The Rise (and Fall?) of Drones for Aerial Photography

I’m watching the developments closely for a few reasons.

I care about unmanned aerial vehicle or drone use, no matter what size it is. But I really care about drones flown by amateurs for photography.

The Death of a Revenue Stream

I first felt the sting of drone use for aerial photography when one of my best aerial photography clients began using a six-rotor, radio controlled quadrocopter to create some of their excellent 360° interactive panoramic images. Their setup even made international news when it photographed a protest in Moscow in 2012.

Bryce Canyon Pano
Our trip to Bryce Canyon was especially memorable because it was so freaking cold.

The drone seemed to be the perfect solution for one of our biggest problems: finding a cost-effective way to get an aircraft to some of the most remote locations in the world. In the past, I’d flown this client at Bryce Canyon in Utah, Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River in Arizona, San Juan River Goosenecks in Utah, and the San Juan and Colorado River Confluence in Utah. Drones theoretically also made it possible for them to get images at places helicopters couldn’t legally fly — such as within certain national parks and other restricted airspaces. I worked with one photographer on many of our flights; he was just as disappointed as I was about the drone use because it meant he wouldn’t be sent to these locations, either.

As I saw more and more images and video footage shot from drones, I thought I was seeing the writing on the wall. Why spend $500 or more per hour to fly with a helicopter pilot when you could spend less than $10,000 for a ready to fly quadrocopter designed for photography that you could use over and over anywhere in the world? Or much less for something more basic, like a Parrot AR.Drone or Phantom Quadcopter that you could attach a GoPro camera to? Theoretically, an investment of less than $1,000 would give you everything you needed to get the aerial photos or videos you need.

Of course, you have to be able to fly the damn things. But apparently, that isn’t much of a problem.

So I saw the very real possibility of a revenue stream — aerial photography flights — drying up because of the proliferation of drones carrying cameras.

Bigger Worries

But there was something else that worried me — something that worried me much more. As a helicopter pilot, I often fly at or below 500 feet AGL (above ground level). And contrary to popular belief among airplane pilots, there is no minimum altitude for helicopters. I fly where it’s safe to fly and try hard not to annoy people on the ground. Still, there’s a very real possibility that I could be flying in the same airspace as someone with one of these drones.

And that scares me.

Yeah, you say. Fly higher. But sometimes that’s not possible. Sometimes I need to fly closer to the ground. And besides, the FAA has given me permission — by issuing me a helicopter pilot certificate — to fly in this space. The same can’t be said for most drone operators.

Watch the video from the crashed drone.

These drones are not toys. They have the potential to be very dangerous. This became very apparent in October 2013 when a Quadcopter crashed in Manhattan after bouncing off a few buildings, landing only a few feet from a pedestrian.

Can you imagine what would have happened if this drone had struck someone on the ground? Or went through one of those office building windows? Or collided with a helicopter or small airplane?

Here’s what happened when a radio controlled helicopter struck the man controlling it in a Brooklyn, NY park in September 2013.

And the possibility of drones and aircraft colliding isn’t so remote. It almost happened near Denver in May 2012.

In December 2013, the PBS NewsHour did a story about this: “How will thousands of drones impact already crowded skies?” That story explores other issues, too, including computer-operated drones that can fly themselves and privacy.

The FAA Steps Up to the Plate

After dancing around the issue for a while, the FAA finally made a statement — and it’s one I’m very happy about.

It all started last week when the Spokesman-Review newspaper published a video shot from a “radio-controlled helicopter.” The aircraft that shot the video was clearly operating in close proximity to people on the ground — indeed, even right overhead. A self-proclaimed “troll” tweeted about it and the legality of “drone journalism” turned into a Twitter debate that was picked up by Poynter. The operator of the drone claimed such use was a “gray area” as far as the FAA was concerned. As covered in later articles on both Poynter and the PBS NewsHour, the FAA plainly stated that “drone journalism” is not allowed. According to the Poynter piece:

“There is no gray area,” said FAA spokesperson Les Dorr.

Hobbyists are allowed to use small, radio-controlled crafts under specific guidelines, but “if you’re using it for any sort of commercial purposes, including journalism, that’s not allowed,” he added.

Although I’m very happy about this development, I’m sure this isn’t the last word. I’m equally sure that drone photographers will find loopholes to avoid use being classified as “commercial” and that the practice of strapping cameras onto drones will continue into the future. Hopefully, however, drone operators will limit their use to more remote areas and keep them away from people and property on the ground.

It also proves to me that the FAA is finally paying attention to this issue. With luck, their attention will be enough to limit drone use for these purposes — at least until some sort of controls can be put in place to ensure safety.


January 10, 2014 Update: Watched the latest video of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee this morning. In the first 30 seconds of this video (after the commercial), you can see a UAV with a camera flying over the Delorean. Seconds later, it crashes. I’m thinking they didn’t do this on purpose — although Jerry masterfully works it into his script.

Screen Grab from Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
This screen grab is from 1:11 in the Patton Oswalt episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. (Highly recommended show.)

I Am a View Person

It’s not about how big or fancy or well-furnished my home is — it’s about what’s out the windows.

I’ll admit it: I’m selfish. I’m not interested in living in a showplace bought and decorated to impress my family and friends. I don’t care about how big my home is, how many rooms it has, or what designer furniture and fixtures it contains. I don’t care about Pier 1 nicknacks obtained only to fill empty spaces on tables and walls. I don’t care about aromatherapy candles to make my home smell like cinnamon and spice or vanilla or whatever the current season is.

What I care about is what’s outside the windows. I want a view.

And the better the view, the more windows I want to enjoy it, day or night, from the comfort of my home.

It all started back in my college days with my dorm room on the 14th (top) floor of one of Hofstra’s six “towers.” It faced east, with windows that covered one wall. It was only 8 x 12 in size but with a high ceiling that allowed a friend to build me a loft for sleeping. I spent a lot of time looking out those windows, at the other towers nearby and the flat expanse of Nassau County in Long Island. If I’d been on the opposite side of the building, I would have had an unobstructed view of the Manhattan skyline less than 30 miles away.

Later, I lived on the third floor of a row house in Bayside, NY. The big windows and patio overlooked that overlooked Littleneck Bay. It wasn’t the best view, but it was something. Even the constant swoosh swoosh swoosh of cars on the Cross Island Parkway 100 feet below couldn’t detract from it.

Still later, when I moved from the east coast to Wickenburg, Arizona, I was sold on my home primarily because of the view. It looked out to the northeast where I could see the Weaver Mountains beyond a nearby ridge. It also looked out to the southwest, where I could see the top of Vulture Peak. The views were not perfect but they were nice. I especially liked to watch the Weaver Mountains turn almost copper-colored as the sun set.

Looking for an escape from Wickenburg’s oppressive summer heat, I looked at land at Howard Mesa Ranch, a development of 10- and 40-acre lots between Williams and the Grand Canyon. The lot that hooked me was on the very top of the mesa, with amazing 360° views. Although I could see the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks to the east, it was the expansive view to the west that captured my heart. I wanted so badly to build a small home up there with big windows to take in those views, but it was not to be.

Jack the Dog at Howard Mesa
My dog, Jack, looking out over my favorite view at Howard Mesa. The view to the west was expansive — I could often see mountains on the Arizona Strip more than 80 miles away.

In 2012, at the start of my fifth consecutive summer in the Wenatchee area of Washington, I started thinking of a summer homesite in the area. I often visited Malaga Springs Winery on Cathedral Rock Road; it had excellent views out toward the Columbia River. A friend owned land out there and, on a whim, I called to ask who his Realtor was and whether he knew of any lots that were available nearby. Coincidentally, he and his wife had just decided to sell their lot. They’d decided that they were a bit too old to start building their dream home.

Of course, I was immediately sold on the lot. The views were amazing — far better than Wickenburg or even Howard Mesa. Spread out before me were orchards and sagebrush-covered hills, basalt cliffs, and the Columbia River snaking through the broad Wenatchee Valley. I blogged about buying it here.

My New Home
Here’s a shot of the west end of my 10-acre lot, taken from the hillside on the south border of my land. My mobile mansion looks tiny here, no?

But it wasn’t until I moved here — in my RV until my home can be built in the spring — that I realized just how amazing the views were. Every moment of the day, every change of the light or clouds, every day of the year — the view changes. Don’t believe me? Here are three shots from this week, all shot from the front door of my RV.

Cloud View
The sky isn’t always this dramatic, but it was yesterday afternoon. One of my Facebook friends said it looked like the mothership was about to descend.

View at Night
Believe it or not, it wasn’t until I moved here that I was here at night. The nighttime view absolutely floored me. Best of all, I’m still far enough from Wenatchee to have dark skies overhead.

First Light
I shot this photo this morning, not long after sunrise. Yes, that’s snow on the mountains in the distance. Although some of that snow is relatively fresh, there’s snow up there year-round.

My Bad View
My “bad” view isn’t too shabby, either.

Wondering what the view looks like in other directions? Well, the photo here shows my “bad” view — the basalt cliffs on the south side of my property. My first home will be built on this patch of land, leaving the area where my RV is currently parked available for a larger home if I need (or want) one. (Local zoning allows two residences on lots of this size, as long as one of them is 1200 square feet or smaller.)

And you can bet my home will have lots of big windows looking out over the big views I’m showing off here.

In any case, I love the views and I love to share them with my friends and family. So don’t think I’m bragging when I keep posting photos on Facebook and Twitter and this blog. I’m constantly amazed by what I’m seeing and I want you to be amazed, too.

I’m a view person. Are you?

Aerial Views from Yesterday’s Flight

A few screen grabs from GoPro video.

I did a 3-hour charter flight yesterday, taking a good client to visit cherry orchards between Wenatchee and the Tri-Cities area of Washington. Along the way, we overflew the Columbia River and vast deserts and orchards. I had two GoPro Hero cameras hooked up: one on the helicopter’s nose and one on the right skid.

Here are a few screen grabs from my flights.

Ancient Lakes
These are the Ancient Lakes at Quincy Lakes, shot by my nosecam as I descended into the area from the Quincy Basin. If you’ve ever heard of the Ancient Lakes AVA for wine, these are the lakes that name refers to.

Rock Island Dam
I like this nosecam image of the Rock Island Dam, mostly because of the cloud reflections.

Rock Island Dam
A view of the Rock Island Dam from my skidcam.

Bridges
The bridges across the Columbia River between Wenatchee and East Wenatchee, shot from my nosecam.

East Wenatchee
A bird’s eye view from my skidcam as we flew over the bridge to East Wenatchee.

Columbia River at Richland
Crossing the Columbia River from west to east near Richland, WA. This time last year those islands were almost completely submerged with snowmelt floods. This is a skidcam image.

Richland Airport
A nosecam view of Richland Airport in the Tri-Cities area.

Desert
It might be hard to believe, but this area of Washington is desert. This nosecam image, shot east of Pasco, proves it.

Orchards
In this nosecam image, you can see the Snake River just upstream from the Ice Harbor Dam. My third landing zone was at a shop in the clump of trees on the upper right. You’re looking at thousands of cherry and apple trees here.

Even More Trees

Did I say thousands of fruit trees? There are millions in this skidcam image shot near Saddle Mountain.

Rock Island
This early evening skidcam shot of Rock Island and Malaga offers a good look at the terrain of my future home. I’ll be living at the base of those cliffs across the river by Christmas.

Maria 1.0, In Photos

Going through some old photos brings back memories of a former life.

While I was away this summer, my husband gathered up huge bunches of my things and stored them in boxes or cabinets, likely to keep them out of sight. Among these things were photographic prints and slides. Unfortunately, some of them ended up in cardboard boxes that he put in my hangar; a summer flood destroyed everything left on the hangar floor — photographic keepsakes and so many other papers and books are gone forever. Others were spared destruction by being simply crammed into a cabinet or box and mercifully left in the house.

I’m going thorough these photos now. I’m finding mostly vacation photos from years and years ago — the 1980s and 1990s. I used a film camera back then and usually shot print film instead of slides. (My husband was dedicated to Kodachrome.) There are also some aerial photos from our aborted attempt at providing aerial photography services. Most of those are trash.

But I’m also finding a few random photos taken from way back when — in the days of what I’m now calling Maria 1.0. That’s the version of me from birth right up until the point I started my relationship with the man who would later become my husband.

I thought I’d share a few of the Maria 1.0 photos with readers. Keep in mind that these are scanned from very old prints, so the quality and color is somewhat questionable.

College Days, with my Cat

The date on the back of this picture says June 1981. That would be about a year before I graduated. This is me with my first cat, Fig Newton (or Figgy). It’s probably in my summer dorm room. By 1981, I’d moved out of my parents home and was living year-round at Hofstra University. I worked for Facilities Management and, because I had a job all summer, I could stay in the dorm rooms at a reduced rate. Figgy wasn’t legal to have as a pet, but that didn’t stop me. He was just a kitten here; he eventually did grow into his ears.

Maria and Figgy

I didn’t start wearing contact lenses until the fall semester. And it wasn’t until about two years later that I finally got fed up with long hair and started wearing it short.

As for the cat….well, when my future husband and I began living together in 1984, I had to find homes for him and the second cat I’d gotten not long afterward. My husband has asthma and is allergic to cats. Giving up Figgy and Rover was the first of many sacrifices I made for him.

Rooftop, Seeing Double

I got interested in photography when I was in my sophomore or junior year. I even dated a photography student for about a year. I had an Olympus OM-10 35mm camera. You could probably consider it an entry level SLR. It certainly had limitations.

But even back in those days, knew how to work around limitations. The image here is the best of only a few examples of a double-exposure shot within the camera. In other words, I shot two images on the same film frame. By masking one side of the frame for one shot and the other side of the frame for the other shot, I was able to create a double-exposure that shows me on both sides of the photo. (Of course, nowadays a shot like this is easy enough to make in Photoshop.)

Seeing Double

This was done on the roof of the apartment building I lived in in Hempstead, NY. I lived there for about a year and half, right after college. It was on the border of a nasty neighborhood that occasionally had shootings. But it was all I could afford, so that’s where I lived.

The dress I’m wearing is unusual. It’s actually a long, wrap-around skirt. I discovered that if I fastened the waistband under my armpits and put a belt around my waist, I could wear it as a dress. This is one of the many items of clothing I made for myself back in those days. I was pretty poor and couldn’t afford to buy new clothes, so I made them.

The date stamp on the back of this photo is December 1983, but I suspect it’s either a reprint or I just held off on getting it printed. No way I’d be on the roof in December without a jacket. The year is probably right, though; 1983 is the year I met my future husband and I know my hair was wild from a growing out perm back then.

Asleep in his Arms

I guess it’s appropriate to end the photo show of Maria 1.0 with a shot from the end of that era. When I met the man I’d share 29 years of my life with, I was only 22. Odd as it may seem, back in those days it wasn’t unusual for me to fall asleep in his arms, often on a rock or some other hard surface outdoors. The first time it happened was at Montauk Point, where we’d gone very early one morning to watch the sun rise. Afterward, we lay together on one of the big flat rocks making up the breakwater and fell asleep. There aren’t any photos of that, but this shot from later in 1983 reminds me of that morning, too.

Asleep in his Arms

Back in those days, we did a lot of outdoor activities with friends. I’m pretty sure this photo was taken at Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains, possibly during a Columbus Day weekend trip. I remember taking the gondola ride up Gore Mountain and hiking down to enjoy the fall colors. I vaguely recall being there with our friends Bennett and Marion, who also met that summer and later married. One of them must have taken this photo.

I really miss the guy in the photo.

An Overnight Hiking Escape, Part II: Flagstaff

The second day of my overnight getaway.

As I blogged earlier in the week, on Sunday I went hiking with a Meetup group in Sedona, AZ. But rather than go home afterward, I decided to spend the night in Flagstaff and do some more hiking among the aspens the next day.

You see, one of my Facebook friends, who is also an aerial photography client, Rebecca Wilks of Skyline Images, posted an update about the fall colors in the Flagstaff area. For those of you unfamiliar with Flagstaff, it sits at about 7,000 feet elevation and has many groves of aspen trees. In September and October, the leaves turn yellow. The result is beauty.

I read her update and was bummed out. This would likely be my last autumn in Arizona and I’d miss the aspens changing. I might never get another opportunity to see them.

But then I thought about it and realized there was no reason to miss them. After all, it isn’t as if I’m working. I’m just hanging out at home, packing at my own pace, waiting for divorce stuff to happen around me. I’d just tack on a day in Flagstaff after my day in Sedona.

Plan made, I called around and found a hotel that accepts pets, the Drury Inn. Not my first choice, but no real complaints. I booked a room and, on Sunday afternoon, I began the short drive up Oak Creek Canyon from Sedona to Flagstaff.

Although it was early enough to do a short hike when I arrived in Flag, I was exhausted, sticky, and stinky from my hot hike in Sedona with the group. I elected to take a nice hot shower, try some of the “happy hour” food they offered at the hotel, and just take it easy. Penny the Tiny Dog didn’t seem to mind. I’d brought along her bed and since she was just as tired as I was, we both relaxed. I had two bloody marys in the lobby and nibbled on some soup and some macaroni and cheese for dinner. By nine, I was asleep.

We got an early start in the morning. The plan was to visit two locations: Lockett Meadow and the Inner Basin Trail on the east side of the San Francisco Peaks and the Kachina Trail near the Snowbowl. After a quick free breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, Penny and I were packed and ready to go by 7 AM.

Lockett Meadow

Locket Meadow MapThe road to Lockett Meadow is not paved. I was driving my Honda S2000, which probably has about 6 inches of clearance on the bottom. (At least it seems that way.) I was a little concerned when I saw the sign that said “Road Not Maintained for Passenger Vehicles,” but when you consider that the road to my house is not maintained at all and is currently in deplorable condition and I drive it every day with the Honda, I was willing to give it a try.

It turned out to be in excellent condition. It climbed up the side of a mountain with no guardrails to stop a skidding car from plunging over the cliff — typical Arizona back road. In the distance I could see Sunset Crater and the Painted Desert beyond it. I kept climbing, reaching an elevation (eventually) of over 8,000 feet.

My HondaLockett Meadow Campground was at the end of the road. So were the aspen groves. I stopped and snapped a few photos, including this shot of my car parked alongside the road.

I drove through the campground. It was about half occupied. I thought about what a great place it would be to stay for a week or two in the mobile mansion. And then I thought about how unlikely that was to happen.

Inner Basin TrailheadIn the back of the campground was the trailhead for the Inner Basin trail. I parked the car among the SUVs in the small lot and got out with Penny to take a look. The trail looked dark and wound into the forest. It didn’t look very inviting. Although Penny was ready to go, it didn’t look like the kind of hike I wanted to take early in the morning. I was more interested in photographing the aspens; there were plenty of subjects back out in the meadow.

But there was one thing at the trailhead I want to share, especially since the first line was so appropriate to my situation. It’s a passage from the Navajo Blessingway:

Today I will walk out; useless burden will leave me.

I will be as I was before; a cool breeze will wash me.
I will have a light body; I will be happy.
Nothing will hinder me.

I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me.

After thinking about that for a moment, we returned to the car and drove back out to the meadow. I took a few shots and was generally happy with what I got. But as I was driving away from the place, I caught sight of a small pond with a perfectly smooth surface. My brain shouted: reflections!

Aspen ReflectionsI love including reflections in my photographs. This location did not disappoint me. I was able to make a number of photographs that really showed off the view with perfect reflections.

More Aspen ReflectionsI got back into the car again, now ready to leave. But again, as I was driving off, I caught sight of another place where still water was surrounded by trees. Leaving Penny in the car, I went to investigate and made a few more reflection photos. It was really much more than I had hoped for.

We retraced our route back down the mountain. It dumped us onto Shultz Pass Road. I checked my map. The road, which was unpaved, would take us along the base of the mountain back toward Flagstaff. In my typical explorer fashion, I decided to give it a try.

I didn’t get very far. At the first place where water had crossed the road, large rocks lay in the roadway. I thought I had enough clearance to get over them, but I soon heard (and felt) rocks under the floorboard. Not good. I stopped to take a peek underneath. Sure enough, there were a bunch of rocks beneath the car that I simply would not clear. Recalling how my soon-to-be ex-husband had punctured the oilcan on his Honda years ago, I decided to clear the rocks out from under the car, back up, turn around, and go back the way I’d come.

Fortunately, all this happened about 50 yards from a forest service guy who was parked with his truck in a clearing. When it became clear that I would not be able to reach the rocks without lying in the dirt, he offered me a shovel. I used the handle to pull the rocks out. Then I got in, backed up carefully, and returned the shovel. He probably thought I was nuts for trying the road in the first place. And he was probably right.

Return to Flagstaff

I drove back to Flagstaff on Route 89, which turns into Route 66, and took the turn for Route 180. I was less than 10 miles from the Snowbowl.

Unfortunately, along the way I had begun thinking of a friend of mine — or someone I thought was a friend of mine — who worked in Flagstaff. My last contact with her had been an email message telling her about my marital woes and warning her that the same thing could happen to her. I never got a response. I wondered what she thought of me and wanted very badly to see her and explain.

That was gnawing at me as I drove through Flag. I didn’t know where she worked or even if she was working that day. But I could find out. I could try to see her. I could try to explain.

But I kept driving.

I was about 3 miles short of the Snowbowl turn when my phone rang. It was my friend, Rod. I pulled into a trailhead parking lot and stopped in the shade to talk. And that’s when I fell apart.

You see, I was still hurting badly about my divorce and the way it all went down. My husband’s betrayal was like an open wound. Thinking about this friend in Flagstaff, who is married to my husband’s old roommate, had only made matters worse. When Rod called to check in with me, I broke down crying.

We had a long talk. I cried a lot. He gave me a good pep talk. He told me what everyone else had been telling me for months: that my husband was an idiot and a bum (and other things) and I was so much better off without him. I wasn’t convinced. Not yet. That would come later in the week.

But Rod did convince me that my Flagstaff friend wasn’t a real friend at all. If she was, he argued, she would have called me. No friend would simply ignore me when I was in such obvious emotional distress.

Rod is definitely a real friend.

While I talked, I let Penny out of the car. She wandered off into the woods. I kept an eye on her. There was something on the ground that she found very interesting. I walked over to check it out. It was a skunk skeleton. Skunk skeletons smell just like skunks. So did Penny.

The Kachina Trail

Kachina TrailWhen Rod and I finished talking, I felt better. Penny and I got back into the car and continued to the Snowbowl. We followed the winding road all the way up to the entrance to the ski area. Just to the right was the parking area for the trailhead.

The Kachina Trail is part of the Arizona Trail, a trail system that stretches north/south through Arizona. This was news to me. The only part of the Arizona Trail I’d ever hiked was at the Grand Canyon.

I chatted with some Canadians in the parking lot while I prepped for the hike. Like me, they were here to see the fall colors. Penny and I left them putting on their hiking shoes and hit the trail.

Kachina Trail TrailheadLike the other trail, the Kachina trail led into the woods. But whether it was the time of day — after 10 AM — or just the kind of trail, it seemed a lot brighter and more inviting. But what really surprised me was the elevation — the GPS in my phone reported nearly 9,300 feet. Whoa.

The trail wound into the woods, paralleling the road I’d driven up, which was just out of sight beyond the trees. I could hear vehicles driving up and down, including trucks and loud motorcycles. Not the kind of experience I wanted. But then the trail curved away from the road and it got quiet, with just the sound of the wind in the trees and the birds. The leaves on scattered aspen trees fluttered with a sound like falling water.

On the Kachina TrailThe trail was relatively narrow and wound up and down through the forest, between trees and around large rocks. Penny, on her leash, led the way, stopping occasionally to sniff at something. We met a young family with children walking the other way. I kept up a good pace without getting winded, despite the elevation, and was glad again for the health benefits of my recent weight loss.

I didn’t take many photos. Truth is, I was disappointed. The aspens weren’t anywhere near peak along the trail — perhaps because it wound along the south-facing side of the mountain. Although the trail was pleasant enough, it didn’t offer what I was there for. So after hiking about a mile (per my GPS), I decided to turn back.

I met the Canadians on my way back. I told them that the trail was nice, but I was there mostly for photography and wanted more aspens. We chatted briefly again, then went our separate ways.

Aspen Corner

At Aspen CornerOn the way up to the Kachina Trail, I’d passed a place called Aspen Corner. There was a parking area there with paths through an aspen grove. Those trees were at near peak color. I decided to wander around there for a while.

This is what I was here for. Bright yellow leaves against a deep blue sky. (Yes, clouds would have made the photos more interesting, but this is Arizona.) The cool darkness of the forest offered a magnificent contrast to the sun-splashed leaves and white bark.

Self-Portrait in AspensPenny and I wandered around for a while. I asked another photographer to take a photo of usy, but the exposure was so bad you can barely see us. I also tried a self-portrait using the camera’s timer and did a little better — although I’m squinting into the sun so badly that I don’t really look very appealing. Oh, and do you know how difficult it is to prop up a DSLR vertically on a log?

We wandered around for a while and I took a bunch of photos. By then, it was after noon. I was expecting a phone call at 1 PM and needed to be somewhere with a good cell signal. I also wanted to wash the Lockett Meadow dust off my car before I drove home. So we headed back to the car and started the drive back to Flagstaff.

Heading Home

A while later, with gas tank filled, car washed, and a fresh bottle of water for sipping, Penny and I headed back to Wickenburg. I took my phone call along the way, at an exit off I-40 between Flag and Williams. The drive back was nearly 3 hours long on what I consider the fastest route: I-40 to 89 to Iron Springs Road through Skull Valley, Kirkland Junction, and Yarnell.

It was an emotional drive for me. Along the way, I did a lot of thinking…and crying. I just have to work all my woes out of my system. It’s part of the healing process and I know it will take a long time.

The first thing I did when I got home was to give Penny the Skunky Dog a bath.