Arches National Park, Utah: Fiery Furnace and La Sal Mountains.

End of December

Icicles lit up at sunrise, southeast Utah.

Icicles at Sunrise.

The last few days of 2016 brought cold and sunshine and a little bit of fresh snow. Not a bad combination.

Having icicles outside the bedroom window allowed me to watch them light up with the sunrise on a clear morning at close range.

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Mr. Tiggs, through the window glass.

Mr. Tiggs, the neighborhood cat, jumped up onto the kitchen windowsill to make sure I knew he was thinking of me. He roams around all day checking up on everybody. If there are any people standing in the parking lot he saunters right over to see what’s going on. The big fluffy yellow ham.

Then it was an hour north to Arches National Park for some more red rock scenery. The edge of the Fiery Furnace, a maze of standing red sandstone fins, made for a nice panoramic composition with the La Sal Mountains in the far distance.

Arches National Park, Utah: Fiery Furnace and La Sal Mountains.

The Fiery Furnace and the La Sal Mountains in winter.

On the way back south from Moab town, the La Sal Mountains were looking extra fine after the previous day’s snow storm. The snow had not yet dropped from the foliage of the conifer forests near timberline.

La Sal Mountains, Utah, after a recent snowfall.

Mount Tukuhnikivats and the southern cluster of the La Sal Mountains.

From US Highway 191 you can pull over for a great vantage point of the southern end of the La Sals. A straight-on look at the pointy west face of Mount Tukuhnikivats (summit elevation 12,482 feet) with its distinctive pyramidal summit.

To the south of “Tuk” is South Mountain, which had a few lone clouds hovering over its summit, casting interesting shadows.

Clouds over South Mountain in the La Sal Mountain Range in southeast Utah.

Lone clouds over South Mountain.

On December 31 the length of the day was all of three minutes longer than it had been at Winter Solstice on December 21. The sun is on its way back north, but it takes its time at this time of year.

Photo locations: Grand and San Juan Counties, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

Spring Wildflowers of Glen Canyon

Utah Highway 95 bridge shadow across Colorado River, Hite Crossing, Utah.

Highway 95 bridge shadow across the Colorado River at Narrow Canyon portion of Glen Canyon. It must be spring: notice the green riparian vegetation.

We begin (actually just me) at Hite Crossing of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon. The muddy river, naturally, upstream from Lake Powell. Brown cliffs on both sides, blue sky above. Whoops, don’t forget the thin strip of green riparian (streamside) vegetation that has leafed out. It’s spring.

Colorado River at Hite Crossing, Utah.

The Colorado River, looking downstream from the Highway 95 bridge at Hite Crossing.

Enough of this shameless gawking at the river and the cliffs and the snow capped mountains in the distance. Let’s roll on down the road. But not far, before the golden glowing plumes of Prince’s Plume caused me to veer to the side of the road.

Prince's Plume wildflower, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Prince’s Plume wildflower, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Next was the Yellow Cryptanth. Really small yellow flowers with fuzzy cups and stems, they don’t like to hog the limelight.

Whipple's Fishhook Cactus and Common Paintbrush wildflowers, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Whipple’s Fishhook Cactus and Common Paintbrush, Glen Canyon.

I love it when I can get two different wildflowers in the same photo. Especially when they’re different colors, too. The green of their leaves can count as a third color. If you’re counting such things.

Whipple's Fishhook Cactus blossoms, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Whipple’s Fishhook Cactus blossoms, Glen Canyon.

If you’re only attracted to the big, showy blossoms of the season, shame on you. The true naturalist is drawn in by the more subtle ones, too. Like Blackbrush, with its diminutive yellow flowers.

Blackbrush wildflowers, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Blackbrush blossoms in spring, Glen Canyon.

Let’s veer on over to the white side of the flower spectrum in Glen Canyon: Cliffrose. Its blossoms are fairly showy. Not bright white, a rather yellowish white. But the fragrance will make you remember.

Cliffrose wildflower blossoms, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Cliffrose blossoms, Glen Canyon.

In case you’ve forgotten, this is all in the desert.

Speaking of which, we come to one of the most desert like plants, the yucca. With its evergreen bayonet leaves and a needle like tip that will make you remember not to carelessly stumble into it next time, they also have one of the most amazing flowering habit. Namely a stalk that grows as quickly as corn in Ohio (don’t ask for scientific proof, I don’t have it) to sent creamy white blossoms as delicate as their “leaves” are formidable.

Narrowleaf yucca, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Narrowleaf Yucca and flowering stalk, from above.

Maybe it was time for a break from all the lushness. I stopped near the Highway 95 bridge over the Dirty Devil River and walked out onto the span. Which you can do easily here, since there is almost no traffic.

Dirty Devil River, near confluence with Colorado River, Utah.

The Dirty Devil River, from Highway 95. Notice the lighter “bathtub ring” above the newly reborn green along the river that had been drowned by Lake Powell when it was full.

South of Hite I once again paused along the highway. I do that a lot. And why not? In this case it was a relatively short span across an unmarked canyon. You would drive across it in couple seconds — whump, whump — without noticing.

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White Canyon bridge, Highway 95.

You would have just crossed White Canyon, just upstream from its mouth into the Colorado River. No big deal. Right? But pull over. Walk to the edge, or onto the span and look down. Yeah, totally different realization.

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Lower White Canyon, from Highway 95.

I made a few exposures onto the camera memory card that I’d hoped portrayed the overall scene. The desert varnish streaked cliffs, the red buttes in the distance.

Then I let my camera lens follow my gaze to the floor of the canyon. It was an overcast day, devoid of the strong sunlight and black shadows so typical of canyon country. The cliffs above were the beige of Cedar Mesa Sandstone, ancient “petrified” (not the right term, but nevertheless) sand dunes lifted up from sea level eons ago. And at the bottom the (temporarily) dry streambed that somehow had carved its way down. Still does, in fact. Since erosion never sleeps.

White Canyon, southeast Utah.

The streambed of lower White Canyon.

Narrowleaf Yucca flowering stalk, Glen Canyon, Utah.

Narrowleaf Yucca flower pods along their stalk.

Photo Location: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

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 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

 

Moki Dugway, Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, Utah.

Moki Dugway Sunrise

Cedar Mesa south escarpment from the Moki Dugway, Utah.

Warm sunrise colors on the south escarpment of Cedar Mesa.

I was coming down off Cedar Mesa via the Moki Dugway section of Utah Highway 261 at sunrise. There were gorgeous colors in the clouds to the east, but I wasn’t in place for a good shot.

However, the same clouds served to extend the warm colors of sunrise for several minutes past when they otherwise would have disappeared, bathing the cliffs in a golden glow.

Moki Dugway, Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, Utah.

The Moki Dugway and Cedar Mesa in golden sunrise glow.

The shadows of cliffs upon other cliffs made for an interesting effect.

Sunrise shadows on the Moki Dugway, San Juan County, Utah.

Sunrise shadows, Moki Dugway.

Once below the Dugway, I turned east onto the Valley Of The Gods Road. The golden light persisted while I got some shots of some of the buttes along the southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa.

Valley Of The Gods and Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, Utah.

Sunrise on the southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa, from Valley Of The Gods.

Valley Of The Gods at sunrise, San Juan County, Utah.

Buttes and cliffs at sunrise, Valley Of The Gods.

Photo location: south end of Cedar Mesa, above Valley Of The Gods and Mexican Hat, Utah.

Copyright 2016 Stephen J. Krieg

Canyon Country: The Snow Awakens

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Still snowing from the rim of White Canyon, looking down onto Sipapu Natural Bridge. Yes, it’s hard to pick out from way up here. (click on image for larger version).

Finally, a real snow in canyon country. We’ve had several nice teasers, but this was all the weather service forecast, for once.

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Down the trail to Sipapu Bridge in White Canyon.

I’m a snow pessimist. I never believe we will get as much as they forecast. Not until I’m sweeping it all off of my truck the day after. And sometimes not even then.

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Cedar Mesa and White Canyon cliffs in fresh snow. The storm isn’t done yet, either.

My attitude is: when the deciduous trees and shrubs are bare, coat that (relatively) drab landscape with snow. Who cares if it’s cold out? That’s what indoor heating and insulating clothing are for. Your car’s heater has been lonely all summer. Use it.

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The metal stairs near the top of Sipapu Bridge Trail.

At Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah, the sandstone capping Cedar Mesa is beige, or a light gray. So different than the red rock canyons and arches that are iconic of much of southern Utah.

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Looking down on Sipapu Bridge from The Ledge at Vulture Point.

I take the park’s Loop Drive (technically, Bridge View Drive on the maps) to the Sipapu Bridge trailhead parking lot. Sipapu Bridge is the mightiest one of the three in the park. The second largest natural bridge in America, or even on this side of the world. (Rainbow Bridge near Lake Powell is the largest on this side of the globe; there are four in China even larger).

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Sipapu Bridge in snow, from above. Notice the rivulets of melting snow.

The trail down to Sipapu Bridge is the steepest in the park: dropping 500 feet from rim to canyon bottom in just 0.6 mile. There are even three wooden ladders to climb down, a favorite with kids. They think they’re cool. Adults are mixed in their opinion. I like them, how they were made from nearby wood to blend in with the landscape.

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The upper ladder on Sipapu Bridge Trail.

There were icy patches on the trail before this latest snow fell. They are now covered by several inches of snow, and the sun never shines here in the winter, it’s a north facing canyon cliff. So I have my traction devices on my boots, and they work well. Lightweight but tough and sharp edged, just what I wanted out of them.

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Sipapu Bridge, wide panoramic image merge.

It’s still snowing on and off. So quiet you can hear a raven’s squawk or chortle from a long ways. I have the place all to myself. Me and the ravens.

At The Ledge, the approximate halfway point down to Sipapu Bridge, I walk out to the point for more photos of the mighty span still a ways below. This is called Vulture Point by the rangers because it’s a favorite hangout of Turkey vultures in season. But they left in October and won’t be back until spring.

Down the trail from The Ledge, switchbacking down, down through the Gambel Oak among the boulders.

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Down the trail through the Gamel oak, Pinyon pine, Utah juniper, and boulders.

To my turnaround spot: where the trail touches the abandoned meander where the stream once flowed around the rock wall that had no opening then. Until one day, one more big storm and flash flood with muddy water that slides and rolls much larger boulders than clear water ever could, one more episode of boulders bashing and rocks scraping away, and a hole in the rock fin was created. And slowly enlarged with countless more events. Until the stream had a large enough shortcut to bypass the old meander. Bye-bye. This way’s faster. And water always takes the fastest way. It doesn’t mess around.

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Sipapu Bridge and melting snow in the abandoned meander.

But enough geology stuff. I like the spot because it’s low enough in the canyon to show the sky through the span — the opening — of the bridge, while close enough to show off its mass. Earlier this year I once again paused at this spot while a first time visitor remarked: “It’s even bigger than I thought it would be.”

Which poses a bit of a problem, photographically. There you are, gawking up at the lovely beast, and you’re so close that only an ultra wide angle lens could fit it all into the frame. Which doesn’t portray its immense size very well.

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Sipapu Bridge and manzanita.

So why not hike back up the trail until you’re somewhat farther away? Because then you’re not low enough for that lovely glimpse of sky through the bridge’s span.

What to do, what to do? What I do is the high resolution panoramic image. A series of overlapping shots to take it all in, then merged in Adobe Photoshop. And with today’s Lightroom 6 (which runs on the Photoshop engine) you can do it insanely easily.

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Melting snow flowing down the flanks of Sipapu Bridge.

From above I had noticed the rivulets of melting snow running down the side of the bridge. Now I was standing where they had collected and were draining down this side of the abandoned meander. I admired the patterns they formed.

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Back up the Sipapu Bridge Trail. Only my footprints, I had it all to myself.

At some point it was time to admit I was satiated with the experience, and begin the steep sweaty hike back up the cliff face. Calories well burned, especially during an experience like this.

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

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Hanksville To Hite: Henry Mountains Snow and Fall Colors

The Silver Eagle convenience store, Hanksville, Utah.

The Silver Eagle convenience store, Hanksville, Utah.

Hanksville, Utah, on a frosty November morning. I stop in at the Silver Eagle convenience store — effectively the heart of town since it’s open all winter. Especially since it contains Stan’s Burger Shak, home of the Hanksburger. Also buffalo burgers, veggie burgers, and lots else. And it will be open all winter this time, unlike last year.

I am close to home this morning — a mere 100 miles — and have all day to get there. Still, I am out of the chute this early, wanting to both enjoy whatever I might see, and get home early and unpack and relax.

The Henry Mountains, from south of Hanksville, Utah.

The Henry Mountains, from south of Hanksville, Utah.

South on Highway 95. The snow shrouded Henry Mountains — the very last mountain range in the continental United States to be explored and mapped, you know — glisten to the west above the high sagebrush plain.

In geologic terms, the Henrys are a laccolith. Whether you care about “rocks” or not, imagine the forces within the Earth’s crust bulging up magma (it’s only called lava once it flows onto the surface) but not erupting. The overlying rock layers are tilted by the pressure, of course, forced to assume steep angles. Then the force eases, subsides. And the surface layers that have been roused from their peaceful sleep are now exposed to the weathering forces of the Earth’s atmosphere. Erosion.

And now we are here at this stage of their erosion. Tall mountain peaks seemingly jutting up out of nowhere.

The mysterious abandoned Winnebago, out the middle of nowhere.

The mysterious abandoned Winnebago, out the middle of nowhere.

But also jutting into the foreground was that abandoned Winnebago RV. As always it made me wonder how it had gotten there. I couldn’t see a road out onto that spot in the sagebrush. I’d asked a cashier in Hanksville if she knew its story. “I’ve only been here three years, I don’t know”. I would’ve found a local who knew the first week I was there. Maybe I should move there.

Cottonwood trees in fall colors, North Wash.

Cottonwood trees in fall colors, North Wash.

Setting aside thoughts of relocation to a dusty but friendly high desert town in southern Utah, I started down the North Wash section of Highway 95. An interpretive sign told of how the highway was pioneered. It seems that a local citizen grew impatient with there being no road from Hanksville down to Glen Canyon and the Colorado River, so he exercised some initiative. He “borrowed” one of the county’s bulldozers and pushed the dirt and boulders aside with it until there was one. Apparently law enforcement was a bit more lenient about such things then than it is today.

North Wash cottonwood trees fall colors glory.

North Wash cottonwood trees fall colors glory.

But the route to the river eventually became a modern paved highway. Not heavily used, mind you. If you drive it you can often count the number of other vehicles on one hand. I like that.

Anyway, it was still a bit frosty down North Wash. But there were still cottonwood trees on the floodplain in full fall color glory. So of course I had to stop and photograph.

Red cliffs reflection in North Wash.

Red cliffs reflection in North Wash.

The air was so still, not a leaf moved. Silence. Morning light, growing brighter as the sun approached the canyon’s rim, out of sight for now. But not for long. I should have waited until it came over the top to really light up the cottonwood colors. But I felt impatient, I don’t know why.

The Colorado River, Hite Crossing Bridge, Utah.

The Colorado River, Hite Crossing Bridge, Utah.

Down to the Colorado River. I pulled over at the bridge to take some photos. I liked what I saw. Maybe this was why I’d felt too impatient to linger longer up the North Wash. I liked them both a lot, but you can’t be everywhere at once. And in this area of the country I’ve found that you can’t make a bad choice most of the time. Just pick one, you can’t lose.

I drove the mile back into the Hite Ranger Station. I always like going there, despite it being almost a ghost town. Because Lake Powell is down to less than half its capacity. The marina that once throbbed with powerboat tourists is gone. The Colorado river there is back to being a free flowing river. The still water of the reservoir now lie just south.

Hite, Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Hite, Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

So I notice the park housing for the employees, now vacant except for one, a recently filled Law Enforcement National Park Ranger. I’ve met him, he seems great, and I hope he can stay for a while. He seems to appreciate the austere land, the canyons and rivers.

I stopped at the gas pump and convenience store. I peered in the windows of the store to see what was in there, in season. “It’s closed”, a grizzled man told me as he came around the outside corner of the building. He wasn’t a Park Service employee, but an employee of the concessionaire, Aramark. He had been sent up from Bullfrog, on the west side of Lake Powell, to work on the generators in the off season. Or whenever things needed working on. I explained that I worked at the Visitor Center at Natural Bridges, and that visitors were often inquiring what services were available at Hite, so far from where they were going to where they were going. He understood. He let me into the store to look around. I noticed the racks of t-shirts and sweatshirts shrouded with bedsheets for the winter. I noticed some of the books for sale, books being a keen interest of mine.

Then I thanked him and bid my farewell.

Morning reflections on the Colorado River at Hite Crossing, Utah.

Morning reflections of the cliffs onto the Colorado River at Hite Crossing, Utah.

It’s a fascinating place. Named for the smart, tough, legendary pioneer Cass Hite. I’d read his biography. I will read it again.

Photo locations: Hanksville, North Wash, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, southern Utah.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Until The Last Leaf Falls: Autumn Ends At Natural Bridges

Sipapu Bridge trail down into White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Sipapu Bridge trail down into White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument. Click on the image for a much larger version.

Winter has come early this year. The third snowfall has already occurred at Natural Bridges National Monument and Cedar Mesa in southeast Utah.

And I am glad for it. Because after the leaves are off the trees and shrubs, after there is no green of deciduous foliage in the stream bottoms and among the pinyon pines and junipers, the grasses and forbs and wildflowers all being long done, the canyons look so drab by comparison.

Snow coated Douglas-fir, Pinyon pine, and Utah juniper trees.

Snow coated Douglas-fir, Pinyon pine, and Utah juniper trees. And desert varnish on the cliffs.

Snow sure fixes that. Because Cedar Mesa is a desert, visitors are often surprised to hear that it snows here. But then again many people think that desert means low desert, like the Sonoran Desert zone in southern Arizona.

The ledge below Vulture Point, Sipapu Bridge Trail.

The ledge below Vulture Point, Sipapu Bridge Trail.

But this is the high desert. In fact, Natural Bridges is the uppermost of the high desert. It lies just below Elk Ridge, which is mountain country: Ponderosa pine and aspen forest type. You can drive up there in just a few miles and you’ve risen two thousand feet in elevation.

Meanwhile, down here at Natural Bridges, I hiked down the Sipapu Bridge trail to see how conditions were for the park’s visitors. The overcast sky, after the snow storm, made for reduced contrast, while still providing a nice soft and bright light. A welcome change from the deep shadows and blue sky.

People ask me all the time: which Bridge is best in the morning, the afternoon, etc. I usually reply: I don’t care when I go down into the canyons. The trails lead you right down underneath each bridge, so you can get great shots from either side, depending on how the light is at that time of day. So the important thing is: just get down there! Even better, do one of the loop hikes, and you will see even more.

And that’s just the canyon landscape. There are only three ancient ruins in the park that the staff is allowed to talk about. The others are located throughout the park and are some of the best preserved of their kind. After all, President Teddy Roosevelt declared this park Utah’s first National Monument in 1908.

Ancestral pueblan (Anasazi) ruins, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Ancestral pueblan (Anasazi) cliff dwelling ruins, Natural Bridges National Monument. No, I won’t tell you how to get to this site.

After enjoying another hike down the Sipapu Bridge trail, I returned to the canyon rim and drove on. Fall colors are one of my things, and any remaining colors, no matter how scant, catch my eye. Like these Fremont Cottonwood leaves, still holding out in the snow. Not for long, though.

Fremont Cottonwood last gasp fall colors, Natural Bridges National Monument.

Fremont Cottonwood last gasp fall colors, Natural Bridges National Monument. The Utah junipers in the background, especially with shadows and touches of snow, make for a nice canvas.

Last leaves, Natural Bridges.

Last leaves, Natural Bridges.

Then it was on to Owachomo Bridge. The old lady of the trio. The one that will collapse the soonest, “soon” being very relative in geologic terms. Tomorrow? A thousand years?

Owachomo Bridge, early snow.

Owachomo Bridge, early snow.

Owachomo Bridge was the one that actually had some snow on her by the time I got there that afternoon. She’s the most wide open, rather than tucked down at the bottom of White Canyon like Sipapu Bridge and Kachina Bridge are. So I got to angle around quite a bit for some good snow shots. Especially when the late afternoon sun made a brief appearance and lit up her southside buttresses. Lovely, very lovely.

But back to imagining when the last leaf of autumn might fall. When? Where?

Fremont Cottonwood leaf and third snow of the season.

Fremont Cottonwood leaf and third snow of the season.

It’s rather a trick question, because in a way it never does fall. Not in autumn, anyway. Some trees shed all their leaves in the fall, while others — notably the oaks — hang onto at least some of them throughout the winter. There’s lots of variation: climate, microclimate, genetics. Nothing happens all at once.

Thus the last leaf might actually not fall until spring. When the new growth pushes any remaining holdovers off the twig.

Watch your own favorite trees and try to notice what they do. It’s fun to contemplate.

Frost on Gambel Oak leaf and cryptobiotic soil crust, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Frost on Gambel Oak leaf and cryptobiotic soil crust, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

Capitol Reef National Park, November

I returned to Capitol Reef on a splendid November day. A recent early snow storm had left the distant Henry Mountains with a fresh coat of snow. An excellent backdrop to the fantastic bare rock forms down below.

Capitol Reef National Park, from west entrance.

Capitol Reef National Park and the Henry Mountains, from the west entrance.

The name Capitol Reef came about because the first European and American explorers and pioneers found the upthrust cliffs to be a serious barrier to their travel, like an ocean reef dangerously in the way. But they were also grand and stately, towering overhead and reminded them of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Okay.

Capitol Reef National Park west entrance.

Capitol Reef National Park west entrance.

I was entering the park from the west, on Highway 24. I was looking forward to finally getting into the Visitor Center, because on my previous visits I had arrived too late for their winter hours. But I’d forgotten that this day was a national holiday — Veterans Day — so it was closed anyway. Next time.

Capitol Reef's Visitor Center and fall colors.

Capitol Reef’s fall colors, from the Visitor Center parking area.

The park campground was glowing in the last fall colors of the cottonwood trees in the late afternoon sunlight. Only a few sites were taken. I would have loved to camp there, but it was not my destination for the night.

The lovely campground at Capitol Reef.

The lovely campground at Capitol Reef.

So I spent the rest of the late fall daylight doing the parks’s Scenic Drive, which is 10 miles to the end of the pavement. It’s not a loop drive, so you come back out the way you went in.

The cliffs near Capitol Gorge, late afternoon.

The cliffs near Capitol Gorge, late afternoon.

Unlike my other visits to the park, the two unpaved roads were still open: Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge. I had enough daylight left, so I drove both, enjoying more of the fantastic cliffs.

Capitol Reef cliffs panorama - click for much larger.

Capitol Reef cliffs panorama – click on image for much larger version.

But then it was time to travel on to my evening’s destination. So it was back to Highway 24, and east to Hanksville. But before leaving the park’s confines I once again enjoyed the sunset lighting up the highest layers of almost white sandstone.

The highest layers at sunset time, from Highway 24.

The highest layers at sunset time, from Highway 24.

There is much more to this incredible park than this quick visit sampled. I have been to some parts of it, and others I have yet to explore. I am looking forward to both revisiting the familiar, and investigating what’s new for me there.

Photo location: Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg

 

Fall Colors: Sipapu Natural Bridge

Sipapu Bridge, from the trail down into White Canyon.

Sipapu Bridge, from the trail down into White Canyon.

Early November: time for the high desert fall colors, now that the high country show up in the aspen forest zone is over. So at Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah’s San Juan County, I headed down the trail from the parking lot on the Loop Drive (formally “Bridge View Drive”) to Sipapu Bridge.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time that afternoon, sunlight wise, due to the short days. So I hoofed it hard down the trail to catch up with the light still making the Fremont Cottonwood trees glow in the canyon bottom.

Sipapu Bridge is the sixth largest natural bridge in the world, and second largest on this side of the world, after Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon. (The four largest natural bridges are all in China.) Earlier this season I’d met a young man at this point on the trail, the best vantage point for getting the blue sky in the photo through the bridge’s span (opening), and he said: “It’s even bigger than I thought it would be”.

A few golden cottonwood trees are visible from up above, but to get the full treatment you have to go down. All the way down to the stream bottom in White Canyon, 500 feet below the trailhead up on the rim.

Underneath mighty Sipapu Bridge, sixth largest in the world.

Underneath mighty Sipapu Bridge, sixth largest in the world.

Since the sun was low in the west, I took a hard right turn, east up the canyon bottom, to use the sunlight to backlight the cottonwood colors, which makes them glow their brightest.

Underneath Sipapu, looking up makes the immense span arching high overhead look thin compared to the side view from above.

Fremont Cottonwood trees in fall splendor, White Canyon above Sipapu Bridge.

Fremont Cottonwood trees in fall splendor, White Canyon above Sipapu Bridge.

I walked a bit further upstream along the bank in order to position some lit up cottonwoods in front of the mighty bridge.  I made a few exposures from up on the bank of the stream course, which only flows intermittently with the rains and snows. The low angle of the sunlight through the bridge’s opening not only lit up the trees, but reflected off the muddy water of the stream. The low shaft of sunlight in the deep shadows made the scene feel like a secret garden portal or something.

Pools of water from recent rain and snow storm, White Canyon.

Pools of water from recent rain and snow storm, White Canyon.

Then I jumped down into the stream bed itself. Being at the very buttress of the immense arch of Cedar Mesa Sandstone makes for cramped quarters in the camera viewfinder, even with an ultra wide angle lens. In order to create the composition I wanted, I made two or three overlapping photos, and later merged them into a single high resolution panorama in Adobe Lightroom.

Ultra wide angle two shot panorama at Sipapu Bridge.

Ultra wide angle two shot panorama at Sipapu Bridge.

Satisfied with this portion of my foray, it was time to pound it back up the trail to the parking lot. Because I was going to try to bag fall colors shots at the second of the three bridges, too: Kachina Bridge. I was quickly running low on sunlight in the canyon bottom.

Photo location: Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah.

© Copyright 2015 Stephen J. Krieg