattlesnake Mountains. Acutally, there are two distinct areas of badlands, and they are separated by an alluvial fan that spreads south from the mountains.

I discovered these areas using Google Earth. My first attempt to visit them was in September 2007, but I didn't make it due to bad weather and lack of time.

On the west side of the alluvial fan are the "purple hills". These are classic badlands - rounded hills with bands of color and little or no vegetation.

The Purple Hills I
(click for larger version)

The transition from typical Chihuahuan Desert to these badlands was abrupt. I was amazed at the change. Again, it was like stepping into Death Valley.

The Purple Hills II
(click for larger version)

Roaming these hills was fun. Some were quite steep and tall and could not be climbed easily. I tried keeping my travels on them to a minimum because of the damage my footprints left. Each step sunk an inch or two and broke through the crusty soil layer. Walking the narrow, flat bottoms in the valleys was much easier.

(click for larger version)

The second spot of badlands, to the east of the alluvial fan, was a little different. These badlands were more open and spread out. The colors were lighter too (mostly a dusty gold color).

Soil and Clouds
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I made camp down in these badlands on the soft soil. I spent a comfortable night out there, completely alone. I did see one set of old footprints, so someone must have visited in the recent past. It also reminded me to be conservative where I stepped since my footprints would remain for a long time and disturb the beauty of the badlands.

Golden Hills
(click for larger version)

Up next, Old Maverick Road and finding Ansel Adams' shot. Stay tuned...

Big Bend at Night

Before I post more on the badlands series, I thought I'd share a few night scenes.

Rattlesnake Badlands
(click for larger version)

Study Butte
(click for larger version)

Tent and Stars
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All of these were shot at about the same settings as the tent, stars, and meteor shot I posted last week.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Big Bend Badlands - Black Gap/Glenn Springs

Part 1 of 4

For my first overnight hike on my recent quest for badlands within Big Bend National Park, I chose a rough, barren looking area (found using Google Earth) about 2 miles west of the intersection of Glenn Springs and Black Gap roads deep in the backcountry of the park.

This hike turned out much harder than I expected. I made it to an interesting spot, but I did not get to explore the area as much as I had wanted.

(click for larger version)

The landscape turned from typical Chihuahuan Desert to something resembling Death Valley. I did not see a lot of typical badland-type features (i.e. barren soil hills), but the starkness was different and very interesting.

The "Green Folds"
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The "Green Folds" is one feature I spotted using Google Earth and had pre-marked (using GPS coordinates) as a spot of interest for my hike. Turns out that it wasn't so green in color :-)

Morning View from my Campsite
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I wish I had more energy and time to explore that area. I only saw a small portion of it, and from a high vantage point, I could see more badlands, including typical barren-soil hills, in the distance.

I'm certainly not disappointed. I really enjoyed this first trek, although it was hard :-)

Up next, the Rattlesnake Badlands. Stay tuned...

Big Bend Badlands - Preface

I've been working on my Visions of Big Bend photography project for nearly five years now, and it's a project that I'll continue to work on indefinitely. But the project has been a little too broad in scope thus far, or at least that's how I feel about it.

Big Bend National Park (and the surrounding region) is huge and filled with so many interesting things. I can easily categorize the photos I've taken into themes (e.g. mountains, desert, river areas). But still that's too basic, and simply filing a photo into a category is like creating a photo project after the fact.

So, I decided to start focusing on very specific items of interest (well, stuff that interests me :-) ) within my project. My recent trip allowed me to kick this idea off by working on a sub-project about one, interesting feature of Big Bend.


Two years ago, I visited a small area of badlands near Indian Head Mountain, and it really grabbed my interest. The golden, cracked soil and blue skies appealed to me. The simplicity and openness of the landscape wasn't exactly easier to work with photographically speaking, but it seemed easier to comprehend. Regardless, for whatever reason, the badlands just really appealed to my senses.

Badlands near Indian Head - March 2007
(click for larger version)

Ever since, I've been wanting to come back to that spot and explore it and photograph it more. After doing some research and also just driving around in the park, I've found many other areas of badlands. These areas are local and relatively small compared to the massive size of the park.

For my recent trip, I picked three areas of interest (two found using Google Earth and another spotted from Highway 118 just outside the park's west gate) and spent one night in each. Each night required an overnight hike off-trail and cross-country taking me deep in the backcountry of Big Bend.

The next several blog posts will feature the photos I took. I hope you enjoy them. As always, I really enjoy reading your feedback, so please leave comments if you like. Thanks!