Island in the Sky

Neck Spring Trail
Friday, May 17Thursday morning we left Monticello, headed for the Island in the Sky unit of Canyonlands. We stopped in Moab only long enough to empty tanks, shop and gas up again. We’re not even going to try to get a campsite in the park, instead driving directly to the Horsethief BLM campground about 6 miles outside park boundaries. There were plenty of spaces left to choose from even at late-morning in this 60 space campground. All afternoon is was very windy and cloudy so we didn’t venture out much the rest of the day.Friday morning however, we were ready for a hike. It started off quite clear and cool with very little wind. Perfect for our 6.5 mile hike on the Neck Spring Trail. We were out early and easily drove into the park. The trailhead is a little ways past the visitor center. The Neck of Neck Springs is actually a narrow spot along the road – a little wider than the 2 lane blacktop. My first visit here in the early 80’s, this road was gravel and seemed a little scary to me. On one side is a spectacular view of Shafer Canyon and the La Sal Mountains. On the other, another set of canyons that our trail runs through. We parked in the Shafer Trail parking lot and set out down the trail. It immediately drops down to the roadway, then crossed to the west side into Neck Spring Canyon.This is another well known trail to us, but not one of the most spectacular of walks. It has every element of what I love about Island in the Sky, but on a more diminutive level. The hike took us around and down and up again, several canyons. There are interesting sandstone amphitheaters one can hike into, a great variety of wildflowers blooming in patches all along the way, and nice views in several directions. And something I haven’t seen in the desert for quite a while – water. We crossed several tiny creeks flowing from some of the grottos. These could have been springs. Climbing out of a couple of the canyons is steep and a bit grueling over the sun-baked white sandstone. There is no breeze down in the canyons so 70’s feel more like 80’s. Climbing out required plenty of shade and water breaks. Up along the rim, we found the breeze again, and more interesting rocks and views to photograph. Once out of the final canyon, the trail continues around the lip as it begins to loop back around toward the road. This portion runs over mostly whitecap sandstone (of various colors), much of which have natural cryptobiotic planing bowls in their midst. We also passed evidence of past attempts to take advantage of natural resources. The whitecap sandstone colors ranged from natural gray to orange and yellow. Thickening clouds provided a nice background for some of the images. Once across the road, the trail rises a little more and runs near the rim on the other side of the road. Now the more impressive views are revealed. In several spots, views of the canyons could be seen on both sides of the road, and later on the trail, we were looking down at Shafer Road that leads to the White Rim 4-wheel trail. The clouds had really thickened by now, but we were near the end. Rain looked imminent, but as so often has been the case, all we actually got was a little virga. Tired as usual after a hike, we headed back to camp. Tomorrow we are planning an early morning drive along the main park road out to Grand View Point. Not much walking in the plan, but that has a way of changing.

Morning Rim Drive
Saturday, May 18Because it is Saturday, our plan was to get out early for a drive to the furthest point on the mesa at the Grand View Point Overlook before it got busy. Along the way there are a number of overlooks and a couple of interesting trails to explore. Again we had an easy entry into the park and drove right out to the Green River Overlook. Walking up to the viewpoint, visitors have no idea what they will see – it is hidden. As they get to the rail, the bottom drops out and a view 1000’ down and away for miles is revealed. The Green River snaking its way through the canyon eventually registers on the brain. My favorite view anywhere. I’ve seen it so many times now. Yet, even at 7:30 this AM, the sun is too high and light too harsh. The sky, a pale blue and nearly featureless, is not helping. Not it’s best light. It’s still great to be at this spot seeing this view. We explored along the rim edge looking for different ways to photograph the view. There was some nice Princes’ Plume and the aromatic Cliff Rose was wafting through the still air. Before arriving at the overlook on the way in, we passed by the Mesa Arch trailhead. This is a 3/4 mile hike to an iconic image location for many, and yes, I have my own version. When I did it years ago, there were maybe 5 other photographers also there at dawn. As we drove by at around 7 AM this morning, we counted about 40 cars in the lot. Photographers stand is a semicircle to photograph it, but there are only a few spots to get the ideal composition. People walk out on it for selfies – it’s only about a 1000’ drop. More than 10 photographers is going to be a real crowd. We drove on by.It was an enjoyable ride out to Grand View Point. Along the way I was surprised to see so many new trailheads. Most seem to be for bikes though. We stopped briefly at a couple of overlooks, but didn’t leave the car until the end at Grand View. The lot was half full at 8 AM and quite a lot of folks were at the overlooks. There is a rim trail of about a mile that departs from the viewpoint and we decided to walk out on a bit. It just wasn’t an inspiring morning, at least looking out to the views. We walked maybe a half mile, then decided to turn back. Instead of looking at the view again, I turned my attention toward the multicolored sandstone shelf that we were hiking along. Just as at House on Fire, sunlight was reflecting off surrounding rock, lighting the sandstone overhang from underneath. The overhang ledge was only about 3’ high so squatting down and looking up put my neck to the test. All along this stretch of wall, the many layers of colored stone created a multitude of patterns. I made dozens of exposures. Back in the car, we started back through the park, stopping only to check out another location for a later walk. From the Buck Canyon Overlook, the White Rim Overlook Trail runs out on a finger of the mesa for 1.8 miles, to wonderful views of white rim canyons. We will do this another day that isn’t Saturday. We started back to our camp at Horsethief. As we slowed to pass by the entrance station, I counted 67 cars lined up to get, and passed many more as we drove the 6 miles to camp. It seems best to stay out of the park during the 10-5 period of the day unless a hike is involved.

Rim Drive, Redux
After a relaxing afternoon, we had an early dinner and drove back into the park in hope of a fine sunset at the Green River Overlook. It was very cloudy all afternoon with virtually no breaks, but as evening approached, it began to look like something great might happen. We were at the overlook by about 5 PM to see how it was shaping up. There were some nice breaks but still too much cloud cover. With more than an hour before sunset, there was time. Since we still had time, we drove over to the Buck Canyon Overlook again, but here too it wasn’t really happening. A little before sunset, we returned to Green River Overlook for last light. For about a half hour it really looked like the sun would get down below the clouds to light the view up for a few minutes. But it didn’t happen. From where we stood we couldn’t see the layer of clouds behind the layer above the horizon. There were just a minute or two of partial light. By 6:30 the other two photographers still out there and I were looking at each other wondering who would break for home first. It wasn’t going to happen tonight, so I packed it up – the other two were right behind me.It was nearly dark by now so we headed back to camp. The rising full moon surprised us as we passed the visitor center, so we pulled over and Mary made a few hasty exposures. I just watched it rise. Tomorrow we plan an early morning hike along the White Rim Overlook trail.

White Rim Overlook Trail
Sunday, May 19Our entire stay in Island in the Sky so far has been a bit hampered by wind and rain showers during the day. It is sometimes not fun being out in it. The forecast is calling for a series of storm rolling in from California over the next week. Our plan was to stay through tonight and begin our 5 day drive back to San Fracisco, but that means this morning excursion is our last of the road trip.It was another cloudy morning and it seemed it would get more so as the day progressed, so we were out early. The first stop was just a pull-out by the road that had a nice large area of walkable whitecap sandstone to explore. This was also a nice alternative view of the Green River canyon. Stopping here attracted a bunch of other folks, so I took a longer walk out along the rim and found a few nice compositions, then we moved on to our hike.The trail leave from the Buck Canyon Picnic/Overlook and it was nice to see the parking area only had a few cars. It was already pretty windy – which made it feel colder – but quite a lot of the trail offered some protection and we were dressed warmly. With the light so dim, it was difficult to get excited about the pictures along the way, but the hike was still nice. As the trail reached the end of the mesa, the views began to open up all around. We could walk out quite far onto the rocks, but the furthest point would require some scrambling. Interesting rocks, great views, mostly flat light. We found a nice protected area to have a snack before heading back. Cloud cover was only getting thicker and the wind was getting pretty old as well. Despite the conditions, we still savored our last day here. A brief stop back at the earlier turnout, convinced us the weather was not improving, so we were done for the day. What is left for us now is the journey home. It will be 5 days of 200 plus miles to get us there, so there won’t be much time for exploring along the way. This may be my last post until the next road trip, probably starting in September. Thanks, everyone who have been following along.

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Windmills and House on Fire

Tuesday, May 14When our friends Jan and David told us about the new giant windmills that have sprung up along the base of the Abajo Mountains it was only a small shock. Since I’ve started my latest project, Into the Anthropocene, I have been noticing more and more encroachment by alternative power generation onto once open landscapes. Perhaps it’s not so bad when the land they are place on is more wasteland than usable. Why not? It’s not much good for anything else. Thats the current thought process it seems.It feels a little different when they land on such a scenic spot. I asked around town a little about how folks felt about them and most all were fine. In fact, they thought they were kind of cool and elegant. The manager of the RV park where we stayed, when I asked how he felt, said that 3 of them were on his land. OK. So we took off to have a look at them and tour through the Abajo’s to see what we see. Mary found some good public access roads that brought us right to the heart of the windmills. Most of the area is covered with 8’ tall scrub oak, making it difficult to get clear views over the trees, but standing on the tailgate of the RAV helped a bit. With terrific clouds and virga falling in the distance, I made some images I like, but they seem more like majestic ode’s to alternative energy. There is a place for that in my project too though, Foy LakeWe took that 1 mile dirt road detour up higher into the mountains again. Light rain showers followed us everywhere we went, but never more than a few drops reached the ground for any extended period. We followed the road to Foy Lake. More of a pond really, and actually a reservoir. The light varied from flat to brilliant and clouds kept the sky interesting. We walked around the lake, taking in wonderful views of nearby mountains and enjoying the light – when it decided to make an appearance. This place held our interest for a good long time. It was very quiet with only the blackbird song and blowing wind to hear. Eventually another cold rain shower made us retreat to the car. We drove on, but the landscape was less interesting and the clouds thickening over the mountains deadened the light. We have a bit of a drive to get to our hike near Blanding tomorrow, so we called it a day and returned to camp.

House on Fire
Wednesday, May 15
Something we wanted to do again was photograph at a particular Anasazi ruin with an unusual feature. The actual ruin – the grain storage structures – are not the most impressive to be seen, especially in this area near Blanding, but the sandstone layered roof of the alcove can resemble flames if photographed in a certain way. I’ve made photos here before and I don’t anticipate making anything particularly different, but it’s a fun thing to do and this year the canyon is green and verdant, making the hike in very pleasant.From the parking area, the trail drops down into the canyon and follows the canyon wash the rest of the way. One must pay a little attention to where the ruin is located. The alcove is somewhat hidden by trees and boulders and up higher along the canyon wall. It is easy to walk right by. But not so much now. The word is out about this place so you will probably see – most likely hear – people milling about the area. Once we climbed up the short distance to the alcove, we found 4 or 5 other photographers already there. More arrived as we began making our own photos.We timed our arrival to be mid-morning. As sunlight moves over the canyon during this period, light is reflected from the opposite canyon wall bounces onto the alcove’s roof, creating a wonderful glow that can resemble fire. Arriving much later, means direct sun on the scene and create harsh shadows.
We were still a little early for the best light, so I spent time trying to find  different angles that seemed to show promise. We lingered here for a hour or so, then made our way back to camp. We will be returning to Canyonlands tomorrow. Or rather to the other main unit of Canyonlands – Island in the Sky. It will be our final week of the road trip, not including the 5 days of driving to get back to San Francisco.

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Canyonlands – More Needles District

Chesler Park Hike
Saturday, May 11
We were both feeling up to the days hike to Chesler Park today. It is not a really difficult 6 mile hike, but it will be much warmer today and that takes a toll. Being Saturday, we got out early to make the 8 mile drive into the park and the trailhead at Elephant Hill. More surprises on the way when I saw new parking areas added near the endpoint, nearly doubling the amount. They couldn’t possibly fill all these new spots could they?No matter. We parked right at the start point of the trail – along with quite a few others already there. The first part of the trail is much improved since our last visit, but still rises sharply up and over a rocky cliff. On top the trail levels for awhile and runs through nice vegetated areas with plenty of wildflowers. Several canyons needed to be traversed to get to Chesler, and that means lots of up and down through each one. Each of the canyons is quite deep and has a different character so keeping interested was not a problem. Coming up out of the final canyon, the trail works it way up to the first set of needles – the tall formations for which the area is named. As we walked higher, views opened up all around. From here it was up and over a pass in the formation into Chesler Park. We’d been pretty leisurely on the trail so far and found it was already mid-day, so we found a nice sunny spot in the pass for lunch before moving on a little further.  We only walked another mile or so down into the area. Mary’s legs weren’t feelings so great at this point, so we decided to turn around instead of doing the usual loop we like. It was nice to get this far. Seeing the green meadows with orange spires and knobs rising all around, the mesas behind and mountains beyond will stay with me. The afternoon had gotten pretty warm, maybe high 70’s. It felt downright hot walking over the wide portions of sandstone trail. Sort of like baking in a stone oven. We finished our hike despite our aches and pains, but were pretty happy to have our coffee at the ready for the brief drive back to camp.

Slickrock Trail
Sunday, May 12

After our tiring hike yesterday, we spent most of the day in camp, taking it easy. It was hot again today, but we did want to get into the park later in the afternoon for a shorter walk at least. We had a ver early dinner and set out to to the Slickrock Trail – a 3 mile easy rated loop over mostly white sandstone that features great views, potholes and interesting textures.Waiting for us atop the signboard at the trailhead was this raven. When we didn’t come across with any treats, he made sure we knew he was waiting for something by hopping up to the rearview mirror while I put on my hiking boots. He got nothing. I had hoped it would be cooler by 5:30 when we set out, but with almost zero breeze and the sandstone radiating heat, it was not. The trail is in many ways very similar to the Pothole trail but is spread out more and has several different areas to explore. After about 3/4 mile, the trail begins the loop that will first take us through rolling sandstone shelves, then out to nice views of Junction Butte and Island in the Sky. The La Sal Mountains can be seen all along the second half of the loop as the trail turns back. We finished the hike about 7:30, but were pretty hot and tired by the end. The low light was not enough to keep us interested in photographing, so we headed back to camp for the night. The weather predictions for the next few days say hot and hotter. Not liking the thought of hiking in that, we changed plans and decided to leave Needles and head 60 miles south to Monticello. We’ll camp at the foot of the Abajo Mountains where it will be significantly cooler. We plan to do the short hike to House on Fire – a set of ancient grain caches. It has a very interesting roof.

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Canyonlands – Needles District

Pothole Point
Friday, May 10We were out of camp early on Thursday to get resupplied and dump tanks in Moab. We just need to drive the 50 or so miles into the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. There seems to be a brief window of cooler weather lined up for the next several days, so we needed to take advantage of it as more hot weather is forecast. I am really hoping the remoteness of this unit of Canyonlands will mean less crowds. It’s a pretty long drive from Moab to only be able to drive around to a few overlooks. This section seems best suited for hikers – many miles of trails – though 4-wheeling roads are big and a climbing explosion at points outside the park are drawing more and more folks.

We set-up camp at our favorite BLM spot about 6 miles outside of the park. We have wonderful views all around and, while the gravel road to get here is pretty busy, this spot is sort of behind a slight rise and is protected from most dust and noise.Friday morning we were out for our first walkabout. We visited various spots that were short, easy walks to just get ourselves used to being here again. Out to Pothole Point first. So many place in the park have become sort of touchstones for me – places I have to visit wether I make images or not – just because I like being there. It is an easy short trail that leads, to and around, a large area of potholed sandstone slabs. Along the way, a few sandy areas sprouted wildflowers, but the main attraction are the potholes. With all the rain in the area, I’d hoped the potholes would have contained more water, but it was difficult to find any water at all. Just a few large pools. When there is lots of water, the pools become alive with critters, snails, shrimp and larva of many types grow and hatch in these transitory pools. In one pool, dozens of tiny snals were lined up along the edge like campers at a lake.We strolled along the trail, finding reflections in pools and wildflowers sprouting from small crevices. Still I could find no fully blooming yucca.  Once out on the main open section of sandstone, Wide views of the sandstone towers Needles is named for. The views are expansive and offer a tease for future hikes. The park road dead-ends just down a mile or two. Also there, the Confluence trailhead begins. We are thinking this will be one of the hikes we do – at least partially – at some point. But for now, we just walked around some of the massive formations at the start of the trail. Some nice views of the surrounding canyons can be seen from this high vantage, but as usual, I started looking down at the colorful sandstone layers.

Squaw Flat AreaWe had some lunch at a nearby picnic area and then decided to climb the sandstone formations around the Squaw Flat campground just a few miles away. We’ve camped there many times but as of late, we don’t even try for a space anymore. It can be done, but not worth the time with what we have left before the end of the trip.To climb the formation we only needed to follow the well worn trail over several sandstone shelfs. One is so steep a climbing cable was installed to aid hikers. But it really isn’t difficult to climb. The views from the top are worth the effort to get there.Once on top we could walk along the spine to get a look at several small sandstone amphitheaters carved by wind and rain. Patterns in the rock, both of color and texture continue to challenge me to make images. One particular bowl has attracted me for years. A small juniper tree sits in a paper thin layer of soil and looks out over the canyons below.I don’t know that I have ever fully seen this spot. I keep trying different approaches but still I come up short. Today of course, the flat light was not helping. This area also contains a portion of the Chesler Park trail – at least one of the trails that goes there. I followed it just a little as it dropped out of the bowl I was working in, to look at some of the other views. So many nice scenes of red rock with potholes and sandstone spires. We’re planning a longer hike for Saturday, so decided not to get ourselves too tired today. We wanted to do the hike to Chesler Park – our favorite place – today, but neither of our bodies wee feeling up to the 6 mile walk. Hoping tomorrow will be cool enough. It was a real shame we were not up to hiking it today. It is the coolest day of the week and would have been perfect for a long hike.We turned around and made our way back to the car and to camp. Much later back in camp and after dinner, I noticed how the cloud cover we’ve had all day was finally breaking up. As the sun broke through – about 20 minutes before sunset, it illuminated everything with low warm light. It was quite windy, but I couldn’t resist such nice light so out I went. At first I was just looking at the patches of the various flowers growing around me. Soon, I noticed a rainbow forming off in the distance. Then it became a double. This kept me plenty busy until it gradually began to fade. All that was left was some beautiful light illuminating verga as it fell over a distant mesa. It is just the perfect thing to be able to camp where something like this can occur. I just had to step out of the rig.

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Goblins, Dinosaurs & Arched Canyons around Moab

Saturday, May 4
It was a non-starter that we would try to get to Moab on a Friday afternoon. All signs this spring were that every national park was packed with people. Being in the middle of two world class parks would mean Moab would be mobbed. I had no idea what the reality was in town now. More on that later.So we only drove as far as Goblins State Park. Actually we stayed a few miles outside the park in a BLM dispersed camp site. There are plenty to choose from. Some were group sites and had dozens of toy-haulers, ATV trailers and the like. I’ve never seen this area so crowded with ATV’s. We found a really sweet spot at the top of a small rise away from all the others that overlooked desert, sandstone reef and big, big sky. Only one other small RV was parked there and I never once saw the person or people inside for the three days we were there.On Saturday we drove into the park. Driving any dirt roads in the San Rafael Swell is still out because of always seeming impending thundershowers. There isn’t a lot to do in this park if you can’t 4-wheel it. The main attraction is a valley of strangely eroded sandstone formations and offers plenty of photographic adventures. The day started off quite clear, but afternoon clouds formed quickly over the mountains and kept drifting over the valley floor. While Goblins SP has a few dirt roads to explore, we were more interested in the main attraction – the weird sandstone formations in one large valley. The approach to the overlook nicely hides what is to come. The only clue is an early set of Easter Island looking formations.The road rises up to the main parking area and once out of the car, a brief walk to the edge revels a wide dried mud-pan with giant formations sprouting out everywhere. It is a little difficult to understand the size of these formations, so look close as several images have people wandering through. That first little stem part of each formation is twice as tall than the typical person. We had it good for awhile. Overhead clouds kept the light a little softer and occasional breaks kept highlighting various formations. We wandered out into the valley ourselves to see things a little closer up. It wasn’t long before the solid wall of clouds to the west began blocking the sun over the park. Looking in one direction, blue sky, the other, dim light. It was looking like it was going to get even darker, so we slowly began working our way back. Just as we started the walk up out of the valley, more sun broke through and we had a few more minutes of nicer light to work with. Another surge of clouds pretty throughly deadened the light and it looked like a long wait for more breaks, so we decided to finish for the day. Back in our camp a few hours later very near sunset, the cloud cover had broken up quite a bit. There were numerous showers passing through now with the warmest light of the day streaming between showers. Soon a half rainbow began to form. I just sat outside the rig just watching for a while. As the sun came out more, a dim but full rainbow developed just below fingers of drifting virga. Then it was a double. As the shower passed by, the rainbow intensified and clouds became highlighted. I love when the Nature brings the picture to me. Thanks! As quickly as it arrived, the rainbow faded, then disappeared completely. I thought the show was over, but as I continued to watch the scene, the clouds seemed to turn inside out. They became highlighted by last light for a few minutes before they too faded. It was a happy way to finish my day.

Moab Area
Sunday, May 5-7
It was only about a 90 minute drive to Moab from Goblins. We managed to book one night in an RV park just outside of town. We could find no other space available for more than one night at any other RV park for a price we were willing to pay. Having a hook-up space in town makes all the errands we need to to much more convenient – and they had good wifi.

As soon as we turned off highway 70 onto 191 it was clear that Moab had changed. As we drove the 20 mile distance with the light traffic on our side, convoys of 30 or 40 cars, RV’s and ATV pulling trucks  passed us the other way. A short break in between and another 30 or 40 went by. As we got closer to town, traffic bunched up more going the other way, creating a solid slow-moving train out of town. In town it was stop and go all the way. I haven’t seen so much traffic since San Francisco.

I turned off and parked next to City Market so we could get our grocery shopping done before checking in to our camp. I soon had to move the rig to behind the market because the narrow street was making for some too close encounters with other rigs trying to do the same thing. We got our groceries and got out of town and into the RV park. I later learned this was known as “The Sunday Exodus”. Something that happens every weekend during spring and summer.

Moab has exploded with growth since our last brief visit in 2014. Compared to our first visit in 1980 when there were as many shuttered buildings as working businesses, one stoplight, one market (with free coffee) and maybe 2 RV parks, it is now booming with new large hotels, luxury RV parks, and fast food. I understand it – I just don’t like it. It’s amazing to me this hadn’t happened much sooner. Be that as it may, we soldier on.

We came to Moab mainly to visit our friends who live in La Sal, a small town about 50 miles south. We planned to meet-up with Jan and David, do a little hiking, have some food and generally catch-up. On Monday, fully stocked, we went looking for a place to camp for a few days. My preference was alway check the campsites along Highway 128 that runs along the Colorado River. The campground closest to town was full. As was the 4 or 5 each about a mile from the next. Along the way, we were surprised to find one of our favorite hikes – Negro Bill Canyon – was no longer there. Wait a minute, it’s still there but now it’s called Grandstaff (Negro Bill Grandstaff) . Political correctness strikes again. Six miles down the road, we found a wonderful site at Big Bend Campground. It had a large cottonwood tree for shade and was well away from the road. We decided to stay here for a few days.

Dinosaur Trail and Museum
Tuesday, May 7Tuesday we met Jan and David at the junction outside of town and followed them to the Dinosaur Trail about 15 miles north. After meeting, we followed them to Mill Canyon Road and to the first stop. Here we found a short walk around an area of fossilized dinosaur tracks. There were quite a few of them around several areas, all cordoned off from getting too close. The light was bad and lets face it, tracks are kinda cool to look at, but not compelling to photograph. Along the trail to the tracks section, lots of Sego Lillies, Utah’s State Flower, were blooming. We got back in the cars and drove a little further to the Dinosaur trailhead. While it was a short trail, it had some nice aspects in how it was presented. Information panels at various spots pointed out where dinosaur fossils could be seen. The darker vein in the rock image below is an incomplete scapula and shoulder blade and several ribs of a sauropod.Over the years, the area has been vandalized and fossils removed, but what remains is still worth seeing. I am amazed researchers are able to identify such specific bones from specific species. The trail runs along a hillside along a small creek before looping around. The remains of an old mill sits on the other bank. We found a continuation of the trail that ran up the creek and followed it a for a while, but soon mosquitos began buzzing us, turning us around and back to the parking area.We were all ready for lunch, so we drove down to the new-to-us Dinosaur Museum. It really is a kid based museum with lots of fun interactive things for them to do. It is a nice little affair, though a hefty entrance fee might make some take pause. The massive burgers we ate at the cafe braced us for a little more exploring. We watched a film about dinosaur timelines, saw a slick little special effects 3D aquarium with prehistoric giant sharks trying to get at us.Afterwards we walked the .5 mile Trail of Dinosaurs, where facsimiles of various dinosaurs are placed in the landscape. The sculptures looked pretty good in the dino landscape that is southeastern Utah (even with railroad tracks and power lines running through). By now the wind associated with passing thundershowers was whipping around the complex, blowing dust and grit. The place was beginning to really feel prehistoric.We had a fun time walking and posing among the critters. The light was about the best we had all day, and the clouds from the passing storms were adding drama to the scenes. One does get a sense of danger when standing next to some of these guys. But really, they’re suckers for a little tickle.
We were all pretty windblown and tired after all the days’ activities, so we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. It was really great to connect with Jan again and meeting David for the first time. He seems like a great guy who has led a pretty colorful life. I hope we have a chance to get together again.I think there are some good rancher stories to be heard. Thanks Jan and David!

A Day in Arches National Park
Wednesday, May 8
We were enjoying our stay along the Colorado River so much we decided to add on a day. Being so close to Arches, we chose to spend most of the day there. I noticed the 40 car long line to enter the park as we drove by on the way out to our walk yesterday, so the thought was it would be best to go early and avoid the crowds to come. I thought that strategy failed as we pulled off the highway and found a back-up. But it was for a car that had gone off the road and down the embankment. Rumor was that it was a DUI – at 8 am. Once around that, we cruised right in and started up the grand switchbacks to get into the park.We avoided stopping at most of the viewpoints and trailheads to go directly to the Windows area where holes have formed in the enormous sandstone formations. The two large parking areas were nearly full already, but we parked and began wandering the trails that weave around the formations. While the lots were full, the trails didn’t seem so crowded. Some of the best overlooks tended to attract larger groups who lingered longer, but just waiting them out worked well enough to make images where people aren’t hanging off everything. Semi-official trails lead off the main to allow visitors to walk through some of the arches. We followed the main trail until we reached the final overlook. Here we continued on the unmaintained trail the rest of the way around this large set. As usual, the crowds thinned considerably once we got beyond the final viewpoint and it became a quiet stroll through a wonderful landscape. Coming around the back of the formation, views I couldn’t see from the other side came along.

That little walk took us around 90 minutes and then it was back to the car and further down the park road to viewpoints over Cache and Salt Valleys. The clouds to the west were dark with rain showers, but they stayed mostly to our northern edge, giving the sun a chance to illuminate the landscape below. The softened light and dark sky allowed the wonderful color of the hills to stand out. From our vantage points at various turnout overlooks, we could see Fiery Furnace quite well and watched and waited until patches of light would drag across the rock. We stopped again briefly at the Fiery Furnace viewpoint to have a look. I also found some nice Cliff Rose bushes growing nearby. Their sweet aroma always is a treat. We continued on to the end of the park road. There is a trail of arches at the end, but having done it many times before and seeing the throngs of people, we chose to turn around and make our way back. We stopped again at overlooks for the valleys again because the light just kept changing. As usual, we were pretty tired by the time we got out of the park. Glad to be so close to camp. Tomorrow we are headed for The Needles section of Canyonlands. The plan is for up to a 5 day stay, but hot weather is forecast for later in the week, so there may be a change in store.

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Boulder Mountain to Capital Reef

Boulder Mountain
Tuesday, April 30We left Escalante this morning on our way to Capitol Reef National Park. There isn’t a hope that we will find a campground there, so we looked for a good BLM dispersed camping area, of which there are a number of possibilities. The drive over Boulder Mountain always holds interest for us. As the road winds across and over the mountain, vast aspen groves begin to show up. Many are dead, but at this time of year it is difficult to tell the difference. There are several pull-out and viewpoints large enough to pull the motorhome into so we could stop and photograph the trees. It is best if there are clouds passing over the mountain. Then areas of trees light up when light breaks through.  Boulder Mountain Road eventually hits one last large overlook where views of the La Sal mountains and sandstone reefs can be seen. This is about the highpoint (around 9000’) of the mountain and soon the road drops down into a pine forest and warmer temps. We followed the road off the mountain and through the town of Torry until we found a pretty decent BLM campground about 5 miles from Capital Reefs border. Our spot is pretty close to the main road, and hidden behind some hills. The dirt road to reach the spot is a little bit of a worry. The dirt  is solid enough now, but rain is always a possibility and the stuff turns to sloppy mud really fast. The other dispersed site is just outside the park border, but it its more of a wide open parking lot – and much busier.

Capitol Reef National Park
Wednesday, May 1 We were looking forward to a hike of some kind. We chose to hike to the Tanks reached by hiking down Capitol Gorge and taking a spur trail up to them. The Tanks are a series of large natural sandstone catch basins that should still have water in them. Once inside the park, we drove to the trailhead, stopping occasionally when something caught our eye. A few nice flower groups of flowers were spotted in washes along the way.The paved Scenic Drive road ends, and from there the trailhead is reached by driving down the gravel Capitol Gorge Rd for several miles. From the parking area, the trail goes right into the narrow gorge. There isn’t really any other way to walk so it is easy to follow. Looking up, the sheer cliffs are always impressive. Along one section of red sandstone, easy settlers carved their names into the rock. The precision of their carving is in contrast to some later etchings. Other non-settler defacement carvings have been chipped out by the park service. The red sandstone walls eventually gave way to harder whitecap sandstone formations. The trail to the Tanks branches off from here. It switchbacks up the cliff quickly over a rocky path. It was a little difficult to follow a specific trail in sections – the go all over the place One has to just kind of move toward where the formations are. There were quite a few people already here, but more were coming all the time. We decided to hike up the wash feeding the tanks for a while to see what there was. We found a few more isolated water-filled tanks, but nothing real impressive.Walking back down, I found the first large tank and followed the wash to several others. I stopped trying to slide myself around the last few because it became a little too precarious for me. I met Mary up above the wash again and we started back.On the way back to the gorge, we noticed how beautiful some of the sandstone layers under the overhangs were. These are a little difficult to make sense of – there is no point of reference, but most are close-up sections of the underhangs. You could put your hand around the column below.Another section featured wave-like, scalloped layers of colored rock. Still another had a sandstone rainbow.The light had changed in the time we had been hiking. Some nicely highlighted Mormon Tea caught my eye just before we finished. I thought we might continue down Capitol Gorge more, but we were tired and done for the day.

Chimney Rock Trail
Thursday, May, 2Our short time in Capitol Reef was coming to an end, but we wanted to get in another hike before we left. One I don’t remember doing for maybe 20 years was the Chimney Rock Trail. All I could recall was that it was a hot slog up a 600’ butte and a boring return on the loop route. It didn’t sound too appealing to me, but I was interested to see it my feelings still held true.

The trail is named for the standalone pillar of sandstone near the edge of the butte. There are only a couple of places on the trail you can actually see the formation. Most of the trail after getting to the top, is away from the edge, then it switchbacks down the other side.We chose to do the loop counterclockwise to get the steepest part of the trail over with at the start. While there are more steep switchbacks coming down, they transition quickly into a pretty easy up and down walk through most of the rest of the trail.The first part of the trail from the parking area is an easy rise up to the base of the butte, where the first switchbacks then begin. It was mid-morning when we began and was still quite cool. That made the hike up much easier. Along the way, nice clear views of the nearly cloudless skies and landscape began to be revealed. After getting up the first set of switchbacks, the loop for the trail begins. Taking the branch to the right brought us to the next set of switchbacks to the top. I had to keep remembering to look up or I would miss one of the few views of Chimney Rock.The trail continues up more gradually, but still pretty steep. The bright sun was making everything harsh, so making images was less of a priority for me. Instead I just enjoyed the scenery as I walked through. Up on the top, I began noticing how so many of the lower hills around me were so green. Looking closer, I noticed that some of the hill were actually more tan but had lots of green plants on them, while other had few plants but were still even greener – green soil. The trail continues along the top for a time. Again, the views were great, but the light was not.  As the trail dropped further down off the butte, solid walls of red sandstone rose around us. The contrasting reds and greens made things interesting, as did the boulder field of giant sandstone blocks we soon passed through on the loop back. It was much warmer by now as the trail folded into the rolling hills for the hike back. There were nicely multicolored hills all through this area, and now afternoon clouds were gathering, finally adding some interest into a featureless sky.

All along the way I realized this was a much nicer hike than I’d remembered. A different time of day or softer light would have been preferable for photographing, but the hike was still one I would do again.We returned to our BLM camp outside of the park,  got ourselves packed up and battened down to move a few miles up the hill to the town of Torrey. Tonight we have reservations for the Diablo Cafe there in town – a place recommended by Lazy Daze friends Don and Dorothy – for Mary’s Birthday. The menu was pretty different from the last time we were there quite a few years ago, and I learned they were under new management. But the food remained quite good, the prices very reasonable. It was about the first dinner out we’ve had on this trip, so it was especially enjoyable. We are moving to the general area of Moab for the final portion of our trip tomorrow. Only two weeks left for my favorite place in the world.

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Willis Creek Narrows & Escalante, UT

Willis Creek Narrows
Saturday, April 27We arrived in Cannonville UT, in the early afternoon and found the KOA that promised good wifi. For once it was no lie. We wanted to use this place as a jumping off point for Cottonwood Canyon Road. The Yellow Rocks hike to amazing yellow sandstone formations, takes off about 11 miles down this dirt road and we’ve wanted to do again since our last visit in 2012. The problem we faced was rain. The thunder showers the area had last night, and the threat of more during the day today, put an end to that idea. No one we talked with thought it was a good idea to even attempt it. Mary managed to dig up a really nice alternative in the Willis Creek Narrows hike. It came out of the Photographing Southern Utah guidebook we carry, and was close by. This hike takes off about 6 miles down the gravel Willis Creek Rd. We did have to cross water 3 times, but it was shallow and narrow – no problem. There were already several cars in the lot when we arrived around 9:30. The guidebook suggested mid-morning to mid-day was best light for the hike so we were right in the sweet spot.The canyon has water running through it the entire way, but it was again narrow and shallow and had enough rocks and such to make it easy to traverse without getting the boots wet. The hiking polls helped a lot too. Others wore sandals or rubber boots and just sloshed through.The hike quickly drops into the waterway where the canyon is wide and walls about 15’ high. I could see the various waterlines along the canyon attesting to the changing levels. Much further down the canyon, I met a group coming back who said the water level had dropped several inches just in the time they had been hiking today. They wondered why my boots were nearly dry. This first section of canyon had walls of yellow and brown sandstone that had some nice curves and subtle curves, but was not really exciting. The harsh light was not helping and I found most of my images in shadowed portions of the canyon. After each section of narrows along the way, the canyon would open up for a time before entering a new set. Some sections were all creek with only rocks to step on to stay dry. After the first couple of narrows, things really began to gain interest. The walls had smoothed striations from flowing water, and more colorful layers of rock began appearing. As we were about to enter one particularly tight set of slots, a horse tour group  from Ruby’s Inn from Bryce came trotting by – it was Saturday after all. We’d passed them on the drive in and I was surprised how quickly they caught up to us.  This section had much higher walls and that wonderful bounce glow was making them glow. I especially enjoyed the swirling waves of stone higher on the walls. Each set of slots had something nice to offer. Each time there was a large bend in the path of the creek, new interesting compositions could be found. Mary and I parted ways after about a mile. Walking down the creek this way wasn’t difficult, but it did take attention and lots of jumping to get over obstacles. I wanted to continue until I reached the confluence with another creek about a half mile further down. Mary turned around here. The next two sets of slots were the most interesting to me. They were deep, with very prominent grooves running at various angles. The glancing light from above really accentuated this. After exiting this last slot, I continued down to the confluence of the creeks, but I actually passed it not realizing the other creek was dry. When I realized it, I turned around and followed the dry stream as far as I could – which wasn’t far. It ended at a rock plug that I was not willing to try to climb. So I turned around.As I reentered that final slot to start my hike back, I was surprised at how different it looked from this perspective. Perhaps the sun came out from behind clouds this time, or it was just seeing it from a different angle, but the walls had a different glow and seemed to swirl all around me. I made a few more images here, then pretty much hiked straight back to the parking lot. A really nice unexpected hike.

Escalante Area
Monday, April 29
Since our plans had been changed by the weather and doing much exploring on dirt roads is out for the time being, we decided to move on to the town of Escalante. This area has some impressive wide open sandstone landscapes and I always find something new to photograph. Thunderstorms are still rolling through and it’s just a matter of where you are whether when they hit.We took off on Utah Highway 12 out of Escalante, and plan to drive as far as Boulder Mountain for our day trip. The first stop was several miles just outside of town. It is the Boynton Overlook Wayside. The 180˚ view is always impressive and especially so with weather blowing through. Here we were pelted with rain and cold wind, but it’s just a few steps from the car to the view. Over the 40 years we’ve been coming through here, little has changed, but we were once able to walk all around the area here with no obstructions. Now there is a stone barrier built in such a way as to discourage people from doing that. It did have an interesting water stain pattern on it though. We soon moved on a little more down the road. And I mean just a little. This portion of the road runs right through incredible white sandstone hills and it takes very little to want to stop. At another spot at the next curve, Mary took off up one wash, while I saw a formation down another I wanted to look at. I worked on that for a while, then started looking around the general vicinity. First I found a bush with hundreds of caterpillars nesting, then I happened on an amazingly sculpted sandstone sluice running down a steep slope. It wasn’t terribly impressive at first, but as I followed it down, the sandstone became more sculpted by the years of runoff. I am not sure how well this is showing in the images. I have a bit more work to do on getting the color just right – the light was flat due to overcast sky, and color so subtle, it’s hard to be sure.
Some of the lichen growing along the edges had also been sculpted by flowing water. They appeared in relief – almost looking embossed on the stone. I found a few plants growing from cracks in the rock. The colorful layers of sandstone really helped make these compositions. Eventually, I found Mary and brought her over to this spot. Everyone gets in on the fun. After a good hour we continued along the highway. The road runs along deep canyons, past Calf Creek BLM land, before climbing up the cliff again to spectacular views. This stretch also boasts one of the narrowest portions of road I’ve seem – steep drop-offs on both sides. We photographed from several high vantages before dropping down into the town of Boulder.
Clouded Navajo Mountain once again shows itself.I wanted to take a branch road called Long Valley that runs out through more canyons. The rain was all around us and it was getting grayer by the minute so we didn’t linger too long. We drove as far as an overlook where the road drops down into the Water Pocket Fold area of Capital Reef – our next eventual destination.We watched the weather for awhile before turning around for home.One last stop at a favorite cottonwood tree in front of an incredible cleft in the sandstone rock. Tomorrow we cross Boulder Mountain to visit Capital Reef National Park for a few days.

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