Aspen Forest Afternoon Light, Manti-La Sal

Bare Quaking Aspen trees, Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah

It was time to explore a route I’d heard about, over the mountains from near the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park over the top and back down to Natural Bridges National Monument. It would pretty much take all day, a long slow ride on fairly rough dirt roads. But then, I had all day. A full tank of gas, and plenty of snacks and water. What more could anyone ask?

From Highway 211 north of Monticello in southeast Utah’s San Juan County, I paused to photograph the remaining fall colors in the Fremont Cottonwood trees in the valley bottoms. Two cowboys were driving their cattle down the road to wherever their next grazing unit was, or winter range. Or market. Temporary four legged traffic jam on the canyon road.

Then slowly winding up along the canyon’s rim. Up west of the Abajo Mountains, past stately Cathedral Butte, peering down into craggy canyons on either side of the high ridge road.

This photo is of a stand of aspen trees, in nude leafless glory, white and straight and gleaming in the slanting rays of the late afternoon late October sunlight. Whites and blues and still a few splashes of gold.

Back Beneath Kachina Bridge

Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Kachina Bridge, fall colors. (Click on image for a larger version).

Just one day after my first visit down to the canyon floor to ogle up at Kachina Bridge, I was back the next afternoon. I did the north loop hike in the park.

At Natural Bridges you can hike down to each of the three mighty stone bridges, turn around and go back up the way you came down. Or you can do loop hikes, which are longer, which allows you to see even more.

So yesterday was my first time doing the north loop hike, down from the rim of White Canyon to Sipapu Bridge, then following the unmaintained trail route down the mostly dry streambed to Kachina Bridge. From there it was back up to the rim and over the top via the Mesa Trail back to where the vehicle was parked.

Unlike the previous evening with its soft overcast light, this day was back to a classic Utah high country Indian Summer kind of day. Achingly blue clear skies, low humidity, maybe a slight breeze. Best of all, the cottonwood and boxelder trees growing along the stream course were pretty much at peak fall color. It won’t be long now. As I approached the bridge from upstream the late afternoon sun lit up the yellow autumn foliage from above and behind, making it glow.

Later, back at the Visitor Center, someone that I had met that morning had stopped back in to get directions to their next stopping points south. He summed up the day perfectly when he said: “You’re right, this place is a hidden gem!”

Photo location: Kachina Bridge, in White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah.

Kachina Bridge: Beneath The Belly Of The Beast

Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Kachina Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

For this evening’s hike I went down to the floor of the canyon to photograph Kachina Bridge from below. High clouds to the west cut off the sunlight, so the usual high contrast was absent this time. Just as well: I intend to photograph every aspect of these stone wonders, in all seasons. The soft overcast evening light was lovely in its own way.

The trail down to Kachina Bridge is only 1.4 miles / 2.3 km, dropping 400 feet from the canyon rim to the floor. It’s a beautiful trail down the Cedar Mesa Sandstone slickrock, with switchbacks and rock steps – both cut into the slickrock and built up with blocks of cut sandstone – along with some metal handrails and one short section of ladder.

Shortly after reaching the streambed, you’re soon walking up to the beast. Kachina Bridge is massive, considered to be the youngest of the three in Natural Bridges National Monument, because it is the thickest. The older a natural bridge is, the more time that erosion has worked on it, and so it gets thinner and thinner until at some point it collapses into a pile of massive chunks. Erosion never sleeps.

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

Owachomo Natural Bridge, Evening Light

[Photo: Owachomo Bridge panorama, Natural Bridges National Monument.]
[Photo: Owachomo Bridge panorama, Natural Bridges National Monument.]

My first evening at Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah. Only a few hours to begin to scratch the surface of this place. Which I quickly realized you can’t do by staying up top of White Canyon and merely looking down from the overlooks along the Loop Road.

I hiked down to get some great late afternoon shots of Sipapu Bridge. The October air so clear, with beautiful cumulus clouds set against the deep blue Utah high country sky.

On to Kachina Bridge, the second of the three natural stone bridges (carved through the sandstone walls by flowing water, unlike arches), but it was already in shadow so I only checked it out from the overlook. Will have to make my first visit down to that one soon.

On to the third bridge, Owachomo. Which is also the easiest of the three to hike down to, by far. I was fortunate to have a beautiful line of clouds to the south. So I maneuvered down almost underneath the Bridge so I could use its wide opening as a frame.

Till The Last Leaf Falls

Frosty red aspen leaf, Kaibab National Forest.

Frosty fallen red quaking aspen leaf, Kaibab National Forest.

And the last aspen leaf has fallen up on the Kaibab Plateau near the North Rim of Grand Canyon. No, I’m not claiming this one was the very last one. But they were all down last week, except for a few isolated late colors. Another autumn over with, up that high (8,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation).

Season Ending Fall Colors Glory

[Photo: aspen tree crowns, Grand Canyon North Rim]

Aspen crowns, Grand Canyon North Rim

The end of the season at the North Rim of Grand Canyon. A perfect fall, perfect weather for the aspen colors. It’s been a great five months here, and to be living here from when the leaves first came out in May until the peak colors and leaf drop now has been quite satisfying.

The aspen colors up here are now past their peak overall, but there are still lots of lovely colors, in the late turning grovesĀ  of trees, and even individual trees. When set against the trademark Arizona clear blue sky, the aspen golds are even more brilliant.

Onward for this mountain man.