Western Trip – September 2011 (Utah)

A few years ago we took a trip to Arches National Park.  This year we decided to visit a few more of the national parks scattered throughout Utah.

Before I go on, The SmugMug gallery for this trip is fully annotated, so if one just wants to go look at the pictures they still have the option to enjoy the wonderful that is my prose.  That gallery can be found by clicking on any of the pictures below, or just clicking on this link:  http://ejdalise.smugmug.com/Travel/Utah-2011/19815768_ZN8FBF#1557571863_W8QvSDs

One more treat for those who don’t have the time, inclination, or will to read and look at all the pictures.  I added a slideshow of some relevant pictures and a few captions (10 minutes long).  If that’s all one wants, then just watch this (sorry, no music with this one):

OK, now that almost everyone has left, the remaining two of you can . . . what’s that?  Sure, bye.  Where was I?  . . . oh, yeah.  Now that everyone but you have left, here goes  . . .

Wolf Creek Pass on US-160 on the way to Durango, Colorado

We had planned to spend a full work-week and two weekends on this trip, but due to other considerations the trip was cut down to a weekend and three days.  This made the trip more an exploratory venture than a full blown discovery of the parks.

The parks in question were pared down to Zion and Bryce Canyon, and because I have often seen it in movies and commercials, we opted to take a small detour and drive through Monument Valley.

The first day of the trip consisted of our drive to Durango, the first overnight stop.  It was the beginning of the color season, and we expected to see aspens in full color, but they had not yet turned.  

Still, the drive is a scenic one regardless of the colors, and we enjoyed revisiting stretches of roads we had not traveled in a number of years.

Hot air balloons outside Durango

The next morning we headed out toward Four Corners.  Named for the spot where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah all converge into a giant tourist trap, we had no plans to stop there.  US-160 passes right in front of it, but we planned on sailing by.  The landscape in this area is fairly sparse; hills and open arid plains covered with vegetation that has heard the legends of water, but dismissed them as ramblings of the delusional.

Of course, because it is The West, and because The West attracts a lot of visitors , I was mentally prepared to deal with the throngs of vacationers intent on making my driving experience less-than-optimal.  It was difficult, but I managed to retain my composure and calm as we negotiated traffic.

Traffic congestion was tolerable, and I managed to retain my calm.

Some of the landscape reminded me of the hills surrounding South Dakota’s Badlands.

Interesting hills and sparse vegetation

We drove by the mysteriously-named Red Mesa, Arizona . . .

Some sort of red mesa-like structure near Red Mesa, Arizona

. . . and turned North on US-191.  We crossed into Utah . . .

. . . where traffic picked up a bit.

I began to worry about delays as traffic seemed heavier

I decided to pull off and take some pictures, letting the bulk of the traffic head on North ahead of me.  These interesting rock formation gave me just the distraction I needed.

I call this composition "Red Rocks with Boulder - No. 753"

Permanent and everlasting reminder of my visit to Utah

As part of my effort to mark the territory I visit, I left on this particular stretch of Utah a little reminder of my visit.

Years from now other travelers will see this, and instantly have a shared bond with me across time and space; we will be as brothers.

Seriously, have you ever heard the term “shifting sands”?  Me neither, but the peculiar thing with walking on this soil was it did not feel stable.  

Even on flat ground I felt as if any moment I might lose my footing, slip, fall, break my spine, die and become buzzard food.  Frankly it was a relief getting back on the asphalt roadway.

We resumed out travels, thankful for traffic to have once again thinned out a bit.

Dodging cars and truck traffic, I stood in the middle of the road to get this shot.

I stopped to get a few pictures of the increasingly more abundant red rocks, and was able to spy our next destination in the distance.

Monument Valley as seen from US-191

But before getting there we enjoyed miles and miles of red rock formations.

If you look at just the top, they look like little aliens . . .

Before getting to Monument Valley one passes through Mexican Hat, named for a rock that is supposed to look like its namesake.

Looks more like a mushroom to me, but I don't know much about hats

And then, the money shot.  The place made famous by Gump’s immortal words . . . “I’m tired.  I’m going home.” . . . or something like that.

Near where Gump stopped running

I shot a little movie of me driving up to the monuments . . . I was using my D7000, and because of the weight of the camera and the rough road, the movie was kind of shaky.  

Enter YouTube editing options, where one can remove camera shake and replace road noise with music.  It did an OK job, except the monuments seem to pulsate.  Plus YouTube added advertising to my clip (and all my other clips).  Oh well, they give so much for free I can hardly find it in me to bitch.

Subsequent movies were shot with my Droid X, and surprisingly are not that bad.  Mind you, Melisa is none-too-happy when I drive down winding roads holding my Droid X in front of my face, steering with one hand, and splitting my attention between the live picture in front of me and the small screen showing what I am filming.

And this is the view as we were leaving

We opted not to go to the Navajo Monument proper (a four mile drive undertaken by numerous RVs).   Maybe next time.

We resumed our trek, stopping occasionally to snap what I thought might be interesting pictures.

The depth of field is slightly off . . . attribute that to the many red ants mounds all around where I was standing to get this shot

Pretty rocks and pretty flowers - and trying out my Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 lens

These photographic breaks gave me respite from having to deal with traffic . . .

Sometimes you just need to get off the road and try and relax instead of battling traffic

. . .  but they usually annoy Melisa something fierce.  I mean, she is OK for some, but come the sixtieth or eightieth stop, and she begins to show some impatience and shortness.  That’s how I know to ease up, and stop only every other mile or so.

As we approached Lake Powell we saw the Navajo Something-Something Power Plant. Big-ass coal plant a scant two miles from the Lake Powell Dam. By now traffic was bunching up, and I was getting antsy, so we stopped to get gas and assess our progress.

Navajo Something-Something Power Plant. Big-ass coal plant two miles from the Lake Powell Dam as the crow flies (no crows were observed flying)

Below is the Lake Powell Dam.  The lake itself is something like 180 miles long.  We stopped and got off the road because a convoy of about fifty or sixty jerks . . . er . . . motorcycle riders were taking up the road and slowing traffic to a speed more in keeping with their mental processes.  It did give me the opportunity to snap a few pictures (duh!).

You know, it does not look impressive . . . until you think of 180 miles worth of water that forms Lake Powell, all sitting behind that concrete barrier

On our way again (the motor-inconsiderate-bastards-cyclists had pulled into the visitor center), I snapped a series of pictures for a big-ass panorama you can go and look at either on SmugMug, or better yet, on this Picasa gallery I had put together of some of the panoramas.

These same panoramas and a few more are also in SmugMug, but the Picasa Gallery has just the big ones, and they are a tad easier to navigate there than in SmugMug . . . unless you have a good graphic card, great internet download speeds, and the patience to watch a very large file load.

Anyway, here is a picture from the other side of the lake.

On the other side of Lake Powell

From there we reached Kanab, Utah.  There are things to photograph surrounding Kanab, but I did not bother to go there, so on to the next day and our entry into Zion National Park along UT-9.

One of the cliff openings of the tunnel that runs behind that wall of red rock

You enter Zion National Park well ahead of the tunnel that is carved into solid rock, and that joins the two halves of the park.  

You can go and read about it, so I won’t say much about it here other than it’s not lit, it’s narrow, and every once in a while it has these openings in the rock face that look like observation areas, but which you cannot stop at.  The picture shows what they look like from the outside.

Unlike other places, I did not hold my camera and shoot the passage through the tunnel because the lanes are narrow.

 Narrow enough that when an RV has to go through they hold up traffic from the other side while they are in the tunnel.

When we drove it it was with two way traffic, and I felt my Tahoe was going to either scrape the walls, or bang mirrors of on-coming traffic.  Neat.

On the other side you drop through various switchbacks while being regaled with views of imposing cliffs.  Note: I’ve tried to add an audio track to this next video something like eight times.  For some reason, it is resistant to audio-track-swapping.  Maybe by the time this posts it will have made it in there.

By the ways, that was one of those instances where my wife wished I payed attention to the sharp switch-backs, oncoming traffic, and the fact that in many places there are no guard rails.  The speed is listed as 20mph, but you drop at a pretty good pace, so one tends to go a mite faster.  Here are a couple of pictures (from later, when we came back).

An arch in the making.  I understand they grow them here, and when ready they move them to Arches National Park.

Impressive landscape

The above picture is taken from the southern entrance of the park.  And here is where we decided to go to Nevada.  Say what?!?

You heard me; Nevada.  It’s how we roll in the D’Alise family.  You see, someone is engaged in a friendly competition to see who will first hit all 50 states, and as we were but a scant hour and a half from Mesquite, NV, that’s where we went.  We figured we would be back by around noon, and have about 5 or 6 hours in the park.  Plus we would have the following morning, when we headed for Bryce, to catch a few sights we missed on the way in (on the other side of the tunnel).  So off we went . . . to Nevada.

The stretch of I-15 between St. George, UT, and Mesquite, NV, is quite scenic, and we had a pleasant trip, including stopping at the visitor center in Nevada, and having a nice chat with a local who was enthusiastic about living in a place that gets up to 110-degF (and higher) in the summer.

The trip back gave me an opportunity for more video, and a different view of the landscape.

By the way, the sign at the start of the first video says “Las Vegas 97”.  Had I realized how close we were going to get, we would have added another day and gone to visit the city that survives on the poor math skills of millions.  Maybe next time.

These are the Court of the Patriarchs. They are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob is partially hidden by Mount Moroni

Back in Zion we hopped on the free shuttles that shuttle people in the area of the park where cars are not allowed (unless one is a guest at the lodge).

One of the places with weeping rocks.

That is one of the things I do not like about the park.  I carry a lot of photo gear, and lugging everything I “might”need is not really an option.  For instance, I should have brought my tripod for a few of the hikes we took (like the one above), but I did not need it for most of the places we went to.

Had I my car with me, I would take exactly what I needed for each hike.  As it was, decided on generic stuff that “would do” in most situations, and improvised.

The obligatory slow-water shot - long exposure, and camera set on a boulder

By the way, the spot with the waterfall is the furthest you can get to on the shuttle.  After that you can hike magnificent places that are subject to flash floods, may require wading, and are otherwise difficult to traverse.  Maybe next time.

Meanwhile, here are a few videos of what we saw there.

From there we headed back to the entrance as the light was fading fast.  The next morning we headed back out (through the tunnel on UT-9), and saw some Bighorn Sheep.

This fellow (or gal - I did not check) was quite impressed with my equipment . . . I mean, my camera

Their eyes look like huge marbles, and they have a Marty Feldman kind of thing going on

A bit down the road we stopped to watch a herd of Bighorn sheep graze on the side of a cliff.

After a while they scampered up - notice the guy with the camera that likely got much better photos than I did.

Of course, I snapped additional photos on the way out.  Red cliffs, checkerboard cliffs, lone red boulders, lone trees . . . stuff you can go see in the gallery if interested.

These next pictures are hours later, when we arrived at Red Canyon at Bryce Canyon National Park.  This is along UT-12, and it’s about 10 miles or so from UT-63, which is the road that takes you through and to the end of Bryce Canyon NP.

Red Canyon at Bryce NP - we'll spend more time here when we visit again.

One of two arches you drive through on UT-12

Finally, we are in Bryce Canyon NP proper.  You don’t see much from the road.  Nice forests, lots of evergreens.  UT-63 goes, as I said, to the end of the park.  Along the way there are lots of places to stop and park.  Toward the end the road is relatively close to the views of the canyons, but early on you park the vehicle, and then hike up to the rim of the canyon.  And then you see this.

The first we saw of Bryce Canyon extensive red rocks

So, here is the deal.  there is a lot to see here, especially if you appreciate sandstone structures.

Details of a very small part of the canyon

Along the rim of the canyon

A small part of the trail system that takes you close and personal with the formations

But it’s not just looking from a distance.  There are extensive trails heading down between the spires.

As I mentioned, we only had a half a day here, so I had to be content with looking from the rim, but the lure of those trails is strong.

Zion, I don’t know.  But here, here we plan to come back, and give it the time it deserves.

I want to walk those trails and enjoy the beauty of the place.

I want to capture that beautyso I can share it on my digital canvas . . . you know, with the two or three people who look at my pictures.

It looks neat.  It looks inviting.  It is calling to me.

These are worth seeing in SmugMug

I know I say this a lot, but if you are at all interested in the pictures, you should look at them in SmugMug.  I am not a great photographer, but this place photographs itself.  At the very least watch the slideshow in YouTube in high resolution.

No, I take it back.  Go look at least a few of them the way they should be looked at.  I won’t post many more pictures because if you are not moved to go look at them by now, a few more won’t matter.

During one of our walks we saw these two people looking intently at the ground.  We could not figure out what held their attention so, but then it moved and we saw it.

A Short Horned Lizard.

They are indigenous to the park, and I had seen their picture, but did not pay attention to their size.  I don’t know if this is a juvenile or full grown adult, but either way I have to give props to the Australian couple who spotted it.  It blended in very well, and if you looked away it was difficult to find it again.

A slightly wider view showing just how difficult it is to see - note I enhanced the contrast to make it more visible

A better look at the fellow

As I said, I won’t bore the reader with too many more pictures.  Just a few to give an idea of the continuing assault on the senses.

Stitched Panorama

Shadow and light and stone and trees

Another place to climb down in

I wonder how long before this no longer stands

At the end of UT-63 - the last overlook

From here we drove back, and I took a few more pictures (see the album).  I also took a couple of movies when we drove back out of Red Canyon.

Something I did not take pictures or videos of was our drive back on I-70, especially between Salina, UT, and Green River, UT.  Here is a write up on that stretch of road.  The weather was a little blah, and hence the lack of pictures and video, but that stretch is really rugged, and has amazing rock formations.  When we go back I plan to do it justice with it’s own little album.

Lastly, I did shoot one more film, and that is of us driving through the Johnson Tunnel on I-70, back in Colorado.

Last thought on the trip.  We knew we pushed it a bit with so few days and so great a driving distance (around 1,650 miles), but we also knew part of this was to find out the places we want to visit again, and visit again we will.  Here is a map of out Western Trip – September 2011

1,650 mile or thereabouts