There are 300+ days of sunshine in El Paso – the airlines advertise it all over the terminal walls and hallways, across their menus, and the weathered travel magazines, stuffed into the seat in front of me. Tour books celebrate this sunny fact, featuring it in brochures, on their websites, and it their blog posts. A traveler’s attention is repeatedly drawn to the weather forecast, to find delight in the persistence of a cheerful, powerfully intense sun.
It was an early release from work, around 3 pm, when the Uber driver cruised right past our Clintonville duplex, not noticing his two waiting passengers, with Osprey backpacks stuffed and strapped to their backs, standing on the covered porch. We were testing out the packs, with an extended weekend trip to Big Bend National Park, by way of El Paso Texas. We were ready to go, and excitedly waiting for transport to the airport – this would be the launching pad for a new adventure!
We’d leave the Midwestern cold behind and find ourselves in the light. There’s movement in the sunlight, and the intensity of the light rapidly transforms, in front of your eyes, into a splendid sunset. Alternatively, the sunlight pools into tucked-away corners, where the neighborhood cat has curled up for a nap. The sandy front yard is warm under your feet. . . until it is not. Night falls, and the desert temperatures drop quickly.
Let there be light!
The sun’s light is perpetually changing, as it moves from east to west. It transitions from sunrise, across a lazy morning, scorching the day at high noon, then softening throughout the afternoon, to culminate in a spectacular sunset.
When I travel, I want the freedom to move effortlessly between bright open spaces and a shaded oasis. When I wake up each morning, I realize how fully exposed I am, how vulnerable to the elements. Then I layer on sunglasses, a hat, and sunblock, and I’m ready to take on the day.
As the photographer sees it . . . the warm, rich colors of the desert transform artistically into the cool tones of nightfall. There are areas that suffer the absence of light – the shadow side of the rock formation, or the silhouette of my fellow hiker, against a startlingly blue sky. These might belong on another planet, one that orbits quite a bit further from the sun. An occasional overcast sky throws the entire landscape over to the cooler, darker side of the color wheel.
The light creates an emotional response. The light tells a dramatic, complicated story. The light has character. The light dominates, and the light subsides.
Let there be light!
As the camera sees it . . . the light makes the image! The days, and their landscapes, are recorded mechanically, automatically, on an image sensor. Their warmth is measured in degrees of Kelvin. Getting outside, and away from the residential lighting that is “at home” somewhere around 3200 K to 6500 K, the warm and cool tones intermingle, in the desert, out in the natural world. As the hours tick by, the mood changes, right along with the light.
The sun sets in a color-drenched early evening display. Amateurs and professionals revel in a golden hour, snapping images that will come alive in postproduction, where the rocky landscape glows, warm and comforting beneath the sun’s last rays.
Western-facing, red rocks are ablaze, set on fire by the setting sun. Local guides at Big Bend tell us to go SW to the canyon, so we don’t miss the late afternoon’s warmth, the light seeming to soak into the mountains’ rocky surfaces. As artists we are a breed of light-seeking hikers. The National Parks guides can tell this when they catch sight of the camera straps slung over our shoulders, advertising our loyalties – Canon and Nikon.
With three applications of sunblock behind me, at 3 o’clock I question the need to reapply, before the day’s final hike into Santa Elena Canyon. I decide to be cautious and apply one more, thin layer. I’m glad for this, when I discover that the front half of the hike is in direct sunlight, climbing up, up, up the side of the canyon wall, to walk the upper trail. We’re viewing the scenery from above, before the trail plunges down, down, down into the cool shade, cast by the rich green foliage that hugs the edge of the river.
After the hike there’s not much light left – signs caution hikers to be back to the head of the trail before dark, and the dark comes quickly. There’s nothing left to see. . . until there is. Eyes adjust, and all at once there are stars everywhere!
And then the sun rises again – just outside the front flap of our tepee. The canvas entryway is peeled back and secured in place, so I can sit just inside, not quite ready to start the day, quietly waiting for my first cup of coffee to brew. I’ll sip it slowly. I’ll watch a painterly show of light, and feel the joy that comes from the first few sips of morning coffee. Together these set the tone for what lies ahead.
Stepping outside, sun salutations are a challenge without a yoga mat. I consider my next trip, and whether I could secure my yoga mat to the outside of my backpack, while traveling. . . and I wonder whether my airplane carry-on compliant backpack would retain that status. My knees don’t appreciate the limestone that carpets the space just outside the tepee. But I get a good long stretch, arms raised toward the sky, back arched and chin lifted, eyes gently closed. I have a good start on today.
Light spills over the mountaintop, arriving just ahead of the sun, its vibrant source. The glowing orb of the sun, a hot spot against an expansive blue sky, peeks over the rocky edge of the mountainous horizon. Deciding that it’s okay to make an appearance today, the sun shows a bit more of itself, followed by a grand entrance, filling the landscape with light. It’s a light that will scoop us up and carry us through the day.
We go willingly along, with Neutrogena’s SPF 50 tucked away in our small daypack, along with a compass, 2 Liters of water, snacks, maps and an extra 4G memory card, with enough storage to capture whatever the day throws at us.
Join us on our next adventure,
~ Kat (& Craig)
Big Bend National Park: https://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm
El Paso, TX – 10-day Forecast: https://weather.com/weather/tenday/l/USTX0413:1:US
El Paso to Big Bend National Park: https://www.google.com/search?ei=TjqkXO6dBPCpggfJ_7KgCw&q=el+paso+to+big+bend+national+park&oq=el+paso&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0i67l3j0j0i67j0j0i131l3j0.4637.8763..13213…1.0..1.504.4237.1j10j0j4j2j1……0….1..gws-wiz…..6..0i71j35i39j0i20i263.YllD9d1r-eE
Color Temperature: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_temperature