random thoughts on railroad photography, railfanning, technology, and such

Entries from May 1, 2011 - May 31, 2011


Our Best Trip Ever - Part 2 - The Run East

(Continued from: Our Best Trip Ever - Part 1 - The Planning)


On Saturday morning, with great anticipation and eagerness, I loaded the final pieces of gear into the truck and the perishables into the camper’s fridge. I have learned over the years that it seems something always comes up at the last minute as we prepare to depart, especially when it involves more that a weekend road trip, so I packed some flex-time into the first day of our trip. Good thing too because we needed it.

After I finished the loading and set the destination into our GPS I sought out Deb. I found her in the kitchen making the final few touches on the meals that we would take on our trip. Our intent was to eat well this trip so Deb prepared chicken enchiladas, spaghetti, and our favorite, Japanese curry over rice, to take with us.

She needed more time so I settled down to rest a bit. Perhaps it was due to the anticipation of the pending trip or all of the work I put into preparing the truck and camper the week before, but I found myself unable to sleep Friday night and I was tired. I drifted to sleep.

After a short respite, eventually we were ready to depart. Our reservations at the La Posada Hotel weren’t until Sunday evening so we had the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday to get there. Originally I had planned to shoot targets of opportunity along the Needles Sub as we headed east out of California but, due to our late departure, I opted just to drive straight through to Flagstaff. We did just that.

Having heard that Walmart allows overnight parking for RVer’s sometimes, and considering I was in need of some rest, we headed to a Walmart in Flagstaff. Upon our arrival at 11:30 PM, we were surprised to find that the store was open. This was apparently one of those “new-fangled” 24-hour stores. We went inside to garner permission to park overnight.

As I headed out to the truck for a nap, Deb, having slept some of the way to Flagstaff in the passenger seat, proceeded to shop in the nearly empty Super Walmart for hours, and hours, and hours. I suspect that she must have felt as if she was in heaven - not unlike my ventures to Fry’s Electronics. As soon as I had drifted off to sleep I was awoken by a parking lot monster - the overnight truck vacuum! As the truck made it’s rounds vacuuming up the discarded flotasm that littered the parking lot it became clear that my efforts were in vane. I headed inside to join Deb on her shopping spree.

The track of our first “official” day on the Seligman Sub. The black camera icons indicate the locations that I shot.

Day 1

LightTrac App from Rivolu Pte. Ltd, showing the Winona, AZ sunrise opportunities.Enough fooling around, it was time to shoot. I looked for an appropriate location in hopes of catching some sunrise shots between Flagstaff and Winslow. Using a very cool iPhone application from Rivolu Pte. Ltd, called LightTrac, for sunrise data, I picked the area near Winona, Arizona for my quarry.

“LightTrac helps photographers plan their outdoor photo shoots ahead of time by helping them find the perfect light conditions, time and location to photograph their subjects anywhere in the world.”

We headed east out of Flagstaff on Interstate 40 bound for Winona all the while racing the pending sunrise. Eventually we reached the road that led towards the rails, an area known as Darling, Arizona, and I looked at the surrounding terrain for a decent location to set-up. I can only do so much planning with maps and cool apps because it is difficult, if not impossible, to glean true sight angles and scene composition data without actually being there. No map is going to show you the locations of trees, fences, billboards, power lines and the like. Nonetheless, it gets me in the ballpark.

Eventually I settled on a spot in the road which had a slight rise due to the fact that the tracks were higher than the road here. Apparently the tracks were laid on a small fill to level the grade. I do have the benefit of going to the roof of the camper to take shots which affords me an additional 11’ of elevation. I did just that.

Upon my rooftop perch, I surveyed the surrounding scene and took a moment to appreciate the fact that I was doing something I love immensely, with someone I love immensely. It was clearly going to be a beautiful day. The sun was clawing towards the horizon and there was a slight chill to the air.

I set-up the tripod and took note of the distant signals which indicated no train in the immediate area. I decided to fire off a few test shots. Once I did, we waited. Eventually the sun rose enough to cast a beautiful glow about the horizon.

A Darling Dawn - A beautiful start to the day is underway at Darling, Arizona.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

A Darling Dawn 2 - A beautiful start to the day is underway at Darling, Arizona.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

As in the case on all parts of BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision, one does not have to wait long for traffic. Eventually the distant signals indicated an approaching train and soon thereafter the headlight appeared flickering on the horizon. This is the shot of our first train on the trip:

Dawn Doublestacker at Darling - As dawn gives way to sunrise, our first train of the day dashes through Darling, Arizona.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

Judging from that photo it is a good thing I opted to set-up on the roof or else the train would have been behind those bushes. Another westbound train appeared in the distance and the sun had risen enough to fully light my location so I decided to shoot a panorama shot:

Panorama shot of Darling, Arizona.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry
After Deb prepared, and I subsequently eagerly comsumed, one of her breakfast offerings I took a walkabout and positioned myself in various locations in the area for some different shots. At one point I had passed underneath the tracks at an underpass which was a little too small for my camper to pass through and shot, what turns out to be, one of my favorite shots of the day. I caught an eastbound stack train with the sun glinting off of the train. While post-processing the photo I couldn’t decide between which version, either color or sepia, that I prefered so I kept both:

Sunrise and Stacker on the Seligman Sub - As the sun glints off of its train, BNSF 7667 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 7896 (GE ES44DC), and BNSF 7736 (GE ES44DC) lead an eastbound doublestack train towards the rising sun along the ranch lands of Darling, Arizona.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry
Sunrise and Stacker on the Seligman Sub in Sepia - As the sun glints off of its train, BNSF 7667 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 7896 (GE ES44DC), and BNSF 7736 (GE ES44DC) lead an eastbound doublestack train towards the rising sun along the ranch lands of Darling, Arizona.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry
After I had my fill of the Darling location I decided to head to the often photographed location where the BNSF tracks pass under Townsend Winona Road in Winona proper. As we headed that way I took a few shots along the way.

BNSF Eastbound Stack Train with San Francisco Peaks - An eastbound BNSF intermodal train greets the morning sun with the dramatic San Francisco and Elden Mountains providing the backdrop near Darling, Arizona.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

BNSF 5169 West - BNSF 5169 (GE DASH 9-44CW) and BNSF 4196 (GE DASH 9-44CW) lean into a superelevated curve as they approach Winona, Arizona with their intermodal charge in tow.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

In the next post I’ll cover our photos from Winona, Arizona.


Our Best Trip Ever - Part 1 - The Planning

It had been just under five years since Deb and I ventured east to one of our favorite locations in the west, the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona, and BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision. After completing a major project at work, I felt the need to take a respite so, in early April, Deb and I made plans to head east.

After garnering the necessary approvals for my vacation time at work, I set about to planning the trip. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I am, more often than not, meticulous in preparing for a trip. I like to research shooting locations, points of interest, accommodations, and the like so that I can optimize our time spent in the field photographing trains and ensure that we have a good time.

Considering the stress level I was under at work, and Deb’s need for some time away from it all, I concluded that we should take a few days to chill and get grounded once again before we set about chasing steel. The perfect place to do just that was at the La Posada Hotel. We would make the La Posada destination number one.

Having been to the La Posada before, I was versed in the ample opportunities for photography that the location afforded us. I didn’t need to “research” that aspect of the trip. We had also shot photos of the Seligman Sub in years past but we didn’t have our truck and camper, like we do now, which allows us tremendous freedom - both in access and self-sufficiency. We were free to camp literally anywhere. As such, I wanted to find some of the more picturesque and remote locations that we missed on previous trips.

I turned to the almighty Google to assist in the research effort. One of the sites that Google returned in my search results was Brett Wirick’s excellent “BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision” site. Brett’s treatment of the Seligman Sub was invaluable and served as the basis for laying out the locations that I wanted to visit and describing the routes to get there. Another great site on the subject was Jon Adam’s BNSF Southwest Division Seligman Subdivision site. (Thanks for the ATCS info Jon!)

Armed with all the research data and possible shooting locations in mind I began to layout our trip. I looked for a map that would fulfill my needs and didn’t find one that I felt was suitable and portable enough. I wanted a planning map showing the entire route with notations of all of the possible campsites and key points along the way. Being a licensed amateur radio operator, I also wanted to note all of the key radio frequencies that might be handy during our venture. (I like to be informed.)

After scouring the web, I decided to purchase a Mac mapping application called Ortelius, from Mapdiva, LLC. I took some time to learn the nuances of the application, and of cartography in general, and created a couple of maps for our journey. The first one I created was the overview map with all of the relevant details for our trip clearly noted:

Our “Planning Map” showing key locations and address info, radio frequencies, and our tentative schedule and plan.

The next map I created was a detailed map of the Crookton Cut-Off which was a special portion of BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision that we were going to focus on:

BNSF’s Crookton Cut-Off - A detailed map I made complete with control point locations, milepost markers, and potential access points.

The beauty of this mapping solution was that I now had a custom map that held all of the information in one location and could be quickly referred to using one of our iPads. To accomplish that I exported the maps as Adobe PDF files and transferred them to the iPad. I quickly found out that the native iBooks application was rather slow at rendering the large files. I searched for a solution and found a great application from Avenza Systems, Inc. called, appropriately enough, “PDF Maps.” This application pre-renders the maps, which increases their storage size on your device, but the trade-off is lightning fast rendering of the maps. Perfect, just what I wanted. Oh, did I mention that it is also free?

Now that we had planned our trip we made reservations for a two-nights stay at the glorious La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona. We were still about two weeks out at this point and I couldn’t wait for the trip to begin. I prepared our truck in the intertrim and waited like a kid in line at a bathroom. “I wanted go!”

(Over the course of the next few posts I will recount our trip and share some of the 6,500 some odd photos that we took. It was a great trip!)