Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cedar Mesa Sunset Skies

[Photo: Cedar Mesa sunset panorama, southeast Utah. Click on image for larger version].
The clouds built throughout the day. Not ominously, but maybe more toward the slight chance of mixed rain and snow forecast for the night. 

I've become a weather forecast pessimist. In that the precipitation, be it rain or snow, won't materialize where I am. The weather service seems to over-forecast, to cover their butts, so we dear citizens aren't caught unaware of a bad storm. Ok, so we're prepared, usually for nothing.

As evening approached I, as usual, gauged the chances for a fiery sunset. The clouds have to be in the right position. All afternoon I'd written off the prospects as being too overcast. But at 4:45 I saw a clear slot on the western horizon just north of Moss Back Butte, where the sun would set. Hmm. If those clouds stay like that, it could really light up.

My stomach got the better of me. Should I go to one of my favorite sunset spots and wait, wait, hungrily? I did not. Then while I was cooking a pasta meal, furtively glancing out the picture window, the conditions fell right into place. 

Turn off the stove and dash out there. Fortunately I have a backup sunset spot nearby, a minute's walk away. I used it. Made several overlapping images, then -- after supper, of course -- merged them into a huge high resolution panorama master file. 

I should have been at my best sunset spot, though. With a bag of chips to tide me over. Next time, next time.
[Photo: Sunset afterglow, Natural Bridges, Utah].

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, Utah. Olympus E-PL5, developed in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 5.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mighty Sipapu Bridge, October Afternoon

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
[Photo: Sipapu Bridge, October Afternoon].
A late October afternoon at Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah. I call this park a hidden gem within the National Park System. First time visitors often agree, vowing to come back and spend more time next time. 

Why? At first glance it might seem somewhat unspectacular. No massive canyons or mountain peaks nearby. Some distinctive buttes. Mostly flat high desert terrain, with Pinyon pine and Utah juniper for well spaced forest cover. It only takes an hour to stop in at the friendly, uncrowded Visitor Center, watch the ten minute video, and drive the one-way paved loop drive to the overlooks. Done, on to the next National Park in amazing southeast Utah ("Life Elevated"). 

What's more, you can't see the three stone bridges very well from the overlooks. You look down at their tops. What gives? Well, you have to hike down into the canyons from the overlooks to really get it, to see them, to get great photos. The first two bridges, Sipapu and Kachina, take an hour each round trip, dropping down 500 feet vertically for Sipapu and 400 feet for Kachina, in just a half mile. That's steep. But quick. And they are beautiful, interesting hikes down. Switchbacks across slickrock (i.e., bare) sandstone cliff faces, steps cut into the rock, rock steps built up onto the stone, even a few short ladders to climb down (bolted safely to the cliff, of course). So they are very fun, very photogenic along the way.

Then you have to climb back up to your car. That's the strenuous part. Great exercise. If you're not acclimated to 6,500 feet in elevation, maybe very strenuous. Just not for the out of shape. But well worth it. 

As an alternative to down-and-up hikes to each bridge, loop hikes make it even more fun, getting to see the canyons (White Canyon and Armstrong Canyon) along their stream courses. You can do two of the bridges, via the north loop and south loop, or all three via the total loop.

Natural Bridges, the hidden gem. Spend an hour, a day, a week. Well worth it.


Photo location: Sipapu Bridge (the largest and middle aged of the three in the park), Natural Bridges National Monument (first unit in the National Park System in Utah, declared a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt, in 1908), San Juan County, southeast Utah. Thirty five miles west of Blanding, UT.