Monday, April 11, 2016

The Trip Home...

Leaving Moab was bitter sweet.  Such is the case with most travel--you love being where you are, and you treasure returning to the place you call home.  But well before getting there, our journey still has some pleasant surprises ahead as we venture the 7 hour drive back to Albuquerque.  This of course is the home I grew up in, but as a Southern California transplant, I'll still have an airplane ride ahead of me to what I now call home.

Our return road trip deviated from our way up to Moab, this time passing Shiprock New Mexico and then dropping in to Gallup New Mexico where we picked up Interstate 40 for our final leg into Albuquerque.  That last leg was not without its photo opp as we passed a vista of Laguna Pueblo, accessible from a raised turnout from the highway….but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our first stop was in Monticello Utah.  This is one of those necessary stops prompted by drinking too much morning coffee...  Anyway, to a photographer, any stop is a photo opp, and while wandering around the filling station, I noticed a scene out back that beckoned for the creation of a photograph.  A church, surrounded by trees, cast against a mountain with snow--does it get any better than this?  For a photographer sitting in a car itching to press the shutter release, NO!

Ok, on to Shiprock...  The town of Shiprock is named after the nearby Shiprock rock formation, and is home to the annual Northern Navajo Fair, held every October.  Shiprock is a key road junction for truck traffic and tourists visiting the Four Corners, Mesa Verde, Shiprock and the Grand Canyon. The town lies at the intersection of U.S. Route 64 and U.S. Route 491 (formerly U.S. Route 666).  We stopped just long enough to get a couple of photos of the famous rock formation.

A short distance down the road, there was another amazing rock formation--and only the most discerning eyes will recognize that it's not Shiprock--it's Cathedral Cliff!

This area of New Mexico is vast, and it's barren.  It's a part of the country that gives one pause...why would people live here...what do they do...what are their stories...  So many questions, and from the highway, so few answers.  Yet, there they are, there they live, and a photograph forms the question...why?

Finally we hit Interstate 40 and Gallup New Mexico.  Gallup was founded in 1881 as a railhead for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and is known as the "Heart of Indian Country" because it is in the middle of the Navajo reservation and home to many tribes.  This town has a rich cultural history and is a destination unto itself, but for us today, it would only be our lunch stop.  A quick search of special spaces to eat took us to a local café mostly frequented by the locals—Jerry’s Café.  I was in the mood for the quintessentially New Mexican green chile cheese burger.  I was not disappointed!  Will our bellies stuffed, we were prepared for the next, and almost final leg of our journey.

One very special photograph remains to be captures...  A year ago I had been on a drive to Albuquerque from the west coast and nearing Albuquerque noticed a small town on a hill just north of the highway.  Sitting prominently was the church…I learned later that this town was Laguna Pueblo.  At the time, I wanted to stop and create a photograph but I happened to be in the left lane and was blocked by a truck from escaping to a pullout that I was unprepared for.  Today’s trip would be different as I was on the lookout for this same pullout, and I stayed in the right lane so as to not miss it.  As I could see the pueblo appear, I was  excited to be finally getting a second chance…  After satisfying my last photographic interest, we dropped in to Albuquerque along its famous “nine mile hill”…  

There is no real summary for this amazing trip other that the fact that with travel comes adventure, and if approached right, involves some amazingly positive experience.  This was one of those trips that allowed me to enjoy the company of a very old friend (i.e., I've known him for a long time) and enjoy some amazing photography and scenery with him.  A week is a short time, but the memories will last my lifetime.  Moab awaits my return!

Canyonlands National Park--4 parks in one!

Canyonlands National Park is also near Moab, but rather than the two-mile drive out of town to Arches, Canyonlands is about 20 miles away.  Canyonlands is approximately five times as large at over 500 square miles and preserves a landscape of canyons, mesas, and buttes created by the Colorado River, the Green River, and their respective tributaries. Legislation creating the park was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on September 12, 1964.

The park is divided into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the combined rivers—the Green and Colorado—which carved two large canyons into the Colorado Plateau.  The Island in the Sky district attracts the majority of park users and is the most accessible by automobile. The Needles district is the second most visited. The rivers within the park and the remote Maze district each only account for 3 percent of park visitation due to it's remote and vast network of unimproved roads and trails.   The Needles, Maze, and Rivers districts are all generally visible from the Island in the Sky district.
Our trip exclusively explored the Island in the Sky.  From the many turnouts, panoramic vistas of different landscapes were enjoyed and gave understanding to the vastness and variety of topographies that make up the park.  As far as the eyes could see in many directions…rivers, monoliths, earth scared by desert storms, winds, and time...  As magnificent and grand as these vistas were, there were also many beautiful details.  Rocks, plants, birds and other details competed for attention with the more dramatic scenery in the distance.

As we arrived at the rather unassuming park entrance (sans the normal visitors center), we saw a couple getting ready for their own exploration on mountain bikes.  The Islands in the Sky would be an enjoyable biking experience for most people due to its relatively flat paved roads.

Although Arches National Park boasts having the majority of arches in this part of Utah, Canyonlands is known among photographers for another very special and scenic arch--Mesa Arch.  What gives Mesa Arch such an avid following is its combination of stunning vistas through the arch as well as its orientation to the rising sun.  We were content to arrive just after sunrise, but it not atypical for there to be as many as 20 or 30 photographers in a relatively confined space, pre-dawn,  jostling for just the right spot to photograph the sunrise through the arch.  In the far distance are mountains and mesas, and somewhat closer in view is the Washer Woman Arch, named for its similarity to a woman washing garments by hand.

It was easy to be mesmerized by the sight of Mesa Arch and its setting.  Every subtle angle looking quite different and therefore compelling that more photographs be taken.  But alas it was time to move on and see what other surprises might await around the next corner...

Canyonlands seems more a wilderness than a park, and feels much less improved and "directive", leaving the exploration and enjoyment more in the hands of one's own time and curiosity.  I feel that we barely scratched the surface of the character and diversity of the park, and therefore shortchange the descriptions and narrative for those who haven't been and might consider visiting...  I can with certainty however, that if you're ever given the opportunity to visit the area around Moab, this park should be included in your plans.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Arches...Does "WOW" Say Enough??

The Arches area was first brought to the attention of the National Park Service by Frank A. Wadleigh around September 1923.  The following year, additional support for the monument idea came from Laurence Gould, a University of Michigan graduate. Finally in April 1929, shortly after his inauguration, President Herbert Hoover signed a presidential proclamation creating Arches National Monument, consisting of two comparatively small, disconnected sections. 

In late 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation which enlarged Arches to protect additional scenic features and permit development of facilities to promote tourism. In early 1969, just before leaving office, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation substantially enlarging Arches. Two years later, President Richard Nixon signed legislation enacted by Congress which significantly reduced the total area enclosed, but changed its status to a National Park.

The colossal monoliths, outcropping, fins, bluffs, and fallen rubble are a testament to the ever-changing landscape, and their time humble the meager 80+ years that we might be around to witness it.  One can stand in front of the many iconic monuments, read their name, learn their geology, but standing there hardly allows for the comprehension of the wonders that abound in this national park.

Up high on a rock a lone individual sits in the sun, oblivious to those around him as he finds ways to connect himself to this magical setting.  From where I am I can't hear him, and that's another marvelous thing about these great outdoors...there is a solitude that blankets you.  Your eyes drink in an overwhelming array of sights, but somehow the body slows things down to give all the senses a chance to coordinate.

Everywhere one turns, a new and different experience.  On the cloudless day that we were in the park, the palette of colors was dominated by reds, oranges, greens, and blues.  Many shapes had names...Park Avenue, The Three Gossips, Sheeps Rock, etc... and yet there were many where the imagination allowed for your own personal observations and naming.  This was part of the joy of touring the was reminiscent of those days as a child lying on your back looking up at the clouds and seeing many things...this was so similar.

A drive through this national park presents many opportunities to view spectacular geological formations from the roads and parking areas.  In addition, many miles of hiking were available to those who want to get away from the crowds and enjoy the peace and solitude that national parks are famous for.  

Our trip included a most special opportunity—a ranger-led tour through a permit-only area referred to as the Fiery Furnace.  This maze of vertical fin structures is navigable by squeezing through openings, straddling fissures and openings, and scrambling and climbing over a variety of physical obstacles.  This hike is not for the faint of heart, nor for those not accustomed to physical exertion.  It was difficult to judge one's readiness for the hike based on the video that the Park Service has on their website, and consequently there were a couple people on our group that would probably not go on this hike again given the chance.

What was supposed to take approximately three hours took nearly double that.  Yet, there was never a time when I got bored or ran out of things to look at or photograph.  The payoff for being in the Fiery Furnace is a view that few see--hidden arches, panoramic glimpses, rare plants, and an abundance of twisting and turning "paths".  That's the other thing...there are not really paths in the Fiery Furnace.  One really needs to be with a guide or risk getting lost.  What an adventure!

Arches National Park is a place I will return to again.  Like so many places one visits, a couple of days often is just not enough.  So it was here too.  Not only were there more things to see, but being the great outdoors, there are seasonal patterns that would change the conditions and present completely different experiences.

The "Special Places" Around Moab

The objective of this photographic journey (as stated by the photo club organizer) was to bypass the iconic locations visited by the bulk of visitors to this area and instead, visit those areas of beauty known mostly to the locals.  The two nearby national parks would just have to wait until the end of our trip (which we extended specifically for that purpose).  Our “special places” itinerary included Negro Bill Trail, Hunter Canyon Trail, Corona Arch Trail, and Porcupine Rim/Castle Valley Overlook.  These were indeed special places and offered many unique opportunities for photographic possibilities.

Negro Bill Canyon was named after an early settler in the area, William Granstaff, who came in 1877 as was one of the first non-native-American inhabitants of the region.  

Just the drive alone to get to the trail head was worth the trip.  The road snaked along the Colorado River, taking us past a beautiful pedestrian/bicycle bridge and numerous steep rock cliffs.

The Negro Bill trail is approximately two miles long and leads along a perennial stream (a rarity in the desert environment) to Morning Glory Bridge, the sixth largest rock span in the U.S.  Unfortunately our late arrival in Moab prevented us from hiking to the trail’s end before needing to meet up with the group at the local brewery...bad luck, huh?

A couple days later we went to Hunter Canyon Trail, which begins at Kelly Spring and leads up a canyon surrounded by steep sheer rock cliffs.  Ponderosa pines, junipers and oaks are abundant and feed off of a running creek that offered us several opportunities to photograph “water falls”.  The springtime visit highlighted the brilliantly green new foliage against the deep red cliff faces.

The Hunter Canyon is also known for its abundant camping opportunities.  Campsites are nestled up against trees, along the creek, and even tucked into a roadside cave!  It became quickly obvious why this destination was chosen and why it's such a favorite among the locals.

One of the more interesting scenes to photograph was this 3-foot waterfall.  It wasn't visible from the trail, but was audible.  Noisier than smaller falls, it called out for attention so we scrambled down to a spot with a great view of it...

Several miles away, and another destination worth visiting was Corona Arch, a partly freestanding arch with a 110-foot by 110-foot opening located 1-1/2 miles up Bootlegger Canyon.  The Corona Arch Trail is outside the national park and is not difficult and can be completed by any healthy adult or child—provided that you don’t wait until late afternoon to start, which was again was the only available time we had--hence we didn’t make it all the way to the this arch either (I mentioned that brewery, right?).

A large campground, sufficient for multiple RVs was not too far away, and with the smell of campfires and cooking, this hike had plenty of ambiance.  In addition, numerous hikers were out on the trail with their dogs simply to enjoy the late afternoon walk.  This trail is definitely worth a return visit, particularly since we missed out on the climaxing view of the arch.

The world famous Porcupine Rim is a must-do on any mountain bike bucket list and is a classic Moab ride. The route takes you along the most spectacular overlook vistas of Castle Valley.  So guess what—it’s GREAT for photographers too!  

If you've ever heard of the Slickrock trail (and every mountain biker has), this is the road you take to get there.  But our destination is well past this as our early morning destination and included a bit of a drive, uphill the entire way.  We drove across some frozen dirt roads that had ice and snow on them (and which would have been very muddy had the temperature been higher).  The combination of cold, morning sun, and the smell of high desert scrub gave great celebration for being alive.

This was an incredible destination, well worth the effort getting to it.  The vistas of Castle Valley were spectacular and breath-taking.  Photographers vied for outcroppings to compose their images, and patiently took turns waiting for clear views, or in my case, utilizing them to help convey a sense of scale.

Just off the trail, the snow-covered ground treated us to that unmistakable crunching sound of walking on frozen snow as we sought out additional details to photograph in that beautifully warm low-angle morning light.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Destination--Moab Utah!!

I just got back from a week in Moab Utah, which was to be the "base camp" for photographic excursions around the area including Arches NP and Canyonlands NP.  I will share the highlights from my trip on a series of posts, beginning with this first post which will include the history of Moab.  Subsequent posts will expound on our adventures in the two national parks nearby Moab as well as “special places” that we also visited.  I drove through Moab over 35 years ago and was struck by its natural beauty.  It’s taken me this long to return…if you haven’t been, make sure it’s up on your bucket list.

This was a road trip that started in Albuquerque (after having flown in from the west coast) and headed north along Highway 550 which was quite beautiful but then quickly became a bit more treacherous with snow and slush.  I knew from having checked the weather, that our destination in Utah was to be sunny with clear skies, but how much further would we continue through this snow?  Thankfully road conditions improved after only a few more miles.  We proceeded north, through Farmington New Mexico and into the southwest corner of Colorado.  Skirting past Durango, we turned due west and headed into Mancos where we enjoyed a lunch break.  I could have spent all day exploring this small, quaint, and very scenic town, but Moab was calling, so we hit the road...

The anticipation was palpable as we began our final approach as we descended towards Moab. For a while now we've been seeing the La Sal Mountains on the horizon, but as they loom larger we realize we're almost there... next stop Arches and Canyonlands National Parks!

According to Wikipedia, Moab is located just south of the Colorado River, at an elevation of 4,025 feet, and is 18 miles west of the Utah/Colorado state line.  Moab’s population was 5,046 at the 2010 census and attracts a large number of tourists every year, mostly visitors to the nearby Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The town is also a very popular base for mountain bikers who ride the extensive network of trails including Slickrock Trail, as well as off-roaders who come for the annual Moab Jeep Safari. 

The Biblical name Moab refers to an area of land located on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Some historians believe the city in Utah came to use this name because of William Pierce, the first postmaster, believing that the biblical Moab and this part of Utah were both "the far country".  However, others believe the name has Paiute origins, referring to the word "moapa" meaning mosquito.  Some of the area's early residents attempted to change the city's name because in the Christian Bible, Moabites are demeaned as incestuous and idolatrous. One petition in 1890 had 59 signatures and requested a name change to Vina.  Another effort attempted to change the name to Uvadalia.  Both attempts failed.  Moab was incorporated as a town on December 20, 1902.

During the period between 1829 and the early 1850s, the area around what is now Moab served as the Colorado River crossing along the Old Spanish Trail.   Later, other places to cross the Colorado were constructed, such as Lee's Ferry, Navajo Bridge and Boulder Dam. These changes shifted the trade routes away from Moab.   Soon Moab's origins as one of the few natural crossings of the Colorado River were forgotten. Nevertheless, the U.S. military deemed the bridge over the Colorado River at Moab important enough to place it under guard as late as World War II.

Moab's economy was originally based on agriculture, but gradually shifted to mining. Uranium and vanadium were discovered in the area in the 1910s and 1920s. Potash and manganese came next, and then oil and gas were discovered. In the 1950s Moab became the so-called "Uranium Capital of the World" after geologist Charles Steen found a rich deposit of uranium ore south of the city.  With the winding down of the Cold War, Moab's uranium boom was over, and the city's population drastically declined. By the early 1980s a number of homes stood empty and nearly all of the uranium mines had closed.