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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Bryce Canyon National Park

Fairyland Trail
Wednesday, April 24We arrived at Bryce early enough on Tuesday to get a pretty good site in the one open campground. It is all first come first served, so we were not sure anything would be available. It fills every night. Sunny and warm is the weather, with afternoon clouds and some wind. In the morning we plan to hike the 8.5 mile Fairyland Trail. We hiked this once before in 2012, but the heat that day, and the 1300’ elevation gain made the second half of the hike a real trudge.It was much better on Wednesday morning as we set out on the hike. Mid-70’s is predicted, but the last quarter of the hike will feel like high 80’s – all uphill and exposed with no shade. Mary thought this was a little out of her hiking range for today, so we agreed to start the hike at Fairyland Point and walk it to Sunrise Point back up on the rim, about 5.5 miles in. From there, Mary could catch a shuttle back to camp and I could continue along the rim trail that loops back 3 miles to the parking area. It’s a long addition, but I really wanted to do the entire loop.We started down the trail around 8:30. The sun was well up and many of the formations glowed from reflected light. It was a pretty quick decent into the first canyon, except for all the stops we tend to make. The views all along this stretch are great. The trail is wide, firm and easy to walk for the most part. A little rain changes things considerably, turning the solid ground to mush. The formations of course give Fairyland it’s name, but to me It’s more like the Flintstones in what they remind me of. Some areas do resemble castles or fortresses though. The trail keeps dropping into the canyon and as we reached the bottom, we could see water flowing down the wash. Ponderosa Pine was growing here and a quick sniff of the bark revealed it’s vanilla-like aroma. Formations continue to pop-out of the landscape. We were walking at their base looking up now. Soon enough the trail rises again. In fact it does this repeatedly as it winds in and out of one amphitheater after another. The elevation change of 1300′ I’m sure does not take in consideration of the many up’s and down’s of this trail. The landscape opened up more after awhile and more complex formations appeared. The trail really started climbing now in the last couple of miles. It was getting hot too, but afternoon winds and some cloud cover helped cool us as we climbed. I learned later the far-off mountain that had been playing hide and seek, was Navajo Mountain. It is very clear today.Eventually we passed the Tower Bridge formation below. Earlier hikes here, we dropped down to a spur trail to hike to it’s base. Not this time.When the “Chinese Wall” came into view. I knew we were getting close to the end. Just a last long rise into and among towering formations to get us to the rim again. By looking at my pictures here, you might think we had the trail to ourselves. Far from it. By this time, a constant stream of visitors was coming down the trail. There were so many coming by – some I’d seen earlier doing the loop – I stopped saying hi to them. Just too many. But that’s to be expected in our national parks these days.Up on the rim at Sunrise Point again, we came to the trail junction, Mary went her way back to camp, and I continued along the Rim Trail back to the Fairyland parking area. Little did I know the trail brushes right by the campground we are in. We could have started and finished the trail right there, but that would have meant Mary would’ve had to do the entire 8.5. Right now I was wishing I didn’t have to do it either.This part of the Rim Trail to the parking area goes up and down a few hundred feet a couple of different times. It was hot and my legs were really feeling it, but some of the high views from the rim were pretty nice. Thankfully I reached the end of the trail. I’d taken Mary’s spare water when we split, and it was good I had. Mine ran out about a quarter mile before the end. This hike was actually more enjoyable this time around. The cooler temperatures and nice breeze most of the day were key. We have another day in the park tomorrow. Afternoon thundershowers are predicted and we are thinking of touring the canyon overlooks for the 13 miles of road that are open. Should be fun.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Rim Overlooks
Wednesday, April 25After the long hike yesterday, we were inclined not to be too active today. We spent the morning processing images and trying to catch up on the blogs. Only some of which I actually accomplished. After we had a little lunch, I suggested we go out to the canyon rim overlooks. Thunder showers were predicted for the afternoon, but clouds had been steadily moving in since mid-morning. It was pretty well clouded over by the time we left the campground, It seemed like it might have been too late for good light already. I wasn’t expecting much at the viewpoints. We drove first to Sunrise Viewpoint. This is the first and most visited of the viewpoints, once entering the park, and it is also a really grand view. I was happy to see that, while clouds covered us along the rim, there was still plenty of breaks over the formations. Verga was falling from isolated thunderheads that slowly crossed the canyon in front of us. This really worked out well for our entire trip along the rim. Despite the threatening sky, dozens of hikers continued to stream down the Queens Garden Trail, and linger on top at the overlooks. At Sunset Point, cold fat raindrops fell occasionally, then the first peel of thunder echoed across the park. It was pretty amazing how quickly the place cleared out after that first crack. The ranger we were talking with didn’t seem to mind much, so we stayed around too and had the viewpoint to ourselves for a short time. Since it was clouding up so much more, we decided to skip Inspiration Point and drive out to the furthest open viewpoint at Natural Bridge. We continued along Highway 63 (the rime drive), but discovered the road was no longer closed at the 12 mile mark. It must have just opened this morning. We stopped briefly at some of the turnouts that had views to check weather conditions along the cliff face on our way to Rainbow Point – the new end of the road. It is another 1000’ higher there than at Sunrise Point and as we got higher, snow started appearing on the roadsides. Rain showers pummeled us as we got closer, and soon turned nearly to sleet. It was another passing shower though, because when we reached Rainbow Point, it was still wet, but clearing up.  The views were spectacular and sunshine was occasionally breaking through. The orange cliffside would light-up while rain showers drifted by. Ravens seemed tp have their areas staked out at each of the viewpoints. Another round of rain soon began and we took that as our queue to start back down the ridge. On the way down, we stopped at two of the viewpoints we skipped on the way up. At Natural Bridge, we stopped long enough to see a brief moment of sunshine cross the formation, brightening it just enough. Our last stop was Farview Point. After walking the area, we noticed a connecting trail out to Piracy Point, maybe 1/8 mile out. While several of the viewpoints seemed similar, they all offered something unique and just hanging around a while could reveal new views.
Just as we were leaving for the day, clouds in the distance lifted, revealing Navajo Mountain. We will be moving on in the morning, looking to the general Escalante area for several days. There is lots intermittent rain predicted for the next several days. If it happens, even just a little rain, it will wash-out our plan for driving Cottonwood Rd, a dirt road not drivable  in the RAV when wet.

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Hiking the Mansard Trail Near Kanab

Mansard Trail
Saturday, April 20
There was no big rush to get to Kanab. The only thing to figure out was where between Valley of Fire and Kanab we wanted to stop for a night. 170 miles is not all that much, but we decided to stop about halfway at Cedar Pockets BLM campground in the Virgin River Gorge Recreation Area. Only problem was that it was closed. Fortunately the dispersed camping  just on the other side of the Highway was open and had plenty of room for us – and it was free. No highway noise and just a little way off the road. Just a few pick-ups and ATV’s drove by all the time we were there. Later a couple of other overnighters stopped and found space.

In the morning we crossed into Utah and stopped briefly in Saint George to resupply. We haven’t been to Kanab for quite a few years and Mary didn’t remember there being much in the way of supplies. We needn’t had. Things have changed – Kanab is far more developed and actually had 3 grocery stores to choose from. Lots of new accommodations, gas stations and restaurants. The old phony cop car with a dummy in it parked on the side of one of the roads into town was gone. But the RV Park we stayed in last time was still there and had a space reserved for us. 

It’s a cramped little park – but all of them in town are. We wanted to stay in town for a night to empty tanks and post our blogs using the park’s Wifi , but once again upon checking in we were told their Wifi was not working too well.It is also getting close to the Easter weekend, so our plan was to get out of town and find a dispersed camping spot to hunker down in till it blows over. Friday morning we were out looking and not finding available places. Every ATVer had the same idea. Some spots were too sandy for the LD, others too crowded. We eventually found a pretty sweet spot at Twin Hollows Canyon Dispersed BLM. Good road (but busy with ATVs) and a nice spot next to the Virgin River a bit off the road so dust from the ATV’s shouldn’t be a problem as long as the wind blows in the right direction..Saturday morning we were more than ready for walking, and our chosen hike was the 4.5 mile, 900’ elevation gain, Mansard Trail. It leads up a sandstone ridge, passes a couple of buttes and arrives at a cave/alcove where rare floor carved petroglyphs can be found. Usually they are seen carved into high ledges or boulders, so it will be interesting to check these out.The trail starts off level but slowly begins to rise through the wonderful red, red sandstone. All the rains Utah has experienced this winter have resulted in a huge variety of flowers blooming right now. Not vast fields, but seeing these little splashes of color along the trail kept me interested as the switchbacks began. This packrat nest even had apartments below. Nice location.The trail continued to switchback up the ridge. Each time fuller views of the surrounding countryside developed. Once on top, the trail follows the spine of the ridge and views on either side could be seen. We will be walking past that far white sandstone formation in the distance. We stopped under this massive wall for a snack break. That first little bench on the rock is about 6’ high. On the left side of this formation a steady cold wind blew. On the right, where the trail continues, it was calm and warm. Once past this part, the scene opens even more with wide views all around. We followed along the top of the ridge trail which took us right past this white cap rock formation. All along this portion, the wildly crosshatched sandstone was dazzling in shape and color. So much fun to create compositions. The trail turns very sandy and a little steep after this point and it is a slog for the last 1/8 mile. But still, there were the views. Surprisingly, this sandy part is actually  an ATV road the trail dumps out to meet.It was just a short walk along an incredible cliff of white sandstone banded with yellow – all stained with streaks of red. We spent a good long stretch working with it. Eventually we walked up into the alcove where the petroglyphs were located. They are chipped into a sandstone floor that rises toward the back of the alcove. The angle made it difficult to make any images of the further back petroglyphs. Signs near the entrance warn not tp step on the pictured area, so staying on the sandy edge of the panel was the only choice. Much of what is there is still covered in sand and the signs also warn not to dig further to reveal more. The celing of the alcove was pretty great too. We had lunch sitting here looking out over the wide landscape.While we were there only one other group came by and they only stayed a few minutes. After lunch we made our way back out along the sandstone cliff. We kind of rushed past much of it to get to the alcove before too many other people arrived, but now we had more time. Some of the red sandstone stains reminded me of trees and limbs. We finished up along the wall and started back down the trail. It was a pretty quick desent on the way back. The afternoon winds had picked up blowing dust about, but it was still a pleasant walk back. We are going to stay another night so we can drive into the eastern part of Zion National Park. We’d learned by accident as we were planning to drive through Zion – west to east to Kanab – that the tunnel we’d have to pass throng was closed due to a cave-in. Luckily we were able to change plans to avoid that problem, and are now camped just a couple of miles from the east entrance. The next post will cover that day.

Zion National Park – The East Side
Sunday, April 21This Easter Sunday started with a fine breakfast and a call home, so we got a late start for our trip into the east side of Zion National Park. The tunnel between east and west was closed, so going further can’t happen this trip. I was a little leery about doing anything today, thinking the crowds would make driving the road uncomfortably tedious. Surprise of surprises – traffic was very light. Even the fact that it was a free National Park weekend didn’t seem to matter. The driving and stopping was easy.Checkerboard Mesa was the first of many stops. With few clouds to speak of yet, the light was harsh and it was a struggle to get pleasing images. Even the roads in Zion are red. The huge expanses of varied colored sandstone mountains are so hard to capture. I try to see the patterns in the many layers of color that make up this rock. Using them to control the composition. It being around mid-day, the shadows were pretty minimal, except for the now increasing clouds. So while it was still very contrasty, I could even out the image without it getting too saturated. I made some nice abstracts and a bunch of pretty cliché pictures, but it was just plain fun being in this landscape watching the light change. We eventually reached the tunnel and had to turn around. We found out where everyone had gone. There were maybe 50 cars parked all along the roadside, and dozens of people wandering around – including a full wedding party. Actually there is a short walk to an viewpoint that we decided not to do. We turned around and headed back.We’d gone a couple of miles back, when I noticed a car parked on the side of the road with a couple standing outside. I wanted to see what they were looking at. Looking over the embankment, I saw a large flock of bighorn mountain sheep, but the large male was nowhere to be seen. This group was young males, females and their lambs. They were feeding as a group down in the gully and, while they were always aware of us, were not bothered in the least with us.There was one point though, where I noticed several seemed to be looking right up at me. I realized where I was standing was at the top of an unlikely path they wanted to take. I backed off quickly and soon they all came up and across the road to graze alongside it. They walked along the road a short way before nonchalantly clamoring up the steep stone walls. One by one they jumped up and continued along well above us. Even the littlest of them cold trot across this slippery stuff at will. As this group crossed over above us, another group, who had split off down in the gully, had come up to the road and onto the cliff above a different way, and was walking toward the first group. Apparently two of the lambs got separated from mom and when they saw the mothers, went galloping to them. Turns out, they were hungry – or perhaps this was a kind of comfort behavior after being separated. We stayed and watched their interactions for a good thirty minutes, until they ambled away. It’s rare to really get to watch these animals for so long. We are leaving the area tomorrow, headed for Bryce Canyon National Park. We haven’t been there – beyond just driving through on our way home – for seven years, so seeing how it’s changed will be interesting. Temperatures are ranging from highs in the 70’s to lows in the 30’s. Just the way we like it.

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