Don McGowan

Don McGowan

Friday, 19 July 2019 15:25

Spokes for a Butte

One of the most excellent adventures the High Desert of the Southwest has to offer is the dusty, dirt track of the Behind the Reef Road, northwest of Goblin Valley and roughly parallel to Utah Highway 24. And if you go in anything other than a high-clearance, 4-WD vehicle, don't say I didn't warn you. What you will see will be amazing - the Red Rock at its finest, the northwest face of the San Rafael Swell. There are buttes and canyons everywhere; and when the atmospheric conditions are right, the cloud-beings put on a fireworks show of their own. This is BLM land, it is public land, and we should work to see that it is always available for the public to enjoy, and care for, because with enjoyment always comes responsibility.

A focal length of 31mm, short enough to still qualify as wide-angleland, gave me the angle of view I wanted. An aperture of f/22 provided depth-of-field; and a shutter speed of 1/30th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall slightly-lighter-than-medium exposure. The shutter speed was sufficiently fast to freeze the motion of the expanding cloudforms as they radiated outward from above the butte like the spokes of a giant invisible wheel.

We have abrogated the regulation of so much of our western public lands to a corporation-influenced bureaucracy. We would serve ourselves well to get to know this land and to speak up for its preservation.

Thursday, 11 July 2019 11:32

When the Gales of November Come Early

At the far eastern end of Michigan's fabeled Upper Peninsula, Whitefish Point marks a turn to the south in the shoreline of Kitchi-Gami, as the biggest lake narrows and leads by decrease to the St. Mary's River and the great locks of Sault-Sainte Marie. In late-September, and 180 degrees in the opposite direction, the post-equinox sun slips away under a horizon line divided between the ancient dunes and the Big Sea Water. The often-cited gales blowing south over Superior are, indeed, a late-autumn concern, especially when they come a bit earlier than is customary, as the S.S. Edmund Fitgerald, discovered to its peril on November 10, 1975.

A focal length of 78mm, slightly short-telephoto, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted and a wee bit of magnification. An aperture of f/22 provided depth-of-field and a shutter speed of 1/15 second at ISO 100 gave me a somewhat-darker-than-medium exposure. In choosing these values, I accepted that my foreground would be a bit darker than my eyes experienced it, but the mood they created was an off-setting consideration that worked as I wished for it to.

The eastern UP sometimes seems a bit out-of-the-way from the great and colorful maple forests farther west; but its place in the beauty of Kitchi-Gami is without question.

Saturday, 06 July 2019 11:01

Intimacy in a Wet Land

By the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, 20,000 years ago, great ice sheets covered much of what is now Canada and the northern United States. By 8,000 years ago their immense weight had withdrawn beyond the boreal region along what is now the United States-Canada border, leaving a depression-filled land of lakes and their accompanying wetlands. The beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan is such a place, a water-world of forests and low-lying drainages often connecting in a patchwork of aquatic natural delight. The autumn color of this land is both actual and reflective. It is a land I deeply love.

A focal length of 135mm gave me an intimate landscape of a piece of a larger wetland. An aperture of f/16 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/10th second at ISO 100 gave me a stilled reflection and an overall medium exposure.

The Land of Kitchi-Gami is many things; its wondrous beauty is a siren's song to which I gladly submit time and time again.

Friday, 28 June 2019 11:54

From Here to Factory Butte

It is called "cryptobiotic," this crunchy, crusty overburden of cracked earth that is found in so many of the Southwest's iconic desert places. It appears to be good for not much when it comes to growing living things; but, in truth, it is very much a community of living organisms. It performs important, actually essential, ecological roles including carbon fixation, nitrogen fixation and soil stabilization. Without it, the top layer of the land's surface would become bare and barren, dusty dirt. It is, truly, the life force of the desert. The beautiful uplift of Factory Butte, the same Factory Butte, and a surrounding 5400 acres, that has just been opened up to unrestrictred cross-country ORV use, is surrounded by areas of cryptobiotic soil. It would seem that the BLM has chosen to create a sacrifice-zone of one of the most beautiful locations in the San Rafael Country.

Just at sunrise I found a place on the front side of the factory looking across the desert and into the scalloped and striated uplift of the great butte. The soft, golden light highlighted the wonder of the desert and its amazing elements. A focal length of 60mm gave me the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/22 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 0.6 second at ISO 100 gave me a very slightly-darker-than-medium exposure.

It is not required of us to remain silent while the great beauty around us with which we have been blessed is compromised in the name of hedonistic pleasure or wanton disregard. Consider the work of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance:

Saturday, 22 June 2019 22:33

In a Village By the Sea

There are fishing villages along the Maine coast which, over the years, have recast themselves as tourist attractions. Bar Harbor comes quickly to mind. There are others, such as the Village of Bernard, which have remained true to their history and continue today as the quaint centers of Maine's lobster fishing industry: wonderful to visit, equally wonderful to photograph. From the City Pier, looking across Bass Harbor, Bernard reveals the Acadian skyline prominantly featuring Sargeant Mountain and below it, on the water, the real work of bringing the succulence of Maine lobsta' to the waiting tables of Mount Desert Island and beyond.

A focal length of 100mm gave me the angle-of-view I wanted, with a bit of magnification and compression, isolating a section of the harbor and its retinue of fishing boats at anchor after a morning's run . An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field; and a shutter speed of 1/30th second at ISO 100 gave me a slightly-lighter-than-medium exposure.

The docks of Bernard are covered with lobster traps. The kind for tourists are found in other parts of Mount Desert Island where the cruise ships come in.

Saturday, 15 June 2019 09:38

Cinnamon and Grass

Sieur de Monts and the Wild Gardens of Acadia are as historical as they are beautiful. George Dorr purchased the Sieur de Monts spring and surrounding area in 1909, renaming it the Wild Gardens of Acadia, where he hoped to preserve it for public enjoyment and education. Eventually he presented it to the United States Government to become part of Acadia National Park, and so it is today one of Acadia's special places, where the early French explorers to Mount Desert Island found fresh waterfor their needs.

I was very much attracted to the small clump of cinnamon fern, seemingly alone in a sea of grasses punctuated by the ever-present slender trunks of white birch. In the early morning light, creating a gossamer carpet, the attraction became complete. A focal length of 78mm, very short telephotoland, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted with almost no magnification. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/6th second at ISO 100 in the still air, gave me a very-slightly-lighter-than-medium exposure.

Last week there was rock. Today there is light. I suppose next week's offering will have to be about water...the three cornerstones of an Acadian experience.

Saturday, 08 June 2019 18:41

The Texture of the Sea

The tip of an ancient conifer log, textured and bleached by years of slowly being buried by the rounding stones of Little Hunter's Beach on the coastline of Acadia National Park, lies in stubborn persistence before the surrounding elements. Over the past several years I have watched as the giant trunk has slowly disappeared. Paper may cover rock, but this scene must surely end in the covering by rock of the great driftwood form.

 A focal length of 97mm, short telephoto from a distance of 2.5' away, gave me a bit of magnification and the angle-of-view I wanted. An aperture of f/22 ensured depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 0.8 second at ISO 100 gave me a very medium exposure.

Acadia is home to a wondrous diversity of beach types from softly shifting sands to seemingly immutable granite. Each has its own never-ending story told in the intertwining realms in rock, water, and light.

Friday, 31 May 2019 19:25

Back Door of the Factory

Without prior notice or opportunity for public input, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Richfield field office announced last Wednesday—just before Memorial Day weekend—that it has opened 5,400 acres of public lands surrounding Utah’s iconic Factory Butte to unfettered cross-country off-road vehicle (ORV) use. I have stopped by Factory Butte several times after staying in Caineville (Utah) on my way to Capitol Reef National Park. This action is, in my humble estimation, a travesty. The San Rafael Desert is an amazing place and there are plenty of opportunities for off-road play without destroying such a fragile landscape.

A focal length of 97mm, short telephoto-land, gave me the slightly compressed and stacked angle-of-view I wanted of the far backside of the butte, opposite Utah Highway 24. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/8th second at ISO 100 in the still fairly early morning light gave me an overall slightly-lighter-than-medium exposure.

Seen from the Highway 24 end of the butte one can easily imagine a huge monolithic building filled with all sorts of intricate machinery producing the stuff of America's material culture, but it's really the desert and an awesome natural landscape that should be preserved unspoiled. There are back country roads sufficient to get one near enough to enjoy a wonderful walk among the sands and rocks.

Saturday, 25 May 2019 11:20

Pixies in the Mist

One of the really fun opportunities of being in the "Pixie Forest" of American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) along the upper stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway as it passes through the Great Craggy Mountains northeast of Asheville is the chance to create images using some alternative camera and/or processing techniques. When Bonnie and I were last there a couple of weeks ago I decided to make some intimate landscapes with the ultimate purpose of using the technique of "negative clarity" as a way to introduce some impressionistic ideas into the image. Having the forest enshrouded in cloud was just icing on the cake.

A focal length of 135mm, heading toward medium telephotoland, narrowed my angle-of-view to focus the view and eliminate excessive sky/fog. An aperture of f/18 provided enough detail (depth-of-field) in the trees, considering my ultimate purpose; and an ISO of 800, given that digital noise was not going to be an issue, allowed for a shutter speed of 1/20th second, fast enough to give some initial detail to the slightly moving grasses.

There are numerous locations in the natural world that are given to multiple creative possibilities. The beech gaps of the Southern Appalachians are high up on that list of locations.

Saturday, 18 May 2019 13:48

Roaring Fork Sandstone and Friends

If you could travel beneath the surface of the ground from this point near the Greenbrier Entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you would discover that this thin outcrop of Roaring Fork Sandstone is actually the tip of a lithic iceberg hundreds, if not thousands of feet thick. Where it does outcrop across a streambed it creates some amazing erosional patterns and forms and sculpted waterpockets which allow for intriguing reflection images. The entire Greenbrier section is a fascinating cove of plant-life and rock throughout the year.

A focal length of 28mm, medium wideangleland, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted, looking directly upriver from behind the outcrop. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field, and ISO 200 gave me a shutter speed of 1/8th second, fast enough to create texture in the water coming over the drop and a medium overall exposure.

I can only imagine the sadness that tore at the hearts of those Greenbrier settlers forced to sell and leave their homes so that the Park could become a reality. I am grateful for their sacrifice that allows me to walk in their places of beauty.


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