Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Grand Canyon Ski Trip




You might be thinking Whaaat? But Northern Arizona got dumped on last week. We got about 4 feet of snow in four days, and keep in mind much of the area is around 7000 feet. Besides days spent at Arizona Snowbowl skiing the powder, and back-country skiing around the San Francisco Peaks, we spent days digging out. Last weekend we got the van dug out and headed toward the canyon for some cross-country skiing fun.


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We usually stick to the East rim, as much of it is quite a bit higher than the rest of the park, and gets more snow. We parked between Yaki and Grand View points and skied along the rim Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
The Park Service really does a great job maintaining the roads, it just takes a couple of extra days to plow this far end of the park.  They keep the roads to Hermits Rest and Desert View closed until they do.


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The cool thing about the Grand Canyon is they keep a portion of the campground open all year round.  Which really means they plow two loops and keep a couple of heated bathrooms open.  We self checked in Saturday night and found that they had a snow shovel available to borrow.  Soon after we discovered why.  The road was plowed, but none of the sites were.  We returned to the office and retrieved the shovel then picked a site.   With the snow shovel, and my own spade we cut down the plow line and moved just enough snow to back the van into a site.

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  We didn't figure that we needed to get too crazy since we had four wheele drive.  Besides it was cutting into our adult beverage time...  We threw down our little astro turf throw rug outside for the dog to lay on, fired up the furnace, and settled down for a cool winter's evening.  We have camped in the freezing cold before, but not like this... Our Propex 2000 kept us at 60 all night long.  We brought the dog inside to sleep, although he would have been just as happy outside. With his thick coat, he loves winter.   Anyway, thanks for reading.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim

This October I had the pleasure of shooting a Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike with All-Star Grand Canyon Tours.  This modified trip found us hiking down the North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Campground, a side hike to Ribbon Falls, then onward to Phantom Ranch.  We resupplied at Indian Garden, then camped at Horn Creek, along the Tonto Trail.  Our last night was spent at Monument campground, a little side trip to the river, then up and out on The Hermit Trail.  Our guide Jon Miller humped the lion's share of the food, and provided cooking skill, along with an intimate knowledge of the geology.  English guests, Jaime Orr, Andy James, and Matt Sharp really enjoyed themselves.  We even had Photography Workshop time dedicated to time-lapse and night photography with light painting on the Monument.  Forty miles, and five days in the canyon was sublime.


Here's the video. Check it out!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Escalante Loop Trip- Valley of the Gods

The road that lied ahead brought us to another crazy road called the Moqui Dugway.  Apparently it is listed as one of the world's most dangerous roads.  It closely resembled the switchbacks of the Burr Trail.  I might have been more terrified if I were in a huge motor home due to the hair pin corners. Otherwise the switchbacks of the Burr Trail were more sketchy.  Cool stuff, though.

Moqui Dugway


   Immediately at the bottom of the Moqui Dugway was the turn off for Valley of the Gods. I drove right past it, as the sign was facing the opposite direction, of course. I would consider Valley of the Gods to be the little brother of Monument Valley.   It is a loop that is only 16 miles long and extends to Mexican Hat.   It is full of neat rock formations, and at the beginning of the dirt road there is an interpretive sign that lists the so called names of the formations, and a small map depicting their locations.  There is free camping there, as it is part of the BLM, but in recent years the available spots fill up early.  We chose a spot near what was called Lady in a Tub, and from the back side it is exactly what it looked like.  The sun was going down and the shadows getting long so it was one of the closest spots available.

Lady in a Tub

 I took the opportunity to capture some sunset images.  After a little dinner and campfire, we settled in this gorgeous area.  Just as dusk had fallen I began to realize the 3/4 moon was beginning to become visible along with Venus.  It was a large orb floating in a beautiful gradient blue sky, perfectly aligned with one of the famous monoliths, the so-called Lady in a Tub.   I snapped images, as Kristi watched the moon slowly lower itself below the horizon.  The light was such that I was able to capture some detail in the moon's shadow.   The moon travels quickly and I had to find a shutter speed that froze the motion, and capture enough light to keep it from being blurry.  We left the next morning during the sunrise, but I captured some more images on the way out. Only having spent one night in the Valley of the Gods, I was blessed with a spectacular display of light for the duration. My only regret was that we didn't spend another night there.  We definitely will be back though.


Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods Camp

Escalante Loop Trip - Capitol Reef

Grand Gulch
 
By now we've gotten into a routine of waking, breakfast, then driving to our next hiking destination for a day hike in the morning, then lunch, then afternoon day hike, then driving to our evening boondocking campsite.  This morning we left camp rather early, and chose a hike through Grand Gulch  in Capitol Reef National Park.


Cassidy Arch

  The hike proceeded through a box canyon and ended at Cassidy Arch hike in which we hiked up to the top of the arch spent some time walking across the bridge.  Kristi thought it might be a good place to take some photos for her Pilates business website. So she made some poses, and I took photos.   Turns out the formation was so large that in order to get the gist of the area you had to zoom out so far she was all but lost in the enormity of it all. It was still fun though. We hiked back along the canyon floor to the parking area, let the dogs out to splash in the small creek there, had lunch then proceeded to drive around towards the visitor's center. On the way we passed an old Mormon school house in Fruita.

Hickman Natural Bridge
 
   After a quick look around there, we headed out again on a hike to Hickman Bridge.  It was a nice easy hike with a Fremont Indian granary and ruins of a pit house.   I'm sure we only scratched the surface of what Capitol Reef had to offer, but our time was running out, and we had only one night left before having to return home.

Escalante Loop- Burr Trail & Notom Road

The next morning we headed toward Capitol Reef National Park, by way of the Burr Trail.  This route was recommended by the ranger in Escalante for the scenic views.  The trail was developed by John Burr in the 1880s to move cattle back and forth between winter and summer ranges.  Currently the trail is a dirt road, beginning with a large sign warning travelers not to travel while wet or snowy as it can be nearly impassable. The road travels through rough terrain through the country around Waterpocket Fold, Burr Canyon and Muley Twist Canyon, with bonus views of the Henry Mountains.  Numerous hikes and side trips exist on this interesting back road, and we chose to hike Upper Muley Twist Canyon.  The road to the parking area is only about three miles long, but travels in a wash.  High clearance four wheeled drive is recommended, or one can park at the bottom and hike through the wash.   We passed backpackers who did just that, and a new Ford Explorer that had given up on the road and parked half way up in a safe spot.  You can see in the photo below the van driving in the wash with Peek-a-boo arch towering overhead.

Peek-a-boo Arch in Upper Muley Twist Canyon


 We arrived at the parking area with-out incident. We got out our topo map and found a route through the bottom of the canyon that promised a couple of arches.  We packed a lunch and left the pets in the car, as it appeared that some canyoneering may be necessary to navigate some of the large pools and slot canyon. Temperatures this time of year were in the low 60s so we felt comfortable that they would be fine in the van with the shades closed, and windows open.  The hike was pretty, but with very little shade, exposed.  There were times we had to figure how to get around large pools of water, with out getting our shoes wet.  We had our lunch at a spot across from Saddle Arch on some slickrock that had a good view of the arch. The trail continues up and along the rim, then circles around and back into the canyon to make a nice loop hike.

Saddle Arch

 After returning to the van we grabbed the dogs and did a quick side hike to the Strike Valley rim for views of Waterpocket Fold, where you can see a great rift of a fault line.  The view here is one of the most impressive of the views so far.




Waterpocket Fold
 Hopping back in the van we continued down the Burr Trail to a most dramatic set of switchbacks which takes you right through the fold and onto Notom Road.  Dusty and sandy the road travels through some beautiful country along the valley floor.   There is a campground about half way down this road, with only a handful of sites.  We opted to keep driving to find a boondocking site a short distance away.  We'll call this site Notom arch. As per usual we were surrounded by cows and cow patties, but there were also great views of the Henry Mountians.  I took advantage of the cool formations, and spent the evening making night images, light painting the formation and making startrail images.    For more information on the making of the night image below see my photography blog post here: Notom Window


Notom Window



Monday, November 7, 2016

Escalante Loop Trip- Calf Creek Falls

If you don't know anything about me, the one thing you should know is that I love waterfalls.  I'll hike far and wide to catch a glimpse, take a photo, and/or swim in them. Up next would be the infamous Calf Creek falls.  It so happens there are two falls in this area, Upper Calf Creek Falls and Lower Calf Creek falls. The direction we were driving dictated that we would be visiting Lower Calf Creek falls first.  There is a designated recreation area there managed by the BLM, complete with a campground, restrooms, and water.  It is a great hike to take the family, and dogs, as the trail is well maintained. Grab the brochure at the trail head, and it will guide you through an interpretative hike highlighting the flora, and history of the area.  Round trip, you will hike about five and a half miles, and on warmer days bring your swimsuit and towel, it will be worth the quick dip in the large pool at the bottom of the falls. In early spring,  it wasn't warm enough to go swimming. I hiked in sandals, and waded in a bit to get the image below.
Lower Calf Creek Falls

The area, no doubt was frequented by native Fremont and Anasazi peoples.  Ancient granaries and pictographs dating back about nine hundred years can be found close to the trail.  The photo below was taken from across the creek depicting what is thought to be some ancient gods.   Drawn on to the canyon walls the pictographs blend well with the stains from eons of rainfall creating a most colorful 'desert varnish.'


I'd like to imagine that the images depicted ancient aliens, complete with antennae and wild triangular space suits.  Holding hands.... 

 I thought it might be a good idea to get a campsite at the campground for the evening, but Kristi  disagreed.  She really likes boondocking, and I must say, I couldn't agree more. There is that feeling of peace and quiet that can only be experienced when camping in the wild.  

We still had half a day left after lunch and we decided to try and find Upper Calf Creek Falls.  We had the guide book and took off in search of ...  As I seem to do many times on adventures, I drove right past the small parking lot, and had to flip a U to park there. A dusty lot and a register box are all the amenities here.    The trail starts off down a steep slickrock trail marked sparsely by cairns.  At times the trail was quite easy, other times we seemed to wander a bit.   We finally made our way down to the canyon floor, which was obvious, then had to bushwack our way upstream until we came to the falls.  It was much easier route finding on the way out for some reason.

Upper Calf Creek Falls

The falls was cool, lush and green.  Not much in the way of beach, or hang out places.  We shared the view with another couple for a few minutes, and made an image or two.  The challenge was hiking back up the slickrock.  Although the rubber soles of my shoes had exceptional traction, it was steep, and exposed.   An hour of huffing and puffing, we were back at the parking lot.  It was getting late in the day, and I was getting anxious to find a campsite. Happy hour was calling.  The road was really interesting as we headed toward Hell's Backbone.  On either side of the road there was a sheer drop-off, and we seemed to follow on top of a ridge for miles.  We turned onto the Hell's Backbone road and a few miles later we found a really nice spot overlooking the valley below.  With plenty of juniper for firewood, and a few adult beverages, we were content, and ready to settle in for the evening.




Thursday, November 3, 2016

Escalante Loop Trip - Hole in the Rock Road

We pointed our noses in the direction of the Town of Escalante. Since we lost a few beers and some tomatoes we decided to stop in at a grocery, then check in at the ranger station to get the low down on the road conditions on Hole in the Rock Road. Looks like a little cold front was going to blow in, but no moisture. Stocked up and filled up we began down the fifty mile road. The story of Hole in the Rock Road starts and ends like most stories in Utah, with early Mormon settlers. They were looking for a short cut to the river (now Lake Powell) and blasted a channel in the rock to descend the steep cliffs with their wagons. They did it, but the road never really became a popular route. It pretty amounts to a dead end road today. There were tons of hiking trails, and canyons to visit. We had a little trouble deciding what to do first. Dinosaur tracks, slot canyons, Dance Hall Rock, Sooner rocks all on tap.
We brought some hiking books of the area and shuffled through them to see what to do first. There was Spooky and Peed-a-boo slot canyons directly adjacent to each other. This sounded good, we could kill two birds with one stone. We left the dogs in the car for this hike, since the descent into the canyon was to be really steep on slick rock. At the bottom of the canyon we hiked in a wash and spent time investigating a few of the side canyons. It was a bit confusing as to which slot was which. And once you were in there it was difficult to turn around. If other people arrived you practically hat to crawl over each other or back up to a spot wide enough to squeeze by each other. At one point I had to set my day pack and camera down because it was too narrow to continue with them. Eventually claustrophobia takes over and you have to retreat. Kristi could proceed a bit farther, but I would be wedged in there due to my wide rib cage.
Peek-a-boo Canyon

 I'm not sure canyoneering is my forte. It was fun though. Once we returned to the van we found a dirt road off the main parking area and followed it to see where it might lead...perhaps a camp spot over that hill. And behold a small slick rock out cropping revealed a fire ring. You would think that a remote desert road might be replete with camping spots, but there were quite a few no camping signs at the trail heads and parking areas. Not that I would prefer to camp in those areas... Late afternoon was upon us and some high clouds started to move in. We set up camp, and started a fire with wood we had brought from home. It was rather barren terrain, and gathering wood only left us with a small pile of sticks. Fortunately this area was free range, and there were plenty of cow patties. Believe it or not dried cow patties burn pretty well, and act as a filler for the fire. Definitely the dried ones. You can try it at home. Sitting in camp usually entailed activities such as campfires, watching the dogs roam around smelling the scents, calling for them when they wander too far off, and yelling at them for eating something disgusting. They all love disgusting. I also enjoy listening to music. The barn doors have a speaker in each of them, and with them both open I can have full stereo sound. Some adult beverages and cooking dinner usually end the evening. Then off to la la land. Unless we have somewhere to go, we just laze around in the mornings. Brewing coffee is the first order of business, then business is the second order of business, of course. Breakfast slowly follows and a discussion of the upcoming events for the day after that. By about 9 we are prepared to seek out new adventures. Dance Hall rock was on the schedule. Dance Hall Rock is an interesting formation that makes a natural amphitheater.  The rock got its name from the 19th century Mormon Settlers that used it to hold square dances.  You can sit there and just imagine the sound of fiddles, guitars and banjos echoing throughout the canyon.  Petticoats spinning, and girls giggling at young men courting their hearts out. 

It always amazes me that even against insurmountable odds life finds a way to live. Located atop of Dance Hall Rock the area supports about a half dozen trees like this. The great photographer Guy Tal made this locale famous in his book Intimate Portraits of the Colorado Plateau. Just as the Mormon settlers did, this tree ekes out a living in this high desert environment, persistent against the odds. This area is a great place to explore, much like Mars would be, had there been trees. I took my GPS and wandered all over these rocks, and made a loop back to the van, by creating a waypoint and following the arrows. There were a few sketchy places, and as you can see if you were to fall into one of these holes it would be very difficult to get out, if not impossible had you been alone. We definitely kept the dogs on leash. Our next stop would be to find a camping spot, and according to the guide books, it would be Sooner Rocks, one of the few permissible locations. The clouds were building and blue sky was becoming scarce. The wind was biting, and not much fun. The bottom of Sooner Rocks seemed the best place to camp, but alas the few available camping spots were already taken.
We chose a cool spot with a great view of a large monolith, but with the wind blasting us it wasn't the best conditions to hang out in. We hiked around a bit in the valley to escape the breeze and possibly look for another spot. Eventually we threw in the towel and just retreated to the van for shelter. We settled into our routine, save the campfire. After dinner we decided to watch a movie on the iPad, and before we got even half way through we were both asleep. A Tempurpedic mattress must have been at fault for that. After completing our morning routine we decided we'd check out the dinosaur tracks. The storm front had moved out and the sun was shinning brightly. We followed the directions in the guide book, which led us to a sign with some hand written coordinates. I punched them into my GPS and we made our way up to a rock shelf. Having arrived at our location we looked around, and around. No tracks that we could see. We hiked and hiked, and returned to the coordinates again. Hmm. Looking down we saw some white spots, which could have been anything. I suppose the position of each of the spots might resemble a walking pattern. Indeed. We were expecting some semblance of a foot or toes, but were slightly disappointing to find a series of spots. Not like any dinosaur prints I've seen before. I guess they were baby dinosaur prints. Having spent the whole morning looking at rocks, it was time to skeedadle to our next destination.