Grand Staircase-Escalante

Slot canyon in Spooky Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah USA (Russ Bishop/Russ Bishop Photography)
Spooky Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

One of the largest yet least explored parks in the country, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a vast desert landscape of mesas, slot canyons, petrified sand dunes, archaeological treasures and American history. Divided by a single long ridge called the Kaiparowits Plateau, this remote region was the last place in the continental United States to be mapped and is a wonderful destination to find that desert solitude that Edward Abbey so passionately wrote about.

From the south, the Vermilion, White, Gray, and Pink cliffs rise to form the giant multi-hued terraces of the Grand Staircase. And to the east the Escalante Canyons are a labyrinth of geologic wonders slowly winding their way down to Lake Powell. Together these escarpments expose 200 million years of the earth’s history in a visual feast for the eyes, and contain the most continuous record of Late Cretaceous terrestrial life in the world.

For the photographer, the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument is a sublime location where the possibilities are endless and the light, which seems to glow from within, is worthy most anytime of day. I’ve often said you could spend your whole life in southern Utah and not see it all, but that might just be true of this very special park. The temptation to try is always present.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Pele’s Realm

Lava flow entering the ocean at dawn, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, The Big Island, Hawaii
Lava flow entering the ocean at dawn, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

For more than a quarter century the lava on Hawaii’s Big Island has continued to flow from the Pu’u O’o vent on the flanks of Kilauea down into the Pacific Ocean. A mesmerizing river of molten earth that is equally beautiful and terrifying as it slowly devours everything in it’s path, while adding acres to Hawaii’s newest Island.

Since ancient times Pele, the Goddess of Fire, has been a central figure of Hawaiian lore. “She-Who-Shapes-The-Sacred-Land” is often recounted in ancient Hawaiian chants, and today is the most visible of the Hawaiian deities.

In 1990 I witnessed the slow destruction of the nearby village of Kalapana and watched in amazement as the locals rolled the historic painted church down the road to safety, while the palms on the famous Kaimu black sand beach went up in flames. Pele is known to be a passionate goddess, yet volatile and capricious as evidenced by her destruction of the modern Wahaula visitor center while completely avoiding an ancient heiau in her path.

I’ve been back many times over the years to pay homage to Pele, and I’m always in awe of her powerful hand in shaping these Islands. Will Rogers once said, “buy real estate, they don’t make it any more”. But clearly he had never been to this part of the world!

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Nature as Medicine

Trail through moss covered forest, Fort Cascade National Historic Site, Washington
Trail through moss covered forest, Fort Cascade National Historic Site, Washington

A recent article in the Washington Post illustrated an interesting phenomenon that is occurring in the medical profession these days and perhaps the timing couldn’t be better. Just when the cost of health insurance has skyrocketed, doctors across the country are telling their patients to “take a hike” to fix what ails them.

They’re not trying to lose customers, but instead are medicating their patients with nature to treat everything from heart disease to attention deficit disorder. Detailed prescriptions are often written to include park or preserve locations, specific trails and mileage. In many ways, as Ken Burns pointed out in his excellent series “America’s Best Idea”, our national park system can and should be an integral part of our healthcare system.

As a landscape photographer, I spend a great deal of time on and off the trail and I feel fortunate that my work not only helps to protect these special places, but promotes my health in the process. Photography and outdoor recreation have always been an ideal match, and now they might just lower your medical bills as well!

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”    ― Rachel Carson

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved

Landscape Tip: What’s Your Angle?

The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Paria-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona (© Russ Bishop/
The Wave, Paria-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona (click to view large)

Compelling landscape photography is often comprised of one or more elements that make it stand out from the crowd. Magical light, richly saturated colors, and dramatic vistas can all make for great images, but sometimes we’re not rewarded with these sure-fire conditions even after the long hike or waiting out the inclement weather.

Fortunately there are other ways to create visually dynamic imagery when mother nature is not cooperating – namely your lens and your eyes. Perspective is a powerful tool that is limited only by your choice of lens and framing.

A wide-angle lens with both excellent depth of field and a wide field of view can be used to emphasize a foreground element such as a plant or rock within the context of its larger mountain or desert environment. In most cases this also creates an imaginary line directing the viewer’s eye across the frame, which in turn adds drama to the composition.

So the next time the elements aren’t working in your favor try adding a little visual spice to the composition. A subtle change in perspective can often create leading lines that add drama to a scene, and will entice your viewer to linger within the frame.

©Russ Bishop/All Rights Reserved