In Between the Colors: Out Of Winter

 

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Sipapu Natural Bridge, early March.

Being well into my second year of living in southeastern Utah’s canyon country, I feel qualified to express a few things.

My favorite seasons of the year, as always, are autumn, spring, winter, and summer. Yes, in that order. I appreciate them all. But I sweat heavily while hiking in summer, and it can sometimes seem more like a bridge between the new life of spring and the glory of autumn colors. I love it too, even so. I am experienced enough in the high desert climate to take lots of water and salty snacks (electrolyte replacement, quite important) when I hike.

Stream pool reflection, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Pool reflection, Serenity Canyon, Natural Bridges.

This past fall, after a glorious spring and summer here in the high desert canyonlands, I suddenly felt blue. I wasn’t expecting to feel that way, it just happened. Such an amazing visual ride for months…and then…suddenly the last leaves of the cottonwoods, Single Leaf ash trees, the shrubs, the brown grasses from earlier in the season…gone.

My awesome canyons seemed so drab all of a sudden. I longed for the first snows to brighten things back up. They came, and early, thankfully. Gorgeous snowstorms which I have documented on this blog a while back.

Then the winter moves on, but the green of spring has yet to arrive. The second in-between the colors time. The spring version. Early spring, late winter. However you’d like to frame it.

Serenity Canyon in early spring, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Serenity Canyon panorama.

But as always there was the ace in the hole: the trademark Utah high country blue skies.

With that in mind I once again descended the trail down to Sipapu Natural Bridge — second largest in the Americas, sixth largest in the world.

To see how things were. In a place as special (and relatively unnoticed) as this you can almost have the canyons and cliffs to yourself. Especially at this time of year.

Five hundred feet down in elevation to the bridge. Done. Appreciating it again, with my camera in addition to my soul: done.

Serenity Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Serenity Canyon, early spring.

Beneath the mighty bridge, the trail takes the casual visitor downstream. It’s a great hike. But I had a different date. I turned hard right up an unnamed side canyon that I love. Since it has no name on the map, I am naming it Serenity Canyon.

Few people go up there, despite the ease. I had walked it last year, and I felt slightly guilty that I’d procrastinated this long before returning. We all have our faults, our distractions.

I could tell nobody had been up there by the well weathered tracks in the sand of the canyon bottom. And there were few, even so. I was the first on this early spring afternoon, and I intended to make the most of it.

Serenity Canyon erosional pool in Cedar Mesa Sandstone, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Swirly-whirl pool in Cedar Mesa Sandstone, Serenity Canyon.

I was soon halted by a big pool of water. The snowmelt had filled it, and I was captivated by the reflections of the canyon walls. Tough lighting: deep shade and bright canyon walls above.

I was able to skirt the pool to the left, ducking beneath some cottonwood branches. Gradually up the canyon floor.

Eventually I was halted by a pour-0ff ledge. The remaining ice blocks were on the floor. I chastised myself for not being up there earlier.

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Last of the ice waterfall, Serenity Canyon.

Looking back downstream, I admired the bands of Cedar Mesa sandstone seemingly swirling around the pool of water. I made a number of exposures. Experimenting.

Then back down the canyon. And came upon some wildflowers that I’d walked past while going up the canyon, gawking at the stone walls above. Embarrassed that I’d missed them. But why should I be?

Parry's Biscuitroot, Lomatium parryi, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Parry’s Biscuitroot, Lomatium parryi

Back underneath Sipapu Bridge, I enjoyed some reflection shots of the mighty stone arc. While my boots slowly sunk into the mud of the stream.

Sipapu Natural Bridge, White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Mounument, Utah.

Sipapu Natural Bridge, from upstream, White Canyon.

The afternoon was late. I needed to say goodbye to the canyon bottom (for now) and hike back up out of it. Only 500 feet up to go, I reminded myself. What goes down into the canyon must go back up. I love the exercise. In my soul I like to feel that the canyon likes me, too. The appreciation. The alignment in energies.

What a beautiful, inspiring place. The relatively few visitors express amazement. They vow to come back, to spend more time here. They often do.

Meanwhile, I’ve had the extreme privilege to live here. Season after season.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

 

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Above Canyonlands, Part 3

Mt. Tukunikivatz and Mount Peale, La Sal Mountains, from Canyon Rims.

Mount Tukunikivatz and Mount Peale, from Canyon Rims.

In the morning after my camp at Canyon Rims, there was a new coating of snow on the ground. The La Sal Mountains were mostly visible amid the clouds still breaking up as the storm front continued its way into western Colorado.

Canyonlands National Park from Needles Overlook, Canyon Rims.

Canyonlands National Park, from Needles Overlook in Canyon Rims.

La Sal Mountains from Hatch Point, after fresh snowfall.

Red, blue and white: the La Sal Mountains from the Hatch Point area.

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New snow on the red rocks.

 

Snow on red sandstone, along Highway 191, southeast Utah.

Fresh snow on the red rocks, Highway 191 south of Moab.

I spent several hours photographing the scenery with its new coat of white. Then it was time to head down into Moab for a nice hot restaurant breakfast.

La Sal Mountains with fresh snow, from Highway 191, southea

La Sal Mountains and red cliffs, Highway 191 south of Moab.

Photo Location: Canyon Rims Recreation Area, northern San Juan County, Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Above Canyonlands – Part 2

La Sal Mountains from Hatch Point, Canyon Rims, Utah.

The La Sal Mountains, from Hatch Point.

After ogling the views of The Needles and the Lockhart Basin area from Needles Overlook, I drove north up across the mesa called Hatch Point. Canyonlands off to the west, the snowy La Sal Mountains to the east.

Hatch Point is a sagebrush mesa where I’ve often seen pronghorn (“antelope”). I wasn’t disappointed this time, either. And in this location I was once again lucky enough to have the La Sal Mountains as a spectacular background. But they weren’t going to let me get anywhere close to them, even with a long lens.

Pronghorn antelope at Canyon Rims, with La Sal Mountains, Utah.

A herd of pronghorn on Hatch Point, with the La Sals in the distance.

Pronghorn antelope, Hatch Point, Canyon Rims Recreation Area, Utah.

Pronghorn moving away from me, just in case. Notice the blaze orange on the one’s neck; must be a radio collar for wildlife management monitoring.

At one point there is a sign pointing to the Wine Glass, a fantastical formation in one of the sandstone cliffs. Erosion is the process whereby the landscape weathers. Meaning it’s continually in a state of falling apart. It’s amazing how lovely things get by falling apart.

The Wineglass rock formation, Canyon Rims Recreation Area, Utah.

The Wine Glass, Hatch Point.

Anticline Overlook trailhead, Canyon Rims Recreation Area, Utah.

The Anticline Overlook trailhead, just a short walk from the parking area. Notice the Utah Juniper tree behind — loaded with cones!

Utah Juniper with berry-looking cones, Hatch Point, Utah.

Utah Juniper “berries”, which are fleshy cones that look like blueberries. They don’t taste like them, that’s for sure.

The Anticline Overlook looks down onto a paradox. One where the mighty Colorado River carved through the massive cliffs of the Moab Rim, instead of flowing around it. Of course there is a geological explanation for it! Or you can just forget about that and appreciate the sublime scenery. Especially on a late winter’s day with a storm front mixing sunshine, shadows, and advancing snow squalls from the north.

Colorado River from Anticline Overlook, Utah.

From the Anticline Overlook, it’s impressive how the Colorado River cut through the cliffs instead of being channeled along them.

I found my campsite for the night. It’s right on the rim of the Point, a priceless view, and free. None of your business as to exactly where it is!

Hatch Point, Canyon Rims Recreation Area, Utah.

The rim of Hatch Point.

I had a bite to eat while watching the snow squalls come at me and around me.

Rim of Hatch Point, Canyon Rims, Utah.

Campsite deluxe! So what if it’s going to snow?

Snow squall in Kane Springs Canyon, from Hatch Point, Utah.

Snow squall in Kane Springs Canyon.

Then it was sunset time. The dark clouds with the sunset spilling through made for a dramatic view of the cliffs and canyons.

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Sunset from the Anticline Overlook area.

Part of my plan for this trip had been to be in place for a shot of the rising Full Moon over the La Sal Mountains to the east. I was in place, all right. I knew from the weather forecast that I was probably going to get shut out by the incoming storm. Sometimes you get lucky.

Alpenglow at sunset, La Sal Mountains, Utah.

Alpenglow on the flanks of the La Sal Mountains.

At sunset the clouds lifted just enough from the valley for the just-set sun to reflect on the lower slopes of the La Sals as alpenglow. No moonrise? No problem! It had been such a spectacular day.

Photo location: Canyon Rims Recreation Area, San Juan County, Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

 

Above Canyonlands – Part 1

Abajo Mountains, near Monticello, Utah.

Abajo Mountains, late February snowstorm.

For the next part of my excursion, I drove north from Bluff and Blanding, Utah to San Juan County’s other little town, Monticello. Which is also the county seat, there being no sizable towns in all of sprawling San Juan County. Plenty of room to roam, and much to see.

 

After three weeks of unseasonably warm February weather, a small winter storm front was moving in to make things a little more interesting. The Abajo Mountains (often called the “Blues” by locals, who also pronounce Monticello (like “Montisello”) were wreathed in a veil like snow squall already.

The Horsehead, Abajo Mountains from Monticello, Utah.

The Horsehead, a distinctive grouping of forest patches on the mountain slopes above Monticello.

But I was still able to easily pick out The Horsehead on one of the most prominent peaks above town.

Wind farm at Monticello, Utah.

Wind farm just north of Monticello.

On the northern outskirts of town I drove back a public dirt road to get a closer look at the massive structures of the new wind farm.

Monticello, Utah, in winter.

Monticello, Utah: gassing up before heading in toward the Needles district of Canyonlands.

Then it was further north on U.S.191 to Canyonlands country.

La Sal Mountains and red sandstone, Utah.

Red sandstone, sagebrush, and the La Sal Mountains, from the Needles Overlook Road. (Click on image for larger version).

Canyonlands National Park is divided into three huge sections, Island In The Sky, The Maze, and The Needles. The dividing lines are the two major rivers, the Colorado and the Green, which join within the park to rather divide it into thirds.

In fact, the Colorado River above the confluence used to be called the Grand River. But the state of Colorado wanted it all named for itself, since the river’s source is high in the Rockies in their state. It got its way, too. Ever since then, the Green has joined the Colorado, not two rivers meeting to form a third one. I hope that clears thing up for you.

La Sal Mountains, Utah.

La Sal Mountains telephoto panorama shot.

I wasn’t going into the park itself on this trip, but to an adjoining area of public land called the Canyon Rims Recreation Area. The entrance to this area is called the Needles Overlook Road, because…guess what it overlooks? You got it.

Needles Overlook, Canyon Rims Recreation Area, Utah.

Needles Overlook, in the Canyon Rims Recreation Area.

Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, from Needles Overlook.

The Needles district of Canyonlands, from above. The Abajo Mountains are in the distance.

Needles District of Canyonlands, from above.

The Needles, from above at Needles Overlook, Canyon Rims.

Lockhart Basin area of Canyonlands, from Needles Overlook, Utah.

Red rock canyon country: looking down onto Lockhart Basin and the Colorado River (barely visible), from Needles Overlook.

Colorado river and Canyonlands from Minor Overlook, Canyon Rims.

Colorado River, from the Minor Overlook (named for a person, not because it’s a lousy view. Obviously).

I then worked my way north from the Needles Overlook. North up the length of Hatch Point, toward the Anticline Overlook. I intended to make camp near there, in case the clouds would clear in time for the rise of the Full Moon. Stay tuned.

Photo location: Canyon Rims National Recreation area, San Juan county south of Moab, Utah.

© 2016 Stephen J. Krieg