What do you think of when someone mentions Bryce Canyon National Park? Sweeping views of thousands of sandstone hoodoos glowing in early morning or late afternoon light? Yeah, me too. That’s exactly what I had in mind a couple weeks ago when an overnight trip to the Escalante turned into a four day trip to Bryce. Sure, the vistas from the rim are grand and are certainly worthy of your attention. But take a short walk below the rim into places with whimsical names like Queens Garden or Wall Street, and a whole other side of Bryce begins to reveal itself. Down here, amongst the hoodoos, are myriad intimate scenes that I found far more interesting to photograph than the panoramic views from above. Gnarly juniper trees, stately pines, multi-hued badlands and enormous skies abound, making it all too easy to deplete your camera battery. Better pack an extra. And while you’re at it, throw in an extra memory card, too. Trust me, you’ll need them.
The Utah Backcountry Discovery Route travels almost 900 miles through some of the state’s most scenic and remote landscapes utilizing a patchwork of dirt roads, 4×4 trails and a few short stretches of blacktop. It begins in Monument Valley, winds through Cedar Mesa, then passes over the Abajo and La Sal Mountains before heading north through the San Rafael Swell, into the Wasatch and eventually ending at Bear Lake on the Idaho/Utah border. It was developed and originally ridden by a group of adventure motorcyclists although the entire route can also be driven in a well-equipped four wheel drive.
I originally planned to ride it in September with a good friend from Colorado but those plans fell through. Rather than let the route antagonize me for another year I made a last minute decision to ride it solo. I had four days to plan the ride, get all my gear together, download GPS tracks and prep my bike – all while maintaining my regular work schedule. I’d have six days to do the ride, which eventually became five when I was unable to leave on time due to my persistent inability to finish packing in time.
I headed south out of Moab on Saturday, August 5, arriving in Monument Valley two hours later. I gassed up, ate a cheap plate of tacos at Goulding’s and turned around to begin my adventure on the Utah BDR. Mexican Hat came and went, and I soon found myself turning on to the first leg of dirt road at Valley of the Gods. I haven’t ridden much this year and my dirt skills were less ninja, more sumo. Luckily, it’s nearly as smooth as unkempt tarmac – perfect for building confidence. Valley of the Gods is much like a miniature version of Monument Valley, but without all the regulations governing where you can and can’t go, what you can and can’t do and where you can and can’t camp. Near the end of the dirt road I caught up with Rick and Norm, who were riding big BMW GS’s. Even before we stopped to chat, I knew we were BDR brothers. After a quick chat, we agreed to ride on together.
Back on asphalt we headed north, climbing up onto Cedar Mesa via the unpaved Moki Dugway. A short distance later we began tackling the first challenging terrain on Snow Flat Road. A storm was brewing on the northern horizon, punctuated by flashes of lightning and the distant rumble of thunder. Immediately upon turning off the pavement we found ourselves riding through a fine, powdery sand just deep enough to cause our bikes to wiggle around in a perpetual battle for balance. Multiple signs issued ominous warnings of “Road is impassable when wet” – not exactly what I wanted to read with a thunderstorm bearing down on us. The road alternated between long stretches of silt broken by short stretches of bumpy slickrock and, here and there, small patches of mud. Not just any mud, mind you – clay mud. Slicker than ice and stickier than sap, it’s a motorcyclist’s nightmare. Rick and Norm had already gone down a few times in the sand. The mud claimed another victim. We rode on, dropping off small slickrock ledges, one of which ripped off the kickstand kill switch on my bike. Rick went down again and after we got his bike upright, he and Norm told me to continue on without them as they didn’t want to hold me up. I debated whether I should leave them but with an impending storm and several miles of clay, sand and rock ahead of us, I decided to carry on by myself.
The official route leaves Snow Flat Road and travels north on Butler Wash Road. Remember that word: wash. I rode into Bluff for a cold drink and to check the weather report. While enjoying a cup of chocolate ice cream at the delightful Comb Ridge Coffee shop, I consulted The Weather Channel on my iPhone. Weather advisory: torrential rain of up to 1″ per hour north of Bluff with flood advisories in effect until 4:00 PM. Not wanting to be swept away in a flash flood, at worst, or ride for hours in clay mud, at best, I decided to detour around Butler Wash and pick up the next leg of the route off Hwy. 95 west of Blanding.
Having ridden all day in the heat of the desert I was excited for this next stretch as it travels over the Abajo Mountains through a cool and shady forest of pine and aspen trees. The road is generally easy riding, alternating between hard pack with a few stretches of smooth, fast slickrock. I passed several idyllic campsites nestled in the trees as I was intent on pushing onward. I wanted to get as many miles as possible under my knobbies on the first day so I wouldn’t be quite so rushed on the remainder of the trip. This turned out to be a bad decision.
I’d been riding for 11 hours and over 300 miles when I encountered the first stretch of sand. I remember thinking, “Are you kidding? Why is their friggin’ sand in the mountains?!” I made it several miles through the stuff, which was deeper and more difficult than anything I’d already ridden down in the desert. And then, on a curve, the inevitable happened – I ran out of luck, skill and speed. The bike came to a stop, I tried to put my foot down and found nothing but air. The bike tipped over in slow motion as I hopped off to avoid being caught beneath it. I took a couple photos of the Tiger taking a nap, then set about trying to pick it up. At about this time I felt a burning sensation on my side, opened my jacket and found a bee shoving his stinger into my skin.
One of the unwritten rules of adventure riding is that you will drop your bike. When you do, you should be able to pick it up. On your own. I’ve dropped it before and I’ve been able to pick it up before. This time, the cards were stacked against me. The bike was on a slight decline, which is a worst case scenario because it requires you to work even more against gravity. And, I was in sand, trying to pick up a 550 pound bike, with nothing firm underfoot for the soles of my riding boots to grip. Every time I’d get the bike halfway up my feet would slip and it would fall back down again. This hell started at 7:00 PM. At around 8:00, I was exhausted and was planning on spending the night in the middle of a lonely dirt road. About 15 minutes later a truckload of hunters rolled up. They jumped out, all decked out in camouflage, and strolled over to give me a hand. After we righted the bike they pointed out a set of large bear tracks in the sand that passed right by the spot where I’d crashed. At least I’d have had some company had I spent the night there, right?
Off I rode, until just around the next curve I ran into more deep sand. I was tapped. Physically and mentally, I was shot. My front tire washed out in the sand and again, the bike and I toppled over. The hunters again stopped, helped me pick up the bike, and very kindly offered to follow me into Blanding. I hadn’t planned on detouring into Blanding but it seemed like the only logical option. Off we went into the night, me on my bike and the hunters trailing behind in their pickup truck. I still had 20 miles to go but luckily, the road turned to hard pack almost immediately and then, 15 miles later, to pavement. I was riding well below the speed limit when a deer darted across the road and came to a stop directly in front of me. Ever heard the term “deer in the headlights”? She was transfixed by mine and clearly wasn’t budging. I grabbed a big handful of brakes and let the ABS do it’s thing. As the distance between me and the deer quickly closed I braced for the impact. Then, at the very last millisecond, the deer leapt out of the way. If I’d had my wits about me I literally could have reached out and smacked her in the ass as I went past.
I stopped at the first hotel I saw in Blanding: the Four Winds Inn. Fifty bucks a night and vacancy. Sold. I collapsed on the bed and quickly passed out after a hasty dinner of beef jerky and trail mix. On Sunday, I made the difficult decision to cancel the rest of the trip. I was sore, my confidence was lacking and I didn’t feel safe riding the remainder of the route alone, much less in only four days. After a huge plate of huevos rancheros I headed north, riding a short section of dirt road off Highway 191 and then over the La Sal Mountains on the Geyser Pass Road before dropping into Moab.
Making the decision to abandon the remainder of the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route was tough. Really tough. I rarely make the decision to quit in the face of adversity but this time, for whatever reason, I just didn’t feel like karma was on my side. The route will be there next year, and so will I.
Wandering around Goblin Valley State Park in the winter is likely about as close as one can get to taking a stroll on Mars. It’s cold, desolate, weird, red and you’ll feel like you’re the only person on the entire planet. It’s a strange feeling but give it some time and you’ll settle into it.
The park derives its name from thousands of whimsical sandstone hoodoos, or goblins, of various shapes and sizes that haunt a long, narrow desert valley in the San Rafael Swell. There is no trail through the goblins. You leave the parking lot, with Wild Horse Butte towering behind, and descend a steep but short bluff into the alien landscape. From there, you’re free to roam at will. While the formations near the trailhead are interesting, you’ll find the most fascinating and photogenic scenes at either end of the valley.
The southwest end of the valley provides views toward the Henry Mountains, which are typically snowcapped from November through April, and can be framed through windows in or between the goblins. The northeast section is a shorter walk and I find it to be the most interesting part of the park. The valley abruptly dead ends at a cliff where your only options are to go back the way you came or scramble down a small pouroff that leads to a trail taking you back to the parking lot. At this end of the valley you’ll find amazing views of a prominent butte named Molly’s Castle rising from a small but pretty section of badlands. Some of the taller goblins also reside here and they make fantastic subjects for silhouettes against a colorful sunset sky. Just don’t stick around too long as I’m convinced those goblins spring to life when the lights go out and march all around their domain! Seriously though, this would be a great area to practice your light painting and star trail technique.
The Three Sisters is the most popular formation in the park, and with good reason. Visible from the road that leads from the entrance center or campground to the main parking area, the Three Sisters offer numerous options for photography. I visited in the winter and foreground subjects were few and far between. However, I saw evidence of very large mules ear plants whose prolific yellow flowers would be amazing foregrounds in the spring. I still managed to eke out a couple workable foregrounds as I found a well placed clump of Indian Ricegrass in one spot, and some fascinating ribbed rocks in another. On the evening I photographed this formation I had some fairly dramatic storm light early in the afternoon and an insanely awesome sky at sunset.
I was in Goblin Valley on assignment, creating photographs that will illustrate a new naturalists guide and a welcome sign at the visitor center. I wasn’t there to make my own images. I had only two days and my client needed more “grand landscapes” than “intimate landscapes”. Still, when the opportunity presented itself, I had to give in to the impulse and photograph some intimate landscapes. Several small sand dune areas offer some interesting opportunities but my favorite image from my time amongst the goblins was found within a small wash, where patterns in the sandy mud practically begged for camera time. A little black and white conversion and voila – an abstract, somewhat surreal vision comes to life.
Wild Horse Butte borders the western edge of the park and makes for an interesting subject when the right conditions collide. Sweet light (at sunrise or sunset), a killer sky and perhaps some colorful wildflowers would make for an ideal situation. Even without this trifecta, you might find workable compositions from within the valley, using a couple goblins to frame the striated form of Wild Horse Butte looming above.
As wonderful as the park is, don’t forget you’re in the San Rafael Swell, which is chock full of slot canyons. The most popular, Little Wild Horse Canyon, can be combined with Bell Canyon for a challenging hike that requires some scrambling to successfully navigate the entire loop. Some areas of Little Wild Horse Canyon are so narrow that you can’t even stand with you feet side by side! As with all slot canyons, the best light is found mid-day when the sun is high and light bounces from wall to wall, getting warmer and more intensely colored as it reaches deeper into the canyon. Every one of these slot canyons is subject to flash flooding. Be sure to check the weather forecast for the area up-canyon before beginning any canyon hike in the Swell.
Nearby is Temple Mountain and the Temple Mountain Town Site, which now consists of a few old buildings in various stages of disrepair. You’ll also find some interesting Native American rock art if you know where to look. By now you’ve probably determined that there is no shortage of subjects to photograph in the area. If so, you’d be right. And, this isn’t even an exhaustive guide. Just be sure to arrive with fully charged camera batteries and a couple extra memory cards. You’re gonna need ‘em!
Common sense is a funny thing. Most of us have it and most of us use it. Put a camera in our hand and all too often the “common” in common sense disappears. I won’t cite the many examples I’ve witnessed of this peculiar behavior. Rather, I’ll tell you a story of my own from just last night.
I’ve wanted to photograph the “Delta Pool” since seeing it in a Tom Till photograph when we first moved to Moab 4 1/2 years ago. The problem? Tom wasn’t telling anyone where it was and only a handful of people knew its location. I studied maps, Google Earth, Tom’s photo and more to ascertain it’s whereabouts. I had it narrowed down and was ready to begin exploring when a friend and fellow photographer stumbled upon it first. He was gracious enough to provide me with directions that, if followed, would land you right at the coveted spot. Me being me, I didn’t follow his directions.
His directions specifically state that there is an easy access ramp of low angle slickrock to the top of the mesa. I chose to ascend a 60 degree, 100′ high rock gully wearing a 30 lb. camera pack. Halfway up I realized I could go no further without a belay. It was about that same time that I realized getting back down was going to be a challenge. So, I sat down on a 5′ rock ledge about 200′ above the canyon floor and pondered a few things. After a snack I started the scary downclimb. Fortunately, I made it down without incident.
Let’s move on to more stupid. I finally found the low angle slickrock ramp, exactly where it was supposed to be. I made it to the top of the mesa and rim walked all the way around until I arrived at the location I’d so longed to visit. The pool was much bigger than I’d imagined and the view was even sweeter in person. I was early, so I dropped my heavy pack and scouted the area for other photo opps. I found several. I also took some time to lounge around on the warm red slickrock, resting my head on my pack and even drifting off to dreamland for a few minutes. As the sun crept lower I set up my tripod and made a few images before packing up in the waning light and starting the trek back to my truck.
Mind you, there is no trail here. I saw no other footprints anywhere on the mesa and no sign that anyone had been there in a long time. The rim walk out to the Delta Pool took about an hour once on top of the mesa. Not wanting to rim walk all the way back, and thinking it would be shorter to just shoot straight across, I headed back via a different route. That’s a really smart thing to do in unfamiliar terrain as what little bit of light is left quickly fades. The mesa is bisected by canyons that disallow you from walking a straight line. Nothing looked familiar. I cliffed out at one point above a canyon that I knew I had not seen on the way in, which forced me to head in another direction. I needed to be walking generally north and soon discovered that I was actually headed southwest. People really do walk in circles when they’re lost! I was beginning to think that I might be in for a chilly night on top of a remote mesa with no food and very little water. Life or death? No, but certainly an uncomfortable experience.
I could still see a familiar landmark in the direction I needed to travel so I shot a bearing and started toward it. Luckily I found my way out and back down to my truck just after darkness fell. What are the lessons here? There are many. First of all, follow directions when you have them. Second, if at all possible don’t go out alone – especially in new and remote territory. Third, in unfamiliar terrain you might consider setting a waypoint on your GPS at the location of your parked vehicle. That’ll help you get back when you lose your bearings. Fourth, bring a little more water and a little more food than you think you’ll need. Fifth, and most importantly, don’t let the common part of common sense fall apart. This is even more important when things start to go bad.
I didn’t make an award winning image of the Delta Pool. I’ll go back when the conditions are right, with dramatic clouds filling the desert sky. Next time I’ll probably bring my sleeping bag to avoid the hike out in the dark, and to have that whole beautiful mesa all to myself for an evening.
Been in a stupid situation that scared some sense into you? We’d love to hear about it! Post your “scared straight” moment in the comments below.
For many of us the Tetons are everything mountains should be. They’re big, they’re rugged, they’re filled with wildlife that could eat you and they take your breath away the first time you see them. Hell, I’ve seen them dozens of times and my heart still skips a beat every time they come into view which frankly doesn’t happen often enough. I spent the first two weeks of June wandering around those mountains on what was supposed to have been a very active, very productive photography trip. On the first day of the trip I developed a cough. I spent the next two weeks hacking away like a 3 pack a day smoker, losing sleep at night thanks to coughing fits that even the strongest over the counter cough medicine couldn’t cure. Upon returning home I went to the doctor, who informed me that the reason for my terrible cough was a full-blown case of bronchitis.
On top of contracting bronchitis, the weather in the Tetons was less than desirable. It rained and rained and rained. It rained so much, in fact, that it caused excessive snowmelt in the high country. Excessive snowmelt combined with excessive rain creates flooding. The Snake River and all it’s tributaries were raging like I’d never seen before. Undeterred by bronchitis, flooding, overcast skies and incessant rain, I struck out on a few mornings with high hopes that something dramatic would happen during a lull in the storm. And, one morning – it did.
That fateful morning I was headed to Oxbow Bend to photograph the classic sunrise scene we’re all uber-familiar with after seeing thousands of photos of this iconic location. There were stars in the sky, something I hadn’t seen for several days. Oh yes, something magical was going to happen! As I drove along the road toward Oxbow Bend I noticed fog building in the valley below the peaks, which were also visible for the first time since I arrived in Jackson. I found a spot along the side of the road with a majestic view of Mt. Moran towering over a meadow filled with willows and aspen trees. I decided to forego Oxbow Bend for an opportunity to photograph something totally unique, if the conditions persisted. Fortunately, luck was on my side.
As the sun rose it illuminated the broad slopes of Mt. Moran’s hulking shoulders lording over the meadow that was filling fast with statuesque elk. Fog drifted in and out of the willows and began to rise, veiling the peak in a thin layer of translucent clouds. As I stood there car after car pulled up and parked, and soon there were at least a dozen other photographers working this amazing scene alongside me. It was the kind of morning I would trade a week worth of blue skies for, and for a few hours I almost forgot about my cough, my aching head, the oh-dark-thirty start and the persistent nasty weather.
I spent 6 hours photographing the ever-changing conditions from several different locations. I only called it quits when my stomach reminded me that nourishment was necessary to keep my body moving and my mind semi-sharp. Almost all of my images from the trip were made that morning as the overcast skies and spitting rain closed in again later in the afternoon. Still, I feel fortunate to have witnessed such a dynamic display of weather and light mixed with a little bit of magic in one of my favorite places on the planet. If it takes suffering through bronchitis for the opportunity to photograph those conditions again – bring on the cough…and the antibiotics!
I’ll share more images from the trip soon in the “New Images” gallery on my website. Until then, I’d love to hear about your best experiences photographing dynamic conditions in one of your favorite places. Leave a comment so we can all enjoy your story!
Here’s a quick follow-up to my last post about the wildflower conditions around Moab. No iPhone pics this time, though. These images were all made within the last 3 days on my Canon 5D2 and are representative of the current conditions. In short, lots of rough mules ear, paintbrush, lupine, sego lillies, daisies (both yellow and purple), penstemon, prince’s plume, desert primrose, globemallow and more. Now is a very good time to visit the Moab area if wildflowers are your thing.
Here’s some motivation, if you need it:
Last weekend I skipped out for a sunrise shoot in one of my favorite areas of the park, Courthouse Towers. I was hoping to find a healthy wildflower bloom but it’s still a little early. Actually, it isn’t early but this year the bloom is all wacky because of the highly unusual weather we’ve been experiencing. At any rate, I scrambled up to the base of the Three Gossips to have a look around. The view was amazing! I took out my iPhone and recorded a short, not at all image stabilized 360 degree panoramic movie from my perch high up above the valley. Here’s what you see in the video, in order of appearance: Three Gossips, Baby Arch, Sheep Rock, Courthouse Wash and the end of the Great Wall (in the distance), the Tower of Babel, the Windows area (waaaaay out there), The Organ, the La Sal Mountains and finally Park Avenue. My video editing skills are non-existent. Please pardon the shaky video and lack of a catchy soundtrack. It could be worse – I could have narrated during the whole thing.
Here’s the video, which I uploaded to my newly created Bret Edge Photography YouTube channel. I have no idea what else I’ll post here but I do hope to start adding some fun stuff every now and then. Enjoy!
The Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve is an oasis in the desert near Moab, Utah. Owned by the Nature Conservancy and jointly managed with the Utah Department of Wildlife, the 200 acre preserve stands in stark contrast to the dry desert surrounding it. Spring snowmelt swells the Colorado River, whose waters rise above the banks to flood the preserve. A wooden walkpath loops for one mile through a lush forest of cottonwoods, willows, bulrush and cattails. Beavers, mule deer, river otters, skunks and even the occasional mountain lion roam the wooded area in search of shade and nourishment.
Photographers who come to Moab are usually focused on bagging trophy photos of icons like Delicate Arch, Dead Horse Point or Green River Overlook. Nothing wrong with that. Icons become icons for good reason. Big, bold landscapes create national parks and attract people from around the world. But for those seeking an entirely different experience, one marked by solitude and croaking frogs rather than hordes of tourists, head off the beaten path. Moab reveals an entirely different side to photographers willing to forego the icons for quiet, intimate moments in nature.
A walk through the Preserve on an overcast autumn day presents endless opportunities for intimate landscape photography. Yellow leaves and grey/blue trunks can be used to create graphic semi-abstract images. Thick foliage overhanging the weathered wooden boardwalk invites the viewer to go for a walk. Use longer lenses to extract interesting scenes out of the bigger picture. Think even smaller and photograph a collection of colorful leaves scattered about on the ground. The Preserve includes a wildlife blind that affords views of mule deer and other wildlife easily photographed with a moderate telephoto lens. As you stroll the boardwalk keep your mind open to all creative opportunities. You may miss something on the way in only to be delighted by it on your way out.
To make the most of your time at the Preserve bring a tripod, polarizing filter and a lens assortment ranging from 35mm to 400mm. Super wide angle lenses won’t get much of a workout here. You can’t go wrong with macro lenses and/or extension tubes. Think small. Think abstract. Think creatively. You will surely enjoy the respite from the hustle and bustle of the parks. You might even create a one of a kind image to share with friends who will incredulously respond, “That’s Moab?!”
Todd Caudle and I wrapped up our Autumn Arches and Canyons workshop in Moab on Sunday. We hosted the coolest group of photographers any workshop leaders could have asked for. It was an absolute delight to meet and photograph with everyone, and I sincerely hope our paths will cross again. Jim and Jillian arrived from Canmore and nearby Banff NP and Louise came all the way from Hazelton, Canada. Arno and his sister Dottie represented the south as they left Florida and Arkansas to join us out west. Kathryn from Boise, ID had the shortest commute, which isn’t all that short at roughly 8 hours.
Those who think of Moab as all blue skies, sunshine and warm weather might be a bit shocked after one look at the photos we all produced this weekend. Dramatic skies, storm light and snow all combined to create the rare conditions coveted by nature photographers. Our workshop participants awoke early for sunrises in Canyonlands where the temperature hovered in the teens. After sunrise each morning we headed into town for breakfast at a local diner, the favorite of which was the Love Muffin. Mmmmm…huevos rancheros! Afternoons were spent photographing in Arches or Canyonlands, dodging intermittent rain showers and another large workshop group that seemed to be shadowing our every move. Todd and I had a much more fun group of folks than those guys who were way too serious. Someone needs to tell them that photography is fun!
On Saturday we spent several hours doing image critiques and discussing some basic digital darkroom techniques. Without question, this was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the workshop for all of us. I was humbled by the wealth of talent within our group. We each showed several images and the group discussed each photo in depth; what works, what doesn’t and why. Simply an awesome experience and I was truly inspired by all the amazing work that was shared.
I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Arno, Dottie, Kathryn, Louise, Jim and Jillian for joining Todd and me in Moab. I had a blast with all of you!
Here’s a view of the White Rim from Green River Overlook at sunset on Friday, Nov. 13, 2009.
I finally had enough time between projects to escape for a few days. Melissa and I packed up the Man Van with camping, photography and baby gear and headed south to my home state of Arizona. This would be Jackson’s first real camping trip. By that, I mean we would all be sleeping in a tent rather than a motor home. RV’ers call parking their rigs in a campground “camping” but I call it “not in any way camping”. If you have hot running water, your own toilet and a refrigerator you are NOT camping. But I digress.
We arrived safely at the Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park and I went about setting up the tent, airing up the mattress and unrolling sleeping bags. I’m OCD about setting up the tent with such a taut pitch that a quarter bounced off the rainfly would become a deadly weapon. After staking and re-staking the tent a few times I finally achieved the correct taut-ness. I then set out to photograph sunset while Melissa stayed behind with the Adventure Baby. The weather report called for wind. Every day, my least favorite thing in the world – wind. I had hoped the meteorologists would be wrong but unfortunately, they were not. Once at the canyon rim the wind blew not up and out of the Canyon but across the plateau and into it, making standing on the edge of a cliff an iffy proposition. Undeterred, I set up my tripod on the edge of a cliff to make a sunset image whose pastel sky and soft light belie the 50 MPH gusts I had to work around when depressing the shutter button. After sunset I headed back to camp for some much needed rest.
Fortunately our campsite was well positioned and though we could hear the wind tearing through the tall ponderosa pine treetops we felt nary a breeze coming through the tent mesh. I slept through my alarm for sunrise and awoke to the still present wind and a sky full of dull gray clouds. Today we planned to hike the 8 mile section of Rim Trail from Bright Angel Lodge to Hermit’s Rest.
We arrived at the lodge and did some souvenir shopping. As with the previous day the incessant wind was ripping along the canyon rim. We stuffed our packs with hiking necessities only to realize that the only person on Earth who hates the wind more than me is Jackson. The dust was swirling all about and we didn’t want the little dude to end up with a mouth or nose full of the stuff, so we opted for taking a drive to visit some of the viewpoints.
After the drive we returned to camp and I dropped off Melissa and Jackson, then set out for another sunset. I went to Grandview as it was one of the more impressive viewpoints we found on our afternoon drive. I hiked down the trail a bit, found another sketchy rock outcropping and set up on it for a sunset I hoped would materialize out of the gray sky. Fortunately, it did. The wind was still howling, causing the clouds to move quickly through the sky. I watched in awe as beams of sunlight broke through the clouds to illuminate Vishnu Temple to the east. A man with a tripod is apparently some kind of freak show to foreign tourists. I heard someone speaking what sounded like gibberish behind me and turned around to find a Frenchman standing WAY too close with his point & shoot camera aimed over my shoulder. Behind him were several other foreigners who had wandered out onto my perch, apparently unaware that there are a few other spots at Grandview with an equally impressive view and more room.
Soon after the canyon fell into shade the tourists disappeared but I remained. I’ve learned to love the soft illumination of civil twilight and was hopeful the western canyon would showcase this lovely light. It did, and it brought with it one of the most apocalyptic cloud displays I’ve ever photographed. I’m really, really glad I stayed.
Back at camp we decided not to cook dinner in the wind. The menu at the restaurant at the Bright Angel Lodge looked appetizing and the thought of sitting inside a real structure, out of the wind, was also pleasant. Melissa’s fajitas were flavorful. My Mexican style chicken dish wasn’t. Actually, it wasn’t even fully cooked. Not wanting to ruin the trip with Salmonella I sent it back. The second attempt didn’t fare any better. I sent it back and shared the small fajita plate my wife was kind enough to split with me.
The next morning I got up for sunrise and the entire sky was gray. So, I did what any good nature photographer worth his salt would do – I went back to bed. When I awoke a few hours later the sky was still flat gray. I’m certain I didn’t miss anything.
We spent the day doing some research for a project I’m working on (can’t escape the projects) and I ended up photographing sunset at Yavapai Point. Around mid-day the clouds started to dissipate and by sunset, they were gone. Entirely gone. Just blank blue sky above the canyon which does not bode well for photography here. Melissa and Jackson braved the cold wind to hang out with me while I made a few images. The only image worth keeping was made in the soft civil twilight looking west with Plateau Point far below and Bright Angel Canyon climbing up the North Rim.
The following day we packed up and headed to Flagstaff to escape the wind. And we needed showers. We made it out to Wupatki National Monument for sunset one evening. The ruins here are some of the most impressive in the Four Corners region. Three story tall Wukoki Ruin is built atop a sandstone outcrop and lords over the landscape around it. In the distance, the San Francisco Peaks reach high into the Arizona sky, providing an alpine contrast to the red desert.
Reality beckoned and we had to return home the following day. It was a short but productive trip. We didn’t get to do the hike I had hoped to do but we will return. With any luck our next visit will be wind free!