Visitor from the Good ‘ol Days

Our animatronic skiing snowman has entertained and terrorized a generation of grandchildren.

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Family Trek

Sandstone Togetherness

The Defiance Plateau of northeastern Arizona declines gradually from its origin, the Chuska Mountains of New Mexico.  Route 191 runs where the Defiance Plateau merges with a valley of the larger Colorado Plateau.  The Black Mesa escarpment forms the western valley wall and is clearly visible from Canyon de Chelly visitor center.  

Carved into the Defiance Plateau, the high cliff canyon walls of Canyon de Chelly at intervals belly out into wide alcoves.  For thousands of years, the land between the walls was farmed.  Here is a photograph from our 2008 canyon visit, visible are fields, farm equipment, shed and sport utility vehicle (SUV).  Look closer for the hogan, adjacent to the shed, and, on the lowest sandstone shelf on the left, white goats.

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Here is a quote from the reference link provided at the end of my post:

“The massive, high cliffs that form the walls of the canyon are De Chelly Sandstone. The De Chelly Sandstone consists of sand deposited in dunes in a subtropical to arid environment in Early Triassic time (about 250 to 230 million years ago).”

In this photograph the goats jumped off the shelf to graze, around them are the two forms of De Chelly Sandstone.  230 million years ago winds driving across the dry lands, piling the eroded bits of ancestral rocky mountains into dunes hundreds of feet high.  The in-stratified rock cliffs are the body of those dunes, converted to stone over the eons.  The cliffs are visible in both photographs.  The dark stains are called desert varnish.  Read more about desert varnish in the first posting of this series, “Portrait of a Navajo Guide.”  The rock in the foreground appear formed from an orderly pile of stone plates, this appearance is called stratification.  Another name for it is Cross Bedded Sandstone, formed from wind blowing across the dunes.

That entire, northeastern, side of the alcove is Cross-bedded sandstone.  Click on any one of the following photographs for a larger version, to peruse the detail.

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A fascinating detail in these photographs, the subject of this post, are human figures rendered tiny by the distance and the enormous maze of sandstone.

It is four generations of a Navajo family, fathers, mothers, children of all ages down to infants in carriers.  My wife Pam, myself and our Navajo guide watched in wonder as they made their way down to the canyon floor.

Their progress was slow and careful.  Everyone kept together.  Nobody left behind.

Here they inch along a high ledge.

Descend from one ledge to the next.


Most amazing of all, the first person down is an elderly woman wearing sports shoes, steadied with umbrella, accompanied by a pre-teen girl.  Her progress steady and sure from years of experience.

Our guide knew the family.  He and they chatted in the Dine language.  The were travelling for a birthday party.

Reference Link for the quote

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills Photography

Mouse Collection

Happy Mother’s Day

Here is a project completed for a “Fundamentals of Photography” refresher course. The task is to use a variety of lenses of my choice to document scene from my surroundings. These photographs document a family heirloom, mouse figurines collected by my wife, Pam’s, mother, Patricia Crist, assembled by Pam into two display cases with assorted figures created by Pam’s daughter, Denna.

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

A Little Water Fall…

…and Gorge Cliffs

Purling of the water beneath this foot high waterfall was enhanced by reducing ISO to 100, tamping down the aperture to f/22 resulting in an shutter speed of 1/10th second. I set the graduated Neutral Density filter to shade the left side.

On the cliffs ahead is where the observation platform is cut into the rock. It has a great view of the waterfall, in some ways the experience of the falls is enhanced, compared to hiking the 3/4 mile path and standing below.

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A marvelous forest grows on talus from the high gorge walls.

A sign on a disused pier warns waders to leave the creek bed. Ahead the gorge walls tower above the creek. Rocks dislodge and crash down unexpectedly, crushing foolish waders. It is appalling to see, in warmer months, people walking below those cliffs gathering the fallen rocks to make delicately balanced cairns.

Here is a slide show from today and two prior postings. To do this from WordPress Reader, you need to first click the title of this post to open a new page.

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Big Bend

A tripod and Neutral Density filter

Wednesday, this week, I posted “Winter People Watching” featuring the Sony F828 and candid street photography. Today, is a continuation of a followup, started yesterday, with “End of the Gorge Trail.”

What I love about this place, a unique feature, is the size and different vantage points making it possible to view the same place from different angles. November 2019, readers were shown “The Bend,” a place with Taughannock gorge makes a 90 degree turn, changing from a southeastern to an eastern flow. Here are photographs from spot overlooked by that post.

Here the camera faces away from the sun, the graduated neutral density filter allowing me to capture the cloudless blue sky, a little milky the way it is here February with a hint of spring.

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This little one is studying the information placard with rapt attention, learning how the African continent, pushing against North America, across the eaons, formed the right angle fractures mirrored by this dramatic change in Taughannock Gorge. For the Big Bend photographs I was standing behind them, along the stream bed.

Here is a broader slice of that sky.

Can you see the tiny figures of hikers, dwarfed by the frozen cliff?

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

End of the Gorge Trail

A tripod and Neutral Density filter

Yesterday I posted “Winter People Watching” featuring the Sony F828 and candid street photography. With the Sony F828 in hand, I carried on my shoulder a new camera bag with a new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV dslr camera, mounted with a Canon 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens with a graduated 0.6 Neutral Density filter. On my other shoulder was a Manfrotto BeFree GT carbon fiber tripod.

Saturday, February 22nd was a first outing with the new equipment. I was still learning the camera and, in my inexperience, did not shoot in “raw” format and the jpeg sizing was not the largest. The conditions are never very good within the gorge, either the sun is below the rim and light sparse, or the gradient between the lit and shaded gorge too great, or the sun is almost overhead.

The graduated neutral density filter solves some of this problem for Taughannock Falls, 215 feet high, the highest single drop east of the rockies. The view faces south, in the northern hemispheres, wintertime, this means shooting into the sun. For our late afternoon walk the sun disk was below the west cliff rim, still there is a large gradient between the sky and shaded falls / gorge.

The falls await hikers at the end of the Gorge Trail. I am standing on a bridge over the creek. To the right is a path to an observation platform. At f/22 fstop atop the tripod and low light, this is a longish exposure.

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Standing on the platform, visitors are washed over by the fine mist carried by a wind pushed by the falling water. The mist clings to the gorge walls and freezes. Today, on the bridge, we were dry. I pointed the lens at Taughannock Creek flowing beneath this bring for this second, longish, exposure. The graduated ND filter was not optimal for this shot. It is a circular filter (can be turned 360 degrees), using this I positioned the shading to the left. Of course, for the waterfall, the shading in over the upper, sky, portion.

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Winter People Watching

Happy April Fools’ Day

On Saturday afternoon, February 22nd, Pam and I set out for Taughannock Falls State park, 15 minutes away. I had in hand a “prosumer” digital camera, the Sony F828 featuring an integrated zoom lens, from 28 to 200 mm and 8 mpg “raw,” tiff and jpeg images.

I’ve done some great work with this camera. For example the 2003 Homecoming Parade and the award winning Summer Dream: Buttermilk Falls. The swivel is a feature of the Sony F828 that fascinates people, it is possible to change the angle of the body and lens, at one extension the view panel can be seen from above.

Using this feature, I obtained the following series of 28 photographs. Most are candid shots of the hundreds of people who passed us this day as Pam and I walked the 3/4 mile Gorge Trail to the fall’s vantage platform.

Taughannock Gorge is wide enough to be opened throughout the winter. The trails of other public park gorges (Treman, Buttermilk, Fillmore) are close to cliffs, shut down November to reopen late spring, the following year, after the trails are surveyed for dangerous rock overhangs.

With the developing situation with Covid-19 Pam was anxious over the number of people on the trail. There was a steady stream of people, some in large groups, coming and going. We were able to maintain some distance, until I stopped and a group of Ithaca college students walked into us. We are NOT going back to this trail anytime soon. I might walk the Rim trails where 5 or 6 people might pass you on a busy day.

The large groups of young people are for the most part students from Cornell University and Ithaca College. Both colleges are now closed through April, to enforce social distancing to suppress spread of COVID-10. For many of these students, they did not realize it at the time, this was their last outing before campus closure. The seniors will never return. We miss the students.

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Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Cottages on Loughan Bay 03 a repost

Romance of Ruins

….continued…..

In this multi-part blog series:

Part 01: the romance of the ruined cottages of Loughan Bay was introduced, the following questions stimulated:  “Who were the people who lived here?  Why did they leave?  Why is nobody here now?”

Part 02: the scene was set, the townland of Loughan named and visualized.

Click this link for Part 03…..

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Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills, All Rights Reserved.

Quaker Settlement Series 2

Gone too soon

Joseph P. Lee, a middle aged gentleman with carvings of a mature willow flanked by urns. In the intervening 162 years the upper layers of slate flake at the edges.

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Rhoda Ann Mattison, a wife who died too young. What was the relationship of James and Rhoda to Catherine and John?

The carving is a pineapple (for hospitality) set in a elegant vase on a plinth flanked by ionic columns, a simple arch (banded to imply a rainbow?) surmounts all. Cross hatching implies space. An implied eternal banding of stylized leaves as starbursts.

I brought out the characteristic slate coloring. There is evidence of ware from the intervening 197 years, though the carving is surprising crisp.

Slideshow of photographs in this series

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Quaker Settlement Series 1

Delving the past

On my way to Taughannock Falls, November 6, 2019 (see my post “Cuteness Break”, the first of that series) I explored a different route and came up this cemetery set among an appealing pine grove.

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Located in the town of Ulysses, New York there is a Quaker Settlement church a few feet further west on Perry City Road. I have Quaker ancestors, so took the opportunity to peruse the family names. The stones were unusually beautiful and touching, mostly local slate, some with intricate carvings.

Here is a headstone for two young people of the same family name. The white marble carved in the form of a willow, from the flowing lines and, knowing how our willows green up springtime, it calls to mind the same youthful greening as appropriate for two young people who lived 22 and 15 years.

Analysis of the dates, given in the following capture, tells the story of an young woman, a baby born 5 months after her death and who followed his aunt 15 years later.

I have a great aunt who also died young with a headstone naming her mother and father. Here is the granite headstone of Mary R. Daughter of George & Margarett Wills Died Oct. 3, 1886 Aged 20 years. Saint Mary of Assumption Cemetery, Sweetwater, New Jersey. My grandfather James Edward Wills was 9 years old at his sister Mary’s passing. He must have attended her church service and internment, standing at this spot.

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills