Texas FM 170 – The River Road

One of the treats of visiting the Big Bend area is the chance to drive along the Rio Grande on Texas’ famed “River Road” (FM 170) running from Brewster to Presidio counties. This 50 plus mile section of paved road winds through the hills and valleys along the US / Mexico border providing some of the most picturesque vistas in the state. The road’s numerous hairpin and “S” curves along with a 2000 foot elevation change make this section of highway a delight for driving enthusiasts.

The fact that you’re driving within a few yards of the border adds a bit of a thrill these days as well. That small stream you see just left of center is the “mighty” Rio Grande and yes, I’m less than 100 feet from the border. No fence along this stretch of road my friends.

The River Road

The River Road near Lajitas, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/14 for 1/40th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

The Back Roads of Big Bend Ranch State Park

Big Bend Ranch State Park is located in Brewster & Presidio Counties near Lajitas, Texas on the northernmost parts of the Chihuahuan desert. The park covers 300,000 acres and includes 20 miles along the Rio Grande border between the U.S. and Mexico. Elevations range from roughly 2,350 feet along the river to over 5,000 feet at Oso Mountain and Fresno Peak. The climate is what you might expect from the high desert with warm springs, very (VERY) hot summers, almost no winter and extremely low annual rainfall.

From the eastern park entrance to the headquarters at Saucedo, you drive 27 miles of the toughest backcountry dirt roads you’re likely find anywhere in the U.S. In fact, much of Big Bend Ranch State Park can’t be explored without a backcountry permit and the appropriate vehicle and survival gear. That means a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle with a full-size spare tire and appropriate jack. This is no place for a Honda Civic on a spring afternoon!

Back Roads of Big Bend Ranch

The Best Road in Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/14 for 1/200th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Luckily, my Subaru Forester performed like a champ and was able to navigate the roughest and rockiest sections of the road with no trouble at all. Its all-wheel drive and high-torque engine provided more than enough horsepower to pull us up the steepest inclines and all we had to do was drive around the worst ruts and sharp rocks. The going was mighty slow but we made it there and back without a hitch.

We were prepared for the worst however and brought along a full-size spare and high-clearance jack just in case. We also carried enough water to last 2 – 3 days which is about the amount of time the park ranger said it might take for them to find us if we broke down. Like I’ve always said, Texas makes you work for those great landscape shots and is an unforgiving place if you’re not prepared.

I wonder if the folks at Subaru would like to see what my beautiful Forester looked like after a 50 mile drive through Big Bend Ranch? 😉

Desert Forester

Desert Forester – Medera Canyon, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/14 for 1/25th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Two Weeks in the Field

I’ve just returned home from two weeks in the field and I’m badly behind in my blog posts, image updates and client contacts. I left for West Texas the morning after the Texas Landscape Safari and covered over 3400 miles in my trusty Subaru Forester with my oldest living friend (and sherpa) Jack. We explored the back-country roads of Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park and Brewster county without a single mechanical issue (knock on wood).

We hiked to some of the most remote locations in Big Bend and climbed rock after rock in search of the that perfect spot to photograph. We saw black bears, white-tailed deer and more birds than you can imagine. We tracked a mountain lion and its cubs and saw a hawk snatch a rattle-snake right before our eyes. We crossed paths with the fierce Texas Javelina and wisely gave them plenty of space. We saw desert lizards, spiders and ants and some of the largest species of wasp I’ve ever encountered.

Terlingua Vista

Evening Vista – Terlingua, Texas
Copyright © 2011 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 20mm, f/16 for 3/10th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

We had no television, no newspaper, no Internet and very limited cell phone reception and didn’t miss being “out of touch” one little bit. We were stopped by border patrol several times but never felt “unsafe” so close to the Mexican border. We witnessed a few questionable activities on the Rio Grande but the border patrol folks seemed to have the situation well in hand.

The people we met in Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park and in Terlingua were some of the most friendly and helpful folks you’d ever want to meet. They made us feel welcome, at home and at ease even when we asked question after question. By the end of our time in the region we were both tired and sore but refreshed and rejuvenated by the beauty and grandeur of the Texas desert along the Rio Grande river.

The Spring 2011 Texas Landscape Safari Recap

Texas Landscape Safari

What a great group of photographers to teach, travel and shoot with!

Here are a few statistics to recap this year’s outing. 17 people each traveled over 300 miles in 3 days to photograph four different and unique state parks working on average 12 hours each day to capture literally thousands of great landscape shots.

Enchanted Rock Classroom

Josh’s Enchanted Rock Classroom – Llano, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon Powershot G10 set on aperture priority (Av) using a circular polarizer. The exposure was taken at 32mm, f/4 for 1/250th of a second at ISO 80. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

Oh, we got scattered a few times but all ended up enjoying some great Texas weather during our three day safari with lots of sunshine, a few clouds but no rain in sight. Gorman creek was running over the falls near Bend, Tx. The mighty Colorado was low but still running as were both the Pedernales and Guadalupe rivers. The heights of Enchanted Rock haven’t gotten any easier to climb but the sunset and clear skies made the trek worth while. As always, the rocks and water in each park called to us like bees to honey. We climbed, explored, laughed and did it all again the next day. And as is usually the case, we made made new friends from as far away as Canada and California as well as those that live closer to home.

It was my honor and a great pleasure to host this year’s Texas Landscape Safari and to get to know each and every one of you a little better. You all have a gift for capturing light and turning it into art and I learned as much as I taught. Keep in touch and remember that TLS alumni are always welcome to join us again in the future for FREE, even those that brought their iPhones. 🙂

Jeff