Escape to the Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Utah, Chesler Park
Chesler Park Sunset : Prints Available

An awesome sunset over Chesler Park in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah. (Sony A7R + Contax/Zeiss 35-70mm)

As winter drags on, there are times when no matter how good the snow is, all I can think about is getting out to the desert for some warm weather backpacking. Such was the case last week when Claudia and I drove over to Utah for four days of backpacking in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park south of Moab. And what a refreshing trip it was, with exciting weather and some fantastic light to photograph.

The trip also provided ample opportunity for me to test out my new Sony A7R 36mp camera matched up with my favorite Canon lenses. Since this is a popular new camera, and my first new professional camera in over four years, I’ll write a brief mini-review at the end of this post.

See LOTS more photos below! Continue reading “Escape to the Canyonlands”

Cedar Mesa with Fujifilm X100S

bonfire, Cedar Mesa, Utah, stars

Bonfire Under the Stars : Prints Available

This last weekend we drove out to Cedar Mesa, Utah for one last desert camping trip for the season. We arrived a few hours prior to sunset, found a nice spot to car camp, and eventually lit a little fire to enjoy. After being glued to the computer the last few weeks, the fire, stars, and open space were balm for my soul! The next morning we would wake up early and embark on a three-day backpacking loop through Fish Creek and Owl Creek Canyons.

For this trip I decided to leave my workhorse Canon camera and lenses at home, instead opting to travel light with only my new little Fujifilm X100S large sensor compact camera. These three days in the canyons provided a good opportunity to get to know the X100S. Since it’s a popular new camera I will write a “mini review” of my first impressions below, and this post will be more of a camera report than a trip report. All these photos were taken with the X100S, but please note that some are stitched panos and most of them are adjusted in photoshop to some degree.

The photo above is a two-shot stitch taken with the X100 28mm wide-angle conversion lens (the X100S has a fixed 35mm equivalent lens, and the 28mm conversion lens screws on top of that). Continue reading “Cedar Mesa with Fujifilm X100S”

8 Dayhikes in the Utah Canyons

Metate Arch, Devil's Garden, Escalante National Monument, Utah, April

Metate Arch in the Devil’s Garden – April.

On our way back to Colorado from California, we spent about 10 days in the canyons of Utah car camping and doing some fantastic day hikes. We started in Escalante National Monument, probably my favorite canyon region in all of Utah.

Red Breaks, slot, Escalante, Utah, hiking

Hiking in a narrow slot canyon.

Our first hike was through a seldom visited slot canyon called Red Breaks. Although the guides I read called this a “non technical” canyon, it ended up being a very challenging slot canyon, with numerous puzzling chokestones that had to be climbed over. Some of these chokestones required sketchy exposed moves or chimney maneuvers to pass, and we became a bit worried after we had climbed over enough of these that turning back would not have been a safe option, yet each successive chokestone became more and more difficult.

Red Breaks, slot, Escalante, Utah, hiking

Hiking in a deep and narrow slot canyon.

Not only were the chokestones challenging in Red Breaks, but in some areas the slot was so narrow that we could barely squeeze through while pulling our backpacks behind us. A wider person or anyone with claustrophobia should not attempt this slot canyon! I would classify this slot as “non technical” only for very proficient canyoneers and comfortable climbers; for anyone else I would stress that this is an extremely challenging slot canyon. In fact it was the first slot that I was happy to finally exit!

cosmic ashtray, escalante, utah

A bizarre and fascinating sandstone formation, filled with orange sand.

From Red Breaks we hiked cross country over slickrock slabs and valleys to a fascinating sandstone formation called “The Cosmic Ashtray”. This is one of the more curious and mystifying geologic formations I’ve seen, and I have no idea how such a thing could have formed. It’s difficult to comprehend the scale in the photo above, but suffice it say, it’s enormous! We stayed until sunset and hiked back to the truck in the dark… all in all, a 12 hour day of hiking! Not too shabby for the first of eight days in a row of hiking!

slot canyon, Zebra, Escalante National Monument, Utah

The famous Zebra Slot.

Our second hike was to the famous Zebra slot. The slot itself is actually very short and not very deep, but it has these beautiful striations and embedded moki ball stones which make it very photogenic. Photogenic, that is, if you don’t care about taking the same photograph that every other photographer takes, more or less. Claudia was kind enough to pose in there for me, which adds some scale and reality to the otherwise surreal formations.

Little Death Hollow, Escalante National Monument, Utah

Hiking through deep narrows in Little Death Hollow Canyon.

After Zebra, we drove around to the other side of the Escalante River drainage via the incredible Burr Trail Road which leads east from the town of Boulder through jaw-dropping canyon scenery. I’m not sure if I’ve ever driven a more scenic drive in the desert! Our destination was Little Death Hollow canyon, another slot canyon off the Escalante.

Little Death Hollow, Escalante National Monument, Utah

Hiking through the narrows of Little Death Hollow Canyon.

Little Death Hollow is not an especially deep slot canyon, but it goes on for quite a long way and makes for a great hike – especially around midday when the sunlight is bouncing around between the canyon walls.

More photos below! Continue reading “8 Dayhikes in the Utah Canyons”

Election Night on Cedar Mesa

Evening on Cedar Mesa, Utah
Election night festivities.

After our time in Page, we realized that circumstances were pulling us back home and our long desert trip was coming to a close. For one final night in the desert on the way back, we car camped on the edge of Cedar Mesa, with a commanding view spanning all the way from the San Juan Mountains on the far eastern horizon to Monument Valley far to the south.

Being November 6, we fortunately had just enough cell reception up there to check the election results – the suspense would have killed me otherwise. I’m not going to say much about it here, except that I’m proud to be a Coloradan! For the half of the population that is sorely disappointed, well, now you know how I felt in ’04. Life goes on, hopefully for the better.

Cedar Mesa, Utah, Goosenecks, San Juan River, sunset, panorama

Cedar Mesa Panorama : Prints Available

Panoramic evening view from the southern edge of Cedar Mesa, overlooking the Goosenecks of the San Juan River - November.

Hazy and Lazy on the North Rim

North Rim, hazy, Grand Canyon, Arizona, burn, November

Hazy Grand Canyon B/W : Prints Available

Smoke from a large scale prescribed burn on the North Rim fills the Grand Canyon with haze on a November day.

Exhausted from our strenuous trek into the Grand Canyon, we needed a day of relaxing to recharge our batteries, so we camped at the North Rim campground and enjoyed the viewpoints from around there. The campground was virtually empty, aside from a large group of firefighters who were conducting a seemingly large-scale prescribed burn in the forests along the North Rim. The smoke from the burns drained into the canyon, filling it with haze and making for some strange atmospheric conditions.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, Bright Angel

Claudia enjoys the view from up close.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, sunset, Bright Angel, North Rim

Bright Angel Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset over the Grand Canyon, as seen from the Bright Angel Trail on the North Rim.

Point Imperial, Grand Canyon, Arizona, haze, sunrise

Point Imperial Sunrise : Prints Available

Sunrise light beams through the haze of prescribed burns along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, as seen from Point Imperial - November.

Backpacking Into the Grand Canyon

Tapeats Creek, Grand Canyon, Arizona, hiker

Looking into the Tapeats Creek canyon, a side canyon of the Grand Canyon.

At the beginning of November, Claudia and I were excited to go on a backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon, which neither of us has seen before. It was a great introduction to walk down all the way down into the heart of it, and WOW, we were impressed!

Our loop route took us down from Monument Point on the North Rim, down the Bill Hall Trail, over the Esplanade, across Surprise Valley, down into Tapeats Creek, along the Colorado River, up the Deer Creek Trail, then back up to the top again. All in all, more then 5,000 feet of elevation drop, and then back up again! Along the way we saw some of the most incredible sights, springs, and waterfalls we’ve ever seen in the desert.

Deer Creek, waterfall, Grand Canyon, Arizona

Deer Creek Waterfall : Prints Available

The spectacular waterfall of Deer Creek that pours out right near the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Below are more photos of a few of the many highlights along the trek! Continue reading “Backpacking Into the Grand Canyon”

Vegas

Las Vegas, Vegas, Nevada, Strip, Eiffel Tower

The bright lights of the Las Vegas strip, as seen from the observation deck on the Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel.

In a ridiculous contrast to our two previous solitary nights in Death Valley, we spent a night in Las Vegas on our way to further desert adventures. One night in Vegas is enough!

At the Racetrack

Watching the race at the Racetrack, Death Valley National Park, California
Watching the race. Not quite NASCAR.
Racetrack, Death Valley, California, National Park, sunset

Sunset at the Racetrack : Prints Available

The Racetrack is a mysterious and fascinating location in Death Valley National Park – a flat dry lakebed playa in a remote desert valley where large rocks seem to have moved around by their own volition, leaving random tracks in the dry mud revealing their path. How did these rocks move?

Racetrack, Death Valley, California, National Park

Moonrise at the Racetrack : Prints Available

The theory is that given just the right conditions, rain will flood the playa, then freeze, and then once the ice starts melting a little, strong winds will blow the ice-bound rocks around on the slick mud underneath. It’s hard to believe, but the tracks are there – something made these rocks slide all around the playa!

Racetrack, Death Valley, California, National Park, moon

Racetrack Curves : Prints Available

These particular tracks – illuminated by the setting moon – are especially interesting. At first glance I assumed that they were car tracks – that some idiot had driven his car out there. Upon closer inspection, it’s clear that no car in the world could make tracks like this! Even more mysterious is that about a hundred feet away from these tracks are an almost exactly identical pattern, but aligned facing a different orientation. It boggles the mind!

Eureka Dunes

Eureka Dunes, Death Valley, California

After leaving Bishop, we headed to Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park. These dunes are just about as tall as the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, but are basically one single big dune, instead of an endless repetition of them. Another striking characteristic of the Eureka dunes is their absolute pristine remoteness – there is nothing out there in that valley! No lights, no distant towns, just one dirt road and absolute silence. Very cool.

Eureka Dunes, Death Valley, California, October

Eureka Dunes : Prints Available

Dusk light atop Eureka Dunes - October.

Any regrets about leaving the cold and snowy Sierras vanished as we enjoyed a perfectly calm and warm desert evening atop the highest dune, with our bottle of wine and my camera of course.

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