Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park

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I love to be on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia during the fall. The summit is ablaze with color – the low growing bushes turn bright shades of yellow – and the distinctive red ground cover makes for a very striking scene. Thick clouds rolled over the mountain top on what was a cool and breezy morning, and I was totally mesmerized by the distant views of the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay. The expansive view was perfectly showcased by the rugged and weathered granite slopes of Cadillac, and I had a grand time composing photographs. A fast moving storm front had just swept over the mountain, and although first light was seriously dampened by the leftover clouds, a saturated and lush autumn early morning landscape was left behind… absolutely perfect!

First light in the United States

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Any visitor to Acadia will surely spend time on top of Cadillac Mountain. It is after all, one of the most recognizable and iconic locations within this jewel of a national park. Whether you hike to the top via one of the many beautiful trails, or you drive there via the 3.5 mile Cadillac Summit Road, the views from this huge granite mound are truly spectacular. Compared to many of the huge peaks in the western United States, at 1,527 feet Cadillac might not seem all that impressive, but since it rises straight up from the Atlantic Ocean, you can’t help but admire it’s striking appearance.

Visitors familiar with this location will know that at certain times of the year, the summit of Cadillac claims to be the first place in the United States to see the sun rise, so not surprisingly, scores of people flock here before dawn during the summer months to witness the first light of the day from on high. I love exploring the endless possibilities for including foreground elements that are scattered all across the summit of Cadillac, and on this particular morning I “focused” on one small area on the north-facing slope of the mountain. The cool pre-dawn colors in the sky of the first two images were wonderful, and I especially liked how the granite on Cadillac seemed to absorb the light all around me. When the sun did crest over the horizon at 4:54 a.m., the landscape was bathed in a much warmer, more golden light… not a bad place to start the day!

Finding a foreground

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One of the most important elements of an interesting photograph is the foreground. A good foreground can add depth to any image, and it can help guide the viewer’s eye through the scene – I especially like how a wide angle lens can accentuate what you place in the foreground.

While the expansive views from the top of Cadillac toward Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands are certainly remarkable, opportunities to find interesting rock formations and native vegetation for inclusion as foreground elements in your photographs are everywhere. Lines and cracks and rocks of all sizes are just waiting to be included in your composition… you just have to be prepared to look down and arrange them in an interesting way.

The ecosystem on top of Cadillac is rather delicate though, so if you find yourself exploring the summit, please try to stay on the designated concrete trail that loops around the mountain. If you do step off the trail, make sure to remain on the giant, solid slabs of granite and avoid the fragile, easily eroded parts of the mountainside.

One of my favorite views, I especially liked the reflection of the clouds in Frenchman Bay, and don’t you just love those foreground rocks!

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

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I had been on a black and white kick before the Supermoon phenomenon and my experiments in focus-stacking, but now that those are behind me, it’s time for some more black and whites. These two photographs were made earlier in the evening of the Supermoon – one is obviously the iconic and spectacular Boulder Beach below Otter Cliffs, and the other is from the side of Cadillac Mountain looking down toward Bar Harbor and the Porcupine Islands. The clearing skies and recognizable shapes had me immediately thinking that these two scenes might be good candidates for converting into black and whites. Actually, as I post-processed these images, I didn’t even generate a color version of either.

Yikes… methinks I am becoming obsessed 😉

An incidental sunset

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While waiting for the Supermoon to appear, I had a chance to once again enjoy my favorite trail in some soft, late day light. The South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park never looked so good, and here are a couple from what was a very relaxing evening. A blustery day was clearing out, and you could almost reach out and touch the fast-moving clouds.

Supermoon

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Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that the biggest and brightest full moon of the year happened Saturday night. This “supermoon” passed closer to the earth than usual, and as luck would have it, the orbital path had it appearing on the east coast right as the sun was setting. Who could pass up the opportunity to try and photograph such an intriguing phenomenon? Not me.

I bundled Lori and Jack into the car and we headed to Bar Harbor for a quick bite to eat before beginning our moon-hunt adventure. The Thirsty Whale on Cottage Street was pretty lively with some sort of Cinqo de Mayo/Kentucky Derby combination party going on, but we enjoyed the atmosphere and the food wasn’t bad either. I had done my homework using the Photographer’s Ephemeris – a cool piece of free software that tells you when and where the moon and sun are going to rise and set on any particular day – so we had a good idea of what we wanted to do. The big questions was… would the clouds that had accompanied us on our drive from home dissipate in time to allow for a clear view of the moon?

We took a quick spin along the Loop Road so that we could reacquaint ourselves with the ocean and feed the soul. We pottered around the rocks at Otter Cliffs for about half an hour before heading to our chosen viewing point… Cadillac Mountain. As we started hiking down the South Ridge Trail, we could see that there were some clouds stubbornly hugging the horizon, but we figured that even if they hung around for moonrise, the views would still be spectacular. I love this trail.

We were enjoying what was actually a pretty nice sunset when, right on schedule – plus about 10 minutes or so due to the low band of clouds – the supermoon appeared high and bright over the Atlantic. I stopped making sunset photographs with the wide angle lens and hurriedly attached my longest lens – a 70-200mm f4. I had borrowed a 1.4X magnifying convertor from a friend a while ago to shoot Sam’s rugby games and had neglected to return it, so I slapped that on too and was now at 280mm.

If you’ve ever seen those cool “huge moon” shots, they were captured with way longer lenses than I have access to, so I was going to have to settle for what I now had on the camera and see what I could get. Using a wide angle lens would have rendered the moon – super as it was – like a tiny speck… definitely not what I was aiming for. I quickly found something to help frame the composition – for those of you familiar with hiking in Acadia, the granite cairn will be recognizable. I made a couple of frames, and then the moon climbed higher in the sky and ducked behind more clouds. Feeling a little chilly, we decided to call it a night and hiked back up the spine of Cadillac Mountain in the waning, but still beautiful, twilight.

Did anyone else photograph the Supermoon? If you did, please share a link to your photo in a comment below – I’d love to see your version.

As the light fades…

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After making a few photographs, I flipped on the video camera and I sat down to pause and reflect. I’ll see you all in a few days 🙂

Moving pictures…

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While any photograph is certainly capable of telling a compelling story, it can be quite a challenge to try and capture the essence of the landscape in a single frame. As the sights, smells, and sounds of the world go on around us, attempting to freeze that critical moment in time as one still image can be a formidable exercise. Sometimes moving pictures can bring more life to a scene, with the combination of movement and noise providing a different sense of place, so here – for a slight change of pace – are a few short video clips I grabbed from a recent trip to Acadia National Park.

The rhythmic sound of the powerful crashing waves is music to my ears, and if you listen carefully during the last scene, you will hear what I consider to be a very special sound… the famous round rocks on Boulder Beach knocking together as they get jostled and shaped by the incoming and outgoing Atlantic waves.

Don’t forget to crank up the volume 🙂

Googly+ and inspiration

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I never really “got” the whole Facebook thing. I opened an account a long time ago, but I haven’t ever updated anything, and the handful of friend requests I got (from people I know in real life) are still sitting there unanswered. Just lately though, I have started investing a little bit of time in a similar social media platform – Google+ – and I admit to being quite intrigued by this new world.

The Google+ community seems to be a fertile landscape for photographers, and I’ve recently connected with several people whose work I admire (many of whom you can find in the “Photographers I admire” links on the right hand side of the blog). As always, people are very willing to share their experiences, ideas and expertise, so for anyone interested in learning from top notch landscape photographers, it is definitely a cool place to be. Actually, I find it somewhat incredible to be connected and conversing with such accomplished photographers – from all over the country and even the world – isn’t technology amazing?

To date, I’ve been able to get much of my social media fix from right here on the blog – thanks to y’all – but I think I’m also going to give Google+ a chance to see if it is an online community I can both contribute to and learn from. I’m still going to share right here on the blog as I always have, and of course I’ll bring the inspirations I get from Google+ back here.

Speaking of inspiration… lately I have been engrossed in admiring the black and white work of some fellow Google+ photographers. Some of you will remember my recent dabblings with this medium, and after spending a little time exploring the work of people like Nate Parker and Moe Chen, I finally pulled the trigger and printed a series of my own Acadia landscapes. I’m very much at the beginning stage of learning how to really appreciate and understand the nuances of black and white photography, but I am eager to learn. For this grouping I settled on 11 x 14 sized prints on paper with a metallic finish, and can’t wait to have them in hand. Here are the photographs I included in my mini-series to be printed, framed and hung on a wall at home…

Why I’m a morning person…

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7:41 p.m.

There is nice soft light to be found at both the start and the end of the day, but my preference for making landscape photographs always seems to be the morning (though the one above was in the evening). I’ve been somewhat curious as to why I prefer to get up at early o’clock, and despite actually spending time trying to come up with a definitive answer, I have never really been able to put my finger on the true reason… until now.

Some theories I have considered include:

  1. Since I’m on the right-hand coast, and considering that the sun generally rises in the eastern sky, it makes sense that to take advantage of that warm, golden light hitting the majority of east facing landscapes, I would need to plan accordingly for an early start.
  2. While technically I find it just as difficult as the next person to get up at 4:00 a.m. to leave the house in time to arrive at a particular location for the best light, I genuinely don’t seem to mind getting up early… besides, I have learned that the payoff can be worth it.
  3. While I have no problem sharing a gorgeous vista with others, I also enjoy (prefer) the solitude of being in such a place all by myself. So, if sunrise is at 6:00 a.m., and sunset is at 6:00 p.m., which of these times do you think people are more likely to be around?
  4. I’ve heard there is some scientific mumbo-jumbo about how the light at sunrise and the light at sunset are different… err, OK… but none of these are the true reason why I like to make photographs in the morning.

Looking across toward Turtle Island and Cadillac Mountain, the photograph above was made from Raven’s Nest on the Schoodic peninsula within Acadia National Park, and it was while making this image that my suspicions about why I prefer to shoot in the morning were confirmed. The image above was made at 7:41 p.m. and the one below at 7:47 p.m. – that’s about 45 minutes after the sun had set. It was only when I had finished making these photographs – standing on the edge of the ocean – that I truly comprehended how dark it had become.

Though I’m quite accustomed to arriving at a morning location while it is still dark out, I’m also used to the day then getting progressively lighter as I go about my business, so as I stood on a high cliff overlooking the ocean, I’m not afraid to admit that the unfamiliar darkness began to make me a little uneasy. Of course I was never in any danger, but getting a sense of where the trail was and which tree roots I shouldn’t trip over posed a challenge in itself, and I also quite suddenly and acutely became aware of the heightened sounds of nature all around me – both the deadly silence and the strange, random noises that I hadn’t even heard five minutes earlier – and I admit to getting a little spooked.

7:47 p.m.

Luckily I had my Petzl headlamp to illuminate the path back to my car through what had now been transformed into an eerie, shadow-filled, and creepy forest. It was only as I hurriedly ditched my gear in the back seat of the car and quickly drove off (before anyone or anything could knock on my rolled up window) that everything clicked… I’m a big scaredy pants when it comes to being alone in the woods after dark… and that’s why, when it comes to landscape photography, I’m definitely a morning person!

The Devil is in the Detail

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The coastline of the Schoodic peninsula is a tapestry of nature’s most basic work. The rocky landscape is… all at the same time… smoothed and polished, cracked and broken. Along this particular section of shoreline, there are massive swathes of granite divided by lines – or dykes – of black basalt which stretch from the headland down to the ocean. The thin fingers of basalt are more easily worn down by the elements, creating a fractured landscape that is absolutely captivating to explore. Water often pools in deeper pockets of rock, and in the photograph above I was intrigued by the patterns, reflection, and natural details on display. In the second image, you can get some sense of the windswept nature of this stubborn piece of rock that reaches out into the Atlantic, and off in the distance across Frenchman Bay lies a close relative of this land… Cadillac Mountain and Mount Desert Island. And yes… those trees really do lean back like that!

A great granite hill…

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…that’s how author Christopher Camuto describes the mountains of Acadia in his book, “Time and Tide in Acadia – Seasons on Mount Desert Island”. Anne Mourkas (thanks Anne!) loaned the book to me through Lori, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading someone else’s well-chosen words as they described their most intimate feelings toward a place that I too love.

“The mountains of Mount Desert Island – really no more than great granite hills – will school you in the art of walking.” – Christopher Camuto

As the temperatures unexpectedly spiked to near 80 degrees last week, Sam and I set out on our first hike of the season with the goal of conquering the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain (1,532 ft). Normally this hike might be considered no more than a brisk walk, but I hadn’t done anything that even resembled exercise for the previous six months, so not surprisingly, it kicked my backside. In hindsight, perhaps for the first hike of the season we were rather ambitious in tackling the 7.5 mile up and back route, especially on such a hot day. For those of you who scoff at such normally manageable temperatures, here in Maine we should be experiencing low 40’s right about now, so it’s all relative, and the “heat” we felt was definitely real! Anyway, as I lumbered up and down the mountain, I couldn’t help but think of some of the words I had read in Camuto’s book.

We chose the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain Trail for several reasons; a) we figured since a good part of the trail was going to be on exposed granite, that it would be relatively dry. For those of you familiar with mud season in Maine and the impact of the spring thaw, you will understand our concerns about trekking through the lower part of this trail where it is usually quite wet, and b) quite simply, this is one of my all-time favorite hikes in Acadia… in Maine… anywhere.

We began our hike just above Blackwoods Campground on Route 3, and any concerns we had about it being muddy were soon dispelled as we made good time through the dense forest. We did encounter a couple of wetter spots as we criss-crossed a seasonal stream, but this was nothing more than you would expect, even on a rainy day in the summer. I really thought that there would be more water making its way from high to low, though after the warm day we had, even the wet spots we found are probably now gone. The first mile or so of this trail meanders through a lush forest carpeted with pine needles, tree roots, and boulders of all sizes, though before long you start to step out onto huge slabs of exposed granite… a precursor for what you will find further into the hike.

Before long the coolness and shadows of the pine forest give way to almost treeless granite slabs where the sun’s rays are welcomed and absorbed. Rock cairns guide you upward toward the summit, but before you get there, you have more than a few sights to take in. Scattered all over the ridgeline are glacial erratics deposited here some 18,000 years ago by an immense and powerful ice sheet. Their presence and origin seems remarkable to me, and I can’t help but stop to touch and photograph them. To read more about the geology of Acadia National Park, check out this information sheet from the National Park Service.

Despite my lack of preparation for the upcoming hiking season, I immediately felt right at home on the mountain trail. There’s something magical about being on the granite ridges that stretch from north to south in Acadia, and with 360 degree views all around you, there’s always something interesting rest your eyes on. On the way up, to the right there are spectacular views of Gorham and Champlain Mountains, with Schoodic Penninsula beckoning from further off in the distance across Frenchman Bay. To the left is an up close view of neighboring Pemetic Mountain, the equally stunning Sargeant and Penobscot Mountains, and then the quiet side of Mount Desert Island. Don’t forget to turn around… for that’s where the many islands dotted throughout the Blue Hill Bay can be found sparkling in the blue water for as far as the eye can see.

“Walking across these granite domes, enjoying spacious hours, you will feel keenly related to the sky and to the sea, to the rock underfoot and to the life of things here.” – Christopher Camuto

As we made our way above the treeline, we saw more and more examples of the geological forces that helped shape this island, and about 45 minutes into our hike, we arrived at what is probably my favorite part of the trail. Just before reaching the small glacial pond called “The Featherbed”, and just off the trail to the right, there is an unusual little area of life tucked away. Water catches here in hollowed out areas of rock, forming what appear to be mini-tarns. There is abundant life here that has survived the harsh winter and is now just waiting for springtime. Patches of grasses and wildflowers grow here, and if ever you get a chance to explore this area later in the summer, you will be in for a treat.

Just shy of two hours into our hike we passed the Blue Hill Overlook on our way toward the summit of Cadillac. It was kind of eerie being there on such a gorgeous day with not another soul in sight. The road to the top of Cadillac isn’t scheduled to open until mid-April, so the parking lot was strangely quiet. We enjoyed the delicious Dysart’s sandwiches we had carried to the top for lunch, and as always, the views were absolutely stunning. Though my muscles and joints were definitely hurting by the time we got off the mountain, we both agreed that there is nothing better than spending time exploring and appreciating this most majestic of mountains… or as Camuto called it… “a great granite hill.”

Sometimes, less is more…

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Here’s a wide version of the landscape I was enjoying on Sunday morning at 5:53 a.m. Lots going on in the scene, eh? While I love the wide point of view I can get using my 17-40mm lens and the full-frame Canon 5D Mark II, often you have to make tough decisions about what to include in the frame and what to exclude. And sometimes… in the name of creating a pleasing composition… less is more.

Here there is the powerful surf below the ledge, a gentle color gradient on the horizon, some funky high clouds in the top right of the frame, an amazing coastline running along the left hand side of the frame, and a pesky pine tee standing tall over toward the top left corner. Add the precarious vantage point I was perched on overlooking a potentially pretty steep fall, and you can see that some compositional choices needed to be made.

Sticking with the 17-40mm zoom lens (looking back I wish I had used a longer telephoto to zoom in on the waves as they rolled in against the shoreline rocks), I experimented with a variety of compositions. Landscape versus portrait orientation, 17mm versus 40mm and everything in between. Tipping the camera up or down to include more sky or more foreground… all of these choices can lead to quite different photographs… and I have to admit, I really do enjoy the creative process of making sense of these choices and how they impact the scene.

Here’s a vertical-oriented composition from around the same area. This one was made about half an hour (6:20 a.m.) after the previous photograph, and as you can see, simply turning the camera on its side can have a dramatic impact on the composition. For some strange reason I tend to initially get drawn to vertical compositions, but I always try to remember to shoot something I like in landscape orientation too – that way I can take look at all options when I get back home.

As much as I like the two compositions above, neither of them would make the cut if I were asked to pare the collection from this particular morning down. I think I am happiest with the composition shown below where I zoomed in to 39mm and tried to focus on just a couple of the many elements on display. Although I admittedly enjoy the wide angle effect (and might even be guilty of over-using it), in this photograph I think the composition benefits from the tighter focal length. So, yet another example of that well-worn phrase… sometimes, less is more.

My favorite photographs from 2011

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As each year draws to a close, I enjoy taking a moment to go back through photographs made during the past twelve months and highlighting those that mean the most to me. I usually choose my favorites based on the physical and emotional experience I have, and it really does feel good to reflect on time well spent in places I enjoy. I have to admit, I also get a kick out of using the camera to technically create something I like to look at… making memories that will forever feed my soul. I hope that as each year passes my photographs get better – whatever that means – or at least that they invoke stronger feelings within me, both while breathing in and out perched on the rocky Atlantic shoreline, or now, as I sit here typing and reminiscing about early morning wake up calls and fingers crossed in anticipation of dramatic clouds and good light. Anyhoo… most of my 2011 favorites are – surprise, surprise – from Acadia National Park and the coast of Maine, although this year I also have a couple from a memorable March trip back home to Ireland with my oldest son Sam. Drum roll…

I had been itching to get out with the camera again, so I decided to visit one of my favorite places and see if I could capture some snow blanketing the famous round rocks below Otter Cliffs. An early start this morning got me here about 45 minutes before the sun was scheduled to crest at 6:36am, and as always, I had the place completely to myself. Though the temperature was certainly chilly, there was little to no wind blowing, and since I was dressed in several layers, the 13F actually felt quite comfortable.

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I spent a very enjoyable late afternoon exploring the area around the Marshall Point Lighthouse in the mid-coast community of Port Clyde. Originally established in 1832, the present lighthouse was built in 1857, and this is the same lighthouse Forrest Gump visited when he was traversing the country. This lighthouse is pretty unique in it’s design, with a 31 ft tall white granite and brick tower perched on the rocks at the end of a narrow walkway. A distinctive and striking black cast iron lantern houses a fresnel light that does not flash any more. The Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum on the first floor of the light keeper’s house was opened in 1990, and the whole area is meticulously cared for and maintained.

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Standing near the ocean as the night rolls in can be a somewhat unnerving experience, especially with the wind trying to knock you over and huge waves crashing in the not too far off distance. At the end of the day, the warm light from the beacon was quite comforting as I made my way back toward the car. I stopped one more time to soak in the scene… that’s when I saw this view of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.

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I can remember visiting the Gap of Dunloe some 20+ years ago with Lori and some friends, and on that occasion we traveled in style with Dolly… the farting horse. Locals provide horse-drawn traps for the ride up to the gap, and the day we went we had a wet and windy journey up the hill, pulled by our horse who tooted all the way. This photograph is from when Sam and I visited Ireland last spring, and even though the classic greens associated with the Emerald Isle weren’t yet in full force, this was still a striking scene.

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Every single time I pass over the bridge that spans Marshall Brook I find myself staring at what I consider to be a breathtaking scene. There is something about the view laid out before you that catches my eye every time… no matter what the time of day or the prevailing weather conditions, I find myself always having to pull over. Looking north across the Bass Harbor Marsh toward Bernard (left) and Mansell Mountains (right), the eyes are treated to a snaking river that gently winds its way off into the distance.

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I spent an immensely peaceful early morning perched on a ledge overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and I couldn’t help marvel at how this is a very cool way to start the day. The sun rises before 5:00 a.m. in the summer in Maine, and as you can see from the photograph above, the pre-dawn light on this particular morning was pretty special. When the sun eventually crested over Great Head behind me, it bathed the scene in amazing warm light, with the granite absolutely lighting up with color. This view is looking south along the rugged Acadia coast toward Otter Cliffs, and other than a couple of seagulls who kept me company on the ledge, I was here all by myself.

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So… I wasn’t expecting the conditions to be particularly special on this morning, but as the light slowly climbed from the east up and over my shoulder toward the lighthouse, I started to wonder if I might actually be in for a show? There were some soft, wispy clouds behind the lighthouse, and as the day began to brighten, my jaw literally dropped as I marveled at how the high clouds were being illuminated with a phenomenal pinkish hue. Knowing that the light probably wouldn’t last long, and with a big grin on my face, I worked quickly to try to combine all of the elements within the frame into something I liked. I couldn’t have ordered better weather conditions, and the impressive lighthouse that welcomes returning mariners to Bass Harbor certainly did its part.

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Taking the Slea Head Road further west out of Dingle, we spotted a little harbor tucked into the rocks with a pretty beach. From a distance it was beautiful, and up close… even nicer. Looking over our shoulder though, we saw what looked like a path winding its way up the hillside toward the ocean. Eager for an adventure and the possibility of a nice view, we started hiking. I thought I was going to have a heart attack… too many Irish breakfasts and too much Guinness lately had me struggling to keep up with Sam. When I finally did get to a flat spot, I dropped my backpack and told him to go on ahead… I needed a rest. The headland we were on was called Dunmore Head (I think), and from here you can see Great Blasket Island straightaway, Inishnabro and Inishvickillane off to the left, and to the right is Beiginis and then Inishtooskert.

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There’s something about the fleeting appearance that Lupine make here in Maine which I really like. They explode onto the scene as the weather warms up at the start of June, but by the time July rolls around they are already starting to fade away. They are scattered all over the side of I-95 as I make my way down and back to work, and maybe it’s because they brighten my commute at this time of year, but I love the splash of color they add to the landscape. We went camping one weekend in mid-June… and despite the rainy weather, a good time was had by all. Late on the Friday afternoon we wandered up to the Beech Hill Road to hike the Canada Cliff Trail, and along the roadside we encountered a field absolutely brimming over with my favorite Maine flower… Lupine.

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If you want to discover examples of fall foliage colors in a pretty Acadia location, look no further than the path that runs alongside the Jordan Pond Stream. Starting out behind the Jordan Pond House restaurant, find the stepped trail entering the woods leading down to where the carriage road meets up with the stream, cross the bridge and make a left turn to follow the stream downhill and you will be treated to not only the soothing sound of running water, but also the wide array of foliage colors typically associated with a classic New England fall season.

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I had looked at the weather, and with a forecast of light rain and cloudy skies, it seemed like the perfect time to make a quick run down to Acadia before the fall foliage was all gone. I knew that the overcast weather and foggy conditions would offer nice even light in which to photograph the changing autumn colors at the top of Cadillac and the rejuvenated, rain-fed Jordan Pond Stream. First stop Cadillac… there is something special about being on top of a mountain when it is socked in with clouds and you have it all to yourself, and when that mountain is Cadillac, I’m in heaven.

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Fall foliage season comes and goes pretty fast around these parts, and when you factor in the potential for poor weather and the usual work commitments, chances are I might only have a couple of opportunities to try to make some photographs displaying the changing colors. This was the first photograph I made on a cool, rainy morning spent exploring the banks of the Jordan Pond Stream in Acadia National Park.

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Panoramic views of Acadia

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A few years back when I first started really digging photography, it didn’t take me long to feel somewhat constrained by the little box you looked through when composing a photograph. Especially in a place as beautiful as Acadia National Park, I couldn’t help but try to show what was beyond the confines of that rectangular viewfinder, and these are a couple of photographs which represent my attempts to create wider, panoramic images of what I was seeing. In each of these composites, I turned the camera vertically and made anywhere between 5 – 10 photographs, making sure to overlap each part of the scene slightly so as to allow for an easier task in stitching them together. Panoramic images like these are meant to be viewed large to show off the detail within, so these little blog-sized images probably don’t do them justice.

All three of the photographs in this series were made on the same date (9/24/02). The first is of Sand Beach and the Beehive as seen from high up on the Great Head Trail which climbs above what I think is one of the prettiest beaches in the world. Perched on this ledge, I can remember how peaceful it was as the sun came up behind me and over Great Head to light up the Beehive and Gorham Mountain beyond. The second photograph below is a more intimate and later-in-the-morning view of Sand Beach as seen from the far end of the cove. At low tide there are some pretty interesting rocks and boulders exposed, and in this scene I was attracted by the still relatively early morning light hitting the pink granite on the opposite shore of Newport Cove, and I especially liked the effect that having the shutter open for a longer time had on the advancing tide. I was also drawn to the vibrant reflections in the wet sand, and as you can see… I had the entire beach to myself.

Probably one of my favorite photographs ever, the panoramic composite below is of the round rocks in Monument Cove. This wasn’t made in especially favorable light, but rather it was made in the early afternoon – but with some awesome clouds. Setting just about all of my camera controls to manual, I can remember sweeping across the scene making probably 10 – 12 photographs, and when I got home and lined everything up in the computer I was quite pleased. Not necessarily one of my best photographs, but certainly one of my favorites. Originally captured on Fuji Velvia film, each of these approximately 30MB scanned and composited panoramic images were at one time thought of as being quite large in file size – makes me smile when I think about how large a single 5D Mark II tiff file rounds out at! Still drawn to these type of images, I have often wondered what it would take to get into using a dedicated panoramic camera… but then I would be back into the world of film… not necessarily a bad thing, but in many ways I do enjoy the conveniences of using a digital camera. Hmmm…

The Gorge Path, Acadia National Park

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A further installment in my quest to find some fall foliage colors in Acadia National Park led me to the Gorge Path, a pretty unique trail that winds it’s way up a narrow river bed between Cadillac and Dorr mountains. I had visited this trail a couple of weeks back when the foliage was just starting to change color and there were some amazingly rich greens to be found, but this time the transition to fall colors was in full swing. There were large pockets of reds and yellows blazing all along the trail, and since it had rained fairly hard the previous day, I was quite excited to see how strongly the little waterfall about 20 minutes into the hike might be running.

No more than a mile from where the Loop Road becomes a one-way system going toward Sand Beach, there’s room for maybe 3 or 4 cars in a small pull-off providing access to the Gorge Path. A short steady climb quickly gets you deep into the forest, and before long you are criss crossing the rocky stream bed which splits the gorge between Dorr and Cadillac. I found lots of leaves already downed by the recent winds and rain, although when seeking out waterfalls to photograph, this isn’t such a bad thing since many of the leaves were either washed down into the water, or stranded along the rocky banks of the stream creating opportunities for including the striking colors.

More colors from fall in Acadia

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Fall foliage season comes and goes pretty fast around these parts, and when you factor in the potential for poor weather and the usual work commitments, chances are I might only have a couple of opportunities to try to make some photographs displaying the changing colors. With this in mind, on my recent trip down to Acadia I wanted to take advantage of the morning I had there, so I’m posting a sampling of the photographs I was able to make on the short walk from Jordan Pond down to the Cobblestone Bridge. As you can see, the colors were in full swing, and with the recent rains the stream was running pretty hard. T’was a good day 🙂

Socked in on top of Cadillac, Acadia

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I had looked at the weather, and with a forecast of light rain and cloudy skies, it seemed like the perfect time to make a quick run down to Acadia before the fall foliage was all gone. I knew that the overcast weather and foggy conditions would give us nice even light in which to photograph our proposed destinations – the changing autumn colors at the top of Cadillac, and the rejuvenated, rain-fed Jordan Pond Stream. First stop Cadillac… there is something special about being on top of a mountain when it is socked in with clouds and you have it all to yourself, and when that mountain is Cadillac, I’m in heaven.

My friend Josh and I started our morning out visiting the cloud-covered – and very sparsely populated – summit of Cadillac, and even though we were met with a light rain that was blowing sideways, we were excited to explore the mountain on a day following some heavy rains. Swathes of red groundcover almost glowed in the subdued light, and all of those seasonal visitors who left the mountain entirely to the two of us certainly missed out on seeing Cadillac in a unique way.

Known for expansive and spectacular views of Frenchman Bay and the mighty Atlantic Ocean beyond, Cadillac today presented more intimate landscapes, the beauty of which compared just as favorably with those more familiar wide views you would expect on a sunny day. The wind and rain was blowing from the south and east, forcing us to turn inwards to face the mountain so we could offer a little bit of protection to our cameras from the elements, and so that we would not have a rain soaked lens to constantly deal with.

As we explored the quiet mountainside, we were careful to stay on the solid rock surfaces so as to avoid adding to the erosion that inevitably comes from millions of visitors trampling over the fragile landscape. We also tread quite gingerly because the rain had greased the granite, making it slick and quite treacherous underfoot. On more than one occasion I naively trusted the traction on the soles of my shoes too much, and although I escaped the mountain unscathed, I was not so lucky on the banks of the Jordan Pond Stream later in the day… but that’s another story.

We were literally up in the clouds with visibility down to about 30 yards, and in the eerie silence we were greeted by the sound of lively water quickly making it’s way downhill, and we were thrilled to discover several small, but energetic, temporary waterfalls. Right on the slopes of Cadillac, not fifteen yards from the popular concrete path that circles the summit, we (or I should say Josh) found at least half a dozen cascades of rain water trying to get from high to low, each offering a glimpse of the mountain in conditions that I personally had never seen.

I had a great time trying to photograph in these conditions, and was drawn not only to the obvious, saturated reds and yellows of fall, but also by the tall, fog-shrouded pine trees off the distance and the green lichen on the granite that seemed almost electric when soaked by the rain. We could have stayed on the mountain all day, but the amount of water flowing all around had us excitedly wondering if our next planned destination, the Jordan Pond Stream, had been similarly impacted by the recent rains?

Champlain Mountain, Acadia National Park

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Waking this morning, we were greeted by chilly temperatures that had dipped down into the mid-30’s, and the frost-tipped grass in the front yard battling the warming morning sun was a timely reminder that our amazing summer is now over, and before long the cold, dark winter that I loathe will soon be coming our way.

Before winter gets here though, we have what is my favorite season still to enjoy… fall. I love being in Acadia as autumn begins to grab hold, so with Sam home from college for a brief fall break, he and I grabbed the opportunity to spend a wonderful morning hiking a couple of trails we hadn’t been on before. Bright sunshine and a cool breeze greeted us as we began the ascent from the Sand Beach parking lot up toward the Bowl – a shallow glacial pond nestled between Champlain Mountain and the back of the Beehive – and then on to Champlain Mountain. I had been to the Bowl before, and I can remember looking across the water to the southern slope of Champlain Mountain knowing that someday I would climb it. Today was the day.

Some amazing restoration work has been done to the trail up toward the Bowl, with a series of impressive wooden steps having been recently installed. These new steps certainly made the trail more accessible, and I am sure that they also serve the purpose of protecting the trail from erosion and wear. We had a deadline to meet, so we cranked up the hill toward the Bowl in record time. As always, Sam could have easily left this old man in his wake, but instead he chose to stay close enough so we could chat as we hiked.

After rounding the Bowl, we entered the low forest canopy typical of many Acadia mountain hikes, and the hidden streams which were full of energy after a solid week of rain were always somewhere within earshot. Using hands and feet at times, we were soon on the upper slopes of Champlain ascending above the trees and being treated to broad views of either Dorr and Cadillac to our left, Frenchman Bay and Egg Rock to our right, and if we stopped and turned around, we soaked in the Bowl from above and the long granite ridges that lead toward the southern shores of Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Islands beyond.

Neither of us is a big fan of out-and-back trails, so after summiting the 1,058 ft Champlain Mountain in pretty good time, instead of returning the way we came, we decided to explore going down the North Ridge Trail to where it would meet the Orange and Black Path, and we would then complete the last leg of our hike back to the car by following the Loop Road to Sand Beach.

The views from the North Ridge Trail toward Bar Harbor and the Porcupine Islands were breathtaking, and as you can see from the photograph above, there were a couple of enormous cruise ships anchored just off shore. Once we hit the Orange and Black Path we descended pretty quickly. A marvelous example of the art of trail making, much work has obviously gone into making the stone steps of this trail relatively accessible, while at the same time maintaining the natural look and feel of the surrounding environment.

The granite ledges of Acadia hikes are probably my favorite places to be. I am perfectly happy exploring any of the glacially crafted southern mountain slopes of Sargent, Penobscot, or Cadillac, and the panoramic views you are rewarded with are exceptional. There is something about those sun-warmed pink granite slabs that make me feel very comfortable at any time of year, but as the fall foliage colors slowly begin to show (still about 7-10 days away from peak), what better way to spend an early autumn day than hiking in my favorite national park with Sam, followed by an awesome steak and cheese from Epi sub in Bar Harbor 🙂

Last of the summer…

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Sam just got back from spending eight weeks working as a camp counselor on Cape Cod, and before he could even think about getting settled in back home, this was his last weekend before heading back to college. So, where better to spend some quality family time together than on our favorite Acadia hike… the south ridge of Cadillac Mountain of course! As parents, we know that getting a summer job and being away from home for long periods of time is all part of the growing up process, but we still really missed having him around this summer… and guess who missed him the most?

Here are a few pics, and as a bonus I switched to video mode to try and capture the fast-moving fog/clouds that engulfed us as we made our way back from the Featherbed toward where we parked the car at the Blue Hill Overlook near the summit of Cadillac. What a cool mix of conditions… sunny and gorgeous one minute, and thick fog rolling in from the ocean the next… classic Acadia hiking, and another afternoon well-spent.

Even though the temperatures were quite moderate, if you watch the video you will see how fast the clouds were racing by, hear how much the wind was howling, and hopefully you will also be able to catch my little photographer buddy firing up his camera as he squatted beside me ready to “take a picture” with his camera 🙂