Posted by: Bruce Proctor | September 15, 2010

1st Visit to Coal Mine Cyn, 3 of 3: Clouds

1st Visit Coal Mine Canyon

Preface:  After I had left Santa Fe four days earlier, I drove a meandering route back to my home in Salt Lake to see some new country.  Since it was early July, to my surprise, every day  filled with clouds and even periods of rain. I expected weather like Utah in July, which is filled with pitiless, relentless sun.

This overcast weather was great for my photography. Much of my landscape work is characterized by textures and subtle colors which only emerge in such indirect light.

But this weather baffled me. Could rainy weather be more common here in New Mexico and Arizona in July?

Two afternoons into my drive, when I was stopped by a road crew working on the highway over the Malpais lava field in east-central New Mexico, a great flotilla of clouds was gathering, heavy and dark again. Rain drops, fat as bumblebees, started splatting on my windshield. I waved the local flagman over.

“Does it often rain here?”

“No,” he said, “This is our first rain since April.”

Rain seemed to be dogging me. That day, it continued on and off through the afternoon and night.

Now, however, two days later, in the Coal Mine Canyon area, the sky was spotless. The heat was well over a hundred in this arid, forbidding landscape. This weather was more what I had expected all along.

After lunch I decided to walk around with my camera in spite of the blasting light, for a few minutes, and see what this remarkable country might offer me another time. As I explored a bit and started to get turned on by what I was finding, a thin wash of high clouds drifted over. Soon I did take a few tentative photographs after all.  As I began to get more serious, the clouds thickened a bit. I soon forgot about clouds, except for the great light I was working in. I photographed for hours.

When I’d finally had my fill (which is rare enough), it was late afternoon. I hiked back to my truck. As I put my gear away and drove back up to the highway, I noticed the cloud cover meanwhile had entirely disappeared.

It had been there when I needed it. When I was done, it was gone. Spooky.

(Over the years since, I have always paid close attention to the presence of clouds when I want to shoot. My experience is that, in the desert, perhaps 80% of the time I get what I need, very often in the face of continued TV weather predictions saying directly otherwise.  More later.)

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