April 01, 2007

Southwest Utah, Part 3

Day 7 (Thursday): ...And On

Cloudy again! The weather forecast changed 180 degrees overnight. I went to bed with predictions of sunny skies all day, and a mere six hours later the forecast is clouds, clouds, clouds. Bah! My frustration had hit its limit by now, and I seriously contemplated just going home early. But one location tied me here still -- Kolob Canyons. I had to at least try to capture the beauty of that place, and that meant staying. Patience, grasshopper. So I resigned to make the best of what I was given, which was yet more time to explore.

I headed east again, unsure of my real destiation, and in the upper canyon the clouds were thick enough the light was managable. I photographed several different formations that had caught my eye in the previous days.

Pine Tree and Cliff FaceStriated Rock and ShrubRock Patterns and ShrubArch and Dead Tree

I also discovered a small canyon sunken below the road. I'd only managed a handful of photos before the thin clouds broke -- as they seemed to do during midday -- and the sun poked through, washing out the scene. I forged ahead anyway, exploring up the small canyon and shooting when the sun went behind a stray cloud.

Shallow CanyonCanyon Wall and PoolCanyon Wall and Pool

I headed east again and after looking at the map decided to dip into Arizona to visit Pipe Springs National Monument. The country is wide open down there, being desert highlands like the eastern part of Zion. I stopped in at the visitor center and talked a while with Paul in the gift shop, a fellow photographer. I decided not to visit the actual spring once I learned it was a simple watering hole. On the way back to Zion I happened to pass through Colorado City and Hildale, the two towns made famous by Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it looked a normal enough place on the outside.

On my way back, a thought occurred to me. This storm had to break some time, as it was very slowly moving eastward. We were under its most southwestern edge, so it could very well break today. The frequent sunbreaks pointed to the end. And if it did, there was only one place I wanted to be -- Kolob Canyons. It was a bit of a drive from Arizona, but the distance would put me there just about two hours before sunset, just the beginning of the best sunlight, assuming there was any sunlight to be had. The skies were already starting to clear in the south, and the clouds were moving fast with the winds. This was the time to take a chance and try to be at the right place at the right time. The Ansel Adams photo Clearing Winter Storm kept passing through my mind. That was what I hoped for.

My prospects weren't promising. The sky had cleated completely on the way up, until about two miles from the Kolob Canyons exit. A huge gray wall filled the sky and blanketed the entire area in shadow, as if protecting Kolob Canyons from photographers. Conditions at the canyons were not quite what I'd hoped. A bitter wind with 50 mph gusts tore through the valley, bringing occassional sleet and snow with it.

The sun occasionally broke through the fast moving clouds, just enough to keep my hopes up, and I chased them in "quick photo" mode. I didn't bother taking the camera off the tripod, balancing the legs, or even turning off the camera itself. The only way to have even a prayer of catching a shot was to speed to the location, place the tripod, compose and shoot. The wind made this even more difficult, at one point nearly ripping my tripod out of my hands and off the hillside in front of me. It was quite an adventure, and at one point I was literally laughing aloud as I flew from one place to another.

Then the sunbreaks stopped. I waited. And waited. Still the clouds were unrelenting. Now, I had a decision to make. I could stay here and wait it out, see if the clouds would eventaully break. Or I could drive back to the main canyon, burning half of the remaining daylight. The image of the wall of gray cloud and the clear blue sky to the south flashed through my mind, and I'd made my choice.

I put the car in gear and let off the parking break, and at just that instant the storm literally broke above me. My decision, it seemed, had been made for me.

Nagunt Mesa I spent the next hour shooting what was one of the most beautiful scenes I have every been fortunate to witness. Sunlight poured through rifts in the clouds behind me, covering the peaks and cliffs in golden light. Behind them, the clouds of the clearing storm flowed passed in silent exit, leaving a fresh dusting of white snow. It was a magic combination -- towering mountains, a clearing storm, fresh snow and a golden sunset. It was easily one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Canyon on South Fork Taylor CreekShuntavi PointShuntavi PointSuntavi Point and Stapley PointNagunt Mesa ValleyTimber Top MountainTimber Top Mountain and Shuntavi Point

Day 8 (Friday): Comedown

I finally got the sunny morning I'd wanted, and I spent it in the canyon shoot places I just didn't have the light for previously. Today was a bonus day, much more relaxed than before. Any photos I took today were gravy, because I couldn't imagine topping what I had seen at Kolob Canyons.

Streaked Wall The SentinelAngels Rest

I spent the morning in Zion Canyon again, focusing on areas I'd missed before becase I just didn't ahve the light, primarily on a few silhouettes I'd had my eye on all week. Midday was spent back at the hotel, packing up for the journey home. And for evening, I ventured around the main park roads just seeing what grabbed my attention. Relaxed, contented, fulfilled.

Observation Point SilhouetteThe Pulpit SilhouetteSilhouette on Cathedral Mountain

Day 9 (Saturday): Long Drive Home

I made the drive home in a single day, 1100 miles in just under 17 hours. Thank the gods for cruise control. And thank Utah and Idaho once again for their 75 mph speed limits.

I managed again to pass through Oregon without stopping for gas. They need to get with the program with that 65 mph business too. Eastern Oregon is much to vast for that nonsense. Clouds met me at the Oregon border and it was raining by the time I reached the Blue Mountains, washing off my proudly won Utah dirt. Welcome back to the Pacific Northwest.

It was an extremely long drive, distance is measured in hours and meals are determined by the gas tank. Crossing into Washington was the hardest part. I was almost home, or so it seemed, yet there were still hours to go. My muscles were tired and my joints stiff. I was tired of all my music, and the mile markers ticked by oh so slowly. But finally a recognizable landmark, Snoqualmie Pass. A little farther. North Bend. Then finally, Bellevue. For the first time in almost 17 hours, I leave the Interstate. Then I'm in my neighborhood, on my street, in my driveway. Home.

Soon enough I'll wish I was out there again, but for now it's good to be home.

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