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.
In May I spent some time camping with my brother, found my favorite campsite so far in all of my travels, and played around with the drone and video editing. I went to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, further up the Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend, and Zion National Park. Wow!
MAP OF TRAVELS
I started out the month in Las Vegas. I’d been there to meet up with friends who flew down from Portland. I had a wonderful time with them. I drove from Vegas to Sedona to meet my brother. On the way, I stopped for a night in Flagstaff. That city really has a pull on me. I like it a lot. It’s an awesome place to spend some time during the summer.
SEDONA – WITH MY BROTHER
My brother, Brandon (@thetinglytraveler ), realized he had multiple sclerosis in 2015. He was having a standard successful American life: a stable job that he was very good at and was promoted to manager, a nice house in Denver with a sweet garden, time and money for his hobbies
If I understand correctly, the biggest challenge he had (other than now M.S.) was all the stress at work. He was extremely loyal to his company, and thus ended up having a lot of responsibility and stress there.
After his diagnosis, he changed his life quickly. He Started eating healthier and running, and lost excess weight he’d been carrying for years. He found a wonderful girlfriend. He started thinking about how to reduce his stress at work.
House prices had went up a lot in Denver. Brandon sold his house in Denver and moved in with his girlfriend. Then, they sold her house. They both quit their jobs. They got a truck and a travel trailer. They’ve been traveling around the U.S. the last few months.
They expect to choose an area to buy some land and start a homestead. He’ll probably work more. I expect it will be in a technical role that he enjoys.
I’m proud of my brother, and I’m excited for them.
We crossed paths Sedona and camped together. It was nice camping with them and catching up on their travels so far, trying to give each-other things that we no longer use and don’t need (neither of us were successful at offloading much of anything), comparing ideas of places to travel to, sharing some meals, going on a hike, and so on.
Remember that drone that Dan of Big Ox Little Bird gave me a few months ago? I had a heck of a time getting a charger and batteries for it. I’d gotten the charger after about a month, and one of the batteries I ordered didn’t arrive in Phoenix until after I’d left the city. (The other never did). When my brother passed through Phoenix, he picked it up from me from my cousin before heading north to Sedona. So, I finally got to use the drone. It’s a lot of fun.
This was the first video I recorded with it. I wasn’t even checking the exposure and the sky is all blown out.
We had loose plans to travel together for a while. We weren’t sure how long it would work out, as we have our own sort of speeds of movement, and they would need to go back to Denver fairly soon. We made plans to go up to the Grand Canyon next. I got itchy feet about a day earlier than they did, and headed up there. it was useful for me to go first as I could scope out potential campsites for them. Their trailer doesn’t have a lot of ground clearance, and their dog is scared of other dogs and people. So – I could go check what the roads were like and try to find a campsite that’s a bit secluded from other campers.
The next day, after they ran errands and started heading up, they had trouble with their trailer. Something with the wheel bearings – I believe not having quite enough grease and basically burned up. So they were stuck down a bit south of Flagstaff for a few days.
I camped in the National Forest south of the Canyon. I ended up staying in 3 or 4 different spots. I’d drive over to the canyon each day, and then just go to a different spot. At the spots nearest to Tusayan, there was a lot of low flying helicopters, so I only stayed there one day.
I didn’t really like taking pictures of the canyon. It’s so huge that the other side is all hazy. When shooting with a wide lens, it’s basically all the same and just blends together and looks flat and boring. I did go shoot there during sunrise one morning. I didn’t think I got much of anything, but I did end up with one picture I really like (the first one).
After a few days, there was some cold weather approaching. I didn’t know when my brother would get the trailer fixed and head up, and I wouldn’t be of any help if I went back down there. I wasn’t crazy about the canyon, so I headed off to a really cool campsite that my brother found on Instagram
ALONG THE COLORADO RIVER
This was my favorite campsite of all my travels so far. It’s on some BLM land that goes right up near the edge of the canyon. It’s near the old site of Lee’s Ferry, and it’s quite remote. It’s only like 10 miles from Page as a bird flies, but it’s 50 miles of driving.
I stayed here for about two weeks. I ended up making 3 trips into page. One of those was an extra trip to go buy a 1.5mm hex key. A hundred miles for a $.10 tool.
Why? Well, I was flying the drone a lot, and realized it had a problem. The gimbal was shaking around a lot. With a little research online, I saw it was likely because of a certain set screw not being tight enough. I needed a 1.5mm hex key to tighten it. I have a ton of hex keys in various sizes. I had a 2mm, and I believe a 1mm. But no 1.5. I wanted to fix it while I was still camping out here because it was an awesome place to record drone footage. Tightening the set screw did fix the gimbal vibration issue. So, then I had to re-record all the clips I’d gotten so far.
I have a lot more pictures from here, and an incredible nice drone video, but I’ll save it for a specific post about the spot. Here’s a taste of it:
I was flying my drone a lot and one evening I was sorting through clips and editing them together. The way I had my van parked, the setting sun would shine in through a window and reflect on my computer screen, so I had my curtains up. Those curtains sort of blocked out my view of the sunset.
While editing, I glanced out the front windshield and noticed a bloom of color on the clouds. A brilliant pink.
I jolted out of my seat, grabbed my camera bag and tripod, and scurried over to the edge of this canyon. I only had about 5 minutes before it faded away
PAGE & HORSESHOE BEND
I shot there at 3 different times. Here’s a picture from the first time. Yep, looks just like all the other Horseshoe Bend pictures.
I wasn’t that crazy about this place. The view is nice. There’s just so many people coming in and out and taking the same pictures. It’s sort of a zoo. At one point while I was set up and shooting, an old Asian lady who couldn’t speak english thrusted her camera into my hands and gestured for me to take a lot of pictures at different zoom ranges. I think she was scared to go up to the edge. That was actually kind of nice because she had a Sony a7 and I’d been wondering what it was like to use their electronic viewfinders.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
After a couple weeks near page, I figured I should get on into Utah. I’ve never been to southern Utah, and I’ve been looking forward to it a lot.
I drove back through Page and then to Zion National Park.
I drove through the park – on that road that goes through the south end. WOW! It’s an incredible drive. It’s a continual stretch of amazing views – literally the whole way, other than while inside the two tunnels you go through. The next day I hiked up Angel’s Landing.
I’ll probably have a bunch more pictures to share from Zion. I spent a couple days walking around the canyon and shooting.
PLANS FOR JUNE:
It’s gotten hot, and I’ve left Zion. I’ll come back again at the end of the summer or in the fall. I have a loose idea of where I’ll go next – maybe something like what’s shown below. This whole stretch from Cedar City to Zion looks super remote. The towns on the way are extremely tiny. I haven’t researched actual places, so if you know the area and have any suggestions, please share them!