Tag Archives: Southern Utah

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:

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:

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.

New Lightroom CC has native RAW support for Olympus OMD E-M5 Mk II

And not a minute too soon.

Last week I got my new OMD E-M5 Mark II (Electric Boogaloo) and this weekend went on a 3 day Photo Trip down Scenic Utah State Route 12, the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.  Being the first big trip out I was keen to try out all the cool features, the High-Res mode being at the top of the list.

Then I got home and found that Lightroom didn’t support anything off the camera except JPEGs.  I was able to convert the normal RAW files to DNG using Adobe’s standalone DNG converter but the High-Res .ORI shots weren’t recognized.  So I installed and fired up Olympus Viewer 3 to export the high res files to a format that was supported only to find I couldn’t get it to export to TIFF either.

Then today Adobe released Lightroom 6 (CC 2015).  The release notes don’t mention what support for new cameras are available but after a download, install, and catalog conversion I re-imported all my vacation shots.  All of the RAW files loaded, and better still the High-Res .ORI files imported with no problem.

Basically all is good in the world again.  I feel kind of sorry for all the EM5 part 2 owners who have been doing workarounds for the last 3 months; mostly because I didn’t have to put up with any of that.  Adobe timed the release perfect for me (Sorry fellas!).

Calf Creek Sunset
GSE NP Sunset with Indian Paint Brush.

Rough edit of this weekend’s photo project: Sunset in North Window Arch

This is the rough edit of the picture I wanted to take this weekend, 4 arches and the sun.  This is a single exposure of a 5 shot bracket so I’m hoping to get better definition in the highs and lows of the image but I’m too tired tonight.

I was hoping the sun would set on Turret arch itself but I was pretty sure it would be too far to the right.  Even on the Winter Solstice I don’t think it would move too much further south.  I think the best you would get is it setting in the lump of rock on Turret Arch’s right, not through the arch like I imagined.  I spent the last couple months of time planning and calculating to see how things would line up, I knew the window (lol!) for lining it up would be just a week or 2 before and after the winter solstice.  I’ll try to write up a technical description of what went into planing for this soon (I hope).

Rough edit of North South Turret shot.
Rough edit of North South Turret shot.

Best problem in the world

Red Canyon
Red Canyon Spires

Going through my photos from Southern Utah I realized that everything is so beautiful it’s hard to rate photos to narrow down: what gets post-production work, what gets shuffled to the archives to never be seen, and what get’s deleted.  Not that I’m amazing and all my shots are great but the subject matter is so fantastic, it feels like a crime to eliminate some of these pictures when there are people who haven’t seen these places.

For me the hardest part of photography is to see something so grand and mind blowing and to try to find a way to cram it all into a single 23″ 4:6 rectangle.  I feel really accomplished when I can narrow down to a single “subject” that conveys the emotion of of all that surrounds it in every direction.