The Gopher Holes – Saxon in Wonderland

The Rio Grande Botanic Garden in Albuquerque, New Mexico has a most clever Children’s Garden.  Short of actually being in a garden, where kids can plant (play in the dirt) and harvest their own snacks, this place is sure to get kids excited about gardening.

A series of underground tunnels, resembling gopher holes intertwine in a wonderfully complex maze.  Fun to explore – hard to photograph.  It’s a good thing I always use a tripod. Before I get into the special techniques need to make the opening shot, lets look at the garden.

It’s a big garden, an oasis in the desert with many access points to learning.  Here is a map showing the various Sections. I am always on the lookout for public gardens that help local gardeners know what works in the region and that showcase native plants.

I confess I knew nothing of the garden other than there were some expansive lawns for picnicking and was a bit surprised to see several sections of the garden that used native plants. Whenever I find a new native plant for gardens I am both bewildered that I did not know it and delighted to photograph it with hopes of encouraging gardeners to discover it too. The Wahootree ?

holt_1112_064.tif Leucaena retusa also known more commonly as a Goldenball lead tree is native to Texas and parts of New Mexico, and then when I found out it has a common name of Wahootree I was doubly delighted.  Graduates of U of VA are ‘fondly’ known as Wahoos.  Need I say more ?  Oh yeah, small tree for dry hot sites; and lovely with its bright green pea-like foliage. Wonderful Achillea was covering the Xeric garden, a meadow in all its glory.  Note to self:  add this to the next edition of The American Meadow Garden. holt_1112_033.tif But most unexpectedly, I almost literally stumbled into the Children’s Fantasy Garden. holt_1112_200.tif I felt like I had fallen down the rabbit hole.  Everything was out of scale. holt_1112_201.tif As I walked past an oversized flower pot and under a huge flower “growing” out of it, I noticed a bee working on pollination. holt_1112_203.tif A hidden speaker suddenly erupted, and was startled by intense buzzing . holt_1112_209.tif What fun!  As a parent I worried that little ones would by now be crying.  As a big kid I was grinning ear to ear. I went through the maze and truly got lost, making many wrong turns, finally entering a series of tunnels – gopher holes. holt_1112_219.tif Light came through a series of holes open to the sky as if I were a gopher looking up. While I delighted in being underground in New Mexico, taking photos was a huge challenge.  It’s dark in those tunnels; and the sky is bright. A great time to use a Photoshop technique of merging different exposures, expanding the dynamic range of the camera sensor.  Many cameras now have built-in HDR (high dynamic range) settings that will automatically use multiple settings. I do HDR merge in the computer during post production where a single tool in Bridge will merge the frames I select.  The key to making it work is to use a tripod for tack sharp (and unchanging) focus and thus NO change in composition when the multiple images merge; and being sure to adjust the exposures by means of shutter speed, not the aperture setting which subtly changes focal depth of field. Screenshot-1112-HDR-tunnelsOften these merged images initially look ghostly and flat but that is easily corrected with other tools. holt_1112_218.tif In this case I still wanted to enhance the scene, create a little fantasy and went back into Photoshop pulled out my Topaz Simplify plug-in filter, and began to play. Screenshot-1112_-moleTunnelSmfy I love these filters and all the various settings that allow each photographer to create artistic effects, fine tuning to their exact needs.  I was looking to get the effect of an illustrated book.  I was in Wonderland after all.

Before/After Slider – move bar to right to see before

Fun in the Underground. More photos with High Res link of Rio Grande Botanic Garden in the PhotoBotanic Archive