As soon as Kari and I first made a quick loop through Saguaro National Park a few months ago I knew I could spend a lot of time there making tintype photographs of the many different plants growing there, in addition to the overall landscape. This past Saturday I finally headed down I-10 to the park, with my car full of gear.
By the time I got to the park, scouted locations, and set up, I only had a little over three hours to work. Fortunately I was right about it being a target-rich environment. In the entire afternoon of work I never moved more than a few yards from where I parked my car in one of the pull-offs, and didn’t even come close to running out of interesting subjects to photograph.
The photograph at the top of this post, with three saguaros, some prickly pears, and an gnarled old tree, is the scene that caused me to stop my car at this particular spot. I figured I could make at least three or four very different photos essentially without even moving the tripod. Just rotate the head, swivel down, different photograph entirely.
I basically only have two lenses that I usually use for my large format cameras: a 90mm not-so-wide wide angle, and a 210mm longer lens. Of course, to get the composition I wanted, the wide-angle lens would have required me to stand smack in the middle of the busy road, and the longer lens plopped me right in the thick of a thorny bush. Figuring I could handle thorns better than getting run over by zooming bicyclists or yelled at by a park ranger, I made the best of the thorny bush location.
Speaking of speeding bicyclists, while I was getting set up one of them zipped by me, and I swear I heard a low “Marrrrrrrrrk!” from the blur. Turns out it was Scott, an old friend from my high-school Boy Scouts days back in Circleville. He lives nearby – gets to call a national park his “back yard” – and said he’d come looking for me on his day’s ride.
So that was neat. Hadn’t seen him for about 15 years, and we stood beside the side of the road catching up a little. Then, speaking of park rangers, one of them came by. I knew he’d probably stop. They usually do when they see my gear (and me wearing an apron and rubber gloves) plus this time I was parked facing the wrong way on this one-way loop road. I went over, answered a few questions about my gear – assuring him I take all of my chemicals and waste water with me – and then had a nice chat with him about the photography process itself. I also promised not to drive off in the wrong direction when I left.
It was a fine day, as they usually are, and it turned into a beautiful soft sunset. I tried to squeeze out a few last tintypes before it just got too dark. (My camera is near the center of the photo above, angled down at the prickly pear cactus in the tintype below.)
Funny aside: I was running a bit low on gas going into the park, but it showed something like “78 miles to empty” and I knew the loop wasn’t that long. I was running late and was eager to make some photographs before it got dark.
Then I ended up driving the eight-mile loop one entire time just to scout locations, then started around it again. Unfortunately I’ve been having some car trouble, so it wasn’t running all that well, and the slow drive up some hills chewed into the mileage. By the time I got out of the park in the evening, despite only driving about 16 miles, I was down to “28 miles to empty”.
Fortunately, though, there are several gas stations nearby, and I was able to fill up before it was too late.