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.
SEEN FROM UP HIGH
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.
IN THE CANYON
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.
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.
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.
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.
HOODOOS IN ESCALANTE
CAMPING IN ESCALANTE
CAMPING IN A BLM OHV AREA
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.
CAMPING IN DIXIE NATIONAL FOREST, WEST OF PANGUITCH
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.
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.
MAP OF TRAVELS
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!?
TOWARDS BRYCE CANYON
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.
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
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?
DRONE SMASHED TO PIECES!
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!”
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
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.
GRAND STAIRCARE ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT
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.
DRIVE THROUGH THE REST OF UTAH
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
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.
A hundred handprints. These were up along a rock wall and were visible from quite far away if you knew they were there.