Hiking the Haynes Ridge Trail

The incredible majesty of Caprock Canyons State Park was created over millions of years by wind and water. Wind, the Texas Plains have plenty of. Water, they do not. At least not on the surface. The park sits at a natural transition between the high plains of the Llano Estacado to the north & west and rolling hills of the Texas Hill Country to the south & east. Most of the water that created these wonderful canyons ran underground in a process called “piping”.

Streams running east from the Llano Estacado flow onto the lower plains through the Caprock Escarpment, then into the Red River, the Brazos River and the mighty Colorado River. Over tens of thousands of years, the waters of the Little Red River have exposed the different geologic layers (“red beds”) of shale, sandstone, siltstone and mudstone. Each layer exposed by this weathering contains different colors of rock including the beautiful shades of red, orange and white you can see in the photograph below.

These steep and colorful canyons are one reason I love this area so much, but it’s the sky and the clouds that really captivate the senses. Driving through the park is a real treat but to get the best landscape shots you’ll need to grab your camera and hike to some of the park’s more remote locations like the Haynes Ridge shown in the graphic below.

Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail in Caprock Canyons State Park

Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail in Caprock Canyons State Park

Hiking the Haynes Ridge trail is not for the feint of heart however. The initial climb from the trailhead is over 500 feet straight up the steep and rocky face. In the dry desert climate of the canyons, water is a necessity you can’t live without. I (hiked) climbed this section of the trail with my new pack holding my camera, lenses, filters and four 24 oz containers of cold water. Little did I know just how much water I’d need for the grueling 7 mile hike. As always, I used my trusted Gitzo Traveler tripod as a walking stick.

Once you reach the first summit, the view of Caprock Canyons State Park is spectacular to say the least. The horizon seems to stretch on forever before fading into the eastern cloud cover as you can see in the image below. Yes, the climb up to this point puts you well above the interior of the canyon.

Haynes Ridge Summit

Haynes Ridge Summit in Caprock Canyons State Park, Texas
Copyright 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 26mm, f/13 for 1/60th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

Having rested for 20 minutes while taking a few dozen shots from this high vantage point, I thought the rest of the hike along the ridge would be a piece of cake. Little did I realize that we still had several hundred feet to ascend before we reached the actual “summit”. Luckily, I had my oldest living friend Jack, along to act as guide, coach and pack-mule if necessary. Jack’s an experienced hiker and we both felt confident in our “pace” though the first few miles of the hike.

That confidence faded fast however when we finally reached the end of the Haynes Ridge trail and started down the trail leading to the South Prong canyon area. I should point out that at this junction, we had climbed over 750 feet from the canyon floor (2467 ft elevation) to the highest point of the ridge (3200 ft elevation). For those of you familiar with Houston, it’s the equivalent of climbing the Williams Tower from the outside.

We now had to descend those same 750 feet down the steepest and most rugged “trail” I’ve ever hiked and the sun was rapidly beginning to set. As we began the long climb down, we both had one of those “Oh Shit” moments that happens when you realize that the trail is not a trail, it’s a “climb” and you (stupid) didn’t bring a rope, harness or hardware required to safely “climb” down. At age 50 and 70, free-climbing 750 feet in the fading light is not something either of us had planned on tackling that day.

Without sounding over-dramatic, this was one of the toughest descents I’d made in over 30 years. The fading light made finding hand-holds and secure footing very difficult and in several spots we lost the trail and had to back-track until we could find a marker. Once we got down to within 200 feet of the canyon floor the climb got downright dangerous with loose rock and gravel from washouts slowing our descent considerably. We climbed the last 100 feet at dusk and reached the canyon floor under the rising moon.

As we walked the final 3 miles back to our vehicle, exhaustion took over and our legs began to cramp. We quickly drank what tonic water we had (the quinine in tonic water relieves the cramps) and our reserve water in the truck. I have no idea how we managed to get out of bed the next morning, let alone scout spots to shoot that evening, but we did.

It was only by the Grace of God that we made it down that descent with nothing but a few minor scrapes and cuts and I’ve never been so happy to have the Lord along for a hike as I was that day. All I could think about during the long climb down was Proverbs 16: 18-19

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.


Filed under: Photography Tagged: Canon, Canon 5D Mark II, Caprock Canyons State Park, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography, Photography, Texas High Plains, Texas Landscapes

Workshop Preparation Post #5: Packing for Landscape Photography

As I’ve posted before, gear selection and packing for a landscape photography trip is a cumbersome task. Each time I set out for a few days or a few weeks I begin by putting together a shoot list and hiking schedule. I also check the weather forecast for the area of Texas I’ll be traveling though and pray for any cold fronts approaching from the north or west. The last thing I want is a cloudless sky.

Packing for Landscape Photography

Pulling together a shoot list is a common enough task for most commercial photographers but I find few landscape or nature shooters that follow this discipline. I like to maximize my time in the field but I can’t carry fifty pounds of cameras and lenses on each hike so a shoot list is essential.

So here is a list of what I pack for a typical landscape outing.

  • Canon 5D Mark III with EF 17-40mm f/4L USM zoom attached.
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L zoom with lens hood.
  • Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt & Shift Lens.
  • Gitzo Traveller Tripod & RRS Ballhead.
  • Singh-Ray CP, Vari-ND & ND Grad filters.
  • Black Rapid R-Strap & Clips.
  • Bubble level, CF cards, lens cloths.
  • Garmin GPS on one strap.
  • Motorola MR350 Two Way Radio on the other strap.
  • Emergency Thermal Mylar Blanket.
  • Hiker’s First Aid Kit.
  • LED Flashlight & Hunting Knife.
  • Emergency Bail-Out Rope.
  • Water, typically three 24oz bottles.
  • Trail Snacks (for energy).

This much gear weighs in a little under 20 lbs and fits comfortably in my pack. The nice thing is, the weight decreases during the hike as I consume my water supply and trail snacks. I caution folks about carrying too much weight in their packs. I’ve done these hikes and climbs several times in the past few years and every extra ounce of weight you carry takes that much more energy. When you’re out shooting in nature, the last thing you need to be thinking about is how sore your lower back is from lugging around all that gear.

In fact, during my spring workshop (Texas Landscape Safari) I may carry only one lens (24-105mm) on my 5D3 and a few filters in my pockets. I load my pack up with as much water as I can carry along with some apples for energy. One thing I tell all my attendees; if it’s a choice between a lens or a bottle of water, always take the water. The Texas sun can be a relentless companion and folks that don’t respect its strength soon find themselves dehydrated and exhausted. Not a great combination for a budding landscape photographer during a workshop.

Filed under: Photography Tagged: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, Canon, Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Caprock Canyons State Park, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Photography, Te, Texas High Plains, Texas Hill Country, Texas Landscape Safari, Texas Landscapes

Workshop Preparation Post #6: Shoot What You Love

The Spring 2013 Texas Landscape Safari is less than a week away and I know the folks that plan to attend are anxious to get out with their cameras after a long and cold winter. So for the next few days I’ll be posting tips to help folks get the most out of their workshop experience.

The first rule of photography that I was taught thirty five years ago was to “shoot what you love”. There is no better piece of advice I can give to an enthusiastic amateur than that. When you truly “love” the subject that you’re photographing, that “feeling” is reflected in the images you capture. Monet painted many different scenes during his career but none stand out nearly as much as those of his beloved garden’s water lilies.

Folks attending photographic workshops are often searching to discover what subjects they connect with the best. For some it’s big game wildlife in Africa, while for others it’s the unique water fowl found in southern Florida. For many younger landscape enthusiasts it’s the majesty of Yosemite or Yellowstone while for others (like myself) it’s the simple, rugged beauty found in the rural areas of Texas.

The key to getting the most out of any workshop (or your own photography in general) is to discover what you love to shoot and make it your goal to learn how to shoot that subject as creatively as possible. Don’t worry about what others in the group are concentrating on. Take a good look around you at each stop and see what catches your eye. If it’s water, shoot the water. If it’s wildflowers, shoot the flowers. If it’s rocks and trees, then explore the rocks and trees with your camera. Approach each new location during the workshop with an open mind, a curious demeanor and a courageous attitude and I promise you’ll soon learn what you “love” to shoot just as I have.

And remember to enjoy yourself out there. We’re all here to learn and have some fun exploring the Texas panhandle together. Learn to shoot what you love and to love what you shoot and I promise you’ll walk away with some great images and some wonderful new friends. But don’t take my word for it; just ask Angel, Darrell or Ralph when you meet them in Canyon, Texas in a few days.

Caprock Canyon in Summer

Caprock Canyon in Summer – Quitaque, Texas
Copyright 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 40mm, f/16 for 1/40th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer and two-stop, soft graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done entirely in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

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Filed under: Photography Tagged: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, Canon, Canon 5D Mark II, Caprock Canyons State Park, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography, Palo Duro Canyon, Photography, Texas High Plains, Texas Landscape Safari, Texas Landscapes