Another image from my southern Utah adventures in late March of 2013. After sleeping in my car (like usual) the night before, my alarm went off around 4am to be able to capture the stars I had previously scouted at a different spot in this section. As the sun rose and the landscape changed I began to wander around to see what I could find. These amazing formations were all over and the trick was to find something to show off how weird of a place it was. Luckily the previously clear sky (good for stars) was giving way to some unique clouds and I returned to a spot I had found the evening before. Given the texture of the rock and the cool clouds in the sky this one had some possibility. I spent another 30-45 minutes enjoying the solitude as I played like a kid in a playground. Then off for what was to be an epic day in slot canyons and over 6 miles of hiking. Nonstop!
When I travel to shoot I need to research an area to get an idea for what to explore perhaps, and find other things along the way of course, but in doing so I try to extremely limit my exposure to other people’s photographs. Never do I want to be at a location and have a shot to replicate. Of course there are very oft photographed areas that I am sure to overlap, however if similarities occur this would most likely be by chance. Which I am ok with as my intention was pure.
Arriving at this southern Utah location I knew very little about what to find here, other than bizarre rock formations. Which could be said about much of southern UT 🙂 I took the late afternoon to wander around and explore what the area had to offer. Rock monoliths standing like goblins or some otherworldly creatures. As I came across this arch section the challenge became how would I photograph this place. And I moved on to find other rocks to photograph at sunset. The clearish skies did not lend themselves to good color but my default then becomes stars. Making my way back to this spot I moved back and forth trying to best compose the shapes in front of me and then the waiting game for the night sky to make it’s full appearance. During this course of events I took out my phone and checked the Sky Walk app to see what kind of sky I would be looking at. Fast forwarding to the morning I saw that the Milky Way would actually cross in to the gap! Well that settled it. I was going to set my alarm for 5am and come back here. Knowing it would be almost impossible to compose this shot in the dark, even with my headlamp, I marked the sand where the tripod legs were to be able to place it back at the weeee hours of the morn.
Dinner in the car and sleeping in the back of the truck…5am comes. I head out to my spot and set up. There’s the tail end of the Milky Way as expected though not the super vibrant section that was over my right shoulder. I ran around for about 30-45 min light-painting and shooting. Then finally deciding to try and capture other shots while the stars were still blazing (see: There Be Goblins). For whatever reason I decided to head back to the spot of the arch to just capture it one more time. Just in case. The faint light of dawn already starting to rub out the stars I ran around even faster. Finally settling on the fact the stars were gone to the daylight and off to find other compositions.
Weeks later, while going through the photographs it was clear. My choice to go back and reshoot the original idea was a good one. While the sky was not the blazing Milky Way I wanted the cool blue tones of twilight combined with the warmer light from my headlamp created a surreal scene. And even still, the Milky Way can be seen through the arching rocks. When it all comes together, even if different than planned, it makes all the early mornings worth while 🙂
One of my main goals for this trip was to finally get to explore some slot canyons first hand. Having seen pictures over the years of various shapes and colors this part of the expedition was what got me most excited. After a dissapointing first day in which I was thwarted by mother nature and water that was deeper than my dry pants (read; <40F degrees and NARROW), my second attempt at different slots was much more of a success.
But of course success doesn’t come with some errors. After hiking up the first slot of the day I encountered some rangers who just better marked a trail over the top between the 2 canyons so that the second could be down-climbed instead of the more traditional way. Well, what I didnt expect was to spend an additional 1.5hrs wandering around a random wash in Escalante trying to find it. Finally I back tracked and came to rest from the sun under a tree and well would you believe it there was the trail heading up to the left. Doh!
Finally getting to the top enterance there was a rockfall that had blocked an easy entry soooooo….down climbing. First squeezing my way on to one of the rocks before the 7′ drop to the canyon floor. Too far to slide with my 25lb pack on so on to my belly, sliding to the edge, lower the bag as far as I could and ‘poof’, on to the floor. Now for me.
Gaining entry to this slot was interesting however I do not think I was mentally prepared for how narrow this actually was. For a majority of the time I was not able to carry my backpack but had to hold it by the strap and turn my body sideways and drag this ‘not so light’ pack behind me. Every now and then stopping of course as the texture, lines and light were just amazing. Besides the extremely narrow rock walls, because I was descending instead I would encounter people coming up! Uh oh. Then it was finding a spot were we could all slide by each other. Entertaining for sure. Admittedly, about half way down there was a point where the never-ending narrow walls started to etch its way in to my consciousness and had to talk myself down to calm. Never a dull moment!
This particular section of rock wall had these amazing knobs on the sides, as most of this one did, and the reflected light was glowing perfectly. Setting up a very awkward tripod position I was able to catch this ephemeral light and unique landscape. There is one thing I know is that I could come back here for days and experience different light every day and capture something new here. Truly a magnificent experience!