Natural Bridges: Snowy Wonderland

White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument

White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument

Finally, after three weeks of springlike weather, a good late winter storm arrived. Moisture, snow. Wet snow, clinging to everything.

Douglas-fir trees, White Canyon.

Douglas-fir trees, White Canyon.

After dawn, the cloud ceiling had raised just above Cedar Mesa. Just above us. The snow had paused. More was forecast to come in all day, so I saw it as a window to get out there and get some photos before the clouds closed again.

Stairway down Sipapu Bridge Trail.

Stairway down Sipapu Bridge Trail.

I started down Sipapu Bridge Trail. Even with sharp Yak Traks on my boots, it was slippery in places, because of the depth of the snow. But they were great overall.

I was the first one down the trail. I love being alone out there. So peaceful. I usually urge park visitors to venture at least part way down this trail. Getting below the rim of the canyon gives you such a better perspective. A better sense of scale.

Along the Sipapu Bridge Trail.

Along the Sipapu Bridge Trail.

But I didn’t trek all the way down to Sipapu Bridge. Sensing that the pause in the snowfall wouldn’t last long, I wanted to venture further along the Rim.

So next was the trail to the Horse Collar Ruin overlook. This has become one of my favorite trails in the park. It’s easy, but varied in scenery. And at the end it looks down into White Canyon at the alcove where the pueblos and granaries were built. And left behind about 800 years ago.

Snow flocked trees along the rim of White Canyon.

Snow flocked trees along the rim of White Canyon.

White Canyon isn’t white. The Cedar Mesa Sandstone is beige, at best. Visitors coming to see the Bridges often have trouble discerning them from the overlooks above. Down below, though, there’s no doubt.

Along Horse Collar Ruin overlook trail.

Along Horse Collar Ruin overlook trail.

But this day, with all the truly white new snow, White Canyon was softly, brightly awash with winter light. The sandstone cliff faces don’t accept the snow, making them stick out in visual relief all the more. And they overhang the ruin, protecting it from being buried in the white stuff. A natural shelter that not only avoids the snow, but accepts the low winter sunlight on sunny days.

Horse Collar Ruins, White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Horse Collar Ruins, White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Soon after, the snows did indeed resume. My window was closing.

Down into White Canyon.

Down into White Canyon.

I made some rather quick shots of Kachina Bridge and Owachomo Bridge, and then I was done for the morning. Finished with photography, but not appreciation for so many gorgeous scenes in such a short time.

Weathered Juniper tree trunk in snow.

Weathered Juniper tree trunk in a snow shower.

And all alone.

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

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

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Meanwhile, Back Above Natural Bridges

Looking down from Maverick Point.

Looking down from Maverick Point.

Unseasonably warm weather here in southeast Utah. Spring migratory birds appearing. Three weeks since the last snowfall.

So, I drove up the road that snakes its way up Maverick Point toward the Bear’s Ears Buttes. Wasn’t sure how far up it would be prudent to go yet, but that doesn’t usually prevent me from trying. My trusty Toyota RAV4 with its All Wheel Drive can go a lot of places a 2WD pickup truck can’t. Trust me, I know.

Sunset over Cedar Mesa.

Sunset over Cedar Mesa.

Made it above Maverick Point, but the rest of the way to the Bear’s Ears looked even more sloppy: more mud and snow patches. On a steep grade and with a perilous downhill cliff on the outside, that can give one pause.

Navajo Mountain and Red House Cliffs, from Maverick Point.

Navajo Mountain and Red House Cliffs, from Maverick Point.

Thus comfortably turned around and back down to the Point, I settled in to eat a salad while the sun settled to the horizon. Then got out for photographs and video. That’s why I live here: to be near and take advantage of the best conditions. Which this was.

Photo location: Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Whispers Of Spring In The High Desert

Oak Creek reflection, Red Rock State Park, Sedona.

Oak Creek reflection, Red Rock State Park, Sedona.

Sedona, Arizona: I’m still glad to know you.

I had to drive in from the south instead of down the switchbacks of upper Oak Creek Canyon, because they were working on that stretch of highway. Ok. No problem. No timetable, just daylight to burn as I revisit some favorite haunts.

The cliffs on the north side of Sedona.

The cliffs on the north side of Sedona.

Too early in the day for the Forest Service’s Red Rock Visitor Center to be open. So I was my own rolling visitor center. My own tour guide.

Unseasonably warm for early February. The plants were beginning to stir. I entered Red Rock State Park and walked along Oak Creek. A warm, calm spring morning. Soothing. Nobody else down there.

Arizona Alder tree crowns along Oak Creek.

Arizona Alder tree crowns along Oak Creek.

Down along the beautiful, clear stream the alders were flowering. They don’t have showy flowers like some trees, but rather graceful drooping catkins. Open for business.

Catkins (male flowers) of Arizona Alder, Alnus oblongifolia.

Catkins (male flowers) of Arizona Alder, Alnus oblongifolia.

The flowing cold water was mesmerizing as it reflected the still bare trees, the blue sky.

Oak Creek, sparkling in the February sunlight.

Oak Creek, sparkling in the February sunlight.

Photo locations: Sedona, and Red Rock State Park, northern Arizona. © 2015 Stephen J. Krieg.

Mesa Arch, Island In The Sky

The White Rim and Green River.

The White Rim and Green River.

I returned to Island In The Sky in Canyonlands National Park recently. It had been some years, so I wanted to get back up there.

Early February, the offseason there. The Visitor Center was closed until March. Perfect. Not that I don’t enjoy visiting Visitor Centers in our incredible parks, I do. It’s that I avoid crowds, and winter affords that luxury. Unless you’re a downhill skier, which I’m not.

So, north out of Moab, past the entrance to Arches National Park (the even more heavily visited one around here). Climbing up to I-Sky. A high mesa above the rest of Canyonlands. So good to be back.

I walked out to Mesa Arch. for the first time. Such an easy hike, how could I not have done this before?

Every photo published of Mesa Arch seems to be of it at sunrise, the low sun lighting up the underside of the arch with a reddish glow. I had no urge to repeat the conditions, it’s been done to death.

So, when I’d finally trudged out the sandy and sandstone path to the arch, I was rather glad that it was late afternoon. And dull light, too. I was alone there, so I could take my time to inspect it.

It was much smaller than I’d expected. But being on the rim of Island In The Sky mesa, it was amazing. Maybe even moreso because it was small. A gem. Hanging out there on the edge.

Mesa Arch, Island In The Sky, Canyonlands.

Mesa Arch, Island In The Sky, Canyonlands.

Photo locations: Canyonlands National Park, southeast Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

February Begins: Moonrise Over The Mountains

Moonrise over La Sal Mountains, Utah.

February 2nd, the evening before Full Moon. Usually the best time of the month for moonrise landscape shots.

The weather forecast was quite favorable: mostly clear, and calm. The setting perfect: southeast Utah, south of Moab, within view of the La Sal mountain range, cloaked with winter snow only a few days old. All is well, very well.

Up it came. Of the several images I made of the scene, this is probably my favorite. Besides the peaks and the moon, the clouds floating above make for an even more interesting composition.