The passenger lead is a railroad term referring to the main track into a station or passenger yard for passenger trains. From the passenger lead, the individual station tracks branch off to create a yard. This is of course a very basic description, rail yards in themselves are a maze of leads, branches, spurs, cutoffs, house tracks, run-arounds, mains, and sidings. Now after that; I was to pickup my friend and his fiancee from Denver Union Station after their trip on the Amtrak California Zephyr to Glenwood Springs. I was able to get out and make a couple shots off the side CO 72, but wasn’t able to catch them again until downtown Denver. Short trip, a couple shots, a nice little exercise to keep the photo muscles in shape.
So after a long sabbatical from photography (due mostly to lack of inspiration, work, and other silly excuses), I was able to go for a long needed road trip. Myself and long time best friend Kevin went out to the eastern Utah desert for a couple days of chasing trains and photography. Since the first trip we made there more than thirteen years ago, I was enchanted with the desolate beauty of the desert. While this trip was less about landscapes and more about trains, the two subjects are intertwined. The trip truly began when we made our way down to the north rim of Ruby Canyon where we would wait for the westbound Amtrak California Zephyr to pass by below us. We exited I-70 at Rabbit Valley, two miles from the Colorado state line where there is an OHV recreation area on the south side. One of the funnest parts of these trips is the frequent four wheeling required to get to our photo spots, and this area is no exception. The views are awesome and it’s really easy to sit there for long periods of time watching time pass. Our train came and went, and we made our own rough tracks back to the highway to continue westward. One problem with chasing trains between Grand Junction and Price, Utah is that there are only four trains a day. With our only train for the day passed, we made for Price. I passed the time watching the landscape go by, taking the occasional shot out the window. Since this was first road trip in years that I wasn’t driving, I was taking plenty of shots of the Book Cliffs in the evening light. While a moving vehicle doesn’t make for the most stable shooting platform, I was able to get some nice images, most of which I turned into panoramas. My camera has enough resolution I was able turn out some good size prints from the panos.
The next day saw a lot more rail action, as we headed westward toward Soldier Summit. The near 2% grade on the trackage from Helper to the summit, and the fact that loaded coal trains have to go up that grade makes for some exciting train chasing. We caught Amtrak #6 heading east at Castle Gate, which was still in the shadows at 6:30 am. From there we worked west listening to the radio chatter, looking for either a westbound to chase toward Provo, or an eastbound to chase back east to the desert. We were in luck as we encountered an eastbound Utah Railway coal train headed east toward that railway’s branch line, which serves a very productive coal mining operation. The rising sun was perfect for eastbounds, and the resulting shots were great. We kept with this train all the way to the Wildcat coal load out, and were able to kill some time while it was loaded. Once loaded, the train headed west once again toward Salt Lake City, where it would interchange with the Union Pacific, and ultimately the coal was destined for China as export coal. We left the coal load a way up Price River Canyon and headed back east to catch Amtrak #5 westbound out in the desert, since we planned to camp in the desert the second night. Our sources told us that there would be a special surprise in today’s California Zephyr; ex- Rio Grande business car, and ex- Ski Train private car Kansas. Since the discontinuation of the Ski Train several years ago, the cars were sold here and there to special charter rail lines. Our beloved Kansas was headed to a west coast luxury charter from the American Railway Explorer charter line. After a shot at Thompson Springs, we bid it farewell at Green River, and returned east to the desert siding at Sagers. Knowing we were essentially out of trains for the rest of the evening, we set camp and waited for darkness so we could do some star gazing and astrophotography. When darkness comes to the desert, it is the most spectacular kind of dark. The moon hadn’t risen yet, and you could literally see by starlight. I had done plenty of star trail shots with long exposures, but what I really wanted was to capture the galactic core in a shot. After a bit of experimentation, I found the formula (which I will keep to myself for now). And to add to the night shooting fun, we had two trains pass by in the dark as well.
After about two hours sleep, we woke with the dawn, took some sunrise photos and headed off. Once again we found our selves chasing Amtrak #6 east at Thompson Springs. We decided to chase it as far east as we could without losing it. Or it losing us, as the case ended up being. We were only able to stop occasionally as passenger trains make 75+ mph through the desert almost all the way to Glenwood Springs. Fortunately the California Zephyr makes a station stop at Glenwood Springs, which allowed us to catch up and stay with it along the Colorado River from Glenwood Springs to Gore Canyon. For probably the first time, I was able to try to get some photos of Glenwood Canyon from the car. Let me tell you, it is not as easy as it sounds to get a decent shot without a convertible! Nonetheless, I tried and actually ended up with a couple good ones. We left Amtrak at Inspiration Point at the mouth of Gore Canyon near Radium and headed back home a bit sooner than we would have liked. However, the trip was still good for the soul, and I had once again found my photographic inspiration in the Utah desert; always the last place you look!
Just a couple random shots I wanted to share…
Okay, so this is a little out of the Wilderness Hunter’s realm of photographic experience. I am not usually an event photographer, but when my Dad asked me to shoot a concert he and my uncle were playing in, I couldn’t say no! In fact, it really got my creative juices flowing, as well as presenting a challenge. The concert was a tribute to a musician friend of my Dad’s that passed away a couple of years ago, and tragically, was only in his mid-fifties. The setting itself was in a small stage room at the Walnut Room in LoDo, and proved a major challenge to shoot, because of the darkness. The camera meter kept reading only the black of the shadows and not much of the light, so shooting in manual mode was a must. Even at an ISO setting of 1600, the fastest usable shutter speed I could get was was 1/6th with the aperture wide open between f/4 and f/5.6. This setting worked well to expose just the lit parts, even though the camera wanted a shutter of 2 seconds in aperture priority mode. I use the same method to shoot the moon (except a crescent like here). The problem was the guys kept moving around! Just kidding of course, but it was a chance for me to practice an action photo technique known as peak of action. Basically, instead of shooting a stream of images at a high frame rate, you watch for the pause in the action and make the click. This works well if you have a camera with a slow frame rate (like mine) and have used quite often shooting wildlife; which just proves to me that no matter if you shoot landscapes and wildlife, the same techniques can be applied elsewhere. Here’s a couple of shots from the evening.
Taking shots of the moon is always a challenge because of the extreme contrast of shooting a bright object on a black background. However, shooting a crescent moon versus shooting a full or half-full moon is a whole different ball game. !!WARNING!! Photo-geek content ahead!! Trying to get a proper spot metering on a crescent moon requires a longer telephoto lens than I have, so many of the shots the bright part of the moon is way over-exposed and the partially visible dark part of the moon vanishes completely! So I tried using an exposure bracket +-2 EV, and still got over exposure. So I tried another bracket adjusting the regular exposure to compensate by using a faster shutter; still too much exposure. I tried an HDR image (basically blends the exposures of several images to get one well balances image) using the collection of images from these attempts, and I hit a serious limitation with my equipment. The result was too much noise, and you could almost see the rows of pixels of the camera sensor. Using the HDR technique can bring out in a scene things you wouldn’t see in a single shot. So what you see here are the best single images (no HDRs) of the evening.
While my lovely wife and I were in Montrose this past weekend, I had an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. After we went out to dinner at an AMAZING restaurant, we passed the power for the Montrose local sitting ready for a Sunday morning departure, and what do my eyes see? Class lights! Class lights lit up! For those outside the railfan circle, class lights are located on the nose of a locomotive that change color with the direction of that locomotive. They have not been in use for sometime since the early 1990′s, since FRA (Federal Rail Administration) rules change quite often regarding the visibility of locomotives. So with that pontification out of the way, back to the story. The sun had long since gone down, and the moon was rising, I had my tripod with me, so I stopped for some low light photos! I was quite happy with the results, given the limited time I had to shoot.
Like I said, camping and night photography go hand in hand. Here are some more while I am thinking about it.
This was a full hour exposure. I actually set the camera and tripod, clicked the shutter and took a nap.
Those twinkling lights on the left are from the rear end device on a freight train.
It took my time adding these, as I have been exremely busy at work and have had no time at all to post!
I love long exposures! Night in the desert is so cool anyway, and for some reason, it is my favorite place to take these kind of shots.
Camping photographers have a unique advantage, when you know how to take low light photos. You get the evening and twilight, pure night (really awesome when your timing puts you there during a new moon!), and pre-dawn and morning light.