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Doing Photography in the Desert Southwest Thursday, May 7th, 2015

It’s All About the Search

Recollections about fieldwork in Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Cedar Mesa and Colorado National Monument

I’ve retired twice. Photography is my 3rd career. I began the business side of this by conducting photo tours in Rocky Mountain National Park, a 45 minute drive from my home. That was in 2008. I think I had 4 clients in that first year. By 2014/2015 I was licensed and conducting private photo tours and group photography workshops in Colorado, Florida, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona. I work in the Everglades, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Rocky Mountain National Park, Canyonlands, Arches, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Cedar Mesa. With all these spectacular places to call my office, my passion is the desert southwest. To quote Steve McQueen, “I’d rather be in the middle of nowhere than any place on earth”.

It’s not even conducting the photo tours and workshops that motivate me. Those are simply the means to the end. They provide the funds and the excuse for what really drives me, the search and sense of discovery. I have no recollection of my first visit to Mesa Arch, Delicate Arch or House on Fire Ruin, even though I have images of those places now considered iconic by some people. I do remember the 5 trips on 5 consecutive monthly new moons to Delicate Arch it took to get the lighting right for my night shot with the Milky Way.

Delicate Arch 2

I remember the 4 trips to House on Fire Ruin that it took to experiment with different lumen powers and light bulb Kelvin temperatures to get the look I wanted in this shot. I remember the 18 months of conversations with the powers that be at the Monticello office of the BLM over my rights to take and present this image to the public. Their first call to me was a 15 minute demand that I stop taking the picture and remove it from my website and all my promotional literature. It reached a point where they said “By reaching your hand inside the ruin to set a battery-powered lantern, you are, technically, entering the ruin” (which is illegal). Me: “What about the hundreds of people who stick their heads in to look around?” Them: “We can’t control them, but we can control you because you have a commercial permit”. This resolved itself in my favor when a scheduled meeting between us fell 3 days into the 2013 government shutdown.

House Fire Ruin Night20x41

My absolute favorite part of the business, though, is doing the field research in my never-ending hunt for new places to take clients. I began searching for Doll House Ruin in 2011. It was rumored to be in the age range of 750+ years old, in pristine condition and with a completely intact wood roof. There was no information available on the internet in 2011 about where it was located. I began by inquiring with the volunteers at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station on Cedar Mesa. After quite a bit of searching they came up with a set of GPS coordinates they translated from the government system to the public Degrees-MMss format. My wife and I spend 7 hours that day driving and searching, to no avail. I checked with the Edge of Cedars Museum and noted desert southwest archaeologist Winston Hurst. Later, I called the BLM office in Monticello. I expected them to deny knowing anything about it since the site was known to still have artifacts in situ. To my surprise, the ranger gave me another set of coordinates. Another search, another dead end. And so it went until early 2013 when I found a set of directions on a desert southwest site. I managed to find Doll House, even though the directions contained 2 errors! This is the image I got on that first visit. The next day I had a vision of shooting it a night with lighting. I went back in 2 weeks, carried in my lighting and came home with this.


Doll-House-Night-2 - Copy

 My wife and I have just released our first book, A Photographer’s Guide to Colorado’s National Parks and Monuments. Before the printed versions even landed on my driveway I had a vision of doing another book, this one about night photography in the desert southwest. Who knows how many changes the concept for that book will undergo before it becomes a reality, but for now that is giving me the drive and focus to pursue new, uncommon images in that genre. A few weeks ago I spent parts of 3 days looking for The Big Crane petroglyph in Butler Wash. Even with GPS coordinates I just couldn’t rein it in. The third time was a charm (with the help of Jim from the Recapture Lodge in Bluff).


The Crane is in the upper left of this image

Like any other job with deadlines (even if self-imposed), everything isn’t always fun and games. I just returned from a 2 week scouting trip to Cedar Mesa and Monument Valley where the goal was to find new sites suitable for night photography. It rained, snowed or blew walls of dust all but one day of the trip. In 2014 I went into False Kiva, in Canyonlands National Park, for night photography. When I arrived there was a group of 3 young Asian tourists and an older man. They were in a conversation that I wasn’t really paying attention to, but struck me a bit strange. The man intended to stay for night photography. The Asians were leaving and said over their shoulders “Well, if the sky clears we may come back for night photography and if we do we’ll bring you some water.” Clearly, he had no water. What I didn’t know until later, after we struck up a conversation with him, was that the Asians had found him lying unconscious in the trail at the bottom of the alcove. They had managed to get him and his camera gear up into the alcove… and then left him. He had driven 15 hours straight from California to the False Kiva trailhead, then hiked in with no water or food. After our night shooting session it fell to me to guide him back to his car. About 5 minutes into the climb out he began screaming and vomiting violently. My friend and I ended up carrying all our gear out plus his gear. It took us 2 hours to get him back to his car.

False kiva night 9

One of my more interesting experiences happened while I was researching Colorado National Monument for our book. My plan was to hike the Independence Monument Trail to get a sunrise shot of the Monument and the Kissing Couple. Because it would be a 1 to 1.5 hour hike in the dark on an unfamiliar trail I hiked it the evening before and got this shot of the moonrise over Grand Mesa.





I started hiking the next morning about 4 AM. About two weeks prior, there had been reports of mountain lion encounters in the Boulder area, so mountain lions were a bit on my mind. In all my night hiking I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a critter of any kind, but I admit that on this day I stopped twice to scan around me with my headlamp for any eyes shining back at me. About one hour into the hike I rounded a bend and saw 21 pair of eyes reflecting back at me. With my heart racing, I quickly set up my tripod and camera and ripped off one shot while having no idea what my settings were. After about a minute I had the presence of mind to shoot again with a very high ISO (6400), which allowed me to see that they were big horn sheep. I continued along the trail and got the sunrise shot I was looking for. When I returned down the trail about an hour later the sheep were up, moving, and standing in the trail. As I approached, they parted, leaving me at a 30 foot path between them for me to pass through.




There is a big difference between “taking pictures” and “doing photography”. Photography is hard work. I wouldn’t trade the experiences it provides for anything!


Bob Maynard operates Colorado Plateau Photo Tours ( and has just published his co-authored book, A Photographer’s Guide to Colorado’s National Parks and Monuments. He lives in Boulder, Colorado and loves photographing the desert southwest.

Get Dirty in Rocky Mountain National Park! Friday, June 20th, 2014

Next Saturday, June 28, 2014, Rocky Mountain National Park is hosting a weed pulling event.  Volunteers are sought to help rid the park of invasive species of plants.  Check in at the Beaver Meadows Visitor’s Center.  Gloves are a good idea!


My contacts in Crested Butte tell me that the wildflowers are blooming a bit late this year due to continue wet, cool conditions.  Accordingly, I’ve moved the workshop to July 19 and 20.  I have rooms locked in at about $140 a night and there are 2 spaces available.  The group size limit for this workshop is 4!  The flowers WILL BE SPECTACULAR this year.


Crested Butte Wildflowers III

Free onOne Software!!! Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

My photo tour company, Colorado Plateau Photo Tours is sponsored by onOne Software.  onOne has allowed me a one-time opportunity to offer a FREE download of Perfect Effects 8, Premium Edition to my clients.  They haven’t told me what the deadline is on this other than to state it is “for a short time”, so don’t delay.  There are no strings attached!  To take advantage of this go to:

Good luck and Great shooting!

Bob Maynard
Louisville National Juried Photography Show
Colorado Plateau Photo Tours

Follow Us on Facebook! Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Facebook is a great way to stay up to date with us.


It turns out I was hoping beyond hope that the park would reopen.  They aren’t sure the park will reopen this fall at all.  They still have to check every inch of every trail, stabilize dams, repair roads, etc.  I issued refunds to every person signed up for Rocky Mountain National Park in September.  Let’s all hope the park recovers soon and I hope to see you all next year!

2013 Rocky Mountain National Park Elk Rut Photography Workshop Monday, September 9th, 2013

I still have space available for this workshop running September 21-22.  September is a great time to be out in the crisp fall air doing photography.  The leaves will be nearing their peak color and the elk will be bugling at us during our morning session.

Big Horn Sheep 2

Openings in the Crested Butte Wildflower Photography Workshop, the Moab, Canyonlands and Arches Night Photography Workshop and summer private Rocky Mountain National Park Photo Tours Sunday, May 5th, 2013

I have 2 openings for the June Crested Butte Wildflower Photography Workshop, 2 openings for the July Moab, Canyonlands and Arches Night Photography Workshop and many available dates for private workshops in Rocky Mountain National Park.  See the website for details or contact me at 303-547-0807.

House Fire Ruin Night20x41

Jurying Completed for the 2013 Louisville National Juried Photography Show Saturday, May 4th, 2013

Dan Ballard completed the jury process for the 2013 Louisville National Juried Photography Show and this year’s exhibit is going to be awesome!  It took nearly 5 hours to whittle 910 entries down to the 104 accepted into the show.  The good news is that with 910 pieces to choose from the 104 remaining are all very strong pieces.  Dan’s going to have his work cut out for him picking the 3 winners from each category!

25 DAYS LEFT! Wednesday, February 20th, 2013
25 DAYS LEFT to get in the drawing for 3 18×12 archival prints on metallic paper, 1 onOne Software complete suite 6.0 (retail value $299 each ) and 3 Helicon Focus one-year professional licenses (value $55 each). Each like counts as an entry and each share counts as an entry. I’m not expecting thousands of entries, maybe a few hundred, so your odds are pretty good!  Last July I hiked into False Kiva in Canyonlands National Park and shot the Milky Way at 2 in the morning. I’ve processed a few different ways, but this is becoming my favorite!