March was the perfect month to take a road trip out to Northern New Mexico and Taos. Not too hot and not too cold with snow covered mountains still up high and new wild flowers blooming down below. My featured photo shoot for this month was one I did along the Rio Grande Gorge with a local model, Emma. I loved Emma's free spirit and comfort in front of the camera. She was perfect for the setting of the Rio Grande Gorge rim. March 2016 is the three year anniversary for this area. It became a National Monument known as officially, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument on March 25, 2013.
The Rio Grande Gorge has many amazing vistas and views from the rim. So many locations to choose from can make it difficult as a photographer to narrow down for an evening shoot. The spot I choose was on the west rim near the Dead Chol a Trail. It has perfect light at sunset and great diversity in terrain which is perfect for the different textures I wanted in my photographs. This gorge is deep: 800 feet to be exact.
The gorge was not carved out by the Rio Grande River as I had thought. It is actually caused by the earth's movements and faults. This is known as a rift and the Rio Grande Gorge is a rift valley. The scientific estimated time frame when this rift valley was formed from moving plates is 29 million years ago. The Rio Grande Gorge is one of the five “young” rifts on our planet. The others are in Africa, Germany, Russia and under the ice in Antarctica. I always knew this place was special and very unique. I love to hike and photograph this area and I have done so many times. Emma was great and felt comfortable to hop around the rocks and slopes of this magical place.
As our light faded out while we were below the rim, we drove back up to the top of the rim to work with the last bit of light before final sunset. On top of this rim we could look across the gorge and see the view of the small city of Taos and the tallest mountain in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak (13,161 feet). Very beautiful in every direction. Taos county is one of my favorite places to photograph with only around 30,000 in population and lots of land with amazing sunsets. I don't think I could ever get tired of exploring this part of the world. Taos County has 17 of the 25 highest peaks in the state, the amazing Rio Grande and amazing historical buildings and structures just to name a few of the reasons to see this place in person.
Working with natural light is my first choice so I tend to pick locations where the light is just right and particularly during the magic hour, which is the last hour of light before the sun sets. The skies in New Mexico are famous for the amazing sunsets and vivid blueness during the day. The colors around the immediate area we were in happened to be yellows and sage greens thanks to the natural flora. Wild sage is very abundant in this area as are beautiful wild flowers of all different sizes, shapes and colors. We were in a sea of tiny yellow, delicate flowers and as the sun was low, they lit up so beautifully. I had Emma lay down in the flowers and we got some really nice low angled images.
As the sun was getting heavier, the breeze started to pick up and the temperature dropped. Part of my job is to make sure my model looks comfortable in the images we get regardless of how cold or hot it is. Emma made this easy. She made herself look comfortable despite the cold temperature. We finished up our shoot at this fabulous rock right at the trail head entrance. I have noticed this rock over the years and always loved how the last sliver of light hits it before it gets dark. It sits high enough to absorb those last moments of gold light. I love this rock. I have sat on it many times and enjoyed the views of the gorge and have enjoyed many beautiful sunsets from this spot. I also enjoy seeing the lights start to come on as it darkens over the city of Taos from across the rim. A really nice spot and tonight I was determined to get some images taken on my special rock. As it turns out, this special magical spot where this rock is positioned is also right at the parking lot of a somewhat popular trail head.
Our photo shoot was going along perfectly, except for maybe the colder breezes picking up. As we were about to shoot at my special rock a parked car next to the trail head sign started to cast a giant shadow across my special rock! There were only two other cars besides mine and Emma's and both were pretty close to the trail head entrance which would be the most reasonable place for hikers to park but not at all reasonable if you are trying to photograph a model on this amazing and magical rock with the gold light casting on it. As I was contemplating what I should do I hear footsteps of hikers and their dogs coming back up to the rim. I immediately could see they were on their way out and they drove away pretty quickly. Whew....just in time too. Only a few minutes is what I had left before the sun went down completely. I managed to get a dozen amazing images of Emma on my rock. I think they were the highlight of the entire shoot. Every image was magic with the glowing warm light on Emma. She wore a flowing white dress which looked incredible with the natural elements. I was so grateful to get these images for many reasons. Thank you Emma! ...and thank you to the hikers that left just minutes before it got dark.
New Mexico is famous for it's sunsets. If for nothing else, if you come to New Mexico, just seeing a sunset alone will be worth your trip. I have seen many beautiful sunsets but none as consistently amazing as the ones I have witnessed in the Taos area. No wonder this area pulled away the artist Georgia O'keeffe from New York. Many artists have made Taos and this area their homes and with the evenings that are just breathtaking almost every single night, you can understand why. At twilight I captured some silhouettes of Emma. The color of the sky was really vibrant and pretty remarkable to say the least. This was the last shot I got of Emma on the evening of our shoot on the Rio Grande River Gorge.