Thursday, March 18, 2010

Quiet and Alone at False Kiva in Canyonlands National Park

I took a cold, but fabulous trip to the Island in the Sky District in Canyonlands National Park in the first days of March. My intent was to visit the False Kiva ruin and hopefully get a few photos.  I had seen some awesome photos of  Flase Kiva on the internet and they really sparked my interest in seeing the site.

Contrary to what one might think, the site is not an Anasazi ruin, it is actually a Pueblo Indian ruin.  The rangers at the visitor center told me that it was dated around 1350 A.D.  The site is designated a Class 2 site, which means that it is not noted on any maps or literature, but if you inquire with the rangers, they will tell you how to find the site.

I arrived at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center on the afternoon of March 1st.   I was supprised to see that there was still a lot of snow on the ground.  I immediately went inside and asked one of the rangers for directions to the False Kiva.  The ranger was happy to provide the information, but told me that there would be possible deep snow and muddy conditions on the steeper ground leading up to the Kiva.  He told me that the hike was a three mile round trip and could be difficult.  I led him to believe that I was well prepared and would not be deterred by the challenging conditions.  I thanked the ranger for the information and headed out to setup my tent at the Willow Flat campground. 

After getting my camp set, I headed on down the road to find the not so noticable trail head.  After parking at the location noted by the ranger, I wandered back and forth along the road until I finally setteled on a set of foot prints leading off toward the edge of the canyon.  The prints cut a path in the snow that in most places had melted into the dirt.  After hiking for about fifteen to twenty minutes on the mesa, the path started to drop leading down to the edge of the canyon wall.  I was certain that I had chose the correct path when I met the edge of the cliff and saw that the path led out under an alcove.

I had to do some scrambling on steep scree below the alcove but it was dry, not muddy as I had been told and it was fun to navigate.  Finally arriving at the alcove I got my first glimpse of the ruin.  It is like the pictures depict, a small rock wall forming a circle.  It is the location that is totally heart stopping.  The alcove was quiet, out of the wind and the view looking out over canyonlands was astounding.  How the ancient ones found this place is amaizing in itself, but the reasons for making a site there were totally understandable.

The alcove was warm and out of the wind and the only sounds were the noises made by this modern man.  I stayed at False Kiva taking picutres untill the sun dipped well below the canyon rim.  It was a special kind of experience, alone in a rugged wilderness enjoying the same view that the ancients experienced, a view unchanged by time.
Check out my new blog entry about visiting False Kiva in the middle of the night to view the Milky Way: False Kiva Revisited - An Adventure to see the Milky Way

You can see more photos of False Kiva on this link:  False Kiva Ruin Images

Friday, January 1, 2010

Experiencing the Incredible Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands


"There is nothing that I can say that would give meaning to the beauty that is watching the sun rise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands"

I have been trying to remember the first photo that I saw of the sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. I believe it was on a magazine cover back in the early 90's, or maybe it was one of the motivational posters with the man running on top of the arch, like the one that I have in my basement. In any case, the photo brought awe and wonderment and the inevitable, where is that place and how did they get that incredible picture.

Since my first glimpse of that sunrise, it has always lingered in the back of my mind. Even after several trips to see Mesa Arch in the middle of the day, it didn't quite connect that it was the place of the fabulous sunrise. Then a couple of years ago, I saw one of the sunrise photos with a caption explaining that it was Mesa Arch in Canyonlands.

Now, I really did want to go there and see the sunrise, it just happened to be an activity that was bit too early in the morning for me. That is, until I decided to become more serious about photography, then it became a must see! One of the first trips that I planned after obtaining my new camera, was to go and take a photo of the sunrise at Mesa Arch.
See spectacular images of Mesa Arch - Mesa Arch and Canyonlands National Park 

So, after three trips to photograph the sunrise at Mesa Arch this past year, there I was, warming up the Jeep in Moab at 5:00 a.m. on the frozen morning of December 20th. Since I was already down that way to catch the photo of Delicate Arch the night before (see my last blog), I thought I might as well see my most favorite sunrise one more time.

The drive up to the arch took me a little over an hour, it takes you up on to a plateau above the canyons. I arrived at the snow packed parking lot around a quarter after six. Surprisingly, there was another vehicle parked in the lot, a VW Van and I just assumed that its occupants were sound a sleep.

I sat all snug and warm in the Jeep as I watched the horizon slowly turn a lighter color. The thermometer in the Jeep was telling me that it was 13 degrees outside and I kept thinking, "is there any sane reason why I would want to leave this comfy warm Jeep and go outside."

At a quarter to seven, with the sky looking like the sun would be coming up soon, I got brave and started putting on every warm item of clothing that I brought. Fifteen minutes later I got out of the Jeep, packed my camera gear and headed up the trail. With all of the layers that I was wearing I felt like a mummy while hiking. Fifteen minutes later I could see the arch and lo and behold another photographer that was crazy enough to be out there on that frozen morning.

The other photographer introduced himself as Sunny and his cheerful spirit got me thinking that I might be doing the right thing by being there.

There is nothing that I can say that would give meaning to the beauty that is watching the sun rise at Mesa Arch. It is special in so many ways. All knowledge of the cold surrounding me was lost as I watched, and tried to capture the image of the scene that was unfolding before me. The air was clear and the cold temperatures made the colors more vivid than I had ever experienced on my previous trips.

Happy, happy to be there, happy that I would choose to brave the cold, choose to be a little crazy and adventurous again, happy and gratefull.

My new friend Sunny and I stayed for over an hour and a half happily chatting and taking photos of the arch and the surrounding scenery. I took close to 400 digital images of that sunrise and the red glow of the suns rays reflecting on the bottom of the arch.

I have had second thoughts about posting this article knowing that it might draw more people to the arch to watch the sunrise. I have met people from all over the world at that spot and time of day, and at times it has seemed a bit crowded. But, sharing the experiance is also a delight!