A wedding in Denver & Pawnee Buttes National Grasslands

May 14-18
47313-ProspestRVAfter a painless drive to and through Denver, we arrived at Prospect Park RV in Wheat Ridge on the west side of the city. Another basic RV park, but this one at least was well off the road, so pretty quiet. It was pretty tight quarters as well. Our site was just across from a horse pasture, so we at least had an illusion of space. They were a number of vintage RV’s here and there that were kind of cool to see. We are here for the wedding of my niece Stephanie to her guy, Eric. I didn’t really photograph any of the gatherings. Instead, I’m going to refer to Mary’s Blog if you want to read about it. She did a far better write-up than I could, and she made the pictures. Have a look!

While in town, we had the chance to visit an old San Francisco friend, Rupert Jenkins. We showed work together in about 1985 and have kept in touch here and there since. He came to Denver to become Gallery Director of the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, and has been charting the gallery’s course for several years now. He has just opened a new show that covers aspects of the cultivation, production and sale of marijuana called, “Mixed Bag: Marijuana in the Highlands”. We had a nice tour of the gallery and later, a chat over coffee.

Pawnee Buttes National Grasslands
47339-PawneeButtes
After Saturday nights wedding festivities, we woke Sunday and were soon back on the road headed for the Pawnee Buttes National Grasslands in eastern Colorado. The grasslands encompass an area about 60×90 miles in eastern Colorado, and is really out there in the plains. We discovered it through a couple of obscure references in books and magazine articles we’ve come across over the years. The only access is through a bewildering web of Country Roads. Confusing mostly because of the 3 forms of maps we had, none really agreed on how or where the roads ran. We were also under the impression the main roads were paved. They were not. It was mostly good gravel roads, but 15 miles of gravel with a bit of washboard gets real old – especially when towing. The biggest culprit was our Ultimate Campground Guide app. Several times now it has shown minor roads where none actually exist, and/or BLM campgrounds that are no longer (if ever) there.47345-PawneeButtesBut we did manage to find our way to a very nice dispersed campground overlooking the entire area at the buttes. There were several other potential sites, but this was the best view, though very exposed. The Relentless Prairie Wind was really living up to its reputation here. Howling and cold, it stayed with us all night long. We got set up, then took a short ride down to the trailhead to get the lay of the land. We only planned to stay here 2 nights at most, but looking at the weather reports, it seemed we would have nothing but clouds and rain for the next several days. We decided our best chance was to hike tonight as the buttes are best photographed in afternoon light and we did have a little by this time.47346-PawneeButtesWe had an early dinner and were out on the trail by 5:30 PM. Sunset is at 8:05 tonight and this will give us time to get out there for best light. The only problem was the looming thunderhead off in the distance. It seemed to be moving past us to the south, but we will have to keep an eye on it.

Our campsite as seen from the trail.

Our campsite as seen from the trail.

The trail is pretty easy to walk. It starts off across the plateau top for a mile or so before dropping down into a canyon. There is a shortcut across another plateau that would cut off about a mile, but it was closed due to nesting birds along the cliff. So our 4-5 mile hike became more like a 6 mile hike.47361-PawneeButtes 47365-PawneeButtes 47369-PawneeButtesIt was still a very nice trail. The landscape seems flat until you get into it. It would drop into and out of washes, then send us out and around the bluff rims. All pretty easy hiking. A big plus was that the wind was much lighter now that we were off the ridge top. Finally we came to the West Butte. The storm was still passing, but also still getting closer. It looked like we were just on the edge of it. We had our rain gear and couldn’t hear thunder or see lightning, so getting wet was the worst that could happen.47373-PawneeButtes 47376-PawneeButtesWe trekked on to the East Butte, but the clouds were getting heavier and closer, the light getting flatter and dimmer. We arrived, had a short rest before turning back. On the way back, we chatted with another couple on their way in – the only other people out here. They were going to wait to see if there would be a “last light” moment on the buttes. We’d determined it wasn’t going to happen, and didn’t want to be out here in the dark afterward. They had been here many times before and told us about the miles and miles of blooming primrose that were here last year in late June. Apparently the state has had like 400% of normal rainfall so far in May. The past 3 months have been below normal, but the new rain has been causing flooding in many areas – just nowhere for it to go in this relatively flat landscape. It should make for another banner wildflower bloom, but we won’t be around by then.47382-PawneeButtes 47388-PawneeButtes

Just before getting back, I took a spur trail to the official buttes overlook while Mary returned to the car. This is actually the best place to see both buttes in a wide landscape and a perfect spot for sunset views. But not tonight. I had hoped it would happen, but there were no breaks in the cloud cover at the horizon so no last sun rays. There were breaks in the east, but that didn’t help much. Also visible are all the windmills and gas flares from the various oil wells that dot the landscape here. Yes, this is oil country and large tanker trucks, while not overly heavy in number, were evident on the Country Roads.47390-PawneeButtesBack in camp, we rewarded ourselves with snort of 15 year old single malt. With the weather the way it was, we decided to break camp in the morning and move on to South Dakota and Custer State Park and the Badlands. It was a long way to go for this one hike, but as a first look, it served well. We may come back here another time, but our last couple of weeks on the road are making us pick and choose carefully as to what can be done in the time remaining.47392-PawneeButtesBy morning it had stopped raining but remained cloudy. On our way out, a few breaks in the cloud cover would light the landscape temporarily and make us second guess ourselves as to whether we should have stayed or not, but it was soon clear that we would see no significant sun today. We stopped a few times – this time driving separately – to photograph under the even lighting of the high clouds.47408-PawneeButtes 47411-PawneeButtes 47416-PawneeButtes47422-PawneeButtes

On to Custer.

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Painted Mines

Colorado Springs, Catamount Trail and Painted Mines
May 12-13
It was time to hit the road again, and soon we were on our way to Colorado Springs. We pulled into Goldfield RV Park which happens to be a Passport America membership campground. Some of these parks can be nice. This is not one of them. I’ve never seen spaces so crammed together – almost like a storage facility. There are few trees and it is right on a major highway. Nights are quiet enough, but all day there is traffic. Won’t stay here again, but it does serve as a good base for the hikes we have in mind.
47053-EdenHikeWe planned a 6.4 mile hike that includes a 1200’ elevation gain for today. The weather is supposed to stay dry until at least the afternoon, with thundershowers a possibility. We wanted to hike the Catamount Lake trail up to an area called, “The Garden of Eden.” Mary wasn’t feeling great, waking with a headache, but the lure of hanging gardens drove us to attempt the hike.

There is no parking at the trailhead, or along the dirt road leading to it. To get to it, we had to park in town at a small park and lake, then walk back up the road to a side road. Now it is a 1 mile steep rise on the dirt road past private homes. After a mile, we hit the actual trailhead and continued up the steep rocky switchback track. We stopped at a waterfall for a short while, then started off again. We began to see patches of scattered snow as the trail continued to rise. Not a worry yet, but the higher we got, the more snow was present.IMG_2479Eventually we got to about the 2/3 point up before the trail became too snow covered. I wasn’t even sure where the trail was, so we reluctantly turned back. The Garden of Eden will have to wait for another trip. On the way back down the dirt road, we began hearing the distinctive sound of a woodpecker. We scoured the trees around us, but finally found one, then another on a power line pole right next to us.47062-EdenHike

We went back to camp, both of up not feeling great. The partial hike we did was not long, but was tiring. We had thoughts of going out to Painted Mines for a hike in the afternoon, but decided to wait till morning.

Painted Mines
May 1347295-PaintedMinesDoing her research, Mary discovered a little known County Park called, Painted Mines, about 40 miles east of Colorado Springs. There are more than 3 miles of trails that meander around and through this geologic area of badlands-type terrain, with no more than 300’ elevation gains.47074-PaintedMinesThe weather reports are calling for rain much of the day, with thunder showers in the late afternoon. This is our only chance to see this new area, so we decided to chance it. We arrived around 9:30 AM. Not another soul to be seen. Maybe it was because of the “Relentless Prairie Winds” the information plaque mentioned – like 25 mph steady cold wind. There was heavy overcast with light mist with a little rain mixed in. This made the sky white and featureless – not something that I thought would record well as images, but we were here, so we ventured out.47071-PaintedMinesWith grasslands spread out all around us, we began walking the trail. It is wide and smooth and easy to walk. There are 2 parking areas to choose to begin hiking. We chose the main parking area. The path rises steady for about a quarter mile before dropping into the formations area. Here, erosion has uncovered the very colorful layers of strata that form these mud hills, and give them their name. This area has some nice hilly aspects to it, but as I looked out toward the east, I could see it just got flatter and flatter.47079-PaintedMines 47082-PaintedMines 47106-PaintedMinesAt first, there doesn’t seem to be much to see, but soon the trail drops down into some of the creases in the hilly landscape. Once down into the protection of the hills, the wind dropped off almost completely and it was much more comfortable to walk around. We started seeing the first of the formations – giving us a taste of what was to come.47115-PaintedMines 47119-PaintedMines 47131-PaintedMines 47135-PaintedMinesThe best way to see and photograph this place is to leave the main trail and walk up the many washes between the formations. Get up close and personal. The colors of the layered hills seemed in many places to just melt down into each other as the hill eroded away. Hard cap rock on top created towering hoodoo’s in one area, while in another, hill faces of reds, pinks and yellows would stack up along the wash.47140-PaintedMines 47149-PaintedMines 47159-PaintedMinesAs the mist and rain began to increase, we decided to head back to the car to see if it would pass. Walking in the washes was getting a little more difficult as the wetness began turning the walking into a muddy slog. The main path stayed in great shape, but down in the formation washes, it was getting dicy. Mud was thickly caked on our boots.47167-PaintedMines 47179-PaintedMines 47186-PaintedMines 47190-PaintedMinesBack at the car, we warmed ourselves up with coffee and snacks and read while we watched the shower pass. We drove the short distance to the other parking area closer to the formations we just finished walking. Here the path drops down steeply right into the formations. We went back down when the rain let up to continue our walk.47238-PaintedMines 47193-PaintedMines 47196-PaintedMines 47205-PaintedMines 47209-PaintedMinesWe picked up where we left off earlier by staying on the main trail that, once down at the bottom, begins rising up again to another part of the park. Here more sections of formations were found. The crazy sculpted formations here were mostly a light gray with just bits of colored strata exposed. We also had nice views of the surrounding landscape. We spend another hour or so walking and photographing along these paths.47235-PaintedMines 47221-PaintedMines 47240-PaintedMines 47227-PaintedMines 47231-PaintedMines 47244-PaintedMines 47247-PaintedMinesBut the wind on the rim was still quite strong and cold and it wasn’t real pleasant walking. We only hiked a relatively short portion of the trails. Much of it goes out into the prairie where it was photographically much less interesting. We would have walked it anyway, but the wind was indeed relentless, though by now was beginning to lighten up.47260-PaintedMines 47263-PaintedMines 47269-PaintedMinesEven though the sky was largely featureless until just before we left, we came away with some nice images. The positive aspect of the sky was that it cast a very even light on the formations allowing the colors to come out more. Being wet helped as well. I’d like to return at some point to photograph in different light, but that will wait for another time.47279-PaintedMines 47283-PaintedMines 47290-PaintedMines 47291-PaintedMinesWe packed it up and headed back to camp. The way the area is positioned, I’d guess the best time to photograph here would be dawn to early morning. There is no camping here, but it is pretty remote and one might get away with an overnighter in order to be here at sunrise. Overall, a very good first look for us.47296-PaintedMines

Tomorrow we head for Denver to attend my niece’s wedding, then out to the Pawnee Buttes and more grasslands.

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Durango

Durango
May 7
We reluctantly departed Canyonlands, for the 3 hour drive to Durango. We have a bunch of chores to do, but also some fun things on tap. Mary managed a camping deal with KOA where if we pay full price for 2 nights, we get the 3rd at 1/2 price. Since we were going to be here that long anyway, we took advantage. It’s a typical KOA – a little too close to the road, but otherwise clean and well tended.2429-MaryBirthdayMary’s birthday is today and we’ve been celebrating birthdays lately with as fine a dinning experience as we can manage for where we are. Our friend Janet had recommended the Ore House steakhouse to us. The steak was indeed top notch, but our calamari appetizer was equally as good. Mary choose a Maple Cinnamon Old Fashioned that turned out to be quite a mouthful. My Colorado Cosmopolitan wasn’t quite as good, but it went well with the calamari. We enjoyed a stroll down Main Avenue after dinner in a vain attempt to digest. A nice relaxing evening.

May 8
2453-OpenShutMost of our time today was about chores and blogging updates. My opening at Open Shutter Gallery is happening the same night as the semiannual Art Walk, so there should be a pretty good turn-out as long as the weather holds.2447-OpenShut I met Margy Dudley, the gallery owner, at a portfolio review in Santa Fe last year. She liked the Life on Wheels work and wanted to show a selection sometime in 2015 – Which turned out to be May. My work is to appear in the Red Room Gallery. In the main gallery, Mark Edward Harris is showing his recent work from North and South Korea. He is a terrific photographer and a nice man.2456-OpenShut 2444-OpenShut 2438-OpenShut 2449-OpenShut 2455-OpenShutWe showed up near the start of the Art Walk, but were soon walking up to the local art center to see a performance art production involving ladies doing a slow-motion pantomimes with suspended sculptures. Often interesting, but for me I have a little trouble knowing what to think. The opening at Open Shutter was very well attended, despite the threatening skies. There was some light rain, but it didn’t seem to stop anyone from enjoying the evening.2435-OpenShut 2437-OpenShut On Saturday we checked out some other campgrounds in the area for future reference and a few last minute chores.

May 10
We left fairly early on Sunday, headed for Lathrop Sate Park near Waldenburg, CO. We will overnight here before heading on to Colorado Springs for a few days. It’s a 200+ mile driving day for us that include traversing two mountain peaks on CO-160 between here and there. The drive went well. It snowed over the passes the night before so there was a lot on the ground, but the roads were clear and weather good. I would have loved to stop all along the way over the mountains, but it’s just too difficult when driving the rig and car.

Lathrop State Park
May 112478-lathropRVLast night, pretty late, we began hearing a sort of gentle patter on the roof. A look outside confirmed it was snowing again. By morning we had a good 2 inches on the ground. This was unplanned, but we hopped out and started walking around the campground. Mary started following a trail that seemed to head for the nearby lake. The snow was such that it didn’t stick to the roads or dirt paths, so it was pretty easy walking down to the lake.46926-Lathrop 46928-Lathrop 8368-panoIt was truly magical walking in this environment. Sun had broken through the low fog, and as I approached lake, the peaks of  the nearby mountains began emerging from the lowering fog. Down at the lake, snow was melting and dripping off a cottonwood tree growing out of the lake, making water ripple rings on it’s surface.46948-Lathrop 46953-Lathrop 46957-Lathrop 46962-LathropThe fog would drop down to lake level, revealing new landscape details above, then rise and thin before getting heavy again. We walked along the shore for an hour or so as the light and landscape continued to change. Eventually, the fog thickened and dropped again, obscuring everything. No matter, by now the snow was melting quickly.46963-Lathrop 46980-Lathrop46990-Lathrop46997-Lathrop 47009-Lathrop47010-Lathrop47014-Lathrop47022-Lathrop47024-LathropWe spent a thoroughly enjoyable hour or so investigating possibilities before heading back to break camp. Next stop for a few days, Colorado Springs.

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Canyonlands National Park

May 3
It took a little more than an hour to reach Canyonlands National Park. We actually stopped a little short of the actual park. A few years back, we found some dispersed camping just outside the park boundaries that is very nice, with great views and few other people around. Sure, we have to drive 8 miles or so to get to any of the hiking, but the solitude at this spot, combined with the view is unsurpassed for a campground.46463-canyonlandsNew this year, when we arrived we discovered the park service (or one of the other agencies), had built a new campground, called “Hamburger Rocks”,  just down the road from our dispersed site. There is also another new one a bit earlier on the way to the park. We took a walk later to check the campground out and found it to be very nice. Sites not too close together, many with nice views, picnic tables, good flat sites set around the formation with plenty of room for most class C’s. There is also an open air pit toilet. For six bucks regular price, not bad, but free is better at our site.271MG7896LockhartBasinMaryJanetWe made plans to meet our friend Janet here at our site for dinner. She lives in the tiny town of La Sal, about 60 miles away and we love to get together whenever we come through. Janet brought with here chips and salsa, beer and tomatoes. All of the grocery stores (2) in Blanding and Monticello were closed on Sunday, so Mary was short that item for our planned fajitas dinner. We’d hoped Janet could join us for a hike, but she hurt a toe during a canyoneering class a few days earlier and was still limping around a bit. We had a nice evening including a beautiful sunset and moonrise.46456-rig 46458-canyonlands 46467-canyonlands 46470-canyonlands

Chesler Park Hike
May 4
This morning we are walking our favorite hike in our favorite National park. It’s the Chesler Park trail that leaves from Elephant Hill. We decided to hike just to Chesler and back. It will be about 7 miles round trip, but in order to make a loop out of it, we’d have to hike 10 miles total. Mary wasn’t up to it, so we just did the “there and back” trip.46473-Chesler 46489-CheslerEven though we’ve done this trail many times before, and I know it’s my favorite trail, I still think I won’t be surprised and that it couldn’t possibly as good as I remember. It nearly always is better than I remember. I am always surprised by new things, I never get tired of walking this trail. We got an early enough start and were soon rising up to the first of 4 canyon rims. Along this first part of the trail are a number of places I always stop to photograph. Familiar rock groups greet us along the way. Different lighting conditions create new photographic possibilities.46498-Chesler 46504-CheslerThis day, we had intermittent clouds that began to increase as the morning went on. The trail winds around the sandstone edges of each canyon before dropping into, then out of, the canyon bottom. Each new canyon offers new views and terrain. Slowly, the spires of the Needles begin to reveal themselves. At first, just short peeks is all you get, but as you move on, closer views become common.46514-Chesler 46520-Chesler 46521-Chesler 46530-CheslerThe vistas were not the only thing to see along the way. Large sandy stretches of trail between canyons had wildflowers and blooming cactus. Clouds had been increasing all morning and we began to realize that a shower or two was probably on the way.46538-Chesler 46541-CheslerWe hiked through a narrow sandstone crevice that led to an incredible set of dry waterfalls.46556-Chesler 46560-CheslerComing out the other end of this sandstone chute, we saw an especially large dark cloud coming over. Rain drops were soon to follow. We stopped for lunch a litter before the rain started and decided to cut it short and find a little better shelter to wait it out. We couldn’t find a great spot, but the rain was pretty light and we had our rain gear with us. We just hiked in the rain till it stopped.46569-Chesler 46573-Chesler 46586-Chesler 46589-CheslerOnce reaching Chesler, we felt good enough to continue on for a while. Mary was looking for the place we 4-wheeled to with friends Janet and Don on an earlier trip, then hiked into Chesler, but she couldn’t find that spot. We hiked as far as the backpackers campground area, played around the sandstone monoliths, then started back. I was especially intrigued with some of the juniper trees here.46600-Chesler46613-Chesler46624-Chesler46674-Chesler46661-Chesler46637-Chesler46664-Chesler46676-CheslerWe had to suit up again from time to time to avoid the rain, but it was never particularly cold and we enjoyed walking in it. The trail was every bit as wonderful as always. My only sour note was how many people we encountered. But I guess it depends on your perspective. We met a couple from Portland who commented on how lovely and uncrowded the trail was. Go figure. We were again worn out by the end of this hike. Lots of in and out of canyons means lots of up and down elevations changes, but the variety of terrain makes it well worth it.

Pothole Point & Slickrock Trail
May 546690-PotPtThe forecast for today was mostly cloudy with rain much of the day. That was OK with us since we had no plans for big hikes today. Instead, we had a restful morning catching up on these blog posts and reading. No guilt for not getting out. By the afternoon, the rain mostly stopped and it began to clear. We were now ready to venture out again. We went out with the intention of finding a good sunset vantage. First stop was Pothole Point the park. The rain, we hoped, would have filled the thousands of potholes that were formed in this large flat stretch of yellow sandstone cap rock.46697-PotPt 46688-PotPtWhile there was water in most every hole, there wasn’t as much as I would have expected after a day of rain. Either the rain rarely reached this area, or it was just really really dry here before. We were looking for nice sky reflections in the potholes, but there was still too much cloud cover to get what we wanted. We wandered around for awhile – there are nice sandstone rocks and a few trees to explore. We were waiting for the sun to make an appearance, but it was actually getting worse,so it was time to try elsewhere.46699-PotPt 46707-PotPt 46719-PotPt 46737-PotPt 46738-PotPt 46747-PotPtSo it was over to the Slickrock trail just a couple of miles from us. This trail does a 3.5 mile loop over mostly cap rock sandstone. There are many vista’s and a few side trail trips you can explore. We only wanted to do a mile or so of this trail because it was still looking like it could start raining again and we didn’t really want to be on a trail named Slickrock when it’s raining.46762-slickrock 46764-slickrockWe walked along for awhile making pictures here and there. The sky was constantly changing and it was a challenge to compose and shoot  an image fast enough before the light changed again. Lots of light beams highlighted some of the distant buttes. We stopped to rest at one point and began noticing a rain shower approaching us. It seemed a good time to turn back, but not before a few dozen more pictures.46767-slickrockIt was getting to be about 6PM by now. I’d been hoping to stay out till sunset at 8 PM, but the clouds were telling me there might not be much of a sunset to wait for. I convinced Mary it would be a good idea to find a nice viewpoint and just wait to see what happens with the light. We both bring books and coffee and goodies to get us through long waits like this. Sometimes it’s one or the other of us captivated by something outside, while the other stays in the car to read. Works pretty well.46784-EleHillI remembered the Needles viewpoint we stopped at after yesterdays hike and thought that might be a good place to hang. The viewpoint is about half-way to the Elephant Hill trailhead. This may be a new addition, or it could have been here before but I never noticed it before. It’s just a big gravel turnout with an information sign really, but from here we had a grand view all around Needles. I would have liked to be closer to some of the formations, or just a little higher but as we found out, great light sometimes makes great photographs.46790-EleHill

We sat for awhile as another rain shower approached. But there were also several breaks in the clouds with light coming through. Soon a rainbow began to form. Very faint at first, it soon grew both larger and more intense. Now light beams were approaching a distant butte and soon were on it. Together with the rainbow, it was quite a sight to see.46795-EleHill 46801-EleHill 46803-EleHill 46804-EleHill 46820-EleHill 46825-EleHill 46827-EleHill 46828-EleHillThinking we were done, we headed back to camp. Back on the main road, nearly out of the park, we had to stop again. The last gasp rays of the setting sun came out for a few minutes. We weren’t at the greatest of spots, but it was a lovely scene.46844-EleHill

Tomorrow we hike a portion of the Confluence Trail.

A further note about the images above. When we got back to camp, I downloaded the photo sd card to the laptop and had a quick look at all the images to be sure everything was ok with them. I put it to sleep for the night, then reformatted the card and put it back in the camera, Mary used it for her downloading in the morning. When she was done, I got back on and discovered to my horror all my images gone. All 160 that I shot. Not in the trash, not downloaded to an unknown location, just gone. Mary swears she didn’t delete anything so I must have somehow done it myself.

I knew the files were still on the card. While reformatting appears to erase it, really, it just rebuild the directory. The files are just invisible to the computer. The recovery software I have only really works on hard drives. It can see the sd camera card, but can’t see any of the deleted files on it. I tried recovering them from the hard drive – I knew I had downloaded them, but by then, Mary had downloaded hers so most of mine were probably overwritten. Indeed, the scan found 30 uncorrupted files. Happily, there seemed to be one good shot of most of my compositions. I could still recover them from the card, I just needed to download software that could do it.

I had to wait 2 days until we were in internet range again. Fortunately I could try out different softwares to see which one would do the job. Even though companies tout their products as being able to find images on reformatted cards, many do not. The third package I tried found them all. Whew!

Confluence Trail
May 6
46891-ConHike
To our surprise, we woke to much the same weather as yesterday morning – heavy cloud cover and rain. Again, we just hung out till late morning. When it started clearing up, our hike was on. The trail to the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers is a 5 mile one way path that leaves from Big Spring Canyon at the end of the scenic drive.46852-ConRavenWe arrived at the trailhead and started getting stuff together. A raven almost immediately showed up. A very brave, er aggressive raven. First it perched on our rear hatch door. I could have probably touched it. Then it pretty much tried to get in the car through the side door. They are intimidating birds, but do have a strange beauty. I thought the back of it’s head looked like a DA haircut. Fitting for this thug of a bird.46856-ConRaven 46857-ConRavenI consider this trail on the difficult side because it starts off with a steep rocky descent into the canyon, then almost immediately goes back up another rocky accent to the rim on the other side. It does this, or something like it, 4 more times before eventually turning into a jeep road and sandy trail to the confluence. The first canyon is the steepest, which means the last canyon on the way back is also the steepest.46861-ConHikeThere are plenty of nice things to see along this trail. All the up and downs also mean lots of changing scenery. I am always entranced by the colorful sandstone layers here. Gold mixed with white, red and black. Some of the formations are crazy, and of course the views are different from each canyon top. Eventually you get to the confluence, but we didn’t want to do it again by foot. It is an amazing view there. The two rivers combining into one in what I’d guess is a 1000’ deep and wide canyon. Worth doing at least once.46876-ConHikeA frustrating thing about this trail is that after about 45 minutes of hiking up, then down, then up again, we stop for a rest, look behind us, and see the parking lot at what seem like way too close. Sometimes you can still hear people talking.46866-ConHikeBut for us today, we planned on maybe 2 miles out and back. As it turned out, that was 2 1/2 canyons. We went slow of course, stopping often to photograph as we do. We stopped for layered sandstone abstracts, weird formations and tress in various states of dying.46895-ConHike 46903-ConHikeAfter about a mile and a half, we stopped for lunch. We had a late start and were going slow. The weather was changing for the worse again, getting very windy. We found a good shelter rock and had lunch. I turned around at one point and saw a distant storm that wasn’t so distant anymore. We sat and watched, then photographed it’s approach. 46911-ConHikeIt was a bit difficult to judge just what direction it was moving. It was kind of moving across our view, but also towards us. There were a few tense moments when we thought we’d get stuck in it – lighting and all, but turned out to be a near miss. We got a few drops, but didn’t get wet. There wasn’t much to put in the foreground of the images, so I used what there was – sandstone. Ultimately the image was about the sky anyway. I tried several different compositions using one nicely rounded sandstone hump, but can’t decide which I like best.46912-ConHike 46914-ConHikeWe finished lunch and continued on for another mile, but the cloud cover and the though of another canyon accent changed our minds and we started back. It’s been a terrific stay here in Canyonlands. One of the best.46918-ConHike 46925-ConHikeOn to Durango and the opening of my show at Open Shutter Gallery.

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Cedar Mesa

46338-BearsEarsApril 28
We were up and out by mid-morning and on our way to Cedar Mesa. We’ve come through here many times before but other than visits to Natural Bridges, have never lingered. We’ll spend a few days looking around, doing some hiking and getting the lay of the land. To get there, we drove up Moki Dugway. It is renowned for being steep, winding, narrow and unpaved. We first drove this road about 1982 in our Chevy van converted for camping. Mary was quite alarmed about doing it – for her it was a white-knuckle ride. This day it was a cinch. We drove separately just because some of the turns are quite tight and narrow. Not a problem unless another large rig is coming down the other way.

Once on top, we made our way the 20 miles to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to get a clearer idea of what we wanted to check out and where we could camp. The two volunteers on duty (from the bay area) were busy, but one eventually got to us. We got the scoop on a few areas we were interested in, but the guy could only suggest one dispersed camping spot for us to fit the rig easily. He called it the gravel pit. It was literally on the corner of the intersection of 261 and 95. We went to check it out, but only reluctantly pulled in and set up. The traffic wasn’t so bad, but every car that passed hit the nearby cow catcher with authority. We grumbled awhile, but decide to stay for the night.46153_muleIt was only early afternoon, so we headed out to South Mule Canyon, just 8 miles from us. There is a nice hike in the canyon with a number of ruins along the way. We only wanted to do a portion of the hike because of the planned 10 mile hike tomorrow. One of the big attractions on the hike is House on Fire. It is actually a quite small ruin, very close to the trail. It boasts a simply amazing sandstone overhang with varying shades of yellows and oranges. In the afternoon, light bounces off the light rock the ruin is built on and reflects up to this amazing roof. Depending on how late you are there, the roof can range from bright yellow to deep red.46166_muleWe actually missed it initially. Walked right past. It was a bit obscured, but you really have to pay attention to clues on the ground as well, like paths that veer off towards a wall, or cairns in unusual places. We ended up walking around 3 miles. Not too bad, but it was quite warm. While photographing there, we met Randy and Crystal. Randy was really excited about being there and his friend Crystal shared her very-wide-angle lens with Mary so she could get a super wide angle view. They also told us about a dispersed camping area they saw on the way out of Natural Bridges. They said we would fit fine in several of the spaces. So we decided to check it out after the hike.46168_muleJust 2.5 miles from where we thought we would have to spend the night, we found a great spot. There are dirt roads going off everywhere around here – many with good camping sites, but we tend not to spend much time looking for them because we often don’t spend more than a few days in any one place. This one was close to the main road, near most of what we wanted to do, very quiet and nestled into a juniper forest. Perfect for a few days.46353-RV

Grand/Kane Gulch Hike
April 2946183-Grand-KaneWe were on the trail by 9 AM. A good thing because where we wanted to go was 5 miles and 600’ lower than where we started. The trail leaves from the ranger station and almost immediately starts dropping down. It is a very gradual drop over about 4 miles into Kane Gulch. Most of it anyway. There are several steep and rocky areas and a few spots where a scramble is in order, but nothing really difficult. There is plenty of shade in the morning hours, but later much less is available as the sun reaches into the canyon. It will be much hotter on the way out and virtually all up hill.46186-Grand-Kane46200-Grand-KaneBecause of the downpour Cedar Mesa had two days ago, there was quite a lot of water around. It served to freshen up everything around us. The hike down was really nice. Between really interesting rock formations and water and trees it was one delight after another.46188-Grand-Kane 46189-Grand-Kane 46218-Grand-KaneOnce on the bottom, we quickly found the first ruin. There were pictographs of hand prints, hunting excursions and more. The ruin itself was not real impressive, but they are alway fun to explore. It was another 1/2 mile to the next ruin and more beyond that, but we agreed this would be our limit.46239-Grand-Kane 46225-Grand-Kane 46229-Grand-Kane 46256-turkeyWe hiked what we thought must be a 1/2 mile but hadn’t come across the next site yet. Mary was getting a bit fatigued and that’s never good when we weren’t even half-way yet. She decide to hang back in a shady spot, and I went on to the ruin, called, “Turkey Pen”. It was only about 200 yards from where I left Mary, and well worth the little extra hike. There were several ruins here built into another sandstone alcove. The remains of the structures were in about the best condition I have ever seen. I could see the wood branches covered in plaster used on the walls. A few pottery shards and corn cobs were laying around also.46263-turkey 46265-turkey 46268-turkeyI saw other ruins high up on the wall above this one and another that still had the bound logs used to support the bottom of the structure. Of course more pictographs and petroglyphs were here as well. I liked the Fat Boys painting best.46275-turkey 46278-turkey 46287-turkeyThen it was time to head back. I met up again with Mary just as she was leaving to start back herself. By now it was much warmer, but we were favored with a nice breeze, and intermittent clouds would cool us down along the way. There was even enough shade by now as the late afternoon sun began casting shadows the other way for us. It was a slog, but not an unpleasant one, and it served to prove we could still do 10 miles without any major pains. Back in camp, we celebrated with a Lemoncello aperitif, then later, spaghetti and vino. Feeling no pain.46233-Grand-Kane 46309-Grand-Kane 46317-Grand-KaneWe really thought this hike would be a 4 mile trudge across the mesa top before dropping into the canyon, but were surprised and grateful as to how nice the descent and walk through the canyon was. One of my new favorite hikes.

Natural Bridges
April 3046324-NatBridgeToday was recovery day. We both felt pretty good but definitely could feel the fatigue in our bodies. No sore muscles, just kind of worn out. Our only plan today was to hang. Later in the afternoon we set out to tour Natural Bridges National Monument. We’ve done most of the hikes into the canyon here, and it was hot, so we just stopped at a few of the overlooks and made a few cursory images – “We were theres” if you will.

46350-NatBridgeOn the way back to camp, I scouted an area I wanted to photograph in the morning. Just off and below the road, there is a deep red bench of sandstone with large yellow sandstone boulders strewn all around. It makes for some nice contrasts in the foreground with the mesa top and warm light of morning. I could see the big hill behind me would be a problem because the whole area where I stood would be the last place within view to get direct sunlight tomorrow morning when I wanted to make my shots.46358-NatBridgeAs it turned out, I was exactly right about how long the shadows would last. I was there again just after dawn and was pretty sure there was just too much contrast. I photographed anyway, just making sure I took a lot of different exposures so if I really liked something, I still had a good chance of getting the right exposure with plenty of wiggle room. I didn’t have high hopes, but I think a few came out nicely. It was also nice being out around sunrise just to experience the quiet beauty of the place.46370-NatBridge 46387-NatBridgeThey are all about the same composition, but I like to live with a few different versions before I decide which, if any, I really like. We are going to stop in Blanding for a day or so to catch up on some internet stuff and while we’re at it, look at some other ruins nearby.

Butler Wash Ruins
May 246429-butlerWashWe pulled into Blanding, UT yesterday afternoon to take care of some internet business. Surprisingly, Blanding boasts a Verizon 4G tower and very strong Blue Mountain RV Park WiFi. There was also some sort of State of Utah free public WiFi that we some how didn’t trust. So with chores done, we set out to Butler Wash to check out the ruins there.46404-butlerWashWe could choose from two hikes. One was up the wash itself, the other was a .5 mile hike to an overlook. On a hot mid-afternoon day like today, we were really not up to a hike in a wash. We opted for the walk to the overlook. Even later in the afternoon probably would have been a better idea. There were occasional clouds coming overhead and that help keep us cool, but full sun reflecting off white sandstone made the hike a trudge.46408-butlerWashBut along the way we found nice blooming cactus and an assortment of wildflowers. We soon came to the overlook and I was glad we didn’t do the wash hike to the ruins. They are set into a high overhang above another overhang. Pretty spectacular, but impossible to get close to. I could see what looked like large paintings, or maybe plaster on one wall with lots of pictographs elsewhere. I would have loved to get closer.46434-butlerWash 46415-butlerWash 46417-butlerWash 46433-butlerWashWe watched for a while as the clouds constantly changed how the scene looked. Eventually we made our way back over the whitecap sandstone trail and were pretty much finished for the day. We were still pretty lethargic from our earlier long hike and the heat today, so took it easy the rest of the day.

Tomorrow Canyonlands!

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Canyon de Chelly (Shay) National Monument

45653-dddmApril 21
Another relatively short, pleasant drive brought us to Kayenta and Canyon de Chelly National Monument around 3 PM. We’d made plans to meet friends Don and Dorothy Malpas at the Cottonwood campground for a couple of days of visiting. For them, this was the tail end of their latest multi-month outing that included a lot of 4-wheeling in southern Utah. We haven’t bumped into many friends this time around, so it was especially great to happy hour it with these two. They have a great attitude toward life and traveling, and just hanging around them brightens my mood.45591-deChelly1At first, Kayenta seemed to have begun to prosper. There is a shopping mall with nice grocery and hardware stores, all the roads seem in good shape and even the campground seemed better maintained. It only took a short while however, before we began to see that it was still much the same. The first clue was the gentle tapping on our RV door the first evening. It was a Navajo man, Marc Begay Sr, wanting to sell us some of his paintings on rocks. I was all ready to send him on his way until I actually looked at his work. Really nice. We haggled a bit and eventually bought 3 small paintings. Marc seemed to be a really humble nice man. He told me he lived in the canyon and used to work breaking horses. He’d fallen off too many times and could not do it anymore. To prove it, he proceeded to pop his shoulder in and out several times. This was the pattern every night, but someone different each night. Also the stray dogs are still here. We even saw stray horses wandering around.45593-deChelly1But we were here for the canyon. Wednesday morning we sort of got the lay of the land and decided to first take a drive out along the south canyon. There is almost no hiking in the park. It is mostly private Navajo land and only one trail exists. So drive we must.45601-deChelly1 45608-deChelly1Each of the overlooks gave us a new view of the canyon, whether it be dunes and cliff or the crazy swirling sandstone layers. This is the first time this trip we’ve seen the amazing color combination of cottonwood greens and sandstone reds. Never gets old.45604-deChelly145616-deChelly1We stopped for a time at the White House Overlook. From here you can see a well preserved ruin built into a cave high on the cliff. Tomorrow we will be hiking the 600’ down to the canyon floor and out to the ruins. From here we could judge what time the sun would be low enough to cast light on the white plaster covered structure that is tucked up under the overhang of the cliff. It stays in shadow most of the day, but I wanted photographs with light hitting at least part of it. At 3 PM, it still wasn’t low enough.

We continued on to Spider Rock at the end of the road and enjoyed the spectacular view from the point. Then back to camp and happy hour.45621-deChelly1 45646-paintbrush 45629-deChelly1 45641-deChelly1Thursday we said goodbye to Don and Dorothy and spent the morning relaxing. We’d determined the best time to arrive at the White House ruins was going to be very late afternoon. It is only a 3.5 round trip hike, but with a 600’ decent, it will also give us a nice bit of exercise. The beginning is a pretty easy hike over sandstone on the rim, then it descends down 600’ via switchback trail. There are a couple of tunnels to pass through, but it is mostly wide and easy to follow. Once down, it’s an easy hike in the canyon on a sandy trail over the river and to the ruins.45659-whitehouseWaiting until this time of afternoon to hike and photograph is also a benefit because the lower angled light brings out the texture of the surrounding walls and casts really nice shadows all around. The swirling sandstone layers of the canyon walls were also interesting. The fairly heavy cloud cover was just a bit concerning. Would we see any sunshine once down there?45667-whitehouse 45683-whitehouse 45663-whitehouse 45675-whitehouse 45687-whitehouse45694-whitehouseThe big shock came when we arrived at the ruins themselves. There is a 5 1/2’ high fence that runs in a wide diameter around the ruins making it impossible to approach for some better angles. This wasn’t here 10 years ago and we could walk right up to the lower ruin. I understand the reasoning – the recovery of the fenced off area being a big one. Also, vandalism must be addressed. Graffiti has always been a problem as some of my telephoto images will attest. One date I could read on the white plaster area was 1873.45723-whitehouse 45759-whitehouse 45772-whitehouseCloud cover was pretty heavy when we left, but I could see lots of breaks in the clouds now that we were on the bottom.The whole point was to get here when the light was right. If the sun doesn’t come out, the images I had in mind would be impossible. With the fence being there, I’d already lost some of what I wanted. So it was just a matter of hanging around waiting for those short bits of perfect light. Always a good idea to bring a book along.45788-whitehouseIt did work out very well as it turned out. Once at the site, we got plenty of sunny breaks and moments during the transition from light to shadow. We spent a couple of hours watching the light change and waiting for it to get lower. Luck ran out around 5:30 when the sun went behind clouds for good. Mary headed back, but I stayed on for a little while longer, looking at a few details a little more closely.45794-whitehouseOn my way back up the trail, I passed a steady stream of Navajo in 2’s and 3’s, walking down into the canyon – presumably  on their way home. One fellow stopped me to ask if I’d seen his cell phone. He said he’d slept the night just off the trail (about half way up), but that when he woke up, he couldn’t find it. He did not look in great shape, but he seemed in control of himself. He asked for cigarettes, but I couldn’t help him there. I met Mary at the top, then headed back to camp for the evening. Tomorrow we head for Monument Valley National Monument.45760-whitehouse

Monument Valley National Monument
April 2445800-monument1Another easy drive north though Kayenta to Monument Valley National Monument. We haven’t been here for several years now and it is always interesting to see what changes have occurred. Did a spire collapse? What else have they now built? This time was a real shock though. Way back when, we could camp in a somewhat primitive, but really nice campground right on the edge of the rim. Then the Navajo built a 2-story hotel on that rim and removed the campground. We could still camp across the road on another very rough open space. The view, I think, was actually better and more people could back-up to the edge. We were told by our Navajo guide then, there were plans for an RV park in this space.45807-monument1Regrettably, this has come to pass in a very poor way. The new RV park provides a level space with a picnic table. There is no power or water or dump station provided. All for the sum of $50 off season! Plus, you have to still pay the $20 entrance fee. Unless we hit the lottery, we will not be camping here anymore.

We made reservations at the privately owned RV park, Gouldings RV Resort, which is just across the Arizona border in Utah, which is just across the highway from the entrance to the monument. They wanted $44/night, but also had a $22/night area for dry camping. It was just a big lot next to a giant propane tank, but it was quiet enough and even the scenery was nice. We also still had access to all the amenities. There is one other dry camping campground run by the Navajo located about a mile from the entrance, but it is in a wide open sandy area. The wind that has been whipping up, would be a killer in that spot, but it is also $22/night. So we got set up and finished the day catching up on chores.

April 2545811-monument1We were up early this morning and set out for the 9 mile loop road through the monument. We drove the 6 miles to the entrance station, but arrived too early to have to pay to get in, so we just drove through to the loop road. The gate for the road would not open until 8 AM officially, so this was when we investigated the new campground. Most of the view spots were now taken up by little cabins. We’ve heard these are going for $150/night. A great spot if you can afford it. The RV spaces were level and pretty close together and only a few had a premier view.  Not a great development.

The cloud cover was going to be a problem again today, but it was good to see these sights anyway. 8 AM came but still the gate was closed. No matter, we just drove around it and began the tour.45816-monument1 45837-monument1 45842-monument1 45847-monument1 45856-monument145872-monument1At one of the overlooks, I photographed “The Cube” a giant sandstone boulder. There were also other wonderfully shaped boulder strewn around and I spent some time playing around with those. The light was pretty good for this because it softened harsh shadows without completely flattening the color.
45888-monument1 45891-monument1 45894-monument1It was a nice morning but got progressively more windy. Rain was forecast for a little later and into the evening, so we were hoping for some nice clouds and wet saturated sandstone tomorrow. We headed back to camp, and as we pulled into our space, I noticed what looked suspiciously like the emergency hatch laying in the sand next to the rig. We’d left it open a little before we left and a gust of the increasing wind, even here in our well protected spot, ripped it off the top. I thought it had to be trashed at first, but as I inspected it, I saw the there was not real damage to the cover. The little rivets holding the cover to the hinge had failed. I found the lifter next to the hatch – it had also been ripped out of the crank but only slightly damaged. I duct taped the hatch back on for the time being – later I’ll go into Kayenta again and pick-up the items I’ll need to repair it.

April 26
45900-monument2
We had just a very light rain for just a few minutes last night. It’s still windy, and early it looked like we would see no sun today either. We planned to set out again in the afternoon anyway, so we did a short little hike around the RV park grounds. They are nestled in a nice little embrace of sandstone rock and hills. We followed a path that promised a hidden arch view, and after almost giving up, finally found it. The sky was beginning to clear now, and patches of sunlight lit up sections of the arch.

We set out again around 4 PM to do the loop drive once more, but this time with much more sun and great clouds. First stop was at the main overlook. I alway like to stop and photograph these rocks in front of the Mittens. Sort of like standing in Ansel’s footprints. He photographed this spot way back when and it has become kind of a photography roots thing to do for me.45903-monument2We hit most of the same spots and photographed much the same stuff, but it always amazes me how different light changes can make.
45921-monument2 45923-monument2 45933-monument2 45957-monument2 45973-monument2 45982-monument2 46018-monument2We finished up where we started the afternoon, and watched the light change over the valley. We were soon to loose the light for the evening when it went behind clouds, so there would be no crazy sunset tonight. We were ready for dinner anyway since it was now nearly 7 PM. We’re having lots of late dinners now that sunset isn’t till 8.

Tomorrow we head out for several days in the Valley of the Gods area.

Goosenecks & Valley of the Gods
April 2646143_gooseneckI drove the 20 miles back to Kayenta this morning to pick up some small nuts and bolts so I could reattach the emergency hatch to the RV. The wind had torn it from it’s place but not damaged it at all. I just had to remove the flimsy rivets and replace them with the nuts and bolts. Actually it was a good thing the rivets were flimsy. It they were sturdier, the wind would have probably ripped it off anyway, but would also have torn the holes. I’ll just keep it closed when away now. The crank was an easy fix. Just had to place a new screw in to hold the riser support in place.46137_gooseneckWhen I returned, we dumped and filled with water and hit the road again. We only had to drive another 30 miles to Goosenecks State Park. It’s about as bare bones a park as you will find – a few picnic tables along the curvy edge of the canyon. But for $10 we could camp anywhere along the edge we wanted. We could have driven a good 1/2 out along the edge if we wanted to get more remote, but opted for a nearby space instead. The place is pretty quiet anyway. No water, no dump, no trees, but oh, the view! The San Juan River is what has carved these narrow, twisting curves in the landscape. This section is particularly curvy, so it makes for some nice scenes.

April 2746044_VOGWe decided an afternoon drive through Valley of the Gods would yield better light and cloud conditions, so we spent the day catching up on blogs and such. During the afternoon, clouds began increasing, with the heaviest concentration over Cedar Mesa. It was pouring up there as we later found out from rangers. But down on the valley, it was simply verga – never reaching the ground. Well, sometimes it did, but only once did we really see or feel any at all. What we got was tumescent cloud formations casting dramatic shadows over the wide valley.
46058_VOG 46066_VOGThe road itself is around 17-20 miles of good graded dirt. It rolls along through the valley, sometimes a straight shot, other times winding around the base of the mesa or other formations. Looking at some of the formations, one really understands why the valley got it’s name. Some are reminiscent of Egyptian God sculptures, others resemble victorian queens.46057_VOG 46060_VOGThere were a wide variety of wildflowers and a few blooming cactus, though not in abundance.46055_VOG 46068_VOG 46081_VOGWith the clouds, the light was constantly changing, going from flat to contrasty in moments. This all made for great fun for us as we hop from location to location throughout the valley.46047_VOG 46072_VOG 46086_VOG 46089_VOG 46094_VOG 46106_VOG 46111_VOGAround each bend or rise in the road, new vistas are revealed. We kept thinking we were done, but then another curve would require one or the other of us to stop again.46114_VOG 46120_VOG 46122_VOG 46126_VOG 46116_VOGThis was about the best light and cloud conditions we’ve ever had here. On other visits, we’ve encountered blazing hot temps with nothing but harsh light, or too overcast or windy. Today was one of those rare days when making images was easy. Our next several days, we’ll be exploring the Cedar Mesa area. We’ve never done much here other that Natural Bridges, so we’ll see some new parts.

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Homolovi State Park

April 17
While we were visiting Little Painted Desert, we stayed at Homolovi State Park, near Winslow. There was quite a nice little widely spaced campground here. We were able to get a great site for 2 days with a view of the prairie all around us. The weekend was booked, but we only needed the 2 days for what we wanted to do.45042-homoloviYesterday evening, we were up at Little Painted desert (last post), so today we wanted to explore Homolovi a little better. The park was populated by a number of different native peoples, then later by Mormon settlers. There are two indian sites and an old cemetery to explore. We first the Mormon cemetery. We could have driven the 3 mile round trip road there, but it was so nice this morning, we chose to walk. It was very quiet and visibility was pretty good all the way to the San Francisco Peaks. The cemetery was quite small and it seemed a number of the graves had pretty much returned to dust.45054-homoloviLater in the day, we went out to the Homolovi 2 archeological site. It is typical of partially excavated pueblo’s, but one thing stood out – the amount of pottery shards laying around. It is not uncommon to find these pieces, but here people seem to have picked them up, but placed them on the various rocks laying around. Most parks really don’t like visitors to even touch artifacts. I suppose they are happy no one takes any. It is certainly a temptation. We touched but did not take.45094-homolovi 45066-homolovi 45067-homoloviWhen we talked with the ranger in the visitor center later on, he let us know about a couple of petroglyphs locations. The best was at the end of an established trail that really wasn’t advertised much. He said he waits until people express interest before telling them how to get there. We followed the path for around 1 1/2 miles, and found some nice examples.45083-homoloviOur second morning, before taking off for Holbrook and Petrified, we walked the 1 1/2 mile road out to the Homolovi 1 archaeological site which was pretty much like the site 2 with pottery shards everywhere. Just before getting back to camp we found a dead jackrabbit just below our site. There are quite a few of these guys hopping around, but this one was done. It was interesting how it seems to have just laid down as if to sleep. I could see some scratch marks in the sand around it, recording it’s last movements.45103-homoloviNow we move on to Holbrook and Petrified.

Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park
April 17-2145332-Pet2For the past week we have been visiting Petrified Forest/Painted National Park. The drive From Winslow to Holbrook went smoothly and once there, had to settle for a couple of nights at another KOA. There just isn’t much camping around here – most of the land belongs to the Navajo Nation. We found out later about a native owned RV park at the south entrance. If you can get by with no hook-ups, it’s free. With electricity, it’s $10. No water or dump, but for the 1-3 days most people spend, it’s very doable. Cutting out nearly 40 miles of driving is the bonus. We moved there after 2 nights at the KOA.45115-Petrified45112-PetrifiedOver the next 3 days, we traveled up and down and back and fourth, all over the two main sections of the park. Instead of trying to chronicle each day, I’m just going to post the images from each area we explored. Mornings and evenings and same place, different days, will be combined and it’s up to you to decide which is which. Since we couldn’t get into the park until 7 AM, good morning light was in short supply. Best light was usually from mid-afternoon till sunset, but with cloud cover, even mid-day worked well for images.45485-Pet3Blue Mesa was a place we visited several times as we moved between sections. The road spurs off from the main park road about halfway through the south section. It then rises up to follow along and around the top of the mesa. The mesa’s name comes from the predominately cool range colors of the sedimentary layers. As the mesa has eroded, the layers have been revealed, with blues purples and green and magenta – all in such intriguing shapes and states of erosion. All along the loop could also be found great examples of petrified wood. In some places, the ground around a log had largely eroded away, leaving it on a pedestal of sorts.45119-Petrified 45355-Pet2 45136-Petrified 45155-Petrified 45358-Pet2 45203-PaintedThe north section is know as the Painted Desert. I think it is an appropriate name. Depending on time of day, it can change dramatically. Passing clouds dapple light over the land below, revealing constantly changing highlights. Other times, the high mid-day sun will eliminate shadows, but wash out colors. This can also be nice when it creates a more pastel look. This is probably my favorite section because of the wideness of the view. At a few of the early turnouts, closer vantage points let you get a little more personal.45397-Painted3 45412-Painted3Also in this section, a short trail along the edge can be walked from one of the viewpoints to the former Inn, now a museum of sorts. Maybe a half mile or so. A nice little leg stretcher, but really, the best views are from the road.45228-Paint2 45241-Paint2 45416-Painted3If you have the time and energy, you can hike into the landscape.45235-Paint2 45417-Painted3 45450-Painted3 45441-Painted3 45376-Painted3 45509-LongLogsOn our last day at the park, before leaving, we ventured into the park once again to hike the Long Logs trail. This loop is about a mile and a half, but you can add another mile by hiking out to Agate House – a reconstructed pueblo indian ruin made from petrified wood.45501-LongLogsAll along this trail there does indeed exist many nearly whole trees, now petrified. Nice Yellow Mariposa Lilies and Evening Primrose were all over the place. We were there early, but the sun was behind us and making compositions without our own shadows in the frame was difficult.45514-LongLogs 45516-LongLogs 45519-bunny 45534-LongLogs 45528-LongLogs 45535-LongLogs 45553-LongLogs 45558-LongLogs 45563-atgateHouseThere is a nice view all around at Agate House, and the reconstructed walls were fun to look at, but by now, the sun was getting high and the light harsh. We were visited by this little songbird. Haven’t quite identified it yet, but sang to us several times before flitting away again.45570-atgateHouse 45293-Pet2 45288-Pet2Our next stop will be Canyon de Chelly a bit north of here. We will be spending 2 or 3 days viewing the canyon and ruins and will be meeting up with friend Don and Dorothy for a visit.

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