April 12, 2015 Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Yet Another Pleasant Surprise

I really hadn’t heard all that much about Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, but since I was fairly close by, I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to explore new territory. So once again I was out the door before 7AM to head the 60 miles to the Monument from my campsite at Lees Ferry.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Heading north on Route 89, I passed over the Arizona/Utah state border and took a right turn on Cottonwood Canyon Road, a dirt road that runs many miles north through the Monument. The first 8 miles or so of this road run through grazing land, mostly gentle rolling rangeland, with a colorful backdrop of pastel hills.

Attitude
Attitude

This road actually handles a lot of traffic, especially on weekends, and can be done in almost any vehicle. My only difficulty with my no clearance Prius, was being able to properly ride the high parts of the many ruts in the clay based roadway. There is a warning sign that states that this road can be impassable after rains, and from the depth of some of the ruts in the road, I would have to imagine that that may well be the case.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

After passing through the open range, the road turns north and parallels the Paria River, with wonderful rock formations rising from the riverbed on both sides of the road. I was looking for spots that I might be able to boondock along this road sometime in the future, and I did find a couple places along the first 13 miles of the road that I could probably get into. But the trip in would be jarring and very rough on the motorhome, and on this trip in there were two spots where large rocks had fallen down into the roadway and I could just barely fit the Prius around them, never would have been able to make it around them with the much wider motorhome.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

There are many very strange formations along the west side of this road, wonderfully crazy patterns of color and textures in the rock.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

I would love to have a geologist explain to me how all these patterns were etched in the face of this slope.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

The road gets very dusty in places and with a fair number of people traveling it on a gorgeous Sunday morning, I found myself having to wait several minutes for the dust to clear before I could take a picture every time someone rolled by. The entire car, both inside and out, as well as all my camera gear were completely covered with dust by the end of the day.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

If you look at the bottom this image, you will see some of the electric transmission lines that run along the road, not just one, but two sets of transmission lines mess up better than 50% of the wonderful images that could be taken along this road. And with the sharp drop-offs down to the riverbed and assorted cliffs and rock formations along the road, it is mostly impossible to hike to a place where you can see around, over, or under these lines. I can’t tell you how many great shots weren’t taken today because of these electric lines.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Today I ventured in about 26 miles on Cottonwood Canyon Road before turning around. Looking at the road on Google Earth, it appears that it would be possible to follow this road north to Bryce, something I just might attempt on my next trip through this area.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Even at the 26 mile mark it is starting to assume some of the colors of Bryce.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

At the top of this hill is where I finally turned around to head home,

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

and this is view looking back south after turning around. I really regretted having to stop, but I was running a little low on gas and did want to get back home to watch the final round of the Masters. The terrain to the north looked very interesting, but I guess it will still be there when I return.

Another great day on this great adventure !

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April 10, 2015 Lee’s Ferry Campground, Arizona

Route 89A and the Vermillion Cliffs
Route 89A and the Vermillion Cliffs

The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Yesterday I made the trip from the Petrified Forest National Park to Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, to spend some time exploring the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. An uneventful trip west on Route 180 to Holbrook where I picked up I-40 West to just short of Flagstaff where I got on Route 89 North. All decent roads today with little traffic. About 30 miles south of Page, Arizona, I picked up Route 89A and drove into Lee’s Ferry, the starting point for a lot of the Grand Canyon River Runs. I was fortunate enough to snag one of the better sites in the Lee’s Ferry Campground, a flat pull through with a nice view.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Lee's Ferry Campground
Lee’s Ferry Campground

This campground has about 40 sites, mostly back ins, mostly all not very level, along with maybe 7 pullthroughs, 2 or 3 of which are fairly level. Some sites have picnic tables, some have wind/sun screens, some have both, some have neither. Campfires are not allowed. $12/night or half that with the old fart’s discount, no hookups, but there are dumpsters and restrooms, and there is a dump station at the rangers station just a short distance from the campground.

Lee's Ferry Campground
Lee’s Ferry Campground
Lee's Ferry Campground
Lee’s Ferry Campground

The sites are all very close so there is no privacy. Fairly good Verizon signal and good satellite reception. There are no overhead lights so this place has brilliant starry nights.

Colorful Mountainside Before Sunrise
Colorful Mountainside Before Sunrise

This morning I headed up the road to the Lee’s Ferry landing to check on some rubber rafts I could see from my campsite. I was pretty impressed with the colors of the cliffside/mountainside caught in the shadows before sunrise, just an amazing rainbow of colors.

The Start of the River Run
The Start of the River Run

At 6:30 AM, the first of the day’s Colorado River runs was loading up and getting ready to shove off on a week or mores journey through the Grand Canyon.

The Start of the River Run
The Start of the River Run
Along the Road to Lee's Ferry
Along the Road to Lee’s Ferry

By 7 AM I was heading back out the entry road to Route 89A and had to stop to shoot the ” balancing rocks ” along the Lee’s Ferry Road. The shot above looks like something I would imagine the Mars Rover would be shooting.

Fallen Rock
Fallen Rock

These rocks fell from the cliff top eons ago, landing on the ground at the base of the slope. Then thousands of years of erosion washed away about 6 feet of the ground around and under the rock leaving the pedestal that currently supports the rock, but that will eventually be eroded away as well, and the rock will fall once again

Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color

The colors and patterns that result from thousands, millions, of years of erosion are something to behold.

Along the Drive Into Lee's Ferry
Along the Drive Into Lee’s Ferry
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color
Vermillion Cliffs Color

These cliffs run parallel to Route 89A for about 15 miles and I found it necessary to stop every half mile or so to shoot images.

Rock House
Rock House
Rock House
Rock House

This old settler’s ” Rock House ” sits directly on the side of the road.

I wanted to drive the Rock House Road that connects Rout 89 to Route 89A over 30 miles of dirt road along the western edge of the Vermillion Cliffs, to see if there were any dispersed camping sites I might be able to access along the road.

Along Rock House Road
Along Rock House Road

Heading north from Route 89A, the first 10 miles of this dirt road are relatively flat and the road is in good shape, easily travelled by any rig. But then the road becomes quite rough, deeply rutted and poorly maintained. For the most part I had little trouble negotiating the ruts and bumps with the Prius, but I don’t think I would want to risk this road with the motorhome, and I would guess that this road would be all but impassable after some wet weather.

In addition, I did not find any real dispersed camping sites along the road and the nice little State Line Campground had but 1 or 2 sites that would handle a larger rig.

Along House Rock Road
Along House Rock Road

There are several great hiking trails heading into the Vermillion National Monument Wilderness Area from this road. Many, such as the trail to the famous ” Wave ” require advance permits that are issued by lottery,  but other trails can be accessed after purchasing a permit at the trailhead’s self pay stations. I didn’t get many shots along this road as all the good images were to the east and I travelled this road early in the morning.

At it’s northern terminus, Rock House Road joins Route 89 and I headed east through Page and then took Route 89A back to the campsite. The first few miles east on Route 89 after coming off Rock House Road give you a great idea of what the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has to offer in terms of incredible rock formations and these formations appear completely different in color and form from those I have travelled through today.

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April 7, 2015 Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.

A Morning Trip into the Park

Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.

I was out and waiting at the gate to get into the park by 7 AM, hoping to catch the last few rays of golden light.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.

Some shots I couldn’t get yesterday afternoon because of the sun’s position overhead were available in the early morning light. I pretty much had the entire park to myself this early in the morning.

Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.

Looks like someone was stacking firewood below the rocks here. As the rock formations erode over the eons, they release the chunks of petrified wood entombed in the rock, here they are accumulating at the bottom of the slope.

Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.

Here’s a good example, if you look carefully at the right edge of the image you ail see a couple of chunks of petrified wood exposed in the rock about a quarter of the way up the slope. In the foreground you can see an accumulation of petrified wood at the base of the sandstone formation.

Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Petrified Forest N.P.
Two Pronghorns
Two Pronghorns

One of the advantages to being an early riser is you are out and about while the animals are still out grazing, before they bed down for the day.

Three Pronghorns
Three Pronghorns
Cottontail
Cottontail
Cottontail on the Run
Cottontail on the Run

 

This guy was initially hoping I didn’t notice him in the shade alongside the trail, but when I stopped to snap a shot, he must have decided he had been seen and fled to the safety of a nearby bush.

The Painted Desert in a Different Light

Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert

The morning light made quite a difference in portions of the Painted desert.

Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N.P. Painted Desert

By 10 o’clock the light was getting a little harsh and the crowds were starting to come through, so I returned home to start processing images. It always amazes me how folks apparently have no idea what the effect of light has on the colors and textures of any landscape, not just these here in the desert. 99% of the tourists here and in most places I photograph are just arriving when the light has become too harsh for me to shoot .. and obviously they are missing the best part of the show, and probably don’t even realize it.

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April 6, 2015 Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.

An Afternoon Tour of the Park

Made the short trip to Petrified Forest National Park and set up at the gift shop free camping area.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.Petr

Petrified Forest Free Gift Shop Campground
Petrified Forest Free Gift Shop Campground

I did not expect to find this free spot to boondock, so this was a welcome surprise. The gift shop is located right at the intersection of Route 180 and the Petrified Forest Park Road. The sites are flat and easily accessed by any size rig. I spoke with the woman in the gift shop and she said there is a 4 day stay limit. Turned out to be a quiet place to stay with minimal light disturbance, and very convenient for access to the park.

Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.

My original plans were to bypass this park, one of the few National Parks I had never before visited. Petrified trees just aren’t something that has a whole lot of appeal to me, but, with temperatures north of here still getting below freezing at night, I figured, why not check it out. And turns out, I am glad I did.

Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.

The landscapes along the 28 mile Park Road are quite spectacular, to me at least, much more of an attraction than the thousands of pieces of petrified wood scattered throughout the park.

Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.

The photo opportunities are numerous, as are the number of photographers here. My only gripe with this park is that it closes the gates at 7 PM and doesn’t open them until 7 AM, thus a photographer misses most of the ” Golden Hours ” at both ends of the day. I imagine the colors of these desert landscapes would be breathtaking a little earlier in the morning or later in the evening, than I was able to capture.

Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.

Subtle colors and textures, while visible in these shots, would be more obvious if taken when the light wasn’t quite so strong. The other issue I had shooting during the day was the WIND ! Wind advisories were in effect all during my stay here. That meant steady winds of 30-40 mph with gusts sometimes exceeding 50 mph. The wind died every evening around 8 PM and then started picking up again around 7 AM. All these images are taken handheld, because the wind was strong enough to make using a tripod impractical.

Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.
Petrified Forest N. P.

The Painted Desert

Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert

The park is bisected by I-40 at about the 20 mile mark of the 28 mile Park Road, and the landscape changes dramatically once north of I-40.

Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert

The subtle cool pastel tones of the rock formations on the south side of I-40 change to the warm red sandstone tones, more typical of the desert southwest colors.

Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert
Petrified Forest N. P. Painted Desert

Petrified Wood

Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood

Although I did say I was not drawn to this park by the namesake petrified forests, I did do due diligence and attempt to find something interesting in all the chunks of petrified wood lying scattered throughout this park.

From Wikipedia “Petrified wood (from the Greek root petro meaning “rock” or “stone”; literally “wood turned into stone”) is the name given to a special type of fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation. It is the result of a tree or tree-like plants having completely transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization. All the organic materials have been replaced with minerals (mostly a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure of the stem tissue. Unlike other types of fossils which are typically impressions or compressions, petrified wood is a three-dimensional representation of the original organic material. The petrifaction process occurs underground, when wood becomes buried under sediment and is initially preserved due to a lack of oxygen which inhibits aerobic decomposition. Mineral-laden water flowing through the sediment deposits minerals in the plant’s cells; as the plant’s lignin and cellulose decay, a stone mould forms in its place. The organic matter needs to become petrified before it decomposes completely.[1] A forest where such material has petrified becomes known as a petrified forest.

Elements such as manganese, iron, and copper in the water/mud during the petrification process give petrified wood a variety of color ranges. Pure quartz crystals are colorless, but when contaminants are added to the process the crystals take on a yellow, red, or other tint. “

Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood

The result of this process does yield some interesting, almost abstract, images.

Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood
Petrified Wood

Final note, if you are passing anywhere near this park I would recommend stopping for a day or two and exploring, it turned out to be a pleasant suprize for me.

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