Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Wash and Long Canyon Slot

Long Canyon Slot

Our fourth, and last, day hike in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument took us to The Wash and a nearby slot canyon branching off Long Canyon along the Burr Trail Road. It surprised me to see that there was a canyon called The Wash, since there are innumerable washes in this part of southern Utah. Why was this wash The Wash? We parked alongside the Burr Trail Road and decided to walk upstream because a camper told us that the canyon was difficult to navigate downstream (toward the Escalante River) after a distance because of rockfalls blocking the canyon. Unlike Deer Creek Canyon, which we explored the previous day, The Wash is fenced to keep cattle out. Equestrians still used the trail--and left plenty of road apples--but The Wash trail was so much more pleasant without the cattle.
A high bank and riparian vegetation in The Wash

Birding in The Wash

A huge cottonwood tree growing on a slope above the riparian zone

After lunch, we retraced our steps back to our vehicle and then drove a mile or so up Long Canyon to a slot in the canyon wall. Unlike the Dry Fork slots we visited on our first day in Grand Staircase-Escalante, the Long Canyon slot was short and never narrow enough to challenge our passage. It was beautiful nonetheless. A group of Buddhist monks who visit Boulder, Utah, each summer come to the slot to chant because of the great acoustics.

Align LeftThe entrance to the Long Canyon slot

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Deer Creek Canyon

Last year's cottonwood leaf, bleached and papery

Our third day-hike in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah took us to Deer Creek Canyon, a short drive east of our lodging in Boulder, Utah, along the Burr Trail Road. Because it is a national monument and not a national park, and because they wanted to ruffle as few feathers as they could when they established the national monument by presidential proclamation, President Clinton and the Interior Department allowed considerable flexibility in land use within the monument--including continued grazing. Deer Creek Canyon is a poster child for overgrazing in the West. Though we actually never saw a live steer during our walk (we did see two carcasses), all edible vegetation had been nibbled to within an inch of its life, the landscape was strewn with cow pies, and countless cattle trails obscured the sandy, unmarked hiking trail. Deer Creek itself, in contrast to Calf Creek (our previous day's hike), is visibly more turbid and less appealing from cattle wallowing and runoff.

Nevertheless, the walk still offered some very pleasant scenery and some good opportunities for capturing images.
Natural desert gardens

A view upstream in the Deer Creek Canyon. Once the creek begins downcutting through the sandstone slickrock, it is confined to a deep ravine with a very narrow riparian corridor.

The view downstream as Deer Creek heads into its deep canyon en route to the Escalante River a few miles away. Deer Creek is one of the famous Escalanate Canyons "protected" in the national monument.

One of the features I found most interesting in the national monument (and adjacent Capitol Reef National Park) was the presence of what I later learned were glacial erratics. Boulder Mountain, to the north and west of the monument, contains a layer of volcanic basalt. During the Pleistocene glaciations, Boulder Mountain was topped with glaciers that flowed outward in all directions--including into the area currently occupied by the national monument. The glaciers carried volcanic boulders and deposited them on the desert landscape as the glaciers retreated. It's so incongruous to see rounded black boulders strewn over the stark, tawny sandstone slickrock.
Dead wood is carried onto the slickrock by summer storms, too.
This was the only rainy day during our eight-day stay in southern Utah. It provided for some interesting backgrounds. Sixty miles away, in Bryce Canyon National Park, it snowed!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Grounds for Sculpture

We had family in town visiting this weekend, so we took them to the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, just northeast of Trenton. Established on the old state fairgrounds, the Grounds for Sculpture is a private, nonprofit 25-acre sculpture garden, arboretum and park featuring over 250 sculptures.

Most of the artwork is contemporary, especially that which I like, but there are many examples of representational sculpture in the park as well, such as these painted cast bronze figures reminiscent of a Renoir.

Among my favorites, offset beautifully by the dramatically colored building.

This piece, called Awakening, is my favorite. I love the design, the texture and the colors, which remind me of the desert Southwest. Late afternoon lighting doesn't show off the piece to its best advantage.

Despite temperatures in the 90s on Saturday (June 26), we spent three hours strolling the grounds. It's a captivating place.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lower Calf Creek Falls

A cluster of barrel cacti in bloom along the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail

The 6-mile hike from the mouth of Calf Creek to Lower Calf Creek Falls and back is arguably the most popular hike in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and for good reason. The trail is relatively easy, with no significant gains or losses in elevation. The trailhead is located just off the main state highway (UT 12) through the monument, not 25 miles down a rutted dirt road like most of the hikes in the monument. The canyon scenery is superlative. And, there's running water year round--no small matter in this arid landscape.

The trail up Calf Creek Canyon

A desert garden. I didn't buy a wildflower guide, so I can't identify the plants--other than the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.)

The riparian area along Calf Creek supports lots of birds, but none that we hadn't recorded on previous trips to Utah.Near the middle of the hike, Calf Creek's defined stream channel disappears into a series of wet meadows behind a succession of beaver dams. The lodge of one of the beavers is visible in the center lower right of this image.
Three species of trout inhabit Calf Creek, including the introduced European Brown Trout. I didn't try to identify the trout swimming in the crystalline water.Lower Calf Creek Falls
120 feet high

The trail ends at Lower Calf Creek Falls. When we visited in mid-May, the plunge pool was mercifully deserted, but I understand that the pool is a very popular and understandably irresistible attraction at the end of what must be a miserably hot hike in the middle of summer.

There's a second falls (Upper Calf Creek Falls) upstream of this waterfall. However, it has to be approached from above (not below) over a very steep slickrock trail marked with cairns. We didn't get a chance to visit the upper falls, but that leaves us something to discover on our next trip!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Devil's Garden

Hoodoos at Devil's Garden
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

After we explored the slot canyons in Dry Fork Wash and were heading back toward Escalante, Utah along Hole-in-the-Rock Road, we stopped at the Devil's Garden, an area of fantastically weathered sandstone hoodoos.

An elegant natural bridge holding on by a "thread"

The hoodoos formed from differential erosion of three rock strata; the upper and lower rock layers were more resistant to erosion than the middle layer, yielding this garden of earthly delights. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dry Fork Slots

Dry Fork Wash along the Hole-in-the-Rock Road
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument outside Escalante, UT

It's time to start posting some of my images and experiences from southern Utah. My wife and I spent eight days from May 15-23 exploring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah. Our first day hike took us to the slot canyons of the Dry Fork Wash located southeast of Escalante, UT along the Hole-in-the-Rock Road.

Slot canyons are narrow defiles just barely wide enough to squeeze through--a slot in the canyon wall. They typify the West as portrayed in Sierra Club and Audubon calendars, with their sinuous, sensuous curves carved by thousands of years of flood-borne sand and strikingly elegant lighting.

We left our 4WD SUV parked at the rim of the Dry Fork Wash and descended over a slickrock trail marked with cairns to the bottom of the wash. The first of the slot canyons was apparent on the opposite wall of the wash when we reached the bottom: Peek-a-Boo Canyon. Unfortunately, there is a very slippery pour-off right at the mouth of Peek-a-Boo, and, try as I might, I just couldn't get up over the pour-off into the canyon proper. I finally gave up. (I later learned that no one can get over the pour-off alone; it's necessary for someone to come into the canyon from above, and then, using a rope, pull one's companion up over the pour-off into the canyon, but no one told me that ahead of time.)

So, we walked a short distance downstream to the second slot canyon: Spooky. The mouth of Spooky Canyon is level with the floor of the Dry Fork Wash, so we could just walk inside.
The mouth of Spooky Slot Canyon

At first, the canyon isn't intimidatingly narrow. Near the entrance, we encountered these three good friends posing for a photograph who were exploring the slot canyons and seemed to have Velcro on their feet.

But, further into the canyon, the walls close in......until it's only possible for slim folks to get through turned sideways.

My impressions of the narrowest parts of Spooky Canyon follow.

The red rock evoked for me the torso of a pregnant woman.

Though it's possible to climb up and out of the far end of Spooky Canyon, hike overland for about a quarter mile, and then descend into Peek-a-Boo Canyon, we decided instead to retrace our steps and leave Spooky the way we entered. Once we were back in Dry Fork Wash, we hiked upstream to the point where Dry Fork Wash emerges from its own beautiful and very narrow canyon--maybe not a slot, technically, but very narrow nonetheless. Don't get stuck here in a desert downpour!

In Dry Fork Canyon
Returning to the car from the bottom of Dry Fork Wash over slickrock

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Gecko on a tree at the San Diego Wild Animal Park
Both the gecko and the tree were probably not native to southern California, but I liked the image.

I'm finally getting a chance to review (and edit) the 1,200+ images from our late-May trip to southern Utah and San Diego. Here's an assortment of the best of the lizard images from the trip. I don't know the identities of any of the lizards.

Along the Hickman (Natural) Bridge Trail, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

In Spring Canyon, along the Chimney Rock Trail, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Along the Fremont River Trail, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Along the Fremont River Trail, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Enlarge the image to see the lizard's striking blue armpit