ALMO — Times-News photographer Pat Sutphin sat waiting inside his van at dawn. In front of the City of Rocks' office, he watched a caravan of cars and pickups leave the City of Rocks National Reserve's shop on Nov. 4. Without cell service, Sutphin was out of communication.
"I saw the line of cars pulling out and wondered just how many caravans would be leaving Almo at dawn," he said. "I figured there would be only one, so I followed."
It was Sutphin's second trip to the City of Rocks this year, but this was colder and wetter than the earlier trip. Fog, snow and sleet threatened to make the adventure less than pleasant.
But no one complained. In fact, weather can add an interesting element to photography, said Wallace Keck, City of Rocks National Reserve superintendent.
Keck took the Magic Valley Camera Club inside Castle Rocks State Park, where many in the group had never been.
When the club formed, it had about 20 active members, including founders Tom Gilbertson, Scott Standley and Gary Bond, said Shari Hart.
Then the club joined Facebook and its population exploded. Today, 941 people have joined the group online. Many of those joined just to be able to see through the artists' eyes.
The group headed toward the City of Rocks, just as low clouds moved in from the east. Mountain peaks tore apart chunks of clouds as they were quickly swept away in the wind.
Photographers scrambled to set up their cameras and tripods as scud clouds hung among the rocks.
Keck pointed out interesting subjects: Tiny icicles hanging from the lip of a boulder, with droplets of water clinging to the ice. Reflections on the surface of water caught by weathered panholes in the rock. Bright orange, yellow and red lichen growing on granite, with a tiny twig growing from a crack in a rock. And bizarre formations rising in the distance.
Photo opportunities in the City of Rocks never cease, he said.
Another location revealed soot in a cave, where thousands of years worth of campfires had blackened the walls.
Soon, snowflakes were coming out of the west, casting yet another dimension onto the landscape.
The photographers took hundreds of photos that day, some working together, others off by themselves. Most would spend the coming evening to work up the photos and share them on the Magic Valley Camera Club's Facebook page.
The group meets regularly to give advice, technical tips, constructive criticism and lots of encouragement, says Ann Dennis.
"I have taken pictures for a very long time," Dennis said, "but I feel my skill level has improved a lot the last few years and much of the credit goes to the camera club and the people involved."
Carolyn Bolton of Twin Falls occasionally posts one of her own photos on the website, but for the most part, she joined the camera club to "revel in the fabulous photos of the Magic Valley," she said.
Photographer Cathy Wilson of Buhl gets her inspiration and encouragement from the group.
"I can honestly say that the camera club has been life-changing for me," Wilson said.
Camera club President Colin Randolph, who doubles as a volunteer with the Twin Falls Visitor Center, says perfecting an image isn't his motivation.
"It's getting out and being part of the world around you," Randolph told the Times-News last year. "The photography is a result of that."