Sunday, March 30, 2014

Road Ride Report: Mount Lemmon

The Mount Lemmon Climb is listed as the 33rd toughest climb in the United States in "The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike)." From start in the desert of Tucson at the bottom to the alpine forest at the end of the pavement you climb 6200' over 28 miles at an average grade of 5% through some of the best scenery in the Southwest.

Just past Windy Point.
I've had this one on my bucket list for quite a few years so I was pretty excited when I saw that the weather was going to cooperate and let me give it a go in March when it usually still has too much snow at the top.

I drove to the start with a great view of what was coming as Mt. Lemmon looms over the east side of Tucson.

As this was my first trip up, the only real goal I had was to be in the top half of the STRAVA leaderboard and pass more riders than passed me.

I ended up 110 out of 389 riders on the complete climb and passed 15 riders. The only rider that passed me turned around at the 5-mile mark so I'm not going to count him. It appears that quite a few people turn around at the ski resort and skip the last couple of miles (sissys).

The climb itself is amazingly consistent staying between 4-7% grade for most of its length. The angle does kick up at the end after you turn on Ski Run Road where it ranges from 8-10% with a couple of small ramps that went as high as 13% which is always fun after 25 miles of climbing.

The views were fantastic for the entire ride starting at 3000' elevation in the Sonoran Desert and climbing all the way up into the evergreen forest that starts around 5000' and goes to the top at 9100'. You will feel the elevation difference and thin air at the top.

This is easily in my Top-10 road rides in the U.S.. It's right up there with Crater Lake, Lake Tahoe and Big Sur and should be added to everyone's to-do list. Did I mention the 25-miles screamer of a downhill? Great stuff.

Mount Lemmon map and profile.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March has been one awesome month!!!

I would have a hard time remembering the last time I packed this much activity into one month (and it's not over yet).

Snow Canyon, Utah
The month started at Valley of Fire State park in Nevada and took me north to the St. George/Hurricane, Utah area, across northern Arizona to Page and then due south to Sedona. Along the way I shot at Valley of Fire SP, Snow Canyon SP, Quail Creek SP, Zion NP, Sand Hollow SP, Glen Canyon NRA and Dead Horse Ranch SP.

I thought about heading north from Page but wind and cold convinced me that south was the way to go. Since I had never really intended on being that far north this early in the year, this kind of puts me back on course.

I'm hoping over the next few weeks to catch any wildflower blooms that might be out there with the dry winter that we've had this year. I'm seeing a few patches here and there around Sedona so I'm hoping to catch something at a little lower elevation.

I've been putting some serious miles in on the mountain bike this month. This is primarily due to me being close to some of my all-time favorite trails. I've even found a few new gems along the way.

Riding in Valley of Fire
Some of the trails are well known like J.E.M., Gooseberry Mesa and the Sedona Trails but I also rode the St. George and Dead Horse Ranch Trails and found them to be as good as any of the rides at the more well known areas. St. George has done a great job at creating a huge network of trails that can be linked into some big rides.

The Dead Horse Ranch Trails were just a blast. I rode two days at Sedona where it was so crowded it was just annoying. I spent the rest of my time at Dead Horse and had much more fun.

Sunset at Zion Canyon

Monthly highlight:

The photo highlight for the month was Zion National Park.

Zion is in my opinion the most beautiful National Park we have. The dramatic red sandstone walls drop down to a idyllic narrow canyon where the Virgin River flows through cottonwood trees and desert foliage.

The park does get crowded even in the off-season but if you aren't afraid to walk a little you can ditch the crowds.

The other reason I love Zion is because it has excellent rock climbing, great mountain bike trails and one of the toughest road climbs in the country nearby.

The cycling highlight of the month was riding from Dead Horse Ranch SP to Sedona for a 60-mile enduro.

I think that my aversion to driving to trailheads has taken a whole new meaning on this trip. This is clearly illustrated by yesterday's twenty-mile ride to the Aerie Trailhead. Oh yes, a twenty-mile ride to the trail does imply a twenty-mile ride back from the trail. I have to say that it was worth it though. It was a great six hours on the bike, all on dirt and I got to finish with the great DH at Dead Horse.

Thumper Trail at Dead Horse Ranch SP

 It was also a great example of why I ride so consistently. I like have the base fitness where I can come up with a long ride like that on a whim and just go out and do it. No train up, no preparation, just a base level of conditioning that allows me to enjoy pretty much any trail. I don't want to "survive" the ride. I want to enjoy the ride.

It is also a way of being prepared for the worst. If you are going to ride alone in the backcountry, you need to be able to get yourself out of any trouble you may find yourself in. This means having the fitness to not just complete the ride you have planned but also the ride you don't have planned.

One mechanical, one crash and any ride can turn into an unplanned epic.

Route from Dead Horse Ranch to the Aerie/Chuckwagon Loop at Sedona.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Do what you are good at.

Over the last three years I lost track of how many times I was asked what I planned to do when I finished my college degrees. It seemed that almost everyone was surprised when I answered that I would go back to working as a photographer.
Desert Garden is one of my most popular images.

For me, there was never any doubt what I would do because I really do love it. Traveling around the country documenting the world I see is the perfect job for me.

My love of photography may surprise many who know me because I really hate talking about it. I am not a techie, I don't care what kind of camera, lenses, tripods, etc... that people use to produce images. I only care about the final product which for me is the print. How you got from the shoot to the print is almost completely irrelevant and uninteresting to me, all I care about is how that image looks in its end state.

So, on what is almost the 20-year anniversary of my first image sale, I thought I might open up a little about what I really hate talking about.

One of my first published credits - Rock & Ice Magazine
A good place to start this discussion is to explain why I dislike talking shop. For me, that is easy. I do not believe that there is a right or wrong way to create something artistic. Like I said before, what matters is the final product and for me that is a photographic print.

I use Canon cameras and lenses, Epson printers and Moab papers. They work for me and I am comfortable with them. That is all that matters to me. I don't need the latest and greatest, I need a tool that will do what I need it to do. If you ask me for advice on what camera to buy, I probably won't have a clue. I don't really keep up on what is going on with the technology and only do research when I need to replace something. I use a 10-yearold camera with 15-year old lenses and as long as I don't see something that is exponentially better at the type of shooting I do, I don't see any reason to get something new just to have something new.

Too often when you talk to photographers, pros and amateurs alike, they have a workflow that they follow that they think is the best and they are insistent that their way is the right way to do things. I have no such illusions of grandeur. I have a workflow that works for me and it is quite simple.
Oxbow Bend - One of my favorite places.
I travel light in the field. I carry my camera attached to a carbon fiber tripod that I throw over my shoulder. I have a small PJ bag that will have one spare lens, two split neutral density filters, a brush to clean the lens and a spare battery. That's it. I see a lot of photographers out there with backpacks stuffed with every piece of gear they own. While they are playing around looking important, I am moving from shot to shot. I don't care if I look professional. I care about how many set ups I can do while the light is good. And for me, the light is only good for an hour on each side of sunrise and sunset. If it is overcast, I may do some macro shooting if there is something interesting.

For landscapes, I shoot in RAW, do an initial edit and conversion using Canon Digital Professional, open the file in Photoshop at actual size, check for dust and sharpness, fit to screen, unsharp mask if needed, check levels, insert file info, save at highest setting, done. That's it. My entire workflow in one easy process. Anything that needs more than that is more trouble than its worth and gets deleted.
I miss the days of film when it was so easy to put your slides on a light table and just trash everything that wasn't up to standard. Now there is so much temptation to try and "fix" those so-so images in PS. I would rather just go out and reshoot.

I have been doing my own printing since Epson came out with the first archival quality inks. I started with a 2000P and then progressed up to a 4000 for larger prints. I use Moab Entrada Paper because it fits the look I want for my prints. Some people like Canon, some like HP, I like Epson. There is no right or wrong, only taste.

Selling prints is an interesting business. It is a part of being a photographer that I both love and hate equally.
I love when someone buys one of my prints for the simple reason that they have seen something that somehow touched them and they have decided that they want to make it a part of their life by hanging it in their home. I cannot think of a greater honor as an artist and I really get upset with artists who somehow feel insulted if people don't buy their work. Just because you create something doesn't mean everyone will like it as much as you do. I have thousands of images in my files. Some of my personal favorites never sell. Some that I don't really like do. People have different tastes.
Rickett's Glen Cascade - Another favorite.

What I hate about selling prints is that sometimes it seems that people want you to sell them on why they should buy a print from you. I don't sell myself. I truly believe that that you should only buy art that you actually like. I would never hang anything on my wall just for that little name down in the corner.

All of my images are also available for stock licensing. I have an exclusive contract with Getty Images. I give them my images and they do all the marketing, licensing, collecting, etc... for me. They get their cut, I get mine. These are the images that are used for advertising, books, magazines, calendars, posters, etc... Most of my images are used in travel guides and magazines but I do find some interesting uses including the recent use of one of my bison images in Glamour Magazine. Over the years, my images have been used by National Geographic, Scientific American, Fodors, National Parks Conservation Association, U.S. Dept. of State and many others.

And this is what I love about my small niche in the photographic world. I am not the best photographer in the world but I shoot what I want and I am good enough to actually make some money doing something I enjoy. And that is something that I think everyone should try to do. Find something you like to do and figure out a way to make that your career.
Twilight at Jumbo Rocks - One of my newest images.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ride Report: Bootleg Canyon XC Trails

Just some of the XC trails at Bootleg.
Las Vegas has some of the best winter riding in the country. Whether you like road or dirt, Vegas has it all.

On the west side of town, you have Red Rocks and the sweet singletrack of the Cottonwood Trails and on the east side of town you have Boulder City and the world famous trails of Bootleg Canyon.

While bootleg is primarily known for its downhill trails, It also has a good selection of XC trails including a new connector that accesses the network from Henderson.

The trails are good enough to get the system rated as an IMBA Epic. It is also the location for the Interbike demo area.

Bootleg is not for beginners and it is not for the faint of heart. It rewards aggressive riding as you negotiate a never ending series of rocks, drops and sheer cliffs in this volcanic wonderland.

I've spent some time riding these trails and have found that the best tactic is to just charge every obstacle. If you timidly approach the obstacles, the rocks will take control. Speed and momentum are your friends.

Mother's Trail
Most of the XC trails are on the west side of the road with the Caldera and Mother's Trails being the most XC friendly. Par None and POW are probably the easiest of the DH trails and can be accessed from Mother's.

There are great facilities at the trailhead with water and even showers. They don't allow camping in the parking area anymore but the Boulder bay CG at lake Mead is only five miles away (and a good warm up if you decide to ride).

If you're in town without a bike, All-Mountain Cyclery is right at the bottom of the hill and can help you out.

Bootleg is definitely one of my favorite places to ride. There is always something to challenge you and the obstacle that you didn't clear today will be waiting for you to give it another go on your next ride.

Great trail system.

One of the best in the country.

Riding from the campground: Mother's Loop from Lake Mead

Saturday, February 15, 2014

MTB Ride Review: SARA Park (Lake Havasu)

You've got to give it up for the local riders/builders out here at Lake Havasu. They have done a good job putting together a really fun trail system.

Sara Park Trails
The route on the map is just about 25 miles and covers the Watershed Race Loop, Fun Fair (beginner trail), Beer Bottle, Blue Trail and some exploring on the north side of the park. There is still another 10-20 miles of trail out here that is not shown.

All of the trails are really fun with your typical wide open singletrack with swoopy turns in and out of drainages, over rocks etc... Really good stuff!

There are also at least two trails that go all the way to the lake giving you the opportunity to take a swim mid-way through your ride to cool off. This may be welcome as it does get hot out here. Today, it was 84 degrees at noon and I'm here in February.

Lake Havasu has pretty much anything you need. Plenty of lodging, restaurants and other activities to keep you entertained.

There are a couple of bike shops, River Cyclery & Sport ( and AZBuilt. River is more MTB oriented and Tony Beck (Owner) can give you some tips on the trails.

One great thing about this area is the bike trail that goes from town all the way to the trailhead so you don't have to deal with the limited parking on the weekends. You can also expect lots of hikers on the Red, Yellow & Blue trails on the weekends but if you head for the outer loops you'll pretty much have the trails to yourself.

Overall, I really liked this area. There is probably enough here to keep you entertained for at least a week. Combined with some interesting road riding this is almost a winter vacation destination.

Ride stats: Sara Park Loops

Sunset at Lake Havasu.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ride Review: Joshua Tree National Park

I've been going to Joshua Tree for as long as I can remember.

Most of those trips were to go rock climbing but I have brought my mountain bike a couple of times to ride the Geology Tour Road route. This was the first time I've brought both bikes and really explored what the park has to offer cyclists.

Joshua Tree National Park showing my rides.
The best thing about riding in any of the National Parks is the scenery. Being able to ride in these spectacular places is always a treat. However, I think that for the most part the Park Service has done a horrible job with making cycling a viable option for seeing the park. There are exceptions to this. Zion, Grand Teton and Redwood have created bike trails and other facilities for cyclists.

Joshua Tree is a good example of what is bad about the parks. The roads are narrow with no paved shoulder even though the ground has been graded on both sides of the pavement. Combined with the twisty road, limited visibility and the fact that for some reason about 90% of people seem to completely lose their minds as soon as they enter any of the parks, this makes for a pretty dangerous ride. I honestly felt safer when I was out on Hwy 62 with a 65mph speed limit than I did in the park where it was 35.

The climb to Key's View.
This park is huge but only a small part on the west side is actually accessible to bikes. On the road I did a loop that did the park loop connected by Hwy 62 with a side trip to Key's View which overlooks the Coachella Valley. I also did most of this as an out and back so I could climb the West Entrance hill.

Both of the hills to get into the park were pretty good. The East Entrance hill was definitely tougher climbing 2400' over 12 miles. The other notable climb goes to Keys View through some of the largest Joshua Trees in the park.

On the MTB side, you are limited to the 4x4 roads that are scattered throughout the park. There isn't anything technically challenging but that isn't to say the riding is easy. The climb back up Geology Tour Road is steep and sandy in places. But like the other riding in the park, the views are awesome.

A good ride would be to start at Hidden Valley CG and ride out Bighorn Pass, do the Geology Tour route and return for about 25-30 miles.

My recommended routes:

MTB - Geology Tour w/Queen Valley Tour

Road - Jumbo Rocks to JTree w/Key's View

Twilight at Joshua Tree National Park.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ride Review: Moreno Valley

I spent the last week in the former foreclosure capital of Southern California. I didn't find any good deals on housing but the riding was pretty great.

I always go to new areas with the idea that I'll ride whatever is better between the road and the dirt. This week I found two pretty good road rides but spent the majority of my time exploring the trails of the Lake Perris State Recreation Area.

The better of the two road rides was the Oak Glen Loop, a 57-mile ride with 5300' of climbing with the cat 2 Oak Glen (east) climb. I've done this climb from the other side twice during the Breathless Agony Century so I wanted to give it a go from the other side. I managed to get into the Top-10 for the 15-mile climb starting at Live Oak so that went pretty well.

The other road ride I did was a loop that I spotted some local riders doing. Not bad but it seemed to be your typical shop ride loop that tended to avoid any good hills.

MRAP Downhill.
The real surprise for me was the mountain biking. I've been to Lake Perris on numerous occasions but have never ridden here. I always looked at the trail maps and saw that it was just a bunch of sandy horse trails. I had actually planned on making a couple of trips over to Sycamore Canyon while I was in the area but ended up riding at Lake Perris instead. I even managed to put together an 83.3-mile ride for the February Gran Fondo Challenge on STRAVA (Dirty Fondo).

The riding did have some sand as I expected but I also found a bunch of singletrack trails that were similar to those found at Sycamore Canyon and Southridge. The climbs are mostly moderate with the exception of the climb up to Terri Peak. There were two sections on this that weighed in with a grade of over 30 percent. Yes, it is that steep. I managed to get the KOM riding up the MRAP DH to the top of the peak. This was probably one of the steepest grades I've climbed but the surface was solid so it is ridable (shut-up legs).
The view from Terri Peak.

The trails are mostly decomposed granite over hard pack with some rock obstacles thrown in for fun. The soil type means that this place would be a good choice after a rain. It rained twice while I was here and it pretty much just made the conditions better as it packed down the sand.

There are plenty of other things to do at Lake Perris so this would be a great place for a family weekend. There is fishing, boating, hunting, hiking, etc...

The campground is huge with 100+ RV sites and 100+ tent sites. Everything is well maintained and the staff is pretty friendly.

Sunset at Lake Perris.