Category Archives: Travel

Natural Bridges Part 2: Full Canyon Loop Hike and heading home

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.

Hiking across the mesa
Hiking across the mesa

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.

Weathered Tree
Weathered Tree

The trail to Sipapu Bridge involves a few ladders and many stairs. And some interestingly weathered trees.

Sipapu Bridge
Sipapu Bridge

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.

Life in the canyon
A tree in the canyon

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.

Native American Ruins
Native American Ruins

The canyon walls are full of relics of the time when the area was full of Anasazi.

Kachina Bridge
Beneath Kachina Bridge

The massive tonnage of rock suspended with nothing below it is mind blowing. See the two hikers beneath for scale.

Indian Kiva
A religious Kiva under the bridge

Much of the canyon has protected Indian relics.

Slickrock carving at the bottom of the canyon
Slickrock carved by coursing water

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.

Slickrock under Owachomo Bridge
Slickrock under Owachomo Bridge

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.

Comb Ridge
Comb Ridge curves off into 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:

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Natural Bridges Part 1: The San Rafael Swell and Glen Canyon Roadtrip

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.

Open field
Golden waves of grain

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.

Mile marker 68.99 instead of 69.
I guess the alternative was getting stolen too often.

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!

Barren Landscape in San Rafael
Barren Landscape

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.

San Rafael Swell
Looking over the San Rafael Swell

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.

Long Straight Road
The Long Straight Road

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.

Slickrock dunes
Slickrock dunes

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.

Glen Canyon Monuments
Glen Canyon Monuments

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.

The north end of Lake Powell
The north end of Lake Powell

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.

Hite Bridge
Hite Bridge crosses the Colorado

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.

 Red Rock Plateau
Straight to Red Rock Plateau

After the flat desert plain it’s easy to see why this area of Utah is known as Canyon Country.

Milky Way Galaxy and ISS
The International Space Station crosses the Milky Way

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:

Photo trip: Highway 12 Roadtrip – Grand Staircase Escalante, Kodachrome, and Bryce

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.)

Beginning of Utah state route 12
The start of Utah’s Scenic Byway 12

The northern end is an unassuming junction in Torrey, the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park.

The Henry Mountains, over Capitol Reef from the Aquarius Plateau
The Henry Mountains, over Capitol Reef from the Aquarius Plateau

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.

Boulder Creek from Higway 12
Boulder Creek from Highway 12

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.

Highway 12 hogsback
Driving along the top of the Hogsback.

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).

Upper Calf Creek Falls
Upper Calf Creek Falls. Careful finding you way down from the top.
Underwater Potholes
Erosion beneath the waves

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.

Head of the Rocks Sunrise
Sunrise at Head of the rocks in Grand Staircase Escalante

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.

Sunset over Calf Creek canyon
The last rays of Sun

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.

Devil's Garden
Devil’s Garden picnic area, no camping

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.

Metatate Arch
Metatate Arch

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.

Powell Point
Powell Point

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.

The Grand Parade
The Grand Parade. 2 of the white columns can bee see in it.

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.

Desert Antelope
Desert Antelope with Kodachrome Basin and Bryce Canyon behind

Kodachrome sits below the Bryce Canyon mesa but the type of rock is different so it’s not an extension of the same formaiton.

Below Bryce Canyon
Below Bryce Canyon

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.

Bryce Canyon Monolith
Bryce Canyon Monolith
Bryce Canyon Mesa
Bryce Canyon Mesa
Red Canyon Tunnel
Red Canyon Tunnel in the Dixie National Forest

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).

End, Highway 12
End, Highway 12

The full road map and all pictures taken on the trip (the good and bad).

It’s not wildlife, and It’s not an erupting geyser, but it’s still pretty.

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.

Electric Peak Yellowstone
Electric Peak from Swan Lake

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,

Always check over the next hill. Even if you don’t make it to the next “photo-op”

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.

Jailhouse rock
Viewpoint view of Jailhouse Rock via Panaramio.

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.

Hoodoos by the Lower South Desert Overlook
Lower South Desert Overlook trail continues down to the valley floor.

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.

I need to get out!

NPS/Kenny Clarke
Temple of the sun NPS/Kenny Clarke

I’ve been feeling too trapped in the house and work recently.  I need to get out to get some photo time in.

I wanted to visit Bryce Canyon last weekend but the stars didn’t align so I decided this weekend I would align them myself if I have to.  Turns out I needn’t have bothered; they’re aligning on their own, this Sunday is the Summer Solstice and longest day of the year.  Also the early evening also sees Jupiter and Venus in the west and Saturn in the East.  And the crescent moon sets early giving an ideally dark night for pictures of the stars.

Another park area I wanted to visit was Capitol Reef’s Cathedral Valley, and then it all came together.  I could get Summer Solstice pictures at the Temple of the Sun!

I’m still working out the logistics in my head (not the least of which is trying to get a 4WD vehicle that can get me in there, plus a place to sleep). But the official Solstice is about 10:30am on Sunday.  Moonrise is about 11:30am so I can get some pics of the moon over its respective temple as well.  Sunrise pictures there would be great too but it’s about an hour of 4WD drive from the Cathedral Valley Campground, so probably pack up and nap in the car throughout the night.  Not supposed to be any clouds but the sun peaking over the orange Temple against a pure deep blue sky should work pretty nice.

The rest of the weekend I can explore the northern Cathedral Valley where I’ve never been before. And spend the time trying to deal with the near 100 degree temperatures expected over the weekend.

French Colors and subconcious influence from Vincent Van Gogh

One of Van Gogh’s most famous pictures “Cafe Terrace at Night” evokes a sense of a warm inviting cafe to stop in for a drink on a comfortable night in Arles.

Cafe Terrace at Night
Cafe Terrace at Night

As he himself described it to his sister:

On the terrace there are small figures of people drinking. An immense yellow lantern illuminates the terrace, the facade, the side walk and even casts light on the paving stones of the road which take a pinkish violet tone. The gables of the houses, like a fading road below a blue sky studded with stars, are dark blue or violet with a green tree. Here you have a night painting without black, with nothing but beautiful blue and violet and green and in this surrounding the illuminated area colours itself sulfur pale yellow and citron green.

I was editing pictures from my trip to France and noticed the color palate was very familiar.  The fashions may have changed but you can see not much else has; an evening out for a drink with friends is still as it was.

Cafe Terrace at Night
The blue sky of early night.

These pictures are actually from the old town of Aix en Provence and not Arles like Van Gogh’s painting but the similarity is striking.  I actually wasn’t setting out with that in mind when shooting or when editing.  It’s just some street photography on an old French street, but you can really see a modern interpretation of the world as Van Gogh probably saw it as a 30 year old capturing the night around him.

Crepes evening snack
Snack before hitting the town.
A date with the boys
A date with the boys

I actually took a picture of Van Gogh’s cafe during the day from the exact same perspective later in the trip but I think these street shots of the night in Aix is closer to his work than that picture.

Les Enfants
Les Enfants

I read a lot of books and looked at a lot of pictures by famous Artists from the area and it looks like I subconsciously copied it a bit.  Or perhaps all of southern France is just as beautiful as the paintings from a time long past.