A winter drive through New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains

Much of the snow that falls in the winter is confined to the northern mountains near Santa Fe and Taos. Occasionally more widespread snow occurs blanketing the Jemez Mountains to the west and the Sandias that form the back drop to the city of Albuquerque. Its ideal in many ways because you can enjoy winter sports at the ski resorts without having to deal with snow at home.

NM 4 takes you through the Jemez Mountains. In the lower levels there are streams, and magnificent areas of red rock at Walatowa. At the higher levels you can find snow capped mountains and the Valles Caldera.

‘The Valles Caldera is one of the world’s best examples of a resurgent caldera—a circular volcano with an uplifted center floor. The beautiful streams, high mountain peaks, lush grasslands, old-growth timber, rich cultural and tribal heritage, and abundant wildlife make these 90,000 acres a wonderland of adventure with great scientific value”

After a recent snowfall I made this journey and climbed up into the mountains to enjoy the winter views. I used my Canon 17-55 mm lens to capture the many wonderful views.

Battleship rock.is a sheer cliff that rises above the Jemez River like the prow of a ship. The cliff is peppered with obsidian created from volcanic eruptions five million years ago.
Valles Caldera
Impact of the Las Conchas fire that burned 150,000 acres in 2011
Mountain Stream
View from NM4 just north of hwy 550

On the way back I had the opportunity to enjoy a mug of hot chocolate and home made green chile stew at a small cafe in Jemez Springs (calorie free of course). It was another reminder of why I love living in New Mexico.

Finding joy among the dead wood

Living in the desert it can seem that nature’s colors become so muted in the winter and I long for the first signs of spring. My brother who was visiting from England said its nice but he would miss the green grass and trees of home. Of course there is a reason why its so green and much to be said for 300+ days of sunshine each year. When I first moved here it took me a while to realize I could discard my umbrella because it really was sunny almost every day.

I took my camera on a field trip to the Nature Center here in Albuquerque which is nestled in the cotton wood trees close to the Rio Grande. Sadly the river isn’t so mighty these days. I looked around at the sight of brown wherever I rested my eyes but looking closer there are spots of color to be found. The absence of leaves and under growth exposes so many great textures and lines that draw in the eye. It was a perfect day with a stunning blue sky and not a breath of wind.

Here are a few examples of what I found when I took the time to look closer as I walked through the trees.

If you are yearning for the arrival of spring take a moment to enjoy what winter brings.

In Search of Albuquerque

I typically focus on landscape and wildlife photography but I was inspired by an article about los muros de burque. “Muros translates from Spanish as “walls”. In Albuquerque, our walls bring people together. Throughout our vibrant city you’ll see our diverse culture expressed not just through the color of our skin, but through the color on our walls. Take a journey into the heart of who we are and discover the murals of Albuquerque.”

One beautiful Sunday morning in January I packed up my camera and parked my car near South Broadway in Albuquerque. I walked in search of the murals located in this area. I had traveled this road many times but not fully appreciated the works of art that brighten up the buildings. It reminded me that beauty can come in many forms. Using a canon 24-55 mm lens I took in the many artworks that reflect the neighborhood and culture of the city.

I want to share with you just a few of the pieces found in this area and encourage you to go out into your own neighborhood and observe what makes up the heart and soul of your home.

Bosque Mural
Dolores Mural
Celebrating New Mexico United
South Broadway Cultural Center
Mural on restaurant located on Coal

In search of winter birds

ISO500 f7.1 1/2000 Cranes taking off at sunset. Bosque del Apache

I have the good fortune to live a 90 minute drive from Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge in New Mexico. The name of the refuge means “woods of the Apache” in Spanish, named for the Apache tribes that once camped in the forests along the Rio Grande It is a favorite spot to watch the migration of the Sandhill cranes in the fall.

I have often made a pilgrimage in the winter to photograph the cranes and snow geese. Looking back at my photos I’ve never been truly satisfied with the shots I have taken. The saying is that a bad workman blames her tools but I realized in this case the lack of a good zoom lens was impacting my ability to effectively capture the amazing scenes of these birds taking flight or coming in to feed. Often you are photographing in low light as the best opportunities occur at sunrise and sunset. I have frequently had lens envy when photographing at this location as its frequented by professional wildlife photographers.

I rented a canon F2.8 70-200 is lens from Borrowlens.com. Its also a good way to test out a lens or camera before making a purchase. It arrived at 1:00 PM and I rushed to the UPS store to pick it up. If I left by 2:00 I would get there for sunset so when I got it home I ripped it out of the box and threw my camera equipment in the car. I wanted a day when there was some cloud to provide a more interesting sunset. Living in New Mexico cloudy days are often few and far between.

ISO 500 f4.5 1/2000 Cranes returning at sunset at Bosque del Apache
ISO500 f7.1 1/800 Cranes feeding at Bosque del Apache

I was glad I invested in renting this lens and was happy with the results.

Being Present

Yesterday evening I watched from the comfort of my home office the celebrations in London as 2020 was ushered in. There was a large crowd waiting in anticipation for Big Ben to strike midnight. What struck me most was the sea of phones held up to the sky waiting to capture what would be a 15-minute extravaganza of fireworks and music. Were they hoping to bottle a memory of a festive evening or to catch that amazing shot to impress their friends and family?

I reflected for a moment how often I have witnessed an event and focused my attention on the view through the lens of my camera or the screen on my phone, How many times have I forgotten to drink in the whole scene and enjoy a spectacular sunset, a rainbow following a storm or the laughter of friends. Distance and a computer screen allowed me to take in the New Year celebration as it unfolded in London and I felt a wave of emotion watching a view of my former home. It was a poor substitute for being there, but would I have missed this sensation if I had been among the crowd with my camera pointed at the sky?

Whether you are professional photographer, or a happy amateur remember to be present and enjoy the moment itself. Put down your camera and savor the miracles that unfold in front of us daily.

“Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Attaching your lens (or not)

Most photography blogs will share words of inspiration and in depth technical articles. Some of my posts will follow this format but I want you to know we all make mistakes and I will be sharing some epic fails on my journey.

When I first bought my SLR camera I only had the lens it came with and I asked a friend if I could borrow his zoom lens for a class project. At the time I was taking a basic photography class at the University of New Mexico.

I rushed eagerly to a bridge over the Rio Grande which isn’t really that mighty but in the desert any body of water looks exciting. I took the lens my friend had loaned me and attached it to the camera. I felt so proud as now I looked like a real photographer. I walked to the edge of the bridge and lifted my camera to take my first pictures (award winning of course) and there was a loud clunk. I watched in horror as my friend’s precious lens rolled in slow motion towards the edge of the bridge before disappearing over the edge.

What would I do. I looked over the edge of the bridge and breathed a sigh of relief as the lens had fallen to a ledge a little below. My relief was short lived as no amount of stretching would bring it into my grasp. In total desperation I had to make a call to my soon to be ex-husband. To his credit he came and climbed over the side of the bridge to retrieve it. There was a momentary temptation to give him a quick shove.

The moral of the story is to check your equipment and make sure your lens or anything else is attached. Did I tell my friend? Heck no! Did I give my husband a push? No but the fleeting thought brought a smile that danced on my lips.

What the F Stop

If you are progressing to an SLR camera one of the things you will need to know about is F stops.

When I decided to dip my toes back in to photography 11 years ago I bought myself a Canon Rebel. A friend of mine, an engineer and an amateur photographer, decided to sit me down and explain f stops. I nodded my head and smiled sweetly but didn’t have the heart to tell him I had no idea what he was talking about. Fortunately the University of New Mexico held photography classes as part of their continuing education program.

The aperture is the hole in the lens that allows light to pass through the lens and onto the camera’s sensor. In photography, f-stops are a way of describing how open or closed the aperture is. Smaller f-stops like f 2.8 mean larger apertures and more light. Larger f-stops like f 16 mean smaller apertures and less light.The aperture also has an impact on the depth-of-field.

The depth of field is the zone within a photo that will appear in focus. In every picture there is a certain area of your image in front of, and behind the subject you are photographing that will appear in focus. A small f-stop (large aperture) gives you a smaller area of focus and a higher f -stop (small aperture) gives you a larger area that’s in focus. For instance if you want the background behind the main subject to be blurred you use a small f-stop and if you want everything in focus use a higher f-stop like f 16.

My goal here isn’t to give you an in depth review of f-stops as there are many resources available online. Neither is the goal to send you straight to E bay to sell your newly acquired camera or discourage you from taking the next step. It all seems like weird science to start with but if you use available resources and persevere you will develop a working understanding quite quickly. Practice, practice, practice. Photograph subjects using the different f-stops and you will be able to see the difference.

Be brave. The best part about digital photography is the ability to practice and delete.