Bryce Canyon in Winter

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Bryce Canyon Winter Morning Vista

Of all the spectacular scenery in southern Utah, the top of the chain is Bryce Canyon National Park. Well, almost the very top of the chain. The uppermost is nearby at Cedar Breaks National Monument, but that’s a story for another post.

The Colorado Plateau is an immense region in southern Utah, northern Arizona, southwest Colorado, and northwest New Mexico of stacked sedimentary rock layers that was uplifted from sea level to heights just over 9,000 feet in places. But it happened without getting all “scrunched up” into jagged mountain peaks like happened to the Rocky Mountains and Cascade Mountains. It’s like a massive layer cake whose layers stayed level (with some local exceptions) as it was raised up into the sky.

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, with Ponderosa pine trees.

Bryce Canyon and Ponderosa pines in winter.

The entire sequence of geologic layers has come to be branded the Grand Staircase. It’s called that by geologists and tourist agencies alike, because the beauty appeals to everyone, regardless of whether you give a hoot about rocks and dirt. From Bryce Canyon you can look out over most of it, if you know what you’re looking at. But the lower layers are obscured from view by the Earth’s curvature–and the depth of the Grand Canyon far to the south, which holds the lowermost layers.

The raising of these immense layers of the Earth’s crust has exposed them to the elements, to varying degrees. Weathering. Erosion. And erosion–like rust–never sleeps!

Erosion carves the exposed layers into fantastic shapes and reveals their colors. Thus beauty is created by things falling apart. Kind of the opposite of what one might think. That’s geology for you.

Winter scenery at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: hoodoos from above.

Bryce Canyon hoodoos from above.

At Bryce you’re enjoying the Pink Cliffs. A layer of limestone that erosion carves into walls, fins, and finally hoodoos (irregularly edged spires).

And in winter, the snow really sets them off. Especially under a trademark Utah high country blue sky.

Photo location: Bryce Canyon National Park, southern Utah.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Bears Ears Super Rainbow Evening

Double Rainbow and storm clouds.

Double Rainbow and storm clouds.

It was one of the best rainbows ever. Why? Because the backdrop was awesome, and it occurred just before sunset, making the effect of the low angle of the sun more intense.

Rainbow in front of the Bears Ears Buttes. Quite a prism effect from left to right through the rain.

Rainbow in front of the Bears Ears Buttes. Quite a prism effect from left to right through the rain.

Oddly enough, the forecast had only been for a 20% chance of rain, and it had been dumping elsewhere all day, mainly to the north and east.

Panorama with sunlit wooden fence and road curves.

Panorama with sunlit wooden fence and road curves.

But then it was our turn, a real gully washer. Beautiful. I lay down for a nap…and almost missed the aftermath. It was a full rainbow on either end, kind of missing at the top, some of the double rainbow visible to the outside.

The full panoramic images of just the sky don’t do it justice. I prefer the tighter, more close in shots against the cliffs and the Bears Ears Buttes above. I took a number of variations, because it gives a fuller sense of the splendor of the evening. And of the wet road and puddles.

Then Ashley and Avery came by on an evening run. Perfect: a couple of people in the scene to lend some human scale to the magnificent scene. Though how anybody would want to be doing anything other than photographing in such conditions is beyond me. (They did like the print I made for them the next day.)

Ashley and Adrian running to the rainbow.

Ashley and Avery running to the rainbow.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, San Juan County, southeast Utah. As always, click on any image to see a much larger version.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

High Desert Wildflowers

It’s been an uncommonly wet spring in the high desert of southeast Utah and the rest of the Four Corners area. The plants are making hay while the rains come, so to speak. As they are engineered to do.

Each spring I vow to learn the species as they flower, which gives one time to notice them, since they don’t all blossom at once.  Usually I fail to keep my promise.

This year, though, I have been doing quite well. Here are some of my favorites so far.

Cliffrose. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Cliffrose. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Blue Flax. San Juan County near Blanding, Utah.

Blue Flax. San Juan County near Blanding, Utah.

Cactus flower, Arizona Strip.

Cactus flower, Arizona Strip.

Narrow Leaf Yucca, Cedar Point, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Narrow Leaf Yucca, Cedar Point, Cedar Mesa, Utah.

Along the road to Hovenweep National Monument, Utah. Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado in the distance.

Along the road to Hovenweep National Monument, Utah. Sleeping Ute Mountain, Colorado in the distance.

Prickly Pear Cactus Blossom.

Prickly Pear Cactus Blossom.

Hopi Blanket Flower. Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Hopi Blanket Flower. Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Lee’s Ferry Again

Navajo Bridges, Marble Canyon, Arizona

Navajo Bridges, Marble Canyon, Arizona

Back to Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River in northern Arizona. The gateway to the Grand Canyon via the river. The geologic break in the almost impenetrable cliffs the Colorado has dug for itself. It’s a crossroads: the road to the river bank, below Glen Canyon Dam, five miles upstream from the modern Highway 89A that crosses the gorge via Navajo Bridge. Which are twin bridges, the old one being a tourist walkway these days.

Lee's Ferry Boat Landing, Colorado River, Arizona

Lee’s Ferry Boat Landing, Colorado River, Arizona

Post Office: Marble Canyon, Arizona, at the Marble Canyon Lodge. An outpost in the high desert. And after all these years, one of my favorite places. A powerful magnet for me, photographically with its towering cliffs on both sides of the river. The river cold and deep and powerful. The people who visit, to run the Grand Canyon, or fish for trout. Or explore the historic buildings nearby.

Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center, Marble Canyon, Arizona

Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center, Marble Canyon, Arizona

I have seen Lee’s Ferry in most times of year. I hope to keep on seeing it awhile longer, to experience all of them. Photo location: Lees Ferry and Marble Canyon, the Arizona Strip, Coconino County, northern Arizona. © 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

The Sun Poured Through

One of my personal philosophies is to keep revisiting favorite places, especially in different seasons. Thus it was time to return to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.

Though this post is not about my time inside the park. Oh, no. Because I feel like writing about what came afterward. It was that kind of day.

Beef Basin rain shower.

Beef Basin rain shower.

So I left the park and returned east on highway 211. A rain shower was falling up ahead and the afternoon sunlight was pouring through it. Naturally I had to pull over and do something about it. Photograph it, I mean.

It had been a rainy spring day, and so driving on the dirt roads branching off from the highway was nothing to be trifled with. On the way in I had tested out the lower portion of the Beef Basin road, and had quickly been sliding around, even with All Wheel Drive. But after a few hours things had firmed up. I found a nice camping spot and prepared to settle in for the night. Nobody around. Peacefully perfect.

Balanced rock at campsite.

Balanced rock at campsite.

And a very expansive view of the valley and red rock cliffs towering all around. I didn’t choose this spot for nothing.

The rare wet spring in the high desert had things blooming. Plus the wet earth and vegetation made the colors more saturated. I had water, food, music, and of course photo gear. I wouldn’t play any music until after dark, preferring the sound of the wind and birds.

Barrel cactus and grass.

Barrel cactus and grass.

The campsite was well used. And hadn’t been cleaned up that well, so I did. Leave a place better than you found it. A desert cottontail rabbit was comfortable sharing the spot with me. See what I mean?

Desert cottontail rabbit, guardian of the campsite.

Desert cottontail rabbit, guardian of the campsite.

At sunset time, the sun poured through a single hole in the clouds, lighting up the cliff across the valley. That was so awesome that if nothing more had occurred I would have been elated enough.

Sunset spotlight on the cliff base.

Sunset spotlight on the cliff base.

But no. More yellow-orange sunset light splayed across the cliffs, changing with the lowering sun and the shifting of the clouds. Incredible. And mine, all mine. For one special evening.

Blazing cliffs at sunset.

Blazing cliffs at sunset.

Photo location: Beef Basin, San Juan County, Utah.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Return To Dolores Canyon

The Great Sage (now agricultural) Plain and Sleeping Ute Mountain.

The Great Sage (now agricultural) Plain and Sleeping Ute Mountain.

It was back to the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. A little bit north of Dove Creek. Off the north edge of the Great Sage Plain and into the Ponderosa pine forest surrounding the Dolores River Canyon. An area I was coming to know better and better.

Dolores River Canyon side canyon, looking south to Dove Creek.

Dolores River Canyon side canyon, looking south to Dove Creek.

The first stop: to the Dolores Canyon Overlook. Which is actually on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. They have a very nice little park there, an easy walk to the overlook down into the canyon. And there’s usually no one there. Maybe a few locals on the weekends, but it’s too far from the beaten path, in a very rural area anyway, to be crowded. My kind of place.

Dolores River Canyon.

Dolores River Canyon.

After taking in the fine springtime afternoon at the viewpoint, it was time to decide on my camp location. Once there I settled in and gathered firewood for the evening. And also cleaned it up a little bit. Just a few things left behind by some other campers, nothing much. Following another of my principles: If you take care of a place, it will take care of you, too. It’s just sensible.

Early evening clouds towering over the Ponderosa pine forest.

Early evening clouds towering over the Ponderosa pine forest.

Time to sit back in my folding camp chair and savor. The clouds, the Ponderosa pine trees, the light, the delicious high country air.

Eventually evening light came on. Right on schedule. Though I had no schedule. Tough lighting for photographs, high contrast between the brilliant clouds and shadowed forest below. Dramatic lighting. Brilliant whites to blues, then sunset colors in the clouds.

Sunset colors in the clouds, framed by Ponderosa pines.

Sunset colors in the clouds, framed by Ponderosa pines.

Then dusk, finally. The fire died down, I did too, going to bed. Appreciation for another wonderful day.

Photo location: Dolores County, Colorado.

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg.

Sipapu Natural Bridge Setting

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Springtime in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau region means sunny, dry weather. The time between the snows of winter and the rains of summer.

And usually cloudless except for occasional high hazy clouds. Which I hate.

So when there were some cumulus clouds at Natural Bridges National Monument lately, I was glad to include them into the compositions in my camera’s viewfinder.

Halfway down the trail to Sipapu Bridge, sixth largest in the world and second largest in North America, is a very wide sandstone ledge that allows one to walk out comfortably and photograph the massive bridge in its entirety.

And in its setting. Because the Cedar Mesa Sandstone layer is very thick, and very cross bedded, because this was a vast area of sand dunes millions of years ago. Rather like today’s Sahara Desert.

I decided to convert this image to black and white. The puzzle of sandstone layers is complemented by the sky and clouds very nicely. And accented by the shadow of the bridge across its streambed at the bottom of White Canyon.

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

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Cool Working At Natural Bridges

Hikers beneath Kachina Natural Bridge.

Hikers beneath Kachina Natural Bridge.

Today I was “roving” in the park, which for Rangers, volunteers, and interns means being out on the roads and trails and at the parking lots and overlooks. Having a presence outside, away from the Visitor Center. Seeing what’s going on with the visitors, answering questions and providing any needed assistance.

I was taking photos of the earliest wildflowers in the park, for a display in the Visitor Center. People are always interested in the names of what is blooming at the time.

I walked out the lovely trail to the Horse Collar Ruin Overlook. It’s a favorite of mine, only 0.3 of a mile, and it stays above the rim of White Canyon. It goes to the edge of the canyon, looking down on the cliff dwelling ruins slightly above the bottom of the canyon on the other side of the stream.

There were two families down at the Ruins. They had been in the Visitor Center earlier, and were hiking a loop between two of the Bridges. I’m always impressed when people hike down into the canyons instead of merely going to the overlooks above.

The next trailhead from the Horse Collar Ruin is Kachina Bridge. I drove to that parking lot and hiked down to Kachina, figuring that having the families underneath the massive bridge would make for some good photos when they got that far down the canyon.

And it did. I talked with the adults for a while, pointing out the ancient artwork (both petroglyphs and pictographs) on both buttresses of Kachina, and about some of the geology.

Then it was time for me to hike back up out of the canyon to the parking lot. The young girls had been sitting in the sand along the stream, playing and enjoying the sun. As I started to walk away one of them said “Is it cool working here?”

“It’s very cool, I said”.

What a nice touch to my time with those families, and to another stellar springtime day. Later, back at the Visitor Center, they stopped in to refill their water bottles. One of the women recognized me, and told me that the other woman had remarked how nice it was to see somebody enjoying their job so much.

Meeting such nice people makes the job even cooler.

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

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

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

Admiring Kachina Natural Bridge

Underneath Kachina Bridge west buttress.

Underneath Kachina Bridge west buttress.

January at Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah. Savoring the dead of winter sunlight on the upper edge of the high desert. One of the most special places I’ve been privileged to visit. So far.

Down the trail to Kachina Bridge. After the snow storms, this one has melted back to bare rock, an easy trek. Warm sun in the cold winter afternoon.

Kachina Bridge, from mouth of Armstrong Canyon.

Kachina Bridge, from mouth of Armstrong Canyon.

Down at the bottom of White Canyon, I look up at the massive, thick arc across the stream bed. Since the stream slowly but surely created the hole in the sandstone, the shortcut, abandoning its old outer meander, it a natural bridge. Not an arch. Unless you’re a geologist or naturalist, you don’t care about the scientific distinction.

But like them, you appreciate the beauty. That’s what matters.

2015_UT-1753

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

© 2015 Stephen J. Krieg