Stumbling Into Greatness (August Travels Part 2 – Utah)

I spent the second half of August meandering around central Utah, and found myself luckily stumbling into greatness on and near the San Rafael Swell.

Map of Travels

Stumbling Into Greatness

Stumbling Into Greatness

I was traveling west along I-70, just minding my own business, intending to go over to a National Forest further down the road. I saw an area to the north of the interstate that looked interesting. There was a nice plain of grass, and off in the distance, some striking canyon walls lit up in glorious warm oranges and reds.

A great thing about Utah is that almost all of the state is federal land. And you can go almost everywhere. When you see a place that looks good, you can go explore it without having to wonder if you’re allowed to.

Stumbling Into Greatness

I took the next exit and pointed Ranger towards that cool-looking area. I thought I’d go in a few miles and camp for a few days. But, “ahead” just kept looking better and better, so I kept going.

First spot – on the Bluff

Eventually I got up on a bluff, and saw a fun-looking seldom-used side road. There seemed to be a good chance of it going over to the edge of the hill, and having the kind of nice views I like, so I headed down it.

After a few miles, I came to the first established campsite. It was indeed at the edge, with a nice view, but it was occupied. Very occupied. There was an old trailer – beat up, but kept up – and still obviously in use. The resident had, probably over years, build a bunch of very nice rock benches around a fire pit. And there was something going on with cowboy boots, but I can’t remember exactly what. I couldn’t tell if anyone was home. It looked like the kind of camper that is left here year-round.  I headed on down the road to look for my own spot.

A couple miles later, with not a single established spot on the way, I got to the end of the road, and at the last possible place, there was one.  It was out at the narrow tip of the bluff. I parked by one edge and had a good view, but when I wanted a different view, I’d walk the 50 yards over to the opposite edge.

Stumbling Into Greatness

Stumbling Into Greatness

This campsite contained an uncommon improvement – a clock. Someone had built a 15 foot diameter sun dial. And it was accurate. It was off by an hour. Who knows when it was last adjusted for whatever the daylight savings status was at the time. But it needed it now,  so I moved the labeled rocks around by one spot each, and had myself a nice clock

It seems good practice to make a big sun dial, but ironic to build one so far from any place a person needs to know the exact time.

Stumbling Into Greatness

Off a bit in another direction was a curious arrangement of rocks. It made me wonder if there is a body buried underneath. Not like a murder victim that a person needed to get rid of,  but an intentional, planned burial. It probably wasn’t, but who knows. It’d be a pretty good place to be buried. No pictures of that one.

Stumbling Into Greatness

I didn’t see a single sign of another person for the three days I camped here.  No people, no cars. Well – the one thing I could see was some kind of tower that I could spot with binoculars, maybe 50 miles away. There was a road on the other side of the river, but never any traffic. Days later, I tried riding my bike down that road and found out why – it’s really sandy.

I had no internet up here, and I was pretty productive. I think I did a lot of photo editing.


Stumbling Into Greatness





I drove back out to the road and went on an exploratory bike ride continuing further in the direction I was heading to get out here. It crossed the river a few miles later, and traveled through a wonderful canyon (not the one that contains the river). I passed many places to camp along the road in the canyon. So, I headed down there with the van.


In the canyon:

Heading off:

There are a bunch of nice campsites. I stayed in a couple and made my way through the canyon over 4 days.

The river. Indians lived in this area, either over a long period of time, or at a couple different times long apart. They made a LONG panel of rock art on a wall a few miles from this river. If I recall correctly, some of the art is from about two thousand years ago, and some of it is from about one thousand years ago.

The van looks like a tiny little speck out near the center of this picture

I finally actually tried turning my passenger seat around. I’d decided long ago that it wouldn’t work because the bolt pattern is not square. But one day out here I decided to turn it around anyway and see.

It works. Sort of. I have two of the four bolts in. It’s not totally secure. I had to remove the armrest in order to close the door – and that was a good deal of work. Those arm rests are NOT meant to be removed. Many of the bolts were welded in place after assembly. So I had to take out a lot. Even without the armrest, the seatback is in the way of operating the window crank, and rolling the window up or down requires opening the door first.

But, hey, see how cool I look?

I went on a couple bike ride through this canyon – it’s 8 miles like this – all beautiful sandstone walls and glorious green plants. The indian rock-art panel is a third of the way through. How about that – a museum stop on a bike ride out in the middle of nowhere! I didn’t take a picture of the rock art. There are some decent ones here.

This canyon is a perfect place for a bike ride. The road is smooth. The views are spectacular. I had one of the best rides of my life here.




While I was down in here, I recognized a van as it rambled by. It was someone I follow on Instagram. So, while on a bike ride, I saw where they were parked and stopped for a chat. I asked about nearby place – the “little grand canyon” and they confirmed it’s a good place to camp.

I was about out of food and water, so I headed into the nearby small town about 20 miles away, and then went up to the canyon edge.


Little Grand Canyon

And – it was another home run. I’m on a roll!

Stumbling Into Greatness

I like this better than the, uh, big Grand Canyon. You can camp right on the edge. And you can see the river. And there aren’t a bunch of loud people.

Stumbling Into Greatness


Stumbling Into Greatness

There’s good hiking along the edge of the canyon. It appeared pretty easy to walk down to the river, but I didn’t do so.

Stumbling Into Greatness


Stumbling Into Greatness

There was a strong Verizon signal up here. I even watched that one big boxing match. Live!

Stumbling Into Greatness




Here’s some of the Utah disappearing rain. It evaporates before it touches the ground. Seems to happen a LOT out here.




These camp plates are nice. I got them from Kelly Kettle. I like them because they function well as either plates or bowls. So, when I got them, I gave away my plates and bowls and just kept these. The plates are a little bit thin compared to other stainless steel plates/bowls I’ve used. They aren’t flimsy, but they aren’t the most sturdy either. That keeps them light for hiking and stuff I guess.

If you want to buy something from Kelly Kettle  you can get 15% off of anything they sell by using this coupon code I got for you: wild15. Awwww yeah.

They sent me one of their water filters – and I tested it out in Colorado. It works well, and was super handy up where there are lots of streams.

The timing of getting this filter from Sagan was nice. While in Utah, I was planning a trip deep into Escalante, including a 2+ day hike down into a river canyon that has some awesome natural bridges. I was talking to a guy at the info station in town, and I asked him how much water would be in the river. I was asking this to help me decide what type of footwear to bring. He responded “oh yeah, there will be some water in the river, so bring along your water filter and use it there”

I nodded as if that’s why I was asking, and made a mental note that I should probably get one. Then a couple weeks later, someone from Sagan emailed me asking if I wanted one of theirs. Niiice.

I like this thing. It’s small and easy to carry. The tube makes it comfortable to use – a lot more comfortable than some of the other survival water filters where you have to get your face right down by the water. It doesn’t take much  sucking to draw water through the filter and straw, so it’s really easy to use.

It filters out all kinds of nasty stuff – including arsenic, which some of the natural water sources in Utah contain (and if you drink from them without filtering it out, you’ll be in big trouble). As far as I can tell, this filter will make basically any source of water safe to drink.  It’ll be good knowing I have it in the van so that in a some case of dire emergency where I run entirely out of water, I’d have this to make it safe to drink whatever water I can find.  Plus I’ll take it along on some hikes along water sources instead of carrying a ton of water.


Ok – back to Utah

It was hot. It had been hot down in the canyon.  And it was still hot up on the canyon edge. So I searched for higher ground nearby, and found some 50 miles to the west.

Off I went.

And… it was another great place!

This was on the way up – going through the trees – it was getting nice and cool.

On my way up. Going through the trees. Getting nice and cool

And – starting to get up above the trees:

I messed up while moving files around and deleted most of the pictures I took up in this place, so you’ll just have to believe me that it is really nice up there.

I was up above 11,000 feet, and it was cool and crisp. Really hot weather can be draining in the van. Other than relocating, there’s no escaping it. The cool air up here felt super refreshing. Ohhhhhh man it felt good.

And, I had company. Sheep. And a sheep dog!

This dog had a vicious sounding bark from a distance, but then when he came up to me, he was more like “HAAAAYYYYY! What’s up buddy!?”

Sheep can sound odd in the distance. A big pack of them produce a lot of bleating, and it’s in a tone that can sound like people talking loudly.

They were fun to watch. It’s immediately obvious that they are very social animals. They talk to eachother a lot, The little kids call out to another and then run over to them. Groups of of family or friends hang out together. They share some similar body language with us humans.

I hung out up here with the sheep and the wind for 3 or 4 days. Then, I had a couple packages waiting for me to the south. I’d had them mailed to Springdale, the little down at the entrance to Zion, thinking I’d be down there around this time.


I drove straight down to Springdale in one day. And I got the packages. I’d made a huge mistake with one of the shipping addresses, sending a package to SpringVILLE Utah instead of SpringDALE. I had actually been up pretty close to Springville without knowing the package was there, and drove 200 miles south to Springville. The post office had it transferred along for me (which is something I think some/most post offices wouldn’t be willing to do), and it was there for me in Springdale the next morning.

And, it was HOT down there. SO HOT.  I searched around for higher altitude. There are some decent hills north of St George, so I was thinking about going there. But, there was a good deal of smoke rolling into the area. I checked and saw that there was a fire up north – actually also near where I had been. And a lot of smoke was making it down this way.

I didn’t want to sit down in the heat. And I didn’t want to go up higher and still have a bunch of smoke.

The next option was to carry on in my general direction – southwest. For this to work, I’d need to go all the way to the coast, because it’d be even hotter everywhere between Zion and L.A.

So, I pointed ranger southwest. And that was the end of August.


A question

If I made it so people could order prints of any picture on this website, do you think anybody would buy one? I’ve been doing a side project out here in California that I’d like to sell prints to people of. So I’m considering ways to do this, and one of them would be to do it through a different part of this website, but I could use the print-selling capability for the whole site. This blog doesn’t get a lot of traffic (and it’s hard to tell how much is real people vs. bots), so I’m doubting I’d sell any or many. (Other than maybe for the specific type of projects I’m doing, which would be totally different and separate from blog posts like this)







Zion Canyon: My Favorite Place in the World

Zion Canyon My favorite place in the world

Earlier this summer, I spent some time in Zion National Park, and part of it, Zion Canyon,  became my favorite place in the world.

I’d seen pictures and heard about it and I went in with high expectations. Upon arrival, I drove through the park from east to west. The main part of the park – which has Zion Canyon – is in the southwest corner. The drive was magic. Just freaking incredible. It was one spectacular view after another, without the slightest break other than while driving through the two tunnels in the park.

I spent the next week exploring Zion Canyon – hiking, bicycling, taking pictures, and walking in the river.  It’s like an eden. The open part of the canyon is about 10 miles long and up to maybe a mile wide. At the north end it closes in with the river running between two steep sandstone walls. The canyon is rich with trees and various types of plants, and they are spaced out perfectly to allow walking everywhere you want.

I took many pictures here. I hope they do justice in giving you an idea how beautiful this place is.



When I imagine an ideal landscape, what I see is essentially the Zion canyon. It’s one of the small number of places I’ve been dreaming about seeing. So – rather than hurry through a corner of Utah, I came over here.

Today I hiked up to angel’s landing. I find it a bit funny how the Mormon folks gave Zion all these super religious names. But once I’ve seen it, I really can’t fault them.

I’ve heard how busy Zion gets in the summer. I expected hordes of people marching terribly slowly up the hike. But it wasn’t so bad.




Once at the top of Angel’s Landing,  I walked further, down to the very edge of the cliff overlooking the canyon. I found this ledge. No one else came down for the 4 hours I spent on it.  I watched as the sun moved through the sky and it’s light changed the color and appearance of the sandstone walls. I watched clouds floating through the area that darkened or illuminated parts of the canyon floor. I read a book. I took a nap. I took these pictures. And I felt wonderful.

I’ve been traveling the U.S. for a year now. This view amazed me more than any other. It was the first place where I cried from joy.





Zion is the kind of place where if you come and spend a day walking around the canyon and taking in the views, the sounds, and feel the river flowing by your legs – you will leave this canyon feeling like you’re winning at life. It helps you realize the insignificance of whatever problems you’re having in your life.





Zion Canyon: ten miles of natural magnificence.

It’s my favorite place on Earth

Just a few hours here, and my life feels perfect.


“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains! To behold this alone is worth the pains of any excursion” – John Muir.

I don’t know if he was talking about any specific mountains, but it definitely could’ve been these in Zion canyon.

The canyon is fairly narrow, with high walls, so the whole thing is only illuminated at once for a few hours each day. Outside of those hours, the sunlight is always changing. And when it shines straight on the sides of these sandstone mountains, they look glorious



This swarm of people in the picture below are in the Virgin river at the north end of the canyon. During the busier times of year, the river is like this every day – with about a thousand pairs of feet carefully walking along the slick and hard rocks under the water. You have to walk carefully on these rocks and the crowd kind of look like zombies because of it.

Don’t let this dissuade you from going to Zion. Most of the park has WAY fewer people. Only the few most popular spots are like this. But the whole canyon is just about as nice as the most popular spots.

And even in this river, with all these people, it’s still entirely worth going. There have been some other scenic places – Horseshoe Bend is one example – where there are tons of  people, and where they can get distracting and annoying to the point where I don’t enjoy the view more than anywhere else. But I never felt that way about Zion. It’s so damn good that it doesn’t even matter that some parts are crowded



Driving (and riding my bike) through the park totally blew me away. I drove through at the perfect time of day. As I drove, the evening sun danced back and forth behind high cliff walls. Many other areas have beautiful spots that are spaced out. The entire road through Zion is incredible. The only sections of road that aren’t amazing are while you’re inside the two tunnels in the park.








So many stars

I spent June meandering through the southwest corner of Utah. What a beautiful place. And wow, at night I could see SO MANY STARS! Before this, I’d never done any serious astrophotography. The second half of June was very dark at night because the moon was in it’s smallest phase, and it was only up during the day.

So many stars

I had fun shooting the stars. I got started after I was away from the lights at Zion and Cedar City. One night, I opened my back doors to look up at the stars while laying in bed, as I do from time to time, and I was blown away. I’d never seen the stars so well until I came out here to the remote parts of Utah. I think every person alive deserves to see the night sky in all its glory  least a few times in their life.



So many stars


So many stars

So many stars
That’s a planet above the moon. I wonder which one.


The Routine

It’s a strange routine shooting the stars. During the day or evening, I’d find a foreground that would work. Then I’d do normal stuff and go to sleep. If I wanted to get the milky way while it was vertical, I’d set an alarm on my phone to wake me up around 2am. Then I’d actually be up and go out to shoot around 2:30. I’d shoot for a while, and then go back to bed.


So many stars



So many stars




So many stars



So many stars


So many stars

It feels good to be out at night

During the summer when it’s perfect out at night, it’s fun to be out there walking around, shooting, and admiring the universe. Being out at night in places like this picture sure helps me feel wonder and tranquility.

Even without any moonlight, once your eyes adjust, the stars provide enough light to walk around in places without many obstacles. It’s a shame that most people now are so disconnected from the night. And by night I don’t mean the late hours, I mean the chance to admire all the stars and planets, to hear absolutely no sounds other than whatever breeze there is, and to rid themselves of being afraid of the dark.

The desert is silent at night, but in some areas with lots of trees and birds and other loud animals, they the loudest time of the entire day is a few hours before sunrise. They get crazy loud. When I was backpacking in Wisconsin I woke up around 4am one night and it sounded like a freakin’ animal party out there.

So many stars





So many stars


Stars night sky utah escalante astrophotography

So May Stars. WOW!

When you have a good dark view of the sky, the number of stars you can see is bewildering. You can see thousands. The milky way streaks across the entire sky – one huge thick line of more stars and who knows what.

It also is almost immediately obvious that one’s eyesight prevents seeing many more stars. If you get out a pair of binoculars, it reveals maybe 50 times more stars than you can see with your eyes. Then you might wonder how many more you’d see with a telescope. It’s wild.

A few weeks after those wonder-causing nights in Utah, I spent a week in Denver. When I went outside late at night and looked up, I could see maybe 30 stars. That’s it. Compared to the thousands I could see when it was dark, 30 or so stars is basically nothing.


Stars night sky utah escalante astrophotography


Stars night sky utah escalante astrophotography
I took this in Arizona before doing some research on astrophotography. The other ones are a lot better technically. This one has a lot of noise (and much of the noise looks like stars)

June 2017 Adventures


I spent June exploring the wonderful state of Utah. It’s full of inviting deserts, lush high altitude hills, wide and deep canyons, river washes, cozy slot canyons, arches, hoodoos, and so on. SO MUCH STUFF!

I shot a TON of pictures in June, and this post will be full of them.  I’m also experimenting with dumping in some of the captions I’ve written over the last month for my Instagram posts.



I started out June down in the southwest corner of the state, in Zion, and ended in Grand Junction, just across the Colorado border.


Wow! So many fucking kids. What’s in the water here!?


I camped for a few days in Dixie National forest between Cedar City and Bryce Canyon. It looks like there are many good places to camp around here.


This nest was only about 15 feet from my van, so I got to watch the parent(s) come and go.

I shot these pictures in Dixie National Forest, east of Cedar City. It’s not that far from Bryce Canyon National Park – which looks incredibly different.

From where I camped for only one day, I saw 5 or 10 deer out of my van windows. There’s a meadow nearby that I walked over to in the evening, and there were a few different groups of deer there – about 40 in total.

I had wonderful songs from birds. And I had wonderful sunlight shining in through these aspen trees.

I met a Peruvian guy up here while looking for a campsite. He lived in an old style wooden trailer – basically a covered wagon. The wagon appears to sit there full time (he had no vehicle). He works up there, herding sheep. He’s been in the U.S. for 10 years, but doesn’t know much english, because he’s spent those ten years alone in places like this. I saw a video once about these sheep herders on Youtube, and it was really interesting. The herders are basically all guys from Southern America. They stay up in the National Forests full time, in these old style trailers, or sometimes in cabins. The sheep owners bring them food and water, and move them and the trailers to other locations.  I would’ve taken a picture of him and his wagon, but he didn’t want me to. .

I love this kind of forest

Aspen trees all over the place. Some old dead trees that have been on the ground a long time

Lush grass

Free of thick plants or bushes, so you can walk everywhere

Birds singing their songs, flying around, and keeping their eggs warm

Deer meandering through and looking relaxed

Sunlight filtering in through the Aspen leaves

The air clean and a little bit sweet smelling

A breeze blowing through and making nice white noise as it filters through the leaves

Nowhere else to go. Nowhere else to be. No worries. No crowds of people, or traffic, or noise, or work deadlines, or chores to do.

The world simplified down to this area and it’s beautiful balances of plants, animals, sunlight, and weather. 

Thoughts while driving on a road like this and looking for a campsite:

The day is full of possibilities…

Will I find a wonderful place to camp?

Will the roads be good for riding my bike?

Will there be nice sunsets?

Will I see deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, BEARS?

Will be it windy, rainy, cold, hot, cloudy?

Will there be birds singing songs for me? (well, not for me, but I’ll still get to enjoy them)

Will there be a cell phone signal to keep me connected to the parts of the world I wish to be?

How long will I feel like staying before I have the urge to move on?



While I as on my way to the campsite above, I stopped to fly my drone. And while flying, it turned over past 90 degrees sideways and dropped like a sack of rocks. It fell from about 80 feet in the air and crashed into the ground really hard. As soon as I saw it tip over like that, I figured that was it – no more drone for me.

The plants weren’t all that crazy thick where this happened, but it still took me a while to find the drone. As expected, it was smashed really bad. The camera and gimbal broke off entirely and I didn’t find them. One of the arms was bend really bad. The body was all smashed up and cracked open. I’m sure a bunch of the electronic connections inside were broken. I gathered up all the pieces that I could find and threw them in the trash in the next city.

So – what went wrong? I didn’t crash it into a tree or anything, it just turned over and fell from the sky. I had made some adjustments to the controls sensitivity recently, but I thought they seemed conservative, even within the ranges available. The drone had been drifting more than usual during this flight – downwards, and I probably should’ve stopped flying it to recalibrate it. I’d been flying it for about ten minutes, and when I pushed the control knobs to have the drone turn and fly quickly, it tipped.

There are many different things that could’ve gone wrong, but I don’t know which did. It could’ve been that my controls adjustments were actually too much. It could’ve been that it got too far out of calibration. One of the arms was bent from crashes that occurred while the previous owner had it and it’s propeller blade often hit the arm while flying. That propeller could’ve broken. A motor could’ve failed. There could’ve been a short in one of the many wire and connections. Who knows. But… no more drone.

Daaaaang. I really would like to get another – a Mavic Pro, which are small enough to carry on hikes. Flying the drone and editing the videos was a lot of fun. But…. I don’t like the idea of spending ~$1,300 on something that can suddenly fall out of the sky and smash to pieces. There is crash replacement insurance available at a reasonable cost. I just still don’t feel like spending the money on it right now.

For a couple weeks after, it sucked  when I saw a place that would be awesome to use a drone. But, you know, this kind of “sucks” is entirely imagined in my own head… It’s someone thinking “oh man, damn it, it would be so cool to drive a Ferrari right now, this sucks!”


Another Campsite:


I dipped my toes, or, maybe my whole leg, into astrophotography. I have a bunch of other shots I’ll share soon in a separate blog post.


ROVA sent me a copy of their second issue. For those interested in living and/or traveling in a Van, RV, or camper, you may like this magazine. There were good articles in this one.



I spent 4 or so days in Bryce Canyon. I don’t like it anywhere near as much as Zion.

In Utah, there are many striking landscapes. Many of them are from water carving out rocks and dirt into beautiful landscapes and shapes.  Zion has hard sandstone rock, and Bryce has a softer, more dirt-like material. So in Zion you have these flattish edges of hard rocks that I find beautiful. In Bryce, it looks more like dirt that has eroded, and I think it’s ugly.

I grew up in the midwest, where plants can grow everywhere. If a yard or some land has bare dirt that then erodes, it is a sign that the land is not cared for, or that it’s owner is incompetent, and his precious topsoil is washing away.




Excalante National Monument is huge. I mean HUGE. Zion National Park is 230 square miles. Escalante is 2,900 square miles. Plus, it’s surrounded on all sides by federal land for hundreds of miles. And basically no one lives permanently in Escalante N.M. This is the most remote part of Utah, and maybe of the entire lower 48 states.

There are some awesome places in Escalante, particularly along a road called Hole in the Rock Road. There are arches, slot canyons, big interesting rocks, and a wonderful hike down a canyon through what’s called Coyote Gulch.


Hole in the Rock Road  follows a trail taken by Mormons on their way to found a new city on the east side of the Colorado River. 200 people set out with 83 wagons and 1,000 head of livestock. Crossing the river turned out to be very difficult. The river has cut a ~1,000 foot canyon through the rock. They  found a place where the canyon wall was cracked and spent months blasting it open and making a very rough and very steep path down to the river. They went on and formed a town called Bluff, where now about 300 people live.


I really wanted to go to Coyote Gulch, which contains the Jacob Hamblin Arch. Coyote Gulch is basically at the end of Hole In the Rock road, 40 or 50 miles south of the highway. There was a big forest fire nearby, making a lot of smoke, and I was concerned that the smoke appeared to be going down that way – basically straight south along the road. At the visitor’s center in Escalante, I asked about it. The guy said that the smoke clears out about a third of the way down the road.

Slot Canyons – Tunnel and Zebra

After setting off town the road, the first place I stopped was where a trail leads to two slot canyons. These were fun.


While I was exploring and photographing these slot canyons, it got really, really smokey. It was clear that the guy at the visitors center was either wrong or has very perceptions of smoky vs clear. I could also see all the smoke floating straight south, in the same direction as the road, and too all the areas I wanted to go camp and hike and photograph. I don’t like the smoke, and it basically ruins any landscape pictures of things more than 20 feet away. So I decided to head back up to the highway and go northeast and get out of the smoke. I expect that I’ll come through Utah again and that I’ll make it all the way to the bottom of this road.


It was getting really hot in Utah, and I decided to get over to the rockies sooner rather than later. So I drove a couple hundred miles from Escalante to Colorado in 2 or 3 days.

I drove through Capital Reef N.P., and it looks good. I was considering going down to Moab and Arches, but decided that I might as well go up into the mountains and leave those places for some later and cooler time.

Various Driving Pictures


This is the Escalante Canyon, seen from along hwy 12. Wow! Some day I want to come back and hike along and inside this canyon. Also, hwy 12 south of Boulder is an INCREDIBLE road.

Hike near the Escalante River

I hiked up along some creek that meets the Escalante right by hwy 12. There are two neat things there: various native rock art, and a big arch.

I believe some of this is recent/fake (probably the ones on the outsides)?))

A hundred handprints. These were up along a rock wall and were visible from quite far away if you knew they were there.

And here’s the arch:

Hey where are you camped? … Nowhere..