Death Hollow Loop

Boulder Mail Trail,Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah,tent
Slickrock Camp : Prints Available

Sunset reflection in a small waterhole at our slickrock campsite along the Boulder Mail Trail.

Boulder Mail Trail,Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah
Slickrock Sunrise : Prints Available

Sunrise illuminates a sea of slickrock along the Boulder Mail Trail between the towns of Escalante and Boulder.

The morning after returning from our previous Escalante backpack, we embarked on another even more adventurous trek – this time into the slickrock country just east of the town of Escalante. For years I’ve driven the spectacular stretch of highway between Boulder and Escalante and always wondered what it was like up amongst all that slickrock. During this trek we would find out! Continue reading “Death Hollow Loop”

Canyons of Escalante

Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah
Henry Mountains Sunset : Prints Available

The Henry Mountains rise above the slickrock desert between Boulder and Escalante.

The Escalante region is one of my favorite areas in the southern Utah desert. Though perhaps less impressive at first glance than other Utah destinations, a little bit of hiking reveals countless deep canyons and slots. The variety of canyon country around Escalante is staggering.

Choprock Canyon,Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah, alcove, camping, tent, stars
Alcove Camp

Camping under a huge alcove near the Escalante River.

I wanted to show Claudia a few of the classic canyons off the Hole in the Rock Road, so we backpacked down in there for two nights, establishing a base camp from which we could explore several narrow canyons on day hikes.

Choprock Canyon,Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah
Canyon Reflection

Hiking through a deep canyon tributary of the Escalante River.

One day we visited one of the more popular canyons around here, Neon Canyon, but unfortunately while we were there it was mobbed by a large group of backpackers which diminished the mystical experience of the place a bit. I wasn’t able to produce any better photos than from my previous visits to Neon, so I haven’t posted any here. I think it’s a sign I’m getting older when I start to have more and more stories about how things “used to be”! For example during my first visit here back in the 90’s before Escalante became a national monument, my friends and I were the only people around for many miles and it felt like a true desert wilderness. We even camped right underneath the Golden Cathedral, something that would probably be considered quite disrespectful today. Maybe it was then too…

Choprock Canyon,Escalante,Escalante National Monument,Utah
Canyon Bubble

A little whirlpool generates bubbles in a small canyon creek.

Despite my griping, there are still many empty canyons to explore and plenty of solitude to be found out there!

Cathedral Valley

Capitol Reef,Cathedral Valley,Utah
Cathedral Beacons : Prints Available

Light painting amongst the spires of Cathedral Valley.

Our recent dirt-road route around the San Rafael Swell in Utah took us briefly through the Cathedral Valley on the far north end of Capitol Reef National Park. We spent an evening in Lower Cathedral Valley, having fun experimenting with some large-scale light painting (thank you Claudia!) and catching the sunrise light on the Temple of the Sun, a pointy spire that pokes improbably out of the surrounding flat valley.

Capitol Reef,Cathedral Valley,Utah
Temple of the Sun : Prints Available

Sunrise light in Lower Cathedral Valley.

Exploring the San Rafael Swell

Little Grand Canyon,San Rafael Swell,Utah
Little Grand Canyon : Prints Available

A spring snowstorm passes over the Little Grand Canyon, through which the San Rafael River flows.

Although this is my so-called “Mountain Photographer” blog, the next several posts will be full of desert and canyon photos instead! During the first two weeks of April, we were out on a road trip through southern Utah visiting some old favorite spots as well as some new territory for us. We spent the first week exploring the often-overlooked San Rafael Swell region.

Anybody who has driven across I-70 through Utah is probably familiar with the San Rafael Reef, where the highway boldly cuts through the vertical red walls of jagged, tilted sandstone – one of the most dramatic stretches of interstate highway in the country. That impressive highway cut, along with Goblin Valley and the popular Little Wildhorse Canyon, are the most well known parts of the Swell; but as we discovered on this trip, they are just the tip of the iceberg [or sandstone, I should say]. The San Rafael Swell is a huge area with canyon scenery on par with the best that Utah has to offer. Continue reading “Exploring the San Rafael Swell”

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.

Little Wildhorse

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted here in a while, it’s because we just got back from a 3-week desert road trip! Our main reason for the trip was to visit my grandma in California on her 100th birthday! And the late October timing was perfect for extending the journey into a long road trip to some desert locations between here and there. Over the next days I will post a bunch of photos from each adventure.

Little Wildhorse Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah, hiking

Our first little adventure was a quick hike through the popular Little Wildhorse Canyon in the San Rafael Swell in Utah just off I-70 on our way towards California. This is a great little canyon hike with some really interesting, fairly sustained narrows and slot sections.

Little Wildhorse Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah, hiking

I thought this hike was kind of popular when I first did it a couple years ago. But that was nothing compared to the crowds we encountered this time! I’ve never ever seen this many people on one hike in the desert, except maybe in Zion NP. We happened to time our hike the same as seemingly every boy scout group in the state of Utah, and there were hundreds of boys running up and down the narrow canyon. Kind of annoying at first, but also pretty neat to see all the kids enjoying the awesome canyon.

Little Wildhorse Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah, hiking

Because we still had to hit the road for another long drive that day, we turned around after the most interesting narrows and backtracked to the trailhead, instead of doing the usual longer loop hike. We soon realized that this was probably a bad idea, since we were then going against the flow of the mobs of hikers through the narrow slots! This meant lots of waiting while we let group after group pass us by.

Anyhow, despite the crowds, this canyon is always a fun one for a quick dayhike. And, thank you Claudia for your patience posing for all my pictures!

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