So, you’ve probably heard this before, but your duplicates are showing… Well, mine are at least. Which reminds me of one of the signs I spotted on our Cross Country Travels.
Managing and backing up large photo files is not particularly easy. But I recently whacked my head on a problem that perplexed me.
To set some background, it may help to know that I use DropBox to BACKUP, SHARE, and DISTRIBUTE my image files both to clients AND among my various computers. I have the 2 Terrabyte Plan at $99 a year.
Let me briefly explain how and why I do it, so what I communicate next won’t look like my crazy is showing.
My file organizational structure looks something like this on all my machines. Most of my work is in Windows, by the way, but I do use a Mac sometimes. I keep the same structure across multiple machines for several reasons including consistency and the ability to work the same on each machine. My folder/file structure looks like this:
(same as 2019-05-29)
Work In Progress
Audio (e.g. Itunes and purchased music)
LightRoom Catalog(s) (Good luck, Lightroom doesn’t much like shared drives or volumes, so I’ve had to trick Lightroom into thinking it’s writing to a regular volume)
That’s important because you’ll notice that I do not really have a good organization system for Android and Iphone photos and videos … just a year by year copy. I also break down my images by year, month, and year-month-day. Again, not ideal, but that’s the pattern Lightroom follows and it mostly works for me.
Lightroom does not know how to separate JPEG and RAW images into separate folders. I usually shoot BOTH image types. The fast load time of the JPEGs allows me to breeze through them first, and I sometimes use the small JPEGS (which are still plenty big) for web purposes. Usually once I’m done with my photo processing sessions of the RAW images, I no longer have a need for the JPEGs – or even the RAWs. But of course I do back them up. All of them in fact except the absolute stinkers.
My Exported images are Processed images that have been downsized and watermarked ready for publication on e.g. Flickr or Facebook, etc. Processed images are those where I’ve done more than just Camera Raw adjustments or Lightroom adjustments. That is, composites or extensive masking and adjusting that I have done in Photoshop. By the way, I always create side-car files (the .xmp files) that keep track of the changes you make with Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. I keep the Export(ed) and Processed images locally until I need space at which point I remove them from my LOCAL computer and just leave them in DropBox should I need them again.
Since Lightroom does not import things the way I want, you might be interested to know that I do the importing with a primitive Windows Batch file. I copy all the content into a pre-created directory and then run this in that directory to move the files to the respective sub-folders.
REM Can optionally specify the source folder name e.g. .\OtherDirectory
REM cd %USERPROFILE%\Pictures\ImportFolder
REM mkdir NEWIMPORT
REM cd NEWIMPORT
REM COPY all files from the card to this folder
move %1.J* JPEG
move %1.NEF RAW move %1.CR2 RAW
@REM This should copy MOV and MP4 ... but might copy something you don't expect
move %1.M* VIDEO
DropBox “Smart Sync” is nifty: and so is “Selective Sync”
One relatively new feature of DropBox is the SmartSync option which behaves a bit like Lightroom – you can have a file that is indexed, but not local. There are three ways to use Dropbox for managing backups:
A. Use selective sync to synchronize specific directories (e.g. 2019-05-29) on a computer by computer basis. Be careful, if you do it wrong, you can wipe out a whole directory at once including your backup! That is, do NOT delete a local copy of a DropBox folder until after you turn OFF selective sync. Indeed, until Smart Sync, if you turned off selective sync, DropBox will delete the whole folder LOCALLY.
B. Use the new Smart Sync feature to distinguish Local and Online copies. Local copies the same as the synced version that is in DropBox. While “Online” means DropBox preserves the file structure and names on your local computer, but doesn’t download the content unless you try to open the file. This behavior doesn’t play with with all programs, mind you.
C. Use both – that is what I do. On my under-sized laptop drive, I selectively synchronize a small handful of things (Business Records, Work In Progress and perhaps a few days worth of photos). While on my workhorse desktop machine, I keep many more photos local on a huge hard drive.
If you’re wondering why I don’t just pay Adobe for cloud storage… never mind, you’ve probably already figured out why I don’t want to pay twice, and MORE for what I already am using.
iPhone and Android folder structures are not consistent – Why?
The organizational structure on both the iPhone and Android are a bit messy, mysterious, and … change over time, so I have not had much success trying to duplicate the structure I use for my DSLR real photography in the cell phone space. And yet, like many of you, my cell phones are doing more and more of the lifting for illustrative things. One way my Android gets twisted up is that it has both phone memory and card memory. The problem is that there are lots of places where pictures occur, on say the Android. For example:
Galaxy S9+\Phone\DCIM\Camera Galaxy S9+\Phone\Pictures (which has many subfolders) Galaxy S9+\Card\DCIM\Camera Galaxy S9+\Phone\WDisk\Photos and more!
Trying to extricate files from those many locations sometimes means I goof and recreate the same structure multiple times. To make matters more complicated, I also record images and videos with a Mavic drone.
Another Organizational Failure
I may copy May 29 files into May 28th for my big camera images. But I never intentionally duplicate images even if it sometimes happens by accident.
Sometimes I get ahead of myself. I simultaneously copy e.g. Android stuff on one machine while copying iPhone stuff on another. When I do that, Dropbox can get confused. And that’s on top of the pain that Lightroom imparts… so I find myself using less and less of Lightroom for importing photos (too slow and cumbersome), and instead I get the structure in place and then tell Lightroom where to look. Indeed, I admit I now prefer to use Adobe Bridge, or some much simpler programs like Image Glass for quickly viewing photos. Image Glass is very quick to load and use, something like Windows Photos, and Image Photo Viewer, but more nimble (and less powerful).
After the cross country trip, I found myself with apparently MANY copies of the same cellphone and camera images… but with thousands of images it is not easy to identify which are really duplicates. Some duplicates are the result of doing in-phone photo editing. Obviously those I want to keep. However the accidental duplicate copies I do NOT want to keep.
And the duplicate situation differs by cell phone, too. Android often tags -001 to files you edit on phone, while iOS creates an .aae file.
Deduplication To the Rescue
Is there software that will do a good job cleaning up duplicates on a Windows machine? Yes and No. Yes there is, but WHAT IS A DUPLICATE? I mean I know when what I look at is a duplicate, but that doesn’t mean software is particularly good at it. I was grievously frustrated when trying to trial some of the photo/file de-duplication tools that exist. I thought, CCleaner did a pretty good job, until I realized IT DOESN’T understand images very well.
I then went on to try Easy Duplicate Finder, Duplicate Photo Cleaner, and a few others. Unfortunately my tests were against a real directory with thousands of files and these “tools” would only let you do 10 removals unless you paid the $30, $40 or $50 to activate them. Well that’s NO TEST! And more, none of them bother to tell you up front that the many minutes you spend reviewing its scan is a waste of your time – or what the charge will be to license the software. One of the tools begged to not be uninstalled and offered a significant pricing break, which brings me to a tip:
When trialing software, it’s always a good idea to try to uninstall it before you even think about purchasing it. Crafty programs (and marketers) realize that offering a discount is their only defense against losing a sale to you. The discount may be substantial!
Duplicate Photo Cleaner Irked Me
Not only did DPC NOT tell you what the charge was, it asked you to register (you give it your email address) before it ever mentions the price ($39.90). It does seem to have some smarts to pick photos by appearance but it lumped together three different screenshots from the phone as duplicates that were NOTHING alike. Suspiciously, Duplicate Photo Cleaner and Easy Duplicate Finder are both Webmind products and use the same shameful sales tactics.
I suppose there may be instances where you want it to figure out if one image is merely a smaller version (or only “slightly different” from another), but the inspection, took a long time and decided that not only were the screenshots identical, but two quite different sunset shots were marked as duplicates. If your goal is to toss out all but the first image of your daughter, the default behavior of this tool might be what you want. You *can* adjust the settings, but the slimy marketing and the out of the box behavior had me saying No Thanks in a jiffy.
Duplicates Cleaner by kaeros < Works!
The good news is that those badly behaved trials made me try Duplicates Cleaner from the Windows Store. I normally avoid the Windows Store because it has a lot of rubbish, and it’s Microsoft. Duplicates Cleaner is FREE. And guess what, it worked very well – got rid of 4.5 Gb of redundancy in my Android directory alone. Duplicates Cleaner has a $6 Pro version which I may well upgrade to. But the free version does the trick and includes a small ad for one of the developers products. Duplicates Cleaner doesn’t try to inspect your image to see if they are visually similar – it looks at the content (or name) to make its decision. Content is a good way to go, two files with different names and identical content ARE duplicates. You can see it also found redundancies in the organization of my “big camera” directories. (Usually because I’m not always careful about where I tell Photoshop to stick things).
In the previous article (parts 1 and 2), we discussed how we planned the driving portion of our cross country road trip, including tools for mapping, weather, and destination selection. In this chapter, we address how we selected and booked lodging and excursions – including how we might have wanted to do things differently, as well as additional tips and tricks we learned.
We also sprinkle in a healthy dose of representative photos, and some tips we used to break up the monotony of nearly 4000 miles of driving.
I will also give you a brief idea how we enjoyed the lodging and events in case you want to follow in our footsteps.
One thing I refrained from doing while gone is posting any updates about WHERE we were to any social media platform. No point letting the bad guys know you are out of town for an extended period of time. Our family did have access to a map of our progress, as well as daily updates about our safety (see part 1 for more)
The License Plate Game – And the Marriage Refresher
One of the things we did was the “license plate game”. Surprisingly we spotted 46 of the 51 possible US license plates. The plates we did not spot were Hawaii (no surprise there), Washington DC, South Dakota, Vermont, Connecticut, West Virginia, Kentucky and Rhode Island. We might have actually seen some of those, but many folks had license plate frames that covered up key things like state names. We were really surprised to not see Kentucky since we drove quite near the border. We did spot a smattering of car carriers, two of which were heavily laden with tags from a variety of states… but none proved to be new 🙁
There is a real tangible benefit to spending many hours with your spouse, too. While a fair amount of the time was spent listening to music and programs in the car, we got a good chance to talk and spend quantity and quality time together.
One of the other things we did was to keep a look out for “Welcome Signs” and stopped to photograph them (where it was safe to do so). In retrospect, I wish we had stopped to photograph more signs and oddities that we encountered. For example in Virginia we crossed “Stinking River“, “Pole Cat Creek”, “Consternation Creek” and many other oddly named places and signs. For example, we were less than two miles away from Toad Suck, Arkansas while traveling down I40. Cookietown, OK was pretty far off the road, so although I am a recovering cookie monster I did not stop there.
Lodging and Excursions – Booking Tips
As I noted in the previous article, I wish I had done at the beginning what I did later in the booking process… that is to sign up for one or two hotel chain perks and stick to those hotels where possible. There are a number of reasons why, savings is just one of them. We stayed at several different chains and independent hotels, including Hilton Brands: Hampton Inn, Home2 Suites, Tru; IHG: Holiday Inn Express and Suites; Aramark: Lake Powell Resort (two nights); Mauger Estates Bed and Breakfast (Albuquerque – two nights); Pelican Inn (Cambria – two nights). One side benefit of avoiding staying in big cities is that the rates at most of the Hilton properties, for example, were less than $120 per night – tax included. Hands down the best places we stayed were at the Home2 Suites in Farmington, New Mexico. Good property, service, location and ambiance. Having an available ice machine, mini fridge (with freezer) and in-room Keurig was a plus. Two criteria I used to book rooms included: free breakfast (one less thing to worry about), and free in-room wifi.
Book Through the Property Unless You Get a Stellar Discount
Something else I learned from my trip: if you book directly you are more likely to get concessions and discounts (and fare changes). When you book through a third party like Travelocity or Booking.com, the front desk has less power – and less incentive – to make any changes in your booking. It is also true that third party bookings sometimes offer only the less desirable rooms: why face the road in Lake Powell Resorts when the lake is a much nicer view! Indeed, you would probably prefer buildings 4, or 5 as they have the better views. 1, 2 and 3 all overlook a huge boat ramp. Not a bad view, just not ideal.
Expect Some Disappointments
There were some disappointments, of course. Tru – a new Hilton property in Amarillo, TX tries to behave like a Eurostyle hotel – with small rooms, and few in-room conveniences. And check-in took forever there. There was a Hilton Home 2 suites less than 1/2 a mile away… and I am sure it would have been a more pleasant stay. We did enjoy the trivia board in the Tru. Did you know Amarillo, Texas is the windiest city in the Continental United States (sorry, Chicago). Of course it depends how you measure, but indeed, some articles support the conclusion.
Aramark, is the concessionaire for Yosemite National Park, and Lake Powell Resort. Unfortunately they do a poor job managing a very nice property at Lake Powell Resorts. Problems included no working wifi in our building (and it apparently had been non-working for months)… in lobby was little better. While we had no trouble checking in a little early in every other place, Lake Powell Resorts proved to be the exception. Not only was the food service painfully slow (as we passed time waiting to get a room), but during their peak check-in time they had one front desk operator for the busy period. Mind you Lake Powell has about 800 rooms. The room was clean and in good order, and well located… but the problems made it feel less like a resort and more like a chore to stay there.
By the way, Aramark has several claims to fame, servicing vending machines and uniforms are two of them as well as serving food in correctional facilities… but, I digress.
Photography and Night Photography Considerations
Enroute to White Sands (map item 11) through Texas, and Amarillo, Texas. In particular we passed through Roswell, New Mexico (8). You get a fun vibe in Roswell, and there are even some interesting museums – but we only stopped for a snack and a few photos of the quirky signs.
White Sands National Monument
The first photography stop was not until Alamogordo, New Mexico (map item 12) with the nearby White Sands National Monument (11).
And it was only one night. A lucky night as it would happen. By way of reminder, I do use Weather.gov to check the weather forecast before photographing at night. But White Sands proved a bit more complicated. White Sands is in/part of and next to the Holloman Air Force Base as well as the White Sands Missile Test range. White Sands is NOT a National Park. In essence that means it has “operating hours” and is not open at night.
To get in to White Sands NM for night photography you have five choices:
Get a back country permit, and camp at least 1 mile away from the road. If you do that you are locked in for the night, and MAY have restrictions on where you can go.
Call in advance and arrange – for a fee – for a ranger to allow you to come early or stay late. The details required to do this are not clear, but it will not be effective if you want to shoot the rising Milky Way at say 2:00 AM. Shoulder times to normal opening and closing are doable, but must be done weeks in advance – not at the moment you walk in the Visitor Center. I learned about this option through a friend the day before I got to White Sands, so it was not an option for me.
Try sneaking in. HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY suggest you DO NOT do that! First there are two sets of locked gates. Second, because of where the National Monument is, you can bet that there are remote monitoring devices, and trespassing is likely to get you in a HEAP of trouble. I never would consider this, but I know some people think “it is cool as long as you do not get caught”.
Join one of the evening programs. They do not run very late or very often, however, so you may not find it suitable for the same reason as option 2.
Leave your camera out at night all by its lonesome and come back and pick it up first thing in the morning. THIS ONE! Note however, that the ranger informed me that anything suspicious that is discovered during the night is likely to be confiscated and removed. Therefore do not set up next to a road or within easy sight of a road or major path. Also, tape over anything that may flash or glow. You do not want to attract attention.
Obviously I chose option 5. However I got to my location rather late in the day, so did not have a lot of time to scout an ideal location. Originally I planned two days here so that I could scout the first day, as well as have a second chance at night photography if the weather was a problem. It also meant on the first evening I could have determined how bad the light pollution is and made a wiser foreground choice for the second night. But this is also where talking to the rangers comes in handy, especially if you find one who likes night photography. Ranger Jason gave me advice to shoot low, behind a dune in order to block out the light pollution from El Paso. He also suggested where I might go – a place that is not off limits, but the parking lot was roped off so people assume it was off limits. Obviously I was not low enough!
Do understand that you will have to deal with the fear that your equipment may be confiscated, stolen, or buried in a sandstorm (or that you will forget where you put it!). I highly recommend using a trail app, GPS or dropping a pin on your phone where you put your camera. In fact, I kill two birds by also using the camera on my cell phone with the location information left intact.
Tip: In the desert, clouds often dissipate at or after sunset. The forecast for my night of shooting indicated 50% cloud cover until about midnight, but I set the timer to start at about 11:00 PM and discovered it was completely clear (less the El Paso haze, that is).
Not All is Photography … Albuquerque has Plenty To Do
I traveled with my wife, so relentless photography just was not in the cards – nor did I want it to be. We spent two nights in Albuquerque (16, often called ABQ or Burque by the locals) at the Mauger Estates Bed and Breakfast. We also took the Sandia Tramway (18) to the top of Sandia Mountain. Sandia is Spanish for Watermelon, something the mountain tends to look like in the colors of sunset. The entirety of ABQ, by the way is more than a mile elevation above sea level. Take that Denver!
Almost all year round you can book sunrise balloon flights. So that is what we did. Rainbow Ryders did a fantastic job with the balloon flight, well organized and skilled pilot. It was a bucket list (ok, BASKET list) item that I am grateful to have engaged in. We were told landing can be jarring, but ours was as gentle as stepping off a curb. And we landed in a median of a quiet residential neighborhood in the vicinity of where the pilot lives.
And there is much to see elsewhere in ABQ – including Old Town. There is also a Rail Runner train that will take you to Santa Fe for cheap. Unfortunately it runs on a very limited schedule on the weekend – which, of course is when we were in ABQ. That, and the day we planned to go to Santa Fe there was a severe thunderstorm warning in effect. The train station in ABQ is next to the Galleria downtown which appears to be a large failed shopping mall – mentioning that in case you are thinking of going shopping there (which was our plan B when realized the train was not running).
Bisti Badlands – De Na Zin Wilderness
I wish I had a good story about Bisti Badlands (map item 20) in De-Na-Zin Wilderness (Bureau of Land Management). Chaco Culture Center and other interesting locations are nearby. Bisti from the Navajo word Bistahí means “among the adobe formations. Bisti Badlands is about 40 miles south of Farmington, New Mexico. I had high hopes for this location based on many photos and the Wiki write up, but … well it did not work out as I hoped. In the same area, apparently is Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness – but is more remote and a Lexus sedan is not the best thing to take on such backroads. There are many trail recordings with photos of Bisti in AllTrails. Unfortunately its not easy to use AllTrails to hike to a SPECIFIC location.
Here are some of my experiences and advice:
It is at least a mile and a half hike in to see anything interesting.
Go early,or in a cool season and take plenty of water. I thought my wife might face heat stroke because the 94F temperature and lack of any shade was overwhelming her. She nicknamed the location: Beastly Badlands.
7290 is a gravel road. It was in good shape, but you probably want to approach from the west via 371 and 7297. 7290 was closed heading north just past the Bisti Badlands parking area – so despite it appearing to connect you cannot come in from the north or continue through heading north. That may be a temporary condition.
There is a Bisti Wings formation that I really wanted to see and set up for night photography, but it is on the northern end of 7290 – perhaps 7293 from 371 (marked by Bistahi First United Methodist Church sign) is the way to go.
Use a tool like AllTrails (e.g. a GPS on your phone with a pre-downloaded map) to plan where you want to visit. You can wander around for hours and find very little of interest.
Fortunately after we left Lake Powell (described soon), we did some hiking at the Toadstool Hoodoos – it is a shorter and more rewarding trail. After spending the night in Farmington, NM, we had a tight schedule to get to Monument Valley in time, but there was enough time to stop in Four Corners (23) where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado all meet. Interestingly each of the different kiosks surrounding the landmark charge different state tax depending on the state they are in. In Bluff, there was also the interesting stop, restaurant and vista of the Twin Rocks.
There is a lot more in the area than Monument Valley. On the way there we passed through Valley of the Gods (26) and stopped at Goosenecks State Park (28). There is a great confluence of interesting geography. And there is still more in the area, including the singular Mexican Hat formation for which the town of Mexican Hat (28) is named. Valley of the Gods, Utah is similar to Monument Valley (30) in its expansiveness, but I do not recommend it for a touring sedan. A high clearance vehicle is a better fit for the environment both in Valley of the Gods, and in Monument Valley.
Hands down the best thing I did in Monument Valley – perhaps the whole trip – was to connect with Phillips Photography Tours for an overnight trip to Hunts Mesa. Phillips supplied the tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, vehicle, driving, dinner, breakfast, and guide. If you told me that I was going to be driven for about 5 and a half hours over rugged terrain, I would have guessed the price would be high. Throw in a dinner, a breakfast, camping equipment, and a very great guide named Tully to be the leader, driver and chef and I would not have believed they charge as little for the tour as they did. Indeed, I feel like a 40% tip would not have been too much. In my particular case it was just Tully and me though you may have as many as 3 other photographers with you. Want a clue what the driving was like…
Not only did I get to go to breathtakingly beautiful places, but I learned a lot from Tully, including quite a bit about the Navajo way of life, and even a bit of Navajo language.
If you know my wife, you probably guessed that camping out was not high on her do it list. So for her, a night in Gouldings Lodge (29) was arranged. The onsite restaurant at Gouldings was quite good. I had the Mini Navajo Taco for my pre-trip meal. It was delicious and far, far from mini. Because I had also arranged a tour for the morning following our all-nighter, Tully dropped me off at Gouldings giving me a chance to shower before my wife and I arrived at the View for a 1.5 hour Fords Point Tour. I would go back in a heartbeat. Not only was the experience fantastic, but there is so much photography and night photography potential here that remains undone.
Page Arizona, Lake Powell and Vicinity + Rainbow Bridge
If you have not visited Page, Arizona (36), you have not really lived. Truly. There is so much that is visually compelling in the area, that it is hard to even start. I have already stated my misgivings about Lake Powell Resort (37), but I would STILL go back. And I highly recommend a boat tour to Rainbow Bridge – an immense natural bridge that spans a wash in Lake Powell. Not far from Page are many other impressive sites.
(Upper and) Lower Antelope Slot Canyon
If you have not heard of Antelope Slot canyon on Navajo Tribal lands, where have you been? There are many slot canyons in the area. They are formed when monsoonal rain carves a deep gash in the earth as it makes its way downhill. Lake Powell itself can be described as one HUGE slot canyon. To my eye, Lake Powell and the surrounding canyons – like Horseshoe Bend (36) – are more appealing and interesting than the Grand Canyon. Now that I have been to both the Upper (upstream) and Lower Antelope slot canyons (34), I can say conclusively that the lower canyon which requires stairs, ladders and some maneuvering to keep from whacking your head and limbs, is overall more interesting photographically. Lower Antelope ranges in depth from inches (where you emerge) to up to 70 feet down. The range in depth is what adds to the rich tonality of color you can achieve. Plus the Lower Antelope has some striking features including an overhang (see photo above), and even some arches/windows.
We used Dixie Ellis tours (34) for our excursion. Ala was our guide and while she had not been at it even a year, she was very informative and really knew where some of the most compelling photographs can be found. Her demonstration of how slot canyons form using sand and a bottle of water was interesting and illuminating.
If you wondering can you photograph the canyons at night… the answer is yes, there are a few tours. I was originally salivating over the idea but then realized that there are lots of constraints that may make the effort not worth the trouble or expense. One of the limitations is that you would have to work well with others to get the canyon lit for the foreground. Experience teaching Night Photography workshops has taught me that it is usually best if the instructors light the scene unless there are many different directions and things to shoot – otherwise people get testy about shots being ruined by stray light. The next constraint is the length of the tour… want to line the Milky Way up overhead? It is not very likely that will work for a tour that is not all night (and may not be possible at all). Indeed, the one night tour I nearly booked (link above) started 2 hours after sunset and lasted for 2 hours. You would have to know that will work for what you want. At least you can use Google maps satellite view to realize that the canyon(s) run almost due North-South.
Toadstool Hoodoos (East of Kanab, UT)
As I mentioned, Bisti Badlands was a bit of a disappointment, no doubt in part due to lack of effort on our part, but also because there was not any quick payoff. The Toadstool Hoodoos (41) was a much more approachable hike than and the sixteen mile hike to the Wahweep Hoodoos – something also on my list of places to go. However unlike Bisti, the less than a mile hike to the Toadstool Hoodoos is immediately more striking. Do not neglect hanging a left at the back and seeing the striking white gypsum hoodoos.
After the Toadstool Hoodoos, we ran into heavy road construction so we dropped Coral Pink Sand Dunes from our route in the hope of getting into Valley of Fire State Park before it closed. But, we had less than an hour before Valley of Fire closed, so we called it an early evening at the North Shore Inn, in Overton.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
One of the last places I had set aside to visit was the Valley of Fire State Park, in Nevada. It is 14 minutes from the town of Overton which has about exactly one place to stay, but Valley of Fire is also about an hour drive from Las Vegas. As you might guess, it was also hot in the Valley of Fire. By the time we arrived a little after 9:30 AM on June 6, it was already 89 degrees. I had done my homework, of course, and though I wanted to see it all the reality is that the heat of the day was going to interfere and we were not going to stay overnight. You can stay overnight – with a camping permit. However night photography requires not just a camping permit, but also a separate photography permit, and insurance. I have no idea if – or how – campers can brave the 100F heat that is common in the late spring to early fall, but I knew from Bisti and Toadstool Hoodoos, that an extended hike was not in the cards. The compromise was to drive to all of the vistas I had pre-checked out from sources such as AllTrails, Atlas Obscura
I did elect to hike to the Fire Wave said to be the more accessible version of the famous The Wave in Paria Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona. I have tried 4 times to get a spot in The Wave lottery, all failures. No lottery is required to reach Fire Wave, just the State Park entry fee. Apparently White Pocket in Vermillion Cliffs, has a similarly attractive swirling sandwich effect, but it requires some off road driving.
Those familiar with my favorite place: Alabama Hills, will find Valley of Fire nearly as interesting. Valley of Fire, has many more windows and arches. Valley of Fire also feels more vertical. And while overall, Valley of Fire is very red (and thus its name), there are areas with lots of interesting color variations.
I made an unfortunate decision during my hike that resulted in nearly getting heat exhaustion. My wife was parked in the car, shaded as much as possible at the trail head. I noticed, however that the 0.7 mile well marked Fire Wave Trail, connects to not well marked Seven Wonders trail, and the latter trail intersects the road about 0.7 miles farther. As I set out thinking about taking the short cut to the road rather than hiking back uphill, I had a good cell signal. Unfortunately, once I got near the end of the Seven Wonders trail, I discovered I had no signal, and had to hike back up the road to get to the Fire Wave trail head parking place. About halfway back I had enough signal to ask to be picked up. I did not save myself any exertion in the heat! However I would recommend that plan if you can be shuttled to the start location and picked up at the bottom. I recommend it for TWO reasons, one is obvious: you see more. And more to the point, part of the Seven Wonders trail is – as you see in the photo – a shallow, multicolored slot canyon.
One other mistake I made was not getting gas in Overton before heading to Valley of Fire. As we were leaving Valley of Fire, the projected distance remaining was 24 miles. Luckily, the first gas station was two miles short of that distance!
This article has grown longer than I wanted it to be, but splitting it into more parts was not appealing. One of the things I am glad we did not do is book nights in Las Vegas. There are certainly attractions and places to visit, but by the time we had reached Overton, we decided to bolt to the coast to escape the daily 100F heat and get some wave therapy – as my wife calls it.
Fortunately most of the other prominent issues I faced I have already covered… except one that really fried my turkey: Drone woes.
Drone Haters – Everywhere
Everyone, everywhere, seems to hate drones. Almost everywhere I brought my drone, there was a prominent sign forbidding it. All National Parks and Monuments, for example forbid flying a drone without a special permit – ditto for the Nevada and Utah state parks that I visited. Mind you before I left, I had big plans to survey some of these locations by air rather than solely on foot. I probably would have found better vistas in Bisti had I flown, but the day I brought the drone to Bisti it was gusty. Later I took the drone out at Toadstool Hoodoos, and was really unhappy to have it tell me mandatory controller updaterequired and refused to fly without the update. There was barely enough signal for it to determine an update was needed and nowhere near enough signal to download an update out in the hot open sun. The warning was despite having very carefully checked to make sure everything was in flying order before leaving on my trip. I can not imagine what was so important that it would not let me fly. But DJI (makers of the Mavic Air), you made me unhappy! I had hoped to capture videos like one in Trona, or one in Red Rock Canyon State Park.
First, any and all of the places I wrote about in this two part article present risks of various kinds. Conditions change, and poor preparation on your part could result in loss of property, injury or even death. This is an anti disclaimer as well. No one has asked me to write about any of the tours, companies, lodging or locations, nor have I been paid in any direct or indirect way. If I have praised (or berated) a place, people or company, it is genuine and based on my personal experiences. We always do things that way here at Star Circle Academy, but we thought you might want a reminder.
Happy Trails to You, and please feel free to comment about what we missed, or if you would like clarification.
If you already read this and are looking for the rest of the article (parts 3, 4 and 5)… Look HERE.
Steven’s father passed away last December and the family decided to hold a memorial in Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia on Memorial Day weekend. Seemed entirely appropriate as that is when all of dads cross-country scattered kin could convene… that and dad also served in the Army during the Korean War era. What I hope to illuminate in this article are some of the considerations to consider to take a multi-day or longer car trip. In this case, we flew to Roanoke Virginia via Chicago (the upper line) and then drove my fathers car back from Smith Mountain Lake through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and finally California.
I’ve divided the discussion into the following sections:
Trip Planning Tools (Excel and Google Maps proved to be the most useful)
Supplies and Provisions
Booking Lodging and Excursions
Photography and Night Photography Considerations
Lessons Learned (What went wrong, what went right)
Trip Planning – Google Maps + My Scenic Drives + Excel
The way I started was simple: fire up google maps, enter my beginning city, added known stops (arranged east to west) and see what happened. To travel directly from Moneta, Virginia (Smith Mountain Lake) to San Jose mapped out as 40 hours of driving over 2722 miles. Since our actual mileage was 3982, clearly we did not take the “straight path” which would have been I40 nearly the whole way. One of the limitations with Google Maps is that you can have a maximum of 10 stops – unless you’re willing to do strange unnatural acts (or create your own map). But the key here was to see what the total distance was. Next I looked at breaking the trip up into digestible bits. The goal was to NOT drive more than 8 hours total in a day. And more significantly, to not be “on the road” more than about 10 hours including stops for sightseeing meals and potty breaks. Google maps was a bit unwieldy as I added more destinations and re-routed the segments to include driving to and through places of interest. One of the nice side benefits of using Google Maps, though, is that I could pull up the map on my laptop and send it to my phone directly. The phone then served as our GPS since the 12 year old navigation system in the car was clearly out of date.
One tool that I spent a lot of time on, and certainly helped was “My Scenic Drives“. The interface is a little clunky but My Scenic Drives can automatically divide up your driving based on time, but its method is not ideal. Indeed, the best use of My Scenic Drives was to “Find Nearby Attractions”. That proved to be it’s forte. “Avenue of the Ancients?” Why yes, thank you. “Valley of the Gods?” OF COURSE!, Chaco Culture, Mesa Verde, Bisti Badlands…. nearly all of these were suggested when searching in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. At one point I had at least 70 items “on the map” as potentials, and I paired it back to a mere 50. Reality eventually set it and I paired it back much further.
I had a core list of must go places which included White Sands, NM; Monument Valley, UT; Lake Powell, AZ/UT; Lower Antelope Slot Canyons, Page, AZ; Toadstool Hoodoos, Kanab, UT; Valley of Fire State Park, NV. To that list there was a long list of LIKE-to-GOs that included Chaco Culture, Avenue of the Ancients, Mesa Verde, and many more. Since my wife traveled with me, it was also important to include stops and destinations that were of interest to her as well.
Ultimately the reality of the distances, vehicle choice and time constraints dictated what stayed in and what fell out of the plan. And THEN it got even tougher… Scheduling it on some days required to-the-HOUR timing. To be clear, not every day needed to-the-hour scheduling, but 2 of the 14 did… and that’s when I turned to creating an Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet helped in a number of ways: accumulating miles (and thus predicting fuel costs and tracking lodging costs), accumulating time, and also keeping a record of addresses, reservation numbers and status… and more. The reality of one of the days made me realize that from Farmington, NM to Monument Valley, AZ, it was just not possible to go through Avenue of the Ancients AND Valley of the Gods as well. The reason: I had booked an overnight photography tour of Monument Valley and HAD to be at the View Hotel in Monument Valley by 2:30 PM or the photo tour was in jeopardy. It worked out just fine, however, as the Mrs. wanted to visit Four Corners, so we timed our Farmington, NM departure to arrive around opening time at Four Corners (a Navajo nation stop) and then budgeted time at the additional stops. Fortunately we ended up about an hour ahead of schedule on that day, and were able to take a brief detour into Valley of the Gods.
To accommodate our desired focus points, we elected to “force march” from Raleigh, NC to Amarillo, TX with no sightseeing except for one lunch stop in Omni Oak Grove in in Asheville.
That’s nearly 2/3 of the total east-west distance, and we did it in three LONG days (each less than 8.5 hours of driving, however). I micro managed the stops. The locations I picked for lodging initially were Knoxville, TN, Little Rock, AR; and Amarillo, TX. But the Little Rock to Amarillo drive was almost 9 hours, and the Knoxville to Little Rock was similarly long. There was also the matter of potential rush hour traffic, so the plan changed to drive 40 miles farther west on the first day (Harriman, TN), and about 20 miles farther west the next day (Maumelle, AR instead of Little Rock). That evened out the driving a bit more and got us away from major cities during rush hour. Mind you I still had to find cities with decent lodging. While I might be willing to stay alone in a flea bag hotel for a night, that wouldn’t fly with the Mrs. Choosing better lodging made the trip better overall, anyway!
One thing I highly recommend doing is making sure to add in an extra day or two here and there for two reasons: one is to have a cushion in case you run into delays, or find places more interesting than you expected, and the second is perhaps obvious: rest is good! No sense hauling your luggage into and out of the car twice a day every day. We elected to stay two days in Albuquerque, NM; and three days on the Pacific Coast of California – the latter came about because Las Vegas was just TOO hot to stop, and we needed some cooler “wave time”.
What I wish I had done was to pick the same “chain” of hotels as much as possible. But my strategy of not booking everything in advance proved helpful for changing plans as needed. See the Booking Lodging and Excursions (part 3) for the rationale behind each.
Maps Can Lie – BEWARE!
One last comment about using any mapping software (Google Maps, for example), is to inspect the path carefully. I’ve seen mapping software make bone-headed decisions. On the planning for this trip, for example, it routed us over about 50 miles of dirt-road driving until I forced it to pick a different route by adding intermediate destinations. Once in California, the mapping software assumed that the East Pinnacles National Park and West Pinnacles National park were connected by a road – but they AREN’T. The best you could have done is carry your car about 3 miles over a foot path… And of course there are many examples where people have relied on outdated maps of places like Death Valley and ended up in a heap of hurt.
Supplies and Provisions
Because we were flying from the West Coast to the East Coast, we couldn’t possibly take all the provisions we would want on the plane. Some of the things that just were impractical to take included:
A cooler for drinks (plus snacks and ice)
A tow strap (in case we got stuck in sand or mud somewhere)
Bits of carpet for traction
Jump Start cables & jump start battery
Supplies, blanket / pillow
Gallon or more of water
Quart of the proper oil
Gallon of Bug / Windshield cleaner
And despite my normal camera-bag-full of equpiment (2 cameras, lenses, two tripods, etc), I elected to take ONE camera – the Nikon D600 – and ONE lens (24mm manual focus), and one tripod. I also took my Mavic Drone, but was only able to use it once… most locations prohibited drones, the wind was excessive in other locations, and a complication with the software made it impossible to use in one area that I wanted to use it… more on that in the Photography and Night Photography Considerations chapter.
My father’s car is an older model Lexus and so it wouldn’t be suitable for going down the bumpy off road areas where I might take an AWD high clearance vehicle like my Subaru. I also knew that some of the destinations included driving on unpaved roads. Indeed, some of the destinations that we removed from our itinerary were removed because of the off-road driving required. Since we clearly couldn’t take all needed provisions on the plane with us, and it was not clear that we would be able to acquire all that we desired, I used Amazon to order and have shipped to my father’s house the hard-to-find supplies that I needed. We figured we could pick up a cooler, snacks and drinks, water, oil and windshield cleaner along the way. Indeed, after we noticed that the first two lodgings had in-room Keurig machines, we bought Chai and Pete’s coffee cartridges. I am a Chai drinker, and my wife is a coffee snob. Only about 40% of the places we stayed had such machines, but when they had them, it meant we could enjoy our normal morning and evening beverages.
In Case of Emergency
For our peace of mind, I purchased and activated a plan on a Garmin InReach mini. I had the device shipped to my home before we left so that I could make sure it worked, and the service was active. The Inreach mini is a portable satellite communication device that can be used to track your location –
indeed that device supplied the tracking information for the map presented at the top. One of the plans allows you to track your location every 10 minutes – you can see I turned on tracking somewhere over Nevada on our flight out. The mini can also be used like the SPOT emergency location device to send 3 different canned messages to pre-canned destinations. The mini is about twice the cost, but it’s bi-directional. The messages I chose were: All is well, just checking in when arriving at lodging for the night; Look what I found to mark a particularly interesting place for posterity; and Delayed, or rerouted to indicate we were fine, but not going to arrive as planned. The device also allows an SOS to be sent, and you can then communicate by text with the emergency personnel to indicate what your needs are, and they can text you to indicate their status. Fortunately we had no need of sending an SOS, but there were many areas where we had little and NO cell coverage on either Verizon or ATT (my wife and I have different plans on purpose), so the peace of mind was worth the about $50 of service… and no doubt I’ll use the $300 device in the future.
It wasn’t enough, of course, to merely plot out the path. We also had to be mindful of the weather and road conditions. I’ve written extensively about how I >> plan for weather << so visit that link to learn how I use Weather.gov to be aware of what is going on. On this particular trip, we drove through the middle of the country prior to and during tornado and flooding events. Without the maps, we might have ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. As it was, a tornado struck 1 mile away from our path two days prior to arriving (El Reno, Oklahoma) and major flooding was experienced in Little Rock and Fort Smith, AK the days of and following our trip segments there. Amarillo, TX and Roswell, NM were also hit with violent thunderstorms, and we used the forecast to refrain from heading up into Santa Fe, NM due to severe storm warnings. One Android tool I picked up and used was the NOAA Radar app. That offered alerts about nearby events – it was worth one month of subscription at $3 just to get those!
One of the other things that I discovered, but wasn’t aware of is that Google Maps in addition to notifications of slowdowns and road construction also has notifications about speed (radar) traps. We weren’t speeding anywhere, but the heads up certainly came in handy in case we decided to “blow the doors off a slowpoke driver” at an inopportune time.
We did acquire a decent cooler, small enough to fit in the backseat, but with a velcro latch so that it would be easy to open while underway. It had to be spacious enough to hold a half dozen drinks, ice AND chocolate. Since it was quite hot during our trip, even a short stint with the A/C off would result in a choco melt-down. I employed a trick I often use when hiking. After finishing an Ice beverage (sparkling sweetened drink), I rinsed it and refilled it with tap water. In lodgings that had a freezer component of the mini fridge, I put the refilled bottles in the freezer. Those frozen bottles then served as ice, and in a pinch, cold drinking water on some of our hot hikes. Do not try this with your average bottled water, however, they are too thin and flimsy to stand up to freezing.
It is also a good idea to buy a one or two gallon bottle of water that you can use for drinking (when the tap water is sketchy), and as an emergency source of coolant should your car need it.
Adobe long ago reduced their price for the Photoshop/Lightroom bundle to $10/month but for years now no longer has a way to purchase and outright own Photoshop. The latest version of Photoshop (Photoshop CC, aka Photoshop CC 2019)… it’s a rent-for-life or get-out-of-Dodge model. The optics of the rental model are anathema for many people. We at StarCircleAcademy took a look at various alternatives to Photoshop in case you aren’t willing to engage the “rent for life” strategy. However we will also tell you that Photoshop is the 600 pound Gorilla. You really can not argue with its features (bloated as they are) or price ($120/year), or abundance of resources on how to use, abuse, and creatively curse at Photoshop as a tool.
The contenders are: Gimp (free, multi-platform), On1 Perfect Photo Suite (now called RAW 2019), and Affinity. We will start with On1.
The pricing as of May, 2019 is $80 for the complete software (discounted from $100 – as is often the case). Upgrade cost is listed as $80. That price brings it under the cost of upgrading to or purchasing Photoshop CS6 (although it’s not clear you can do that anymore), and because On1 is a perpetual license, the three-year cost of ownership is $260 (one purchase, two annual upgrades) versus the best possible three year cost for Adobe Photographers subscription bundle of $360. And much better than purchasing Photoshop CS6. But there is one wrinkle. How many copies you are allowed to use is a murky area that is not spelled out clearly on their site. Their site says “When you purchase ON1 Photo RAW 2019.2 you receive a perpetual license“. At times ON1 has allowed 5 seats, the fact that its not spelled out on their site implies the number of seats is subject to change. I am also not clear how they enforce the number of installs allowed. If you have more than one computer or frequently upgrade computers, you may exhaust the number of installs. For the purpose of this discussion, our review was of 2019.1.
On1 is available for windows or Mac operating systems.
We didn’t get off to a good start. The trial version was a 1GB download. Installation proceeded slowly, and it required shutdown of Photoshop CC. Fair enough since On1 includes plugins for various Photoshop components. For this test we installed on an aging 4 core 8Gb RAM Lenovo laptop machine with Windows 10, 64-bit. When we started the install, we were warned to close Photoshop.
After dismissing Photoshop it ran a while (3 min 45 seconds) to install. Years ago when we installed an older version (7.5 Perfect Suite) we got a warning about incompatible display cards near the end of the long install, but that was on older hardware. Photoshop never warned us like that.
We quickly fired up On1, and after dismissing the modal (i.e. in-your-face) getting started box, we “Browsed” to a folder containing our recent work. The folder was previously browsed with Adobe Bridge and loaded VERY fast, the entire directory came up with the images and the ratings that were previously applied. This is MUCH, MUCH faster and more efficient than Lightroom, and even faster than Adobe Bridge (which doesn’t require importing either).
Unfortunately we made the mistake of “enlarging” to full screen and then could NOT find how to make the window smaller again. We tried “Escape”, looking in the various toolbars… No joy. So we killed the program with Alt-F4 and restarted. On1 came up in the same place we had left off, but MAXIMIZED again with no controls to minimize. After hunting in “View -> Maximize” (which made no sense!) we were able to restore the window to add the minimize/maximize window options on the title bar and then drag to downsize the window. Searching in the online help for “undo maximize” or even “maximize” didn’t find anything, by the way.
Our primary display has text size set to 200% so that we can easily capture readable screenshots as well as assuage our tired old eyes. However on our display at some point On1 Tools became garbled.
Next we tried loading a previously created .psd document. This was quite frustrating. The document was created in maximum compatibility mode and has layer groups and layers, but it renders in On1 as a single layer. What is worse, is that I couldn’t FIND the Layers window. I navigated to Windows -> Layers (Ctl+2) and NOTHING happened. This was frustrating also, but it appears the reason that nothing happened is that the Layers palette is part of the “Develop” panel. If you are looking at e.g. “Lens Correction”, then unfortunately “Layers” is not visible because you have to scroll up. The same problem occurs if you are in the browse setting and click the “Layers” option at the right. The edit comes up, but it doesn’t show the Layers!
To see if we could make On1 show our layers, we thought our normal workflow of using Colorspace: ProPhoto RGB, at 16 bits may explain why the layered photo was coming up as a single layerin On1. We went back into Photoshop CC 2019, removed layer groups (in case that was confusing On1), converted to SRGB profile, 8-bit mode, merged several layers then resaved the document. The saving file almost immediately appeared in the On1 browse menu, but the image shown was flashing between gray dots and an image. It was a big image (800Mb), and it took Photoshop quite a while to write it to our Dropbox drive. Apparently that also confused On1 a bit. And we notice that On1 does have an option to work in 16 bit ProPhoto RGB by default. That’s excellent.
Previously with the On1 Suite 7, we ran into this problem
Our choices seem pretty limited. Indeed, when clicking OK what we got was a big all-white canvas.
While On1 does provide layering, it doesn’t seem to work with layers in Photoshop psb or psd documents. That is a serious shortcoming if you, like we, have a ton of .psd documents you want to work with.
There are quirks with the interface that bother us. For example, the various palettes do not appear to be movable – and that caused our problem finding the layer palette, described earlier. It also appears that On1 spent more effort “mimicking” the Lightroom layouts and contents, but the “Presets” window wastes a lot of space. Presets never struck us as a worthwhile way to improve photos, by the way. Unfortunately the tiny border you need to discover to close Presets (or re-open them) is a bad design choice. We have no clue why they don’t have a “show presets” control (or why you can hide layers).
Some operations are pretty easy to figure out, but it is not at all obvious to us how you mix masking with effects and layers. On1 has a “Perfect mask” setting that is clever and beats the pants off of anything Photoshop currently offers in ease of use and net result. When masking near the boundary of sky and tree the perfect mask setting figures out that you want to operate on either the sky or the tree, not both. And On1 also has a Mask Bug which is an odd looking thing (and very odd name) that is quite functional. It is a highly adjustable gradient mask with drag controls to control density, directionality, feathering and the area to be adjusted. What is not immediately obvious, however, is how you can use a bug mask with a separate adjustment – for example to remove the affect of the bug in one area or increase it in another. Ultimately the Perfect Brush is nice, but we do miss the magic wand selection that Photoshop offers.
Layers are also non-intuitive – for example there is a “Local” option after selecting a layer. This appears to mean “operate on the mask”, but the word “Local” doesn’t make sense to us.
Our work often consists of opening multiple documents as layers. What On1 didn’t do is provide a simple interface for this. That is, you CAN use Browse to open documents as layers, but if you’re already in edit mode for a document and try to use the filmstrip mode to Browse for additional layers you don’t have the open/add as layer option. We hoped to be able to select multiple images and then add them as layers to our existing document. Instead, what we have to do is open one document, then use the + to find and open the additional images as layers from the layer palette. That’s tedious. We also made the mistake of accidentally hitting merge layers (just left of the option for blending control) and watched as On1 merged layers with no confirmation and no undo! Yuck.
Not only does On1 seem to be sluggish loading multiple documents as layers, but you can not change blending options for multiple layers at once. You have to operate on each layer one-at-a-time (select layer, click options, change blend mode). That is tedious.
Another unexpected quirk: we double clicked the .onphoto file that was created by layering two documents. Instead of opening directly into edit mode, it just opened browse mode. And even more curiously, there is no “save as” and no document rename in the edit mode. It looks like On1 also created a .on1 document, but did not register this with windows, so windows didn’t know how to open it. After associating the .on1 file with On1, it STILL wouldn’t open in develop mode. The problem with the lack of rename is that it’s now not possible to use one base document as a foreground with different additional layers. On1 will only save the layers in association with the “base” document (_W9A3041 in the example shown).
Star Trails and Automation
It appears that On1 does not have any kind of automation that would allow easy creation of star trails in the way that the Advanced Stacker Plus can interact with Photoshop. And as we already noted, the Layer manipulations available in On1 require lots of manual intervention just like it used to be in Photoshop (CS5 and earlier). After Photoshop CS6 the interface allowed multiple layer selection and global blending mode changes.
By way of reminder, Advanced Stacker Plus processes incoming documents a layer at a time. This method of processing keeps the memory footprint low and greatly speeds up operation of Photoshop when loading more than 20-30 images as layers.
We found some things to like about On1 – it’s perpetual license, some good masking tools, but we found it falls short of the editing experience we wish to have and therefore do not recommend it.
In the next articles we will address Affinity Photo (short answer: it seems to be quite powerful), and GIMP.