3.17.2010

Another simple shot from Eve's in Marathon.

This is a close up of a towel rack leg.  Shot with an EP2 and the 14-35mm at 6.3.  Sometimes the light looks nice and you slow down enough to notice the detail instead of the forest.  (How's that for a chopped salad of a metaphor?......)  The wonderful thing about Eve's in Marathon is the endless supply of beautiful colored backgrounds at one's disposal...........

A brief interlude to actually show a photo I like to look at.

I shot this in Eve's Organic Garden and Bed and Breakfast in Marathon.  I'm not there yet in the arc of my story but I thought I'd throw in something I really liked to look at for fun.  I love the fortunate juxtaposition of colors.  It really doesn't matter what kind of camera one uses for shots like this............but it was an EP-2

Stay tuned for Marfa.

From great eggs and biscuits to outer space within an hour.

The continuing story of my short road trip to west Texas.  I left Ft. Davis shortly after breakfast and headed over to the Ft. Davis State Park.  Did the skyline road and then headed over the McDonald Observatory to see what was happening at the highest point in the Davis Mountains.  The observatory sits at just about seven thousand feet......  I saw a lot of cool rocks like the ones above and I tried my best to make images that were unique and different but I had to realize at some point that I'm not really a landscape photographer, so...........

I tried my hand at buildings.  This is one of two observatories on the top of the mountain.  I was supposed to go to the visitor center and join a group tour but I'm pretty bad at following directions and even worse as a team player (pointed out by a disgruntled editor just last week....) so I went straight to the main observatory where I met the lead electrical engineer for the entire facility.  No joke,  I told him I wasn't into group tours.  He gave me a private tour.  We talked about the proprietary Kodak CCD sensor they use in the main telescope and how they cool the sensor with liquid nitrogen in order to reduce noise.  Now I'm carrying around a tank for the Olympus e1 and dousing the sensor just before I shoot in order to reduce noise.  When I have the sensor totally immersed the low noise performance of that old Kodak sensor makes the new Nikon D3s look like a Roy Lichtenstein print......(Just kidding.  No tank of liquid nitrogen for the e1 ---- yes for the telescope.)

The main observatory which uses a Kodak chip (not kidding!) and the whole telescope assembly is cooled during the day to the temperature that is predicted for the night.  In this way they don't have to deal with the differing coefficients of metal and glass expansion or contraction which would alter the focal length and aspherical properties of the telescope's optics.

The silver dome houses a curved mirrored array that acts as the data collector.  It's a very cool looking building.  I imagine that people go in thinking that there's an eyepiece to look thru.  There isn't.  Here's what the business part of the telescope looks like:

The fascinating thing about this image for me is the exif info.  This was shot with the EP-2 handheld at 1/3rd of a second.  Either I am as steady as a large block of ice or the IS in this camera really works.  (I paid full price for my own EP-2.  It is not a loaner.....).

The next shot is not nearly so impressive since it was shot a boring 1/6th of a second.  Unthinkable before IS in cameras.


Love the way the exteriors look when you underexpose them with the 14-35 on the e30.  Makes me want to re-do my place with silver foil :

Well.  So much for cool science stuff.  A big "thank you!!!" to Hans Kreel for the personal tour.  Spectography rules!  And then back on the winding road to Marfa, home of Bridget and the Marfa Table restaurant.

Camera notes:  After the first day I abandoned the Canon G10 and went straight for the EP-2 with a side of the e30 thrown in from time to time.  Here's why:  small. light.  good files.  fun to use.  great finder.  The downside:  you get around 300 shots per full battery charge.  Good thing I brought four batteries because the power was out at my friend's house.  But that's a story for later.........

Day Two. High Altitude Photography. With eggs.

So this is the first thing I see in the morning when I get up in my campsite in Balmorhea State Park.  It's this wonderful tree against a cold blue sky and it sets the pace for the day.

I didn't bring along real food or cooking equipment so I figured I'd get some coffee in Balmorhea and then head off on the day's adventures.  Silly me.  There's only one restaurant in town and it only opens for lunch and dinner.  It's called "The Bear Den" and it serves pretty good Tex-Mex food.  The first real coffee will be in Ft. Davis which is 45 minutes away through the mountains.  For those of you who know me and are convinced that I can only sleep in a four star hotel room that a client is paying for, here is my campsite:

I shook myself awake.  Put on my wrinkled and frozen Khaki pants and revved up the car.  I'm not use to mornings without coffee but I figured that this was supposed to be an adventure after all.  I was not so comatose that I failed to see how beautiful the light was along the road so early in the day.  As mine was the only car I saw during the entire drive between the two towns I thought nothing of stopping alongside the road, at random, to take photos like these:




After driving all day and then sleeping in my car I would like to take a moment to praise it.  In over 1200 miles it never missed, coughed, surged or otherwise provoked the city boy anxiety of getting stuck in the some desolate place.  The seats were comfy, the drive was stable and sure and it housed my cameras like a giant Pelican case. (Not currently sponsored by Pelican!).  In fact, I promised it (while talking to myself near Sonora) that I would show you its photo:

The noble and long suffering car.


The trip thru the mountains was wonderful.  Forty five minutes of photo-Disney.  Big ridges, raw cliffs and energetic fauna.  But I was getting hungrier by the moment and beginning to fantasize about what the world would be like with a Starbuck's shop every ten miles or so.  ( I would be a bad world dictator because I would mandate silly things like:  There must be a good coffee shop within twenty minutes of any destination.....)  But I finally pulled into Ft. Davis and started looking.  If you aren't a local it sure is hard to know what your options are.  This time it was dumb luck.  The writing on the door said, "Nel's Coffeehouse" but a handwritten paper sign also added, "Hot Breakfast now being served".  I parked the dynamic beast/car and went in with much trepidation.  The first person I saw was a state trooper right out of central casting, with a Stetson hat, a big belly and a pair of black, ostrich skin boots.  He nodded that authoritarian nod right when I came in the door and then settled back in to his coffee and the skinny newspaper.

Luck was on my shoulder that day.  Nel's had inaugurated hot breakfast that day!  And to paraphrase Ernest Hemmingway,  "......and it was good."

Doesn't look like much in the photo but that was the best biscuit I've ever had.  Foreshortened by the wide angle setting of the 14-42, it was really ample.  Just to the left of the biscuit and the potatos is a portion of refried beans.  Just thought I'd explain that for any of my readers from the great northern reaches of the country.

This is what happens when the camp out is chilly and the food is delicious:

Nel's was a contrast at every step.  The food was great and the service was disorganized.  The coffee was incredibly good even by Austin or Seattle standards but it was served with pre-packaged dairy creamers......

And lots of them.........

Stumbling into Nel's was dumb luck but three days later I am still congratulating myself for not judging a book by its cover.  In a small town, with limited resources, it's not always possible to build the most impressive infrastructure.  But believe me, if you are headed in that direction you'll have one of the best "regular guy" breakfasts that you can imagine.  If you are traveling with hoity toity people be forewarned that there will be no eggs Benedict nor will there be scones.......at least not until you get to Marathon. But that is a story for another day........

Yes,  This is Nel's.  Love the signage?

All images done with the EP-2.

Getting Wet In The Desert.

I always promised myself that when I went to West Texas on my trip I would take an afternoon to swim in Balmorhea Springs.  So I did.  I started my journey west from my parent's house in San Antonio.  We'd eaten a great dinner the night before at a wonderful restaurant called, Bistro Vatel, in Olmos Park.  I hoped into my old 2003 Honda Element and headed out to highway 10 about 8:30 in the morning.  Six and a half hours later I pulled off I-10 into the tiny, tiny town of Balmorhea and went looking for the springs.  Now, I should preface this by reminding you that I am from Austin.  I swim year round in a heated pool and even on the worst weather days we have anywhere from 15 to 20 hardy swimmers show up for swim practice at seven in the morning.  We also have Barton Springs, where urban rumors tell constant tales of the beautiful sirens who, in the days of Janis Joplin and blotter acid, used to sun topless on the banks of the mystic waters.  Even in the crisp chill of January Barton has it's faithful crowd.

When I got to Balmorhea Springs I walked into the pool area and took a look at a really magnificent fresh water pool.  Clean, crisp water fed in from an underground spring.  The pool is huge and goes to a depth of 25 feet.  Catfish swim lazily along the bottom.  As do black puffers.  And schools of little Mexican tetras zip along and try, enthusiastically but unsuccessfully, to nip at your with their tiny mouths.  But there were no swimmers.  The only public swimming pool for miles and miles in any direction and not other swimmers!  Eventually a tourist came.  Looked at the pool and floated around for a bit before getting out, drying off and heading out for some other adventure.

(Do you see the vicious tetras just under the surface?  They wait to feast on the unsuspecting...well, maybe not.)

I put on a swim suit, grabbed a pair of goggles out of my swim bag and hoped into the pool to swim some laps and spend some time unwinding from my manic drive.  And the surprisingly good latte from McDonald's a couple hundred miles back in Junction.

The water was a pleasant 72 degrees.  No lifeguards on duty.  No teenagers doing cannonballs from the edge.


After a bit I got out and dried off and started taking images for my "project".  I used all three cameras in a short period.  I started with a Canon G10.  No matter how good the new EP-2 and its compact cousins are I just can't give up the G10 yet.  It charms by its industrial design and it's huge and detailed files.  It's the camera to have if you can have only one and you're not allowed to have lenses.  Thankfully, there are no rules like that so you can have any dang camera you want.

I was amazed at the pool.  So clean and clear.  So unused.  The things that make it endearing are the archaic touches light the design of the railings. And the wonderful signs warning against diving in shallow water.


I started out using the G10 and it was good but I segued into using the EP-2 and, in fact, that camera and the humble kit lens account for 85% of all the photos I took on my trip.  The ability to do instant visualizations in the near perfect EVF adds something magical to the process.  It's fun to see, in real time, how the shift of exposure or the change of a color temperature setting will affect the image before you even trip the shutter.

I also used the Olympus e30 and my favorite Oly optic, the 14-35mm lens.  But no matter how alluring the optical qualities I couldn't resist the EP2.

I shot a lot in the afternoon sun and then left to search out the ONLY restaurant in all of Balmorhea.  Don't like Mexican food?  I can only suggest  that you consider driving the 40 minutes to Ft. Davis if you crave some variety.......

After dinner I came back to see how the light looked.  I stayed shooting until the sun tucked under the collaring mountains and the last of the light was extinguished.

At one point a motley crew of scuba divers showed up and spent some time lurking on the bottom.  They seemed to have the same sort of "gear nut" mentality that photographers sometimes evince.  They talked about their tanks and their regulators and how cool their neoprene suits were.  I could tell that the whole process tickled them and made them happy.  One college couple came and walked around the pool making art of each other with their shared point and shoot camera.

It's a long way to go just for a swim but it is one of the nicer and more organic pools I've been in.  If you have to go to Marfa or El Paso or some such city you could do worse than to pull off the highway and cool down a bit.  Just don't expect lifeguards or concession stands.  No lattes after this swim.  Not for another 45 miles at least......
You might notice the ducks in this image from late evening.  They weren't their when I swam my laps but the scuba guys say they are pretty territorial.  I'd hate to say I lost an encounter to a mean duck.....

All the hardware is this kinda crusty, WPA feeling stuff. Overengineered and under maintained.

Of course, I love the square.  That's so cool being able to set the aspect ratio that works for you.





















Once the sun goes down the park shuts the pool.  No night swimming for these people.

After the pool closed I walked back to camping space number 19 and got my bed ready.  I flipped up the back seat and spread out my orange sleeping bag.  Then I started a small campfire in the little cinder block circle next to the campsite.  I sat cross-legged and drank a glass (styro cup) of red wine and watched the giant white stars pulsing against a nearly jet black sky.  The fire burned down to white dusted red embers and the wind picked up.  As soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped like a rock.  I wrapped up in a sweat shirt and a parka shell and finally got up, kicked dirt over the last of the embers and went to sleep.  The wind picked up and, at times, rocked the car.  When I woke up in the morning every breathe I exhaled made white clouds of steam even inside the car.  Damn it was cold....

That's it for day one.  More to come.