You start getting excited about setting up a new camera bag kit.
“It will have this camera, and this lens, and this filter, and this Tripod. I’ll be setup to do anything in an ultra light package!”
Just thoughts I have while hiking on a trail.
Natural Bridges is a small enough park that you can really settle in and make it your own without too much work. I decided the year before that I wanted to do the full loop hike, hiking along the canyon bottom and hitting all 3 bridges together. The distance is respectable and even though half is on the mesa and half is in the canyon there is still some surprising ups and downs across the canyon bottom. But it’s all well worth it to be one with the desert.
All 3 bridges can be seen in one loop through Natural Bridges, the ranger advised starting out at Owachomo Bridge Parking lot and tackling the hike across the mesa first. The sun can be oppressive so it’s good to tackle the exposed section in the morning and spend the afternoon in the canyon with the odd shade.
The trail to Sipapu Bridge involves a few ladders and many stairs. And some interestingly weathered trees.
It’s hard to give the feeling of size in a picture, Sipapu Bridge is the second largest Natural Bridge in the world behind Rainbow Bridge. For a sense of scale those are full grown Cottonwood Trees looking like bushes below the bridge.
The desert above the canyon is known as the Pygmy Forest because the lack of water and nutrients slows the tree’s growth. But in the bottom canyon trees grow tall and pools of water linger long after rains have past.
The canyon walls are full of relics of the time when the area was full of Anasazi.
The massive tonnage of rock suspended with nothing below it is mind blowing. See the two hikers beneath for scale.
Much of the canyon has protected Indian relics.
After seeing the deep canyons around Lake Powell it’s hard to imagine that each was slowly and intricately cut by water through the hard sandstone.
Owachomo Bridge is the “Old Man” of the park. The water no longer runs under it after a storm, having etched another route that bypasses the Bridge. Now it just slowly weathers until it will finally collapse.
Plus it was a bit of a relief finally seeing the end of the hike in sight after so many blind curves I expected to be the last turn only to have another canyon curve in the distance.
The hike took most of the day and I wanted to be back to Moab before night fell. But there was still enough time to get some quick pics of Comb Ridge. The ridge stretches in a giant crescent to the south, it’s not very developed but the area is full of Native American history and long rarely visited slickrock canyons. I hope to check it more in depth in the future.
Here is the map full of pictures from the second day down at Natural Bridges:
When doing the big Southern Utah loop through the National Parks I realized half a day in Natural Bridges was not enough and vowed to go back. The added benefit is I could plan a roadtrip down through San Rafael Swell, Upper Glen Canyon, and leave past Comb Ridge, Canyonlands, and Moab.
Although the goal was to hike Natural Bridges, getting there is half the fun. Plus some big beautiful storm clouds were chasing me out of Northern Utah. I checked weather.gov beforehand and the storm hitting the north wouldn’t impact me in the south.
It took me a few second to figure out why they wouldn’t be able to post mile marker 69??…
Oh! Now I get it!
It was slightly longer to take I-70 to the monument but I wanted to drive through San Rafael Swell to scout for a future trip. After descending through pine mountains you come out on the barren desert plateau.
The San Rafael Swell is currently BLM land very popular with ATV and slot canyon explorers. So far oil and gas interests haven’t been encroaching, but if any unprotected place in Utah is befitting a being elevated to National Park status it’s this place. If you like any of the Utah Mighty 5 parks, you’ll love San Rafael Swell.
After I-70 breaks through the broken edge of the Swell it’s a long straight ride across the desert plains that separate the Swell from Canyonlands and the Green and Colorado Rivers.
After a last chance for gas in Hanksville more southward travel changes from desert plains as you start to cut down through the slickrock towards the canyons of the Colorado River. This area is prime slot canyon territory.
The Colorado River sliced through the sedimentary rock carving complex canyons into the desert named Glen Canyon. Covering much of the southern portion of Utah.
In 1966 Glen Canyon dam was completed 185 river miles away creating Lake Powell. It’s difficult to define where the river ends and the lake begins but Hite crossing is generally considered the north end of Lake Powell. The Lake used to cover the surrounding floodplains but recent drought has left the marina high and dry.
Even though it slices through nearly a quarter of the state the Colorado River only has 3 drive-able river crossings in Utah. Hite and nearby Dirty Devil Bridges were considered “The world’s most beautiful bridges” when completed in 1966. I don’t know about that but the setting could definitely sway the vote.
After the flat desert plain it’s easy to see why this area of Utah is known as Canyon Country.
Natural Bridges was the worlds first “International Dark Sky Park.” There are few places with as low of light pollution as this. And in summer the core of the Milky Way is in full view, occasionally the International Space Station and the odd satellite make an appearance as well.
Here’s the full roadtrip and all the pictures from the trip:
Utah State Route 12 passes through or near 3 of Utah’s National Parks and Monuments, 3 of its State Parks, and has been designated a National Scenic Byway. The highway makes up about half of the drive linking all of Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks and makes up the most scenic portion of the drive. (Check the bottom of page for a full map of the trip and many more pictures.)
The northern end is an unassuming junction in Torrey, the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park.
The completed highway is one of the newest in Utah; although parts of it have existed before it wasn’t fully paved until the 1985 when the dirt road from Boulder over the mountain to Grover was paved. From the Aquarius Plateau you can see out over the southern end of Capitol Reef National Park.
Due to the raw physical terrain building roads in the area was always a challenge. The town of Boulder relied on pack mule for mail service until the Hell’s Backbone road was a completed by the CCC in 1935. Electricity service was not brought to town until 1947.
Hell’s Backbone is an exciting road to drive with sharp drop-offs on either side of the highway as it drops down into Calf Creek Canyon. Calf Creek is a great camping site but quite popular and fills up during the busy season (I got a site at 4pm on a Thursday, it was full by 5:30pm).
There are 2 main falls in the canyon, Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls. Lower is much more popular, Upper is just as beautiful but the trails isn’t as well established and has a much more drastic elevation change from the top of the canyon to the bottom.
A short drive from Calf Creek is the Head of the Rocks overlook. This gives a great view of the Calf Creek area from the opposite end of Hell’s Backbone.
The establishment of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has made the towns along Highway 12 the prime jumping off points to the northern half of the monument. There are multiple campsites and RV parks to utilize since GSENM doesn’t have many well developed campsites within yet.
Shortly before the town of Escalante is the Hole in the Rock road that leads into GSENM. The road is well maintained and well traveled so passenger cars can handle it unless it rains. When it rains it turns to mud that will swallow 4×4 vehicles as well. Avoid the road if wet, not only is there a chance of getting stuck but the muddy ruts damage the road when they dry. The BLM will actually close the road if it’s bad so be aware as it can affect your plans.
Halfway down the road is Devils Garden, a cluster of unique slickrock hoo-doos and some delicate arches. Climbing on slickrock is ok but is prohibited on the arches themselves. The general rule for National Parks and Monuments is: if it’s has a name, you can’t climb on it.
The road continues down into Henrieville and Cannonville, and a short detour south is another main road into GSENM that passes Kodachrome Basin State Park.
Kodachrome is more slickrock fins, towers, and arches. There are also a bunch of geologically unique limestone columns peaking through the sandstone. Many theories have been given as to their creation, one being that they are remnants of ancient thermal springs and geysers like in Yellowstone, but now the surrounding earth has eroded away leaving the hard-water deposits that were once underground.
Kodachrome sits below the Bryce Canyon mesa but the type of rock is different so it’s not an extension of the same formaiton.
The highway climbs from the bottom of the Bryce Canyon amphitheater. From the top of the mesa a short detour off Highway 12 heads into the heart of the park.
South past Bryce the highway goes through Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest before ending at the Highway-89 junction. Many people will continue north to Panguitch as the end point, or turn south at the junction towards Zion National Park (an hour away).
The full road map and all pictures taken on the trip (the good and bad).
Cool video and a problem I suffer from extensively.
I think it’s good to take the “Postcard Picture” that everybody takes, you want to say you’ve been there too. But then the next step is to do your own thing with it. For better or for worse try your own spin on it. Too many photographers get caught up in chasing the amazing picture that everybody else took and you end up with a large group of sheep doing the same thing and a bunch of identical pics being sold to doctors offices everywhere.
One picture I wanted to do was of Turret Arch being viewed through North Window Arch in Arches. A quick google search shows the “Postcard View”, sunrise through one arch shining on the other arch. Or just before sunrise through the arches, or just after sunrise through the arches. But what did it look like at sunset?
I did some searching and found the sun would almost line up the two arches in winter (unfortunately not quite shining through both arches at the same time). But it allowed me to get a unique version of the same perspective that I still haven’t seen anywhere else.
The perspective is identical because there is literally 1 place to stand, and maybe 5 other photographers can cram in to the side but they won’t have Turret Arch centered. Next time I’m down that I might take a picture of them taking pictures. Sometimes it’s fun to turn the camera on the photographers themselves.
I was editing last night and came across the Yellowstone picture I mentioned other tourists being disappointed with. As this is being taken imagine about 5 other people to my left and right asking me why I’m taking it.
Sure there are no Bison. There isn’t an erupting geyser (we’re outside the Caldera at this point). It’s just a picture of Electric Peak at the Swan Lake turnout. I was driving north from my campsite to go photograph the Re-Dedication of the Horace Albright Visitor Center at 10am and through it was a beautiful area. The storm the day before led to some interesting clouds over the plains. A lot of the world would consider a place this pristine an beautiful a tourist location in itself.
It won’t be the front page of 500px and won’t end up in National Geographic. It was just an example to me how Beautiful Yellowstone is even without all the wildlife and geysers,
Whether you’re taking pictures or just out on vacation always explore, don’t get in too much of a rush that you just try to hit a series of planned waypoints before moving on. So may people go out to see such amazing places but they think that the parking lot viewpoints already have all the best views mapped so they just hit them all as rapidly as possible without discovering the hidden or overlooked details that really make a place beautiful.
When I was planning my trip to Cathedral Valley I marked a bunch of “points of interest” that I wanted to see. Usually they were these main overlooks and features in the area. When I drove down the Hartnet Road I planned on heading down to the Lower South Desert Overlook, mostly as a set turn around point because all the pictures I saw of it were pretty standard. Another view of Jailhouse Rock from a closer angle where people pulled up, snapped a shot of the monolith, then hopped in their cars and left.
But there is so much more in this area just below the viewpoint if you continue all the way down the trail. What I thought was going to be a casual shot of Jailhouse Rock ended up being one of the most interesting places to Photograph in Capitol Reef.
My shot above is about 500ft curving around to the left of the shot on the top. The same white “goblins” are in the center of both pictures; it’s just that the first is looking west, the second is a bit lower looking north. All of the crinkly detail of the cliff is hidden from the overlook.
The same thing occurred last week in Yellowstone. People get obsessed with seeing erupting geysers, active hot pools, or wildlife wandering the country and overlook the fact that it’s some of the more pristine and beautiful mountain terrain in North America. I frequently had photographers following me at pullouts in Yellowstone under the impression I was seeing something they weren’t; which was true, but even when I pointed it out to them they still didn’t see it.
At Swan Lake some Chinese tourists poured out of a van and started scanning the horizon in the direction I was shooting.
“You see animals?”, one asked in broken English. “No, that mountain just looks amazing from this angle.” They all looked defeated and immediately filled back into their van without taking a picture.
The day before at Vixen Geyser I was crouched for a while taking closeup pictures of the geyserite pearls around the gurgling vent. A passing tourist (with a nice D810), asked happily if I knew it was going to go off soon. “Nah, I’m just taking pictures of the smooth rocks here.” He grunted a “Hrmp” and walked on. The problem is about 2 minutes later it did start erupting and he rushed back to photograph it, glaring at me as he came back thinking I had deliberately lied to him to cheat him out of a shot.
By stopping to take in the little things I was favored with a surprise geyser in addition to the interesting formations; by rushing to get to the next “viewpoint” he was a day late and a dollar short having to play catch-up to something already in progress. As it was going off I read in my trusty handbook and it turns out that the geyser goes off every 5-10 minutes so I stuck around and watched it again (he didn’t); but preparation and education is an article for another day.
Many famous photographers have said you can’t chase down photography, you have to be patient with your eyes open waiting for the perfect moment. Don’t get so caught up rushing to the next photo-op that you miss what is already around you.