Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas Across Southern Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, Christmas morning.
My Christmas day started at Bryce Canyon National Park. It had been a while since I'd been back up there (over 8,000 feet in elevation) and I'd headed into a snow storm. Literally. I'd gone there when I saw a storm was coming in, and met it. It's the Mountain Man Way. 

But I had to get home that day, over 250 miles to the east. So I couldn't linger too long at Bryce, unless I wanted to stay a second night and drive back very early in the dark. I didn't.

Near Tropic, Utah. Love the cliffs and canyon country.
So it was down to Tropic (Is it really that warm? Not today). Beautiful country with the cliffs around the valley. This is the upper reach of the immense Paria River watershed, which only ends where it empties into the Colorado River at Lees Ferry, Arizona. A long, long, long way downstream.
Paria River at Tropic, Utah.
I love the small towns that dot southern Utah. And there aren't many of them. To this day it's still wild, rugged country. The locals are very friendly, which I've noticed is the norm when the people are few and they depend on each other. And outsiders, tourists, which are a big part of the economy around here these days. Spend some money enjoying our beautiful area; we love showing it off if you'll respect it, too. 

Highway 12 cuts through the cliffs.
I sure respect it. I enjoy rural highways with almost no other cars on them. It makes it so much easier to pull off on a second's notice to take yet another photo. 

Which I did a lot of on this trip. It was snowing a lot, but the road was fine, mostly. Nothing my trusty RAV4 couldn't handle without sliding. 

Approaching Henrieville, Utah.
Then on to Escalante. I like that town. Another vow to visit again, who knows what might happen? Just outside town was a very nice tribute to the Hole In The Rock pioneers of 1879-1880. Yes, in December and January, too. A feat that amazes us to this day. 

Escalante, Utah outskirts. The clouds were even opening up.
So it was on to Boulder, Utah. Boulder Town it says on the map. Maybe to distinguish it from the much more famous City of Boulder perched on the Front Range in Colorado. At any rate, this Boulder sits at the head of the Burr Trail, an incredible road that winds down through the Waterpocket Fold, which is a cool name in itself. 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from Highway 12 overlook, west of Boulder, Utah.
Besides, Utah's Boulder sits near the Circle Cliffs, amazing sandstone cliffs that...well, aren't straight. They have joints in their slickrock faces that make plates in the rock that I suspect were the inspiration for The Thing's body in The Fantastic Four. Oh, go ahead and laugh. Then check out my photos. Yeah. "It's clobberin' time!".

Circle Cliffs in snow, Boulder, Utah.
Looking down the upper Burr Trail.
I really wanted to camp there at the upper end of the Burr Trail, with the Circle Cliffs. So beautiful, especially with the new coating of snow, like marshmallow creme or confectioner's sugar wiped across them. Next time, I vowed. May there always be a next time. Some of them do come true. 

Highway 12 above Boulder goes up and over a shoulder of the Aquarius Plateau, also nicknamed Boulder Mountain. Whatever. It does go high into aspen forest, with splendid views to the south of the vast lands around here. Out there. The kind of view that leaves you wanting to put everything into perspective. Wanting to visit it all. Knowing you never will explore it all, but the effort will be its own reward. 

Down off Boulder Mountain. Time to cross the upper end of Capitol Reef National Park. And by now it was late afternoon on a late December day. Meaning a short winter day, sunset coming soon. Talk about burning daylight. Got to get in all that I can in such a short time, because then it will just be a drive in the dark. 

Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

December Weather Finally Arrives in Canyon Country

[Outside the snowy Visitor Center, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.]
I was up this morning well before dawn, as usual. Soon after I could hear the rain falling on the roof: the promised storm front had moved inland from California all the way to southeast Utah. 

But soon after...no sound. It was getting light, so I looked outside and saw snow falling. The rain had become the white stuff that quickly. Falling straight down, no wind. A wet, heavy, beautiful snowfall.

Russ and I opened the Visitor Center. Old Glory raised on the flagpole, cash registers open for business, visitor statistics logged on the clipboards. Lights turned on inside. Sidewalk shoveled. Soothing instrumental music playing. 

Nobody came. Not right away. That's all right, we're out in the middle of nowhere and it takes some time to get here. Meanwhile our erstwhile maintenance crew was running the snowplow truck, clearing the road in from Highway 95. 

Eventually the first visitor came. Then a couple more. Such soft glowing snow light outside, coming in through our floor to ceiling windows. Wet snow sticking on every piece of vegetation outside. 

I walked down to the house to eat lunch. The clouds were starting to clear. I had to get out there, had to do a rove, even though there were only two of us manning the Visitor Center. After all, we weren't exactly being swamped by visitors. Though the few that came enjoyed it: welcoming, peaceful, no lines of tourists. 

[Canyonlands Natural History Association Book Store, Natural Bridges Visitor Center, snowy day].
 So out the loop drive, Bridge View Drive officially, I drove. Stopped to take photos in the bright light, the reflections on the wet slickrock sandstone, on the surfaces of the water pockets. 

On the trail down to Kachina Bridge I met up with two young ladies that I'd talked to in the Visitor Center. "Did you come to check on us?" Well, yes. Maybe. I knew you'd be fine, the road is fine and it's above freezing so there will be no ice on the trails. Until morning. I came to check on the Park. On this fantastic place, the only place in the world with three mighty stone bridges within a few miles of each other. With fresh snow on the mesa rim. That's what I came to check on. 

[Walkway to Sipapu Bridge viewpoint, some blue sky already].
Meanwhile, back at the Visitor Center Russ and I wrapped up the day. I tallied up the sales. The book store proceeds go into the Park programs, not into some corporation's balance sheet. I gently point that out to visitors whenever I can, because they like knowing that. Give back to the park while buying something you like. It's synergy.

But the day was not quite done. Still on the menu: sunset. 

I drove out to the big curve I've dubbed Sunset Curve. Why? Because it's a big curve in the road. Ok, ok, but because it has a nice turnout spot which faces west for the sunset. Awesome view, no power lines, no nothing except clean air, high desert mesa, buttes and sky. 

As sunset colors go, it was muted. Which only served to not distract me from the foreground, the fresh snow on the sandstone boulders, the high desert mesa. I loved the soft light, I walked around with my camera and tripod all around.

[Snowy sandstone boulders at sunset].
If it gets much better than this, I don't want to know about it. I'm not sure I could take it. Though I'd try.


Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah. 

Click on each image for a much larger version.

Prints and photo products are available on my Fine Art America sales website:

© 2014 Stephen J. Krieg

Monday, December 8, 2014

Moon Leaving, Sun Arriving, Natural Bridges

Moonset and Earth's Shadow at Dawn.
I got skunked this month as far as my monthly moonrise shots of the Full Moon. That's why I try to be ready each month, because you only get twelve a year, and some of them will be snuffed out by unfavorable weather. Or you need to be doing something else. That sort of thing.

The evening of the December Full Moon had too many clouds on the eastern horizon where I was in southeast Utah's high desert canyon country. By the time the moon appeared through the thin clouds it was hazy, wan. Blah.

My backup plan for moon landscapes is the morning after Full Moon: moonset. Most photographers overlook that time, when being out at dawn allows you to position the setting moon in a landscape facing west instead of east. 

I was at Natural Bridges National Monument. Being December, I had the Bridge View loop drive to myself that early in the day. Winding along the rim of White Canyon, I stopped for a look down at Sipapu Bridge. The stone bridge itself was too dark for a good photo that early, but I noticed the small potholes in the sandstone bedrock that had water still in them from the last rain. I made a composition with one reflecting the moon. 
Moon reflection in sandstone pothole at dawn.

Then further along the loop drive, I liked how the dawn colors were shaping up in advance of sunrise. The Earth's shadow and the blue to pink gradations of the Venus Belt made for another moonset shot. 

Finally I was at Owachomo Bridge, the oldest of the three stream carved bridges in the park. I was hoping to find some angle to get the bridge and the moon together in a shot. Owachomo is the best candidate for that, because it's much more out in the open than the other two bridges, Sipapu and Kachina. 

Moon setting over Red House Cliffs.
 But I couldn't find the angle necessary. So I enjoyed being down underneath the bridge once again ("Owachomo" is Navajo for "under the horse's belly"). If it was a horse's belly, it was one long, skinny horse. Majestic in its own way. A slender bridge compared to the other two, this one is the oldest, the most eroded and so the thinnest. It will fall the soonest. Whenever that might be.

But not this morning. I continued down slope from the bridge, to the stone lip along the creek still slowly carving Armstrong Canyon. 

From down there I could not yet see the sunrise itself. But it was lighting up the south side of Owachomo's sandstone span. With clear blue sky behind. Nice, very nice. 
Owachomo Bridge at Sunrise, December.
Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah. Click on any photo to enjoy a much larger version.

Prints and photo products are available on my Fine Art America sales website:

© 2014 Stephen J. Kriewg