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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
After our trip in Robbers Roost Canyon, we headed to Escalante for another backpacking trip into one of my favorite canyons of all – Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It’s been about 12 years or so since I’ve been here, but I still remembered how awesome it was.
Last week we went back out to Utah for a couple backpacking trips – the first was a two nighter in Robbers Roost Canyon in the Robbers Roost country along the Dirty Devil River east of the town of Hanksville. This little known and seldom visited area is full of wonderful sandstone canyons reminiscent of the Escalante area further southwest.
After two months of being more or less glued to the computer, I was thrilled to head out into the desert and finally get outside again! Our destination: the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, south of Moab, Utah. Above you can see the La Sal Mountains towering over the canyons in the distance.
Walking to the glow, in the narrow slots of the Joint Trail.
We just got back home to Colorado after a quick road trip to San Diego to visit my relatives and friends. Instead of doing the drive in one grueling day like I used to do, we took our time and broke up the drive into three days each way, giving us the opportunity to see some of the sights in the desert along the way. Here are a few photos from the trip! Above is Cedar Breaks National Monument, where we camped the first night.
On our way back we drove through Zion National Park, stopping to hike up to Angels Landing. This was a questionable decision for a September Saturday, as the [paved!] trail was clogged with people and felt like a Disneyland attraction. But regardless of the crowds, it is always a spectacular hike with killer views of Zion canyon!
We continued to Capitol Reef National Park and the next day we did a wonderful hike down Chimney Rock Canyon, where sheer sandstone walls tower overhead.