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10 Favorites of 2013

The last few years I’ve been doing a year-end favorites post showcasing a number of my best images from the year. I’ve done a variety of numbers. From now on I’m going to focus on 10 images, no matter how hard it is to choose. While I haven’t had a chance to write individual stories for each of the amazing places I visited this last year, you will find many of those images on flickr, 500px or google+. Check out past favorites posts from 2010, 2011 and 2012.

First up we have one of my favorite places in one of my favorite parks: the Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park. I always wanted to visit the area and never did in the days I was driving an old Toyota Corolla. Now I’ve been there several times with my Nissan Xterra and can’t wait to go back. I was able to squeeze in a quick trip in April to this place. Exploring around the massive dunes (which reach as far as 700 feet above the valley floor!) I came across this remnant of an ancient lake bed. What really took me by surprise was that it was pink! The color contrasted with the cool sands of the dunes and the magnificent layered Last Chance Range illuminated by the setting sun.

Ancient Playa and the Last Chance Range

Ancient Playa and the Last Chance Range

After working like mad for the day job for much of the first part of the year, I embarked on a massive road trip. I needed a break, and I was eager to expand photographically outside of California. Expand I did, covering 9066 miles in 32 days. I’ll have more to say about this road trip in the coming weeks.

The first destination was the Grand Canyon. I had never been to the Grand Canyon. I’ve seen thousands of photos and I’ve heard plenty of stories from people over the years, but I had never seen it for myself. This was destination one. And wow! What a canyon it is! I have seen lots of canyons over the years here in California but none of that really prepared me for the immense scale and awe inspiring landscape of the Grand Canyon. I highly recommend visiting at least once in your lifetime. This is my favorite image I took in the too short time I had at Grand Canyon National Park. This is sunset from a very popular spot – Hopi Point. The light was magical. A single cloud masked the sun and for a moment softened the light and brought out the warm, rich colors of the canyon walls. A few moments later direct sunlight cut back across the landscape and the soft warm colors were no longer so vibrant.

Sunset at Hopi Point in the Grand Canyon

Sunset at Hopi Point in the Grand Canyon

The next major way point in my journey was a place I had learned about after seeing photos from other photographers at the Fred Miranda Landscape Forum. I am a fan of sand dunes. Ever since my first visit to Death Valley National Park in 2008, I have fallen in love with the intricate sand formed patterns and infinite shapes and sizes of these fascinating and dynamic piles of sand. Death Valley does not of course have a monopoly on sand dunes, and there is a whole national park named for them – Great Sand Dunes National Park in southeastern Colorado. My drive there from the Grand Canyon was long. I arrived in the total dark in pouring rain in the middle of black bear country. I couldn’t see anything. The next morning I awoke to find tremendous piles of sand, the largest in North America, in a clearing morning storm. The Eureka Dunes above reach 700 feet. The Great Sand Dunes reach 750 feet at the summit of Star Dune. These dunes are very different than the Death Valley sands. The sand has more of a brown-gold hue, with patches of black magnetite providing dark accents. Added to the mix was the fact that rain had just fallen and the winds were drying sand on the surface. All together, you get the great tonal variation seen here. I loved the texture of these dunes.

Great Sands

Great Sands

The next National Park on my journey brought me to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. This is a park I always wanted to visit. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after my short one night visit I definitely want to return and spend more time there. Here the flat emptiness in South Dakota is interrupted by “The Wall,” which is a formidable 100 mile long stretch of cliffs separating two levels of terrain. Exposed at the Wall are various erosion patterns and layers with grasslands above and below. One image in particular is a personal favorite. It plays tricks on my mind when I look at it, as the layers of sediments in the eroded landscape form near perfect horizontal lines that break the image up bottom to top in a way that makes me think of scanlines on an old analog television. The landscape was illuminated by a just rising sun. I definitely want to revisit this place soon and explore the land and the wildlife more.

Layers of the Wall

Layers of the Wall

Next up was the number one destination for the road trip – Yellowstone National Park. This is another amazing place I had never had the chance to visit before. I booked 6 nights there and loved every second of it. Wow! Two images from this part of the trip are in the list. Neither of them are iconic places you will see time and time again. I think Grand Prismatic Spring is pretty much the coolest natural thing I’ve ever seen, and yet I don’t include a photo of it here. Instead first we have a rainbow and thunderstorm over the hot runoff from Terrace Spring. My first full day in the park featured scattered showers, and I recognized conditions were right for a rainbow. I was on the west side of the park and the sun was getting low. I was driving around looking for a spot looking East to frame up a potential rainbow shot. Not knowing much about places in the park I settled on the place I started the day at. Here at Terrace Spring the hot runoff heads away from the road with a few trees nearby and the lush Yellowstone wilderness beyond. I set up and waited. A group of tourists came over and asked me what I was shooting. I told them a rainbow would appear and they kinda laughed and started walking off. No sooner had they started to walk off than the rainbow appeared. I yelled to them to look and then they smiled and laughed. This has remained a personal Yellowstone favorite for me.

Rainbow at Terrace Spring

Rainbow at Terrace Spring

The second image from Yellowstone that I have chosen is one of simple symmetry. I’ve been a fan of water-reflected symmetry ever since my visits to a flooded Badwater Basin in 2011. I came across this scene wile exploring the edges of Yellowstone Lake. I just loved the simple symmetrical composition of the lodgepole pines, grasses and water. Light rippling in the water provides a little breakup to the reflection surface. I just find it very pleasing to the eye and thus is edged out photos of all sorts of Yellowstone icons to claim a spot in my favorites list.

Yellowstone Lake Symmetry

Yellowstone Lake Symmetry

One of my days in Yellowstone was set aside for a trip down south to the neighboring park below – Grand Teton National Park. My first thought of this park usually is of an iconic image from Ansel Adams at the Snake River Overlook. I found this to be another superlative park. The sudden rise of the Teton Range over the Jackson Hole valley is dramatic and awe inspiring. As it turns out, I picked an interesting day to explore the park. I stopped at an overlook area and watched as an incoming storm passed over the Tetons heading right towards me. With my new lightning trigger I was able to get a little cloud-to-cloud bolt just before I headed to safer ground (also just before horizontal rain started!). The storm was dramatic and beautiful. Living in southern California I really do miss storms. One day was nowhere near enough time for this amazing park. I will be back. This stormy scene is my favorite from my time in Grand Teton National Park.

Thunderstorm Over the Tetons

Thunderstorm Over the Tetons

The next National Park on the journey was Olympic National Park. I had visited this park very briefly about 10 years before. I had seen the beaches and mountains but not the rainforest. I was most excited for the beach and for the rainforest. As it turns out, the rainforest can be dry in the summer. And with the dryness the light can be harsh. I was not terribly pleased with the photos I was able to take in the forest. Cloudless skies dominated above, so we headed to the beach first. Second Beach was a really neat place with large rocks offshore covered in trees. At the coast, a thick marine layer hugged the shoreline in stark contrast with the blazing sunshine just 1/2 a mile inland. Defiantly we stayed at the beach through sunset hoping for a break in the clouds. Fortunately a slight break occurred. The tide was out but was just starting to come back in. Waves wrapped around the stacks and collided in opposite directions, forming neat patterns in the wave surface.

Opposing Tides

Opposing Tides

The Redwoods. I love trees. In particular, Redwoods will always have a place in my heart whether they are the tall graceful giant coastal redwoods or the thick, red, massive giant sequoias in the Sierras. In the past I have seen other photographers’ photos of shafts of light in fog in forests. I had always wanted to see such a sight myself, but never had the opportunity. When I arrived for my two night stay in the Redwood National and State Parks area in northwest California, I spotted a scene that was everything I had been wanting to see and then some. Along the coast a marine layer of low clouds was yielding overcast conditions. I drove around to get my bearings in the park and then discovered that the road went right up into the clouds. Near the top, I suddenly was aware of all the beams of the sunlight filtering in from the high canopy above. I pulled over and went to work and watched in awe as the light moved through the trees. The fog revealed each shaft of light spreading out in every direction from the Sun. The scene was magical, and I felt as though I had been transported back in time to a prehistoric era. Not since “Wow” had I felt compelled to vocally say “Thank You” aloud to Nature around me for sharing such a quality experience with me. If forced to choose one picture from 2013 as my “best of”, this is it.

Redwood Rays

Redwood Rays

Finally, if you follow my various photography postings around the web, you might occasionally come across a train photo or two. I have since I was a kid been completely fascinated by steam locomotives. This fall I had a chance to take a photo under beautiful lighting conditions. The sun was setting and the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society‘s 765 here was steaming home after a series of excursions to the east. Pacing along side the locomotive on the roadway, suddenly the steam engine started emitting picturesque black smoke. We later learned the black smoke was by request of Norfolk Southern, the railroad that owns the tracks here. Normally, a fireman will run an efficient fire which produces little to no smoke. Photographers like me will often wish that the fireman was wasting a little fuel in order to give us some picturesque black smoke. With the setting sun, it was magical. You can see some video I shot while chasing the train here.

Black Beauty and Black Smoke

Black Beauty and Black Smoke

So there you have it. After much agonizing over how to narrow down 50,037 photos to just 10, this is what I came up with today. Tomorrow I might change my mind, but I’m going to stick with it. I look forward to many new adventures in 2014. I really enjoyed breaking photographically out of California. It has really ignited a desire to arrange photography trips much further away. Hopefully my day job will afford me new opportunities to travel this year. Also, I have a new years resolution to make the time to write more in this blog to go along with some big changes I have planned for the rest of my web site. Happy New Year!

January 5, 2014 - 8:52 pm

Simon Holden - Great work, Kurt!

January 11, 2014 - 4:45 am

Jimmy Denham - Nice work!

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