I Think I Can See Mexico From Here

By now, most people have given up on their New Year's resolution. I'll admit it, I'm not doing very well with some of my goals. Ok, most of my goals. But, I'm sticking with one of my photography goals—take more photographs.

"Um, don't you take photographs all the time?"

Yes, yes I do. Most of the time I'm on a hike when I take my photographs. So far so good. But, when I'm on a hike, I'm taking notes on what the trail is like, the sounds, or smells catching my attention. So, I'm trying to take in everything around me.  I can't get to most "photographic" locations without hiking to it. But, sometimes I want to get a photograph, and not worry about how I got to the location. That's been more difficult than I thought it would be.

It's A Big World Out There

I'm always looking for ways to improve my landscape photography. Online tutorials, books, magazines. I'll absorb a new tip or technique right away, and other times I struggle...no matter how hard I try. If I don't get out and use those new skills...I actually learned it?

I know everyone has heard the old adage "practice makes perfect". Well, it's true. Honestly, "perfect practice makes perfect". I know, shocker. This is my goal. More photography practice, equals a more perfect photograph. And, sometimes, what I need is a disruption to my daily routine to get this practice time.

Sure looks dry down there

I've been out-of-town, and I was smart enough to bring along my camera. I learned long ago; it's hard to practice photography without your camera. I hear it all the time, "the best camera is the one you have with you". Well, sure, but if all I ever use is my iPhone, then I only ever be good with my iPhone.

Since I was going to be alone, bored, and stuck in an unfamiliar place, I decided to seize the moment (and extra play time), and get out with my camera.

Unfamiliar is a bit of a stretch. I've traveled to Southern Arizona several times—all on work-related trips. So, I already new what to expect. Over the years, I've been to Saguaro National Park, traveled the backroads between the Huachuca Mountains and Tucson, and experience the monsoon season. But, I've never been down to Coronado National Memorial.

Border Patrol

Coronado National Memorial skirts right up to the Mexican border. In fact, the border is only about a mile away. The only traffic I saw while in the park was Border Patrol.

I'm not sure when the best time of year is to visit Coronado, but it would have to be early February for me. At least it wasn't going to be blazing hot. Well, still too hot for my taste, but I'm weird like that.

Arizona is going through the same lack-luster winter as Colorado. No rain, no snowy peaks (yes, Arizona gets snow), and above average temps. The dry, dusty landscape is begging for moisture. But, it's still beautiful.

I spent my free time in Coronado National Memorial on, and around Montezuma Pass. A dirt/gravel road twists and turns its way to the summit. There is a parking lot at the top of the pass, with access to several trailheads, and 360° views. I only had a few hours before sunset, so I picked the shortest trail (Coronado Peak Trail) and began my search for a good composition.

The hike to the top of Coronado Peak is a quick one. The trail is only about .5 mi. long, and gains about 300ft. So, an easy hike to complete if you're in a hurry. The summit offers wide-open vistas of Mexico, and the San Rafael Valleys below.

It pays to discover...

I found a few interesting shots during the hike, but nothing I was super excited about. So, I hiked back down to my rental car, and went exploring. I had about fifty minutes before sunset, so I needed to find something fast.

Keep Your Eyes Open

I was in luck! Below the pass, I found an unmarked trail, at the base of Copper Canyon. I parked the car, scrambled to get all my gear together, and darted off into the unknown. The rocky trail followed along the floor of the canyon, and was already in deep shadow—the light was fading fast. Enough light filtered down through the trees to keep hiking, but not enough for a good photograph. If I wanted to photograph something, I would need to get out of the shadows, and into the sunlight. My best bet was up on the ridge above me.

After a few minutes of searching, and wandering the leaf-covered hillside, I spotted a deer path. The narrow, dusty stripe of bare ground knew exactly where I wanted to go. I hopped onto this trail, and followed it up, and around some large, craggy, rocks to the top of the ridge. That sure made it easy.

Arizona Sycamore basking in the glow of the setting sun.

The sun was starting to set, casting a warm glow over the rough terrain. It wasn't going to be a spectacular, cloudscape-filled sunset (there wasn't a cloud in the sky), but it was still a memorable experience. I took me longer than I wanted to find a composition, but I still enjoyed the results. I have to remind myself, a lot, that not every photograph I make is going to be the-greatest-photograph-I've-ever-made. Sometimes, I learn more from having to run-around, and find a photograph, than having all-day to plan.

I wanted to get back to the rental car before the sun drifted below the distant mountains. I packed up my gear, and headed back down the deer path. I was almost back to the start of the trail, when I spotted a cool looking tree. I didn't even noticed this grand, old Arizona Sycamore when I walked by it earlier. But, now the low-setting light reached into the canyon—at the perfect angle—and bathed the smooth bark in golden tones. I don't usually single out a tree to photograph, but this one stood out, and I couldn't pass it up.

I'm glad I've stuck to most of New Year's resolutions. If not, I would've been a lazy slug, and missed exploring in Coronado National Memorial. I also would have missed some good photography practice.