Monday, May 20, 2013
I hadn't been out to do photography hardly at all this spring and was in need of an adventure. So, after giving it some careful thought, I decided to go False Kiva in Canyonlands National Park to take photographs of the Milky Way. This seemed like it could be a grand adventure. I checked the moon chart and picked the night of Friday, May 10th as the best time to go. There would be a Dark Moon, a time when the moon was not visible. I probably read this somewhere, but this did seem like the best time to view the Milky Way, when there was no impeding light from the moon. I had also read that Canyonlands is one of the best places to view the Milky Way Galaxy as there are few man made lights to be seen.
I told my wife that I was planning on going to Canyonlands National Park on Friday after work to take some photographs of the Milky Way (I did ask if she was o.k. with that). I let her know that I would be back early on Saturday and that she and my daughter would hardly even know that I was gone. I was planning on staying up all night and did not need to pack much. I checked the weather all week and did notice that it could rain and and would be around 50 degrees at night and packed accordingly.
I am only a couple of hours away from the entrance to the Island in Sky District of Canyonlands. I was hoping to arrive in time to take photos on Aztec Butte before the sun went down. When I got out of work on Friday, I rushed home, woofed some dinner and hit the road. When I arrived at Aztec Butte, clouds obscured the sun and unfortunately nixed that photo opportunity. So, I took a few photos at the Green River Overlook and then parked down by the trail head to the False Kiva ruin. It had been a few years since I visited the ruin (see my blog entry: Quiet and Alone at False Kiva in Canyonlands National Park), so I walked the road and scouted out the exact location of the trail head. Then I grabbed my book and settled down in my vehicle and waited for the stars to come out and hopefully for any clouds to go away.
Around 11:00 p.m. I decided that it had gotten dark enough that I should pack up my gear and get ready to go. After dinking around for a while I finally left the car around 11:30 p.m. I had my camera gear, a headlamp and two flashlights, water and couple of bagels. I also brought a coat and an outer shell. I will have to admit, being alone on this endeavor left me with just a little bit of trepidation, but this is what adventure is all about.
The first thing that I noticed as I headed down the trail, was how dark it was. If my light wasn't shining directly at the trail or an object, I couldn't see it. With no moon, it was very - very dark! I took my time as I hiked making sure that I was following the right trail and not some animal track. I had to look really close at any tracks in the sand to help me stay on the correct path. As I got farther along I noticed landmarks that I remembered from my previous visit. I eventually dropped down the ramp and then realized I was on the path below the alcove that covers the False Kiva ruin. This was interesting in the pitch black darkness that enveloped me. I knew that I was above the cliffs of the canyon, but could see nothing that could tell me how far below that was. It could have been five feet or one hundred feet, I decided not to investigate to find out.
Finally, the trail started to climb steeply toward the alcove. Having been there before, I knew to be careful climbing the lose dirt and scree. As I drew close to the wall of the upper cliff, I followed the foot prints in the dark to the left along the base of the upper cliff. Climbing over rock scree, I ascended over a rise and .............. nothing. There was nothing there, the rocks turned into bigger boulders and as I shined my flashlight along the base of the cliff wall, I could see that there certainly was no flat spot with a ruin. I turned around and shined my flashlight in the opposite direction along the base of the wall and it didn't look any better, in fact maybe worse from that perspective. The biggest problem that I had was if my light wasn't shining directly on something, like a pile of boulders, I couldn't see it or anything else, it was just too dark. It was impossible to tell where I was in relation to anything.
I sat down on a boulder at the base of the upper cliff and started to ponder my situation. Was I in the wrong location, did I miss something on my way in? It would have been fairly easy to do and ultimately, was I lost in the pitch black darkness, in the Canyonlands wilderness with cliffs on all sides. After some careful thought, I decided that I had indeed followed the correct trail to the point of starting up the steep slope. I decided that the footprints that I had followed up and to the left were probably from some adventurous folks that had lost there way - in the day light. Now think about that while sitting there in the ultimate darkness.
I found myself faced with a new dilemma, finding my way back down to the trail that I had exited earlier in the dark and of course, not fall off a cliff. Needless to say I really took my time, eventually and safely finding the trail at the point where I had exited. I found that had I gone maybe five yards farther on the trail, I would have found another spot to exit and head up going to the right. It was not far from my original trail but kept trending right to where earlier I thought I would not want go. Following footprints and a few rock cairns, I picked my way through the boulders at the bottom of the upper cliff and at last, and with some relief, I was peering at the False Kiva ruin (only cause my flashlight was pointed directly at it).
It was 12:30 a.m., I unpacked my gear, setup my tripod and settled down on a rock turned out my lights and hoped that the Milky Way would appear. The stars were out in force and it looked like the clouds had disappeared for the most part. What a place to be alone, with the ruins, the stars and my thoughts running wild. What was it like for the native american to sit there at night and veiw the stars and the Milky Way, not much different from my perspective.
I found that I had to turn a light on just to move around with out tripping on a rock or falling off a cliff. Around 1:30 a.m. I started to see the first glimpse of the Milky Way appearing in the southeast sky. I took many shots of the Milky Way and unfortunately they showed the limits of my camera equipment. I could have used a much faster lens for this shoot.
Even so, I still took some interesting photos of the Milky Way.
The quality of my photos got better with the morning light. Check out the link to my photo website for some of the best images: False Kiva Ruin Images
After it got brighter in the morning, I took some pictures of the view looking down in front of the ruin.
You can just pick out the trail that I took in the middle of the night in the image below.
I left the False Kiva ruin around 7:30 a.m. having spent a fabulous night with the ruin and the Milky Way. I went into Moab to get gas and coffee and took a short nap before heading home. I arrived home around 11:30 a.m. and the girls hardly new that I had been gone all night.
What an Adventure!
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Every time that I have driven by Mexican Hat Rock in Utah, I always have the question of how does it remain balanced there so precariously. Well, last Thanksgiving while driving by with my wife and daughter on our way to Monumnent Valley, we noticed an adventurous climber hanging off the side of the Mexican Hat Rock. Now I wondered, isn't the climber in the least bit concerned that his weight hanging off the end of the rock going to cause it to tip over? I guess not, as you can see in the follwoing images he made it safely on to the top!
It was an interesting sight to see. I had always wondered if people had scaled the Mexican Hat Rock and now I had the opportunity to witness it.
Unfortunately we did not have the time to stay around long enough to get to talk with the climbers.
Monday, April 1, 2013
What is it that draws us to Utah's Red Rock Country? Is it the red color of the rocks, the tantalizing sunrises or the remoteness of the countryside. When I think of Utah's Red Rock Country, I think of Moab, the Four Corners and Canyonlands. Just the thought of it, conjures up visions of John Wayne, the Navajo, the Anasazi and my favorite - Indiana Jones.
For me personally it is the pure Indiana Jones, adrenalin rush type of adventure that you can achieve on almost any visit to the region. That is, if you so desire. This rush does not just come from a remote hike into an Anasazi site, or hanging your hind end out on a Mountain Bike ride on the side of a cliff. This rush and inspiration can also be achieved by simply getting up early and watching the sun's early morning rays strike the monoliths in Arches National Park.
I am no expert on the region, but I am madly in love with it. My first visit occurred in the late 1980's while on a trip to repair the electronic controls on a houseboat at the Lake Powell, Bullfrog Marina. I drove all of the way down from Washington State and when I saw the scenery around Hanksville and then Lake Powell, I was awestruck! What was this place of red rock, this land of wild and towering rock formations, of remote and alluring canyons calling out to me. It leaves a lasting impression that I did not soon forget.
My first real visit was a trip to Moab. I believe it was the fall of 1994. My brother in law and I went there to do some hiking and mountain biking, to experience the adventure. And what a trip it was! We rode the Slick Rock Trail near Moab for the first time. This is where I found out that you can't actually ride up vertical rock, even though it seems like you can, but my complete backwards somersault proved otherwise. We also rode the Portal Trail, where leaning to far in the wrong direction can lead to a 450 foot fall. One of my favorite exploit's of the trip was rappelling into an alcove in a cliff to see if any human being had been there before. We were thinking that maybe it had been visited before by, perhaps an Indian, but alas, we were only greeted by a bunch of mouse droppings. It was adventure none the less.
What fun that first trip was and there was one other intriguing fact of knowledge that came up while on that trip. It was the photo that we saw at the Moab Airport of a large Anasazi Cliff dwelling. We asked at the airport and around town, but no one would, or could, tell us where it was located. Now, this was pure intrigue, the seed that plants visions of adventure in my brain. It took a couple of more trips to Moab and two years of asking around, along with minimal research, to learn the location of the cliff dwelling. And so, with that knowledge in hand, we planned a trip back down to Southern Utah.
Since I don't keep a journal I can't remember if it was one of our spring trips, or fall trips to Moab. Let's just say for fun that it was May of 1996, since I was probably down there at that time. We headed down to Southern Utah with the expressed purpose of visiting that cliff dwelling.
To get to the trail head, we had to drive 17 miles in on a dirt road, after driving for almost 2 hours on paved road. Our plan was to hike in, set up camp, hike to the dwelling, spend the night and hike out the next morning. We drove out from Moab early in the morning and arrived at the end of the dirt road around noon. The view of the canyon where the cliff dwelling lay was fabulous, with stripes of Painted Navajo Sandstone. The dwelling itself was not visible from our vantage point. The remoteness of the location and the rough desert beauty conjured up the image of an Anasazi Native American hiking along the canyon rim (just day dreaming).
The hike took us immediately down hill for 800 feet onto the canyon floor proper. Then we were following what seemed like little more than an animal trail. The first part of the canyon was wide and open. After the first about a mile and a half, we came upon an old log cabin, which I later learned was built in the late 1800's.
Inside the cabin were a couple of old pans and assorted odds and ends. Wow, it was cool to see, experience and know that it hadn't been stripped bare in the following years. Who lived here in this remote location, how did they exist here, questions that were voiced between us.
Next on the hike were bushes and bushwhacking. Having lost the trail, this part of the hike was interesting and not fun. It seemed like we would never get out of there and when we finally did we came upon a small spring with clear water. We were hot and tired by this time and the spring was a blessing. Fortunately, we had brought a water filter with us and we refilled our water bottles and drank our fill.
Not long after we left the spring, we were greeted by a right facing spur reaching out from the canyon. The little information that we had about the main canyon was that this is where you camp. It wasn't really a camp site, more like a flat spot on the ground with fewer weeds. We set up our tent, stowed our gear and prepared to head out to our main objective.
We crossed the spur canyon and found a small Anasazi granary. We spent a few minutes looking it over then headed out again. As we entered the main canyon we greeted by our first glimpse of the cliff dwelling still a ways down the canyon. It did indeed look impressive! We sped down the canyon ushered on by finally getting to visit the place that had inspired us in a photograph two years before.
An hour and a half of hard and fast hiking finally brought us to the base of the cliff. I found out later that the cliff dwelling has 27 rooms and it was exhilarating to stand there beneath it. The alcove appeared to be over thirty or more feet from the base of the cliff. Some one who had been there previously had taken a dead log and leaned it up against the cliff to try to gain access. We toyed with climbing the log and even tried to go up a little ways, but concluded that it might be very difficult to get back down.
We hiked along the base of the cliff and came upon some pottery shards and other small artifacts that had been collected by others and placed in that one location. I was totally captivated by these items. I couldn't believe that these items were there and still existed after the approximately 800 years since the Anasazi had left.
This was pure Indiana Jones stuff, the adventure, the find (though hardly the first modern men there), the pottery shards. It was true, you could still do real Indiana Jones! And I was hooked, this was way to cool, this fabulous country, the scenery, the remoteness, the adventure. We stayed there a while and took a few photographs of the cliff dwelling, shards and surrounding area with my cheap film camera. Then we hiked back to our camp arriving well after dark. The only interesting thing that happened on the way back was the snake laying across the trail that I almost stepped on. I didn't go back to try and determine what type of snake it was.
The next morning we packed up, hiked out and headed back to Moab.
This was the trip that got me hopelessly hooked on Utah's Red Rock Country. Adventure, breath taking scenery, it has it all! Easy or difficult it is there for people of all abilities to enjoy and of course, photograph.
And what does this story have to do with photographing Utah's Red Rock Country you ask? Well, the canyon, the area and the cliff dwelling are calling to me to return and photograph them. I hope to return some time in the next couple of months and do just that!
You might have noticed that I did not tell you the location of the canyon. There is good reason for that, I am leaving that unsaid so that you too can enjoy the same adventure that I had.