Happy Canyon Backpacking

A couple of weeks ago I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and decided to check out a place that has been on my list for some time, Happy Canyon. Just like most folks, due to the remoteness of the canyon I unfortunately only had a couple of hours to shoot the narrows before I had to head back toward camp, but none the less it was a great trip. Here’s a brief overview.

I started out on Poison Springs Road well after dark and made it about five miles down the road before ice-flows over the road had me too worried to continue. I spent the night camped next to a sandstone wall that the next morning I found to contain some gratified rock art. After checking out the rock art I packed up and headed on my down Poison Springs Canyon Road toward the Black Jump. For this trip I decided that a bike would be helpful to aid my approach so hoisting my 40+ pound pack I pedaled my way down the sandy road. I have to say that this was my first experience carrying a pack on a bike and I’m really not sure if it was more of an aid or a hindrance. I ended up pedaling most of the way barring a few really sandy spots on Poison Springs Road.

Once at the Black Jump I ended up pushing my bike most of the way up the mining road that veers up toward the North along the Dirty Devil River Canyon. My legs were pretty much done by this point so after a ways up the road I stowed my bike behind some rocks and continued on foot, eventually making it to the First Point, as it is locally known, around 1530. My original plan was to camp much nearer the descent to Happy Canyon however my legs were cramping from all the pedaling through deep sand so I decided to call it a day and leisurely set up camp.

The setting sun shines crimson on the Dirty Devil River winding through a remote canyon in the heart of the Utah.

I woke up early the next day, a little before dawn and headed down the road toward the descent spot, eventually reaching the dirty devil river about 1000. The crossing went well and the water was about mid-thigh depth, the main obstacle being watching for ice chunks floating down the river toward me. On the other side I dried off and sunned myself for awhile before exploring the Narrows of Happy Canyon.

I enjoyed about three hours of shooting in the canyon before I figured I had to start heading back to camp. The canyon was beautiful and I think that with more time available I could have found some really nice shots. As it was I still managed to come away with a couple decent images.



Happy Canyon Pattern

Golden Sculpture

After the canyon I figured the crossing at the Dirty Devil would be deeper due to snow-melt. The water ended up coming up to the bottom of my shorts and it was definitely more powerful. I still made it across without incident. And the climb back up the drainage toward the road was without incident as well. From river to camp I ended up making good time, only taking about two hours.

The evening was spent eating and rehydrating with dark brown Dirty Devil River water… mmmmm…

The next morning I packed up and headed back toward my truck, still parked near the rock art on Poison Springs Canyon Road. The trip back took me about five hours.

All in all I believe I ended up hiking/biking about thirty miles in three days and had about three hours to shoot the narrows. The trip was a great introduction to the area but in the future I think I will plan it a little different so I have more time in the canyon. Still a great trip all in all.

Open Shutter Gallery “Exposure” Exhibition 2013

I just wanted to let everyone know that one of my images will be shown in the upcoming “Exposure” Exhibition at the Open Shutter Gallery in Durango. The opening reception for the exhibition is December 6th at 5pm and the show will run from December 6th to January 9th, so come and take a look if you’re in the area!

Marlboro Point Sunrise

Not too long ago I had a quick trip planned to go shoot a ruin on Cedar Mesa in Southeast Utah that I had been trying to find for quite some time and finally had figured out where it was. Unfortunately the stars were not in alignment because as I drove through the darkness, passing through Bluff, the radio reports were pretty explicit in the fact that a large storm was inbound for the area. The storm itself didn’t scare me but I was thinking of the many miles of dirt roads that I had to drive to get to the canyon that I wanted to explore and the thought of all that mud made me think twice about embarking out on them that night so I decided to sleep the night at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station and reassess the situation in the morning. I would say it was probably a good call as I awoke in the middle of the night to pounding rain and hail coupled with a magnificent show of lightning.

The morning dawned with a downpour and more hail so I decided I needed to reevaluate the situation and headed for Moab where I knew I could take advantage of the dramatic weather and maybe pull off a good shot from one of the vantage points on the Island In The Sky. I hadn’t thought about the fact that the parks were all closed due to the government shutdown until I arrived on top of the Island In The Sky and saw the police tape and “Closed” signs at all the Federal Sites, including Canyonlands National Park.

At this point I was kind of bummed but I remembered someone telling me about a locally known viewpoint known as Marlboro Point so I did a little map recon and figured out where I was headed in the morning.

It was a bit of an adventure walking across the desert in the pitch black trying to find this spot of rock on the rim of the canyon mesa but I did manage to make it just as the sun was starting to rise.

Desert Sunrise

My reward for the effort was a beautiful sunrise overlooking the desolate canyons and desert below, what a way to spend the morning. On my hike out I saw none other than Brett Edge, a local Moab Photographer, headed out to the point with a client. Of course Brett was driving down a four-wheel drive road that is not on the map, that happens to head right to Marlboro Point. Next time I think I’ll drive the road, but this time the effort was worth it.


Dallas Divide Fall Colors

A few weeks ago I made a trip to Dallas Divide outside of Ridgway, Colorado, a pretty famous area for viewing Fall Colors. I ended up spending a lot of time exploring the area and driving some roads that I have been meaning to get to for the past couple of years. I happened to hit the timing pretty well and the golden yellow of Autumn was blanketing the fields and forests all around. I didn’t end up with any dramatic skies like I was hoping for but none the less I ended up getting a few decent images. The one below was taken from the ever-so-popular Dallas Divide Overlook along Highway 62 west of Ridgway.

Autumn Range

One other stop I made while I was in the area was to the ghost town of Alta just down the road and up from Telluride. Alta’s claim to fame, other than being close to the Gold King Mine and having a population of roughly 200 people in it’s heyday from 1877-1946, was to also be the site of the first industrial use of alternating current electricity. The setting of the town is breathtaking, surrounded by beautiful peaks. Here is an image looking out the window of one of the abandoned buildings onto Wilson Peak.

Wilson Window

Podcast or Bust…

In the last couple of months I have started listening to several different podcasts to help make my driving time more productive and enjoyable. I’m not really sure what prompted me to look into Podcasts to tell you the truth, but the fact is there is a lot of really valuable and entertaining content out there for free.

I would like to share with you three Podcasts that seem to always deliver good content. The first one is “This Week In Photo,” also known as “TWiP,” and is hosted by Frederick Van Johnson. “TWiP” usually comes out with a new episode, you guessed it, every week. The content of this podcast is a mixed bag of photo-related news articles as well as tech tips, gear reviews,  and interviews with industry professionals. I can’t tell you how much valuable information I have gleaned from the conversations on this hour-long show. “TWiP” can be found by clicking here.

The second Podcast I have been listening to is “The Art of Photography,” hosted by Ted Forbes. This one seems to be a little bit more sporadic with it’s timing. For a while there it didn’t seem like there were any new episodes coming out but just recently it seems like there has been a new one every week or two. None the less, this show tends to be a little shorter and each episode concentrates a little more on one subject at a time. There was a real interesting one about setting up a photography website not too long ago and then the topic was revisited again not too long ago giving some small tips on social media marketing. I like this Podcast because it takes a little bit less time to listen to a whole episode than “TWiP,” however there is still some really good content being produced. “The Art of Photography” can be found here.

The third Podcast that I will touch on is Martin Bailey’s Photography Podcast, hosted by none other than Martin Bailey, a Tokyo based Nature and Wildlife Photographer. His Podcast seems to also focus on one topic at a time and is a bit shorter than the “TWiP” episodes, none the less, the topics are generally interesting and provide a lot of good information. Martin sometimes covers techniques or products and often he will get into the meat and potatoes of how he made an image using the “enhanced” Podcast that includes visuals as well as audio. Martin Bailey’s Photography Podcast can be found here.

All three of these Podcasts are free and well worth your time. Let alone the fact that driving has become a large part of most of our lives and there is now a way to make that “wasted time” into a productive part of your day. So check out the latest Podcasts and let me know if there happens to be one that you find interesting, I’ll be sure to check it out!

When The Rains Came… The North Rim of the Grand Canyon

After my short overnighter to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon I decided that perhaps a trip to the North Rim was in order. I already had a trip planned to hike into the Weminuche Wilderness of Southern Colorado, but with the weather the way it had been and the fact that in looking closely at Google Earth while planning my trip I realized that the sun wasn’t going to be right for the shot I really wanted, I decided to set that trip aside and instead I headed back to The Canyon.

I had read a lot about an area called Torroweap or Tuweap, it’s a primitive recreation area within the boundary of Grand Canyon National Park, however getting there requires a long drive on dirt roads into a pretty remote area of the canyon rim. There are actually three different driving routes described on the park webpage to get to the Torroweap area and the route that I took was the “Sunshine Route,” which leaves the highway 8 miles west of Fredonia and heads in a southerly direction for about sixty miles. Before heading out on the long road I stopped at the visitor center in Jacob Lake and talked with the gentleman there about road conditions given all the recent rain in the area. His first response to the question of how the road conditions are heading to Torroweap was, “Horrible, like normal.” This didn’t really give me a huge feeling of confidence since all day as I was driving across the desert I had been watching a very large black cloud over what looked like the entire Arizona Strip region. None the less, the weather seemed pretty clear now and in talking further with him he said that it had stormed pretty hard that morning but he really hadn’t heard anything in particular about bad road conditions going to Torroweap. He said that the road in is actually pretty decent for about the first fifty miles and then it gradually gets worse, and turns into a pretty rocky drive once you get into the park.

With that nugget of knowledge in my pocket I decided to head toward the turnoff to County Road #109, the road south to Torroweap where I figured I would make my final decision, based on the weather, as to whether or not I would head out down that long road or turn around and find a spot to shoot sunset somewhere else. As I came to the turnoff the sky was clear above me with a large storm in the distance to the south and east. The wind seemed to be blowing to the east and at best guess my chances of getting stuck out at Torroweap due to muddy roads seemed questionable. I figured it was the first day of a four day trip so if worse came to worse and I was stuck at Torroweap for a few days waiting for the roads to dry up so be it. With that I headed south.

The gentleman at the Visitor Center was right, the first fifty miles of road was really good. It was really a graded gravel road with only a couple of dry wash crossings and dirt spots that I figured might present a problem if it stormed a lot.

Here is a shot of what most of the beginning of County Road #109 looks like…


After a while of driving through the rolling high desert the road starts climbing through some small hills…


After probably the first fifty miles or so I crossed into the National Park and here the road got a little more rocky but still not bad at all in my opinion. There is a small ranger station a short ways into the park with an information board and a toilet. The board has information on it like reminding you to drive slow and mentioning that twenty-five percent of visitors to this area experience one or more flat tires. At this point I was still kind of confused because the road was really good so far. A few more miles down the road I passed a “High-Clearance Vehicle Required” sign so I figured I was about to see what all the fuss was about. So with all the build up I pressed on to find the road definitely get rocky, but still not all that bad in my opinion. Personally I would not drive a passenger car down it due to one rocky spot in particular on an uphill, but other than that I really didn’t find much difficulty at all in driving it. Granted, I drove pretty slow to lessen the chances of popping a tire in such a remote location. I had made up my mind that since I only have one spare tire I would turn around immediately if I got a flat. Luckily I had no flat tires or other mishaps on the road.

My disclaimer in this is that I do drive a lot of easy to moderate four-wheel drive roads in my travels so I do have some sense of how to drive in these conditions. Personally I did not think the road was that bad but this is entirely subjective and I would take every precaution if planning a trip in to the Torroweap/Tuweap area, including extra food, clothing, repair items, spare tires, etc. The fact is, even though I didn’t think the road was that bad, a mishap sixty miles from a paved road is still a big deal. The area is definitely remote. Here is a link to the National Park Service page about Torroweap, make sure to read through the information carefully if you are planning a trip to the area.

That being said, the road got rocky and there were a couple of spots that had some pretty jagged rocks sticking up, my Tacoma persevered through the worst of it and before I knew it I was at the small campground. At this point I was about an hour and a half from sunset so I knew that I didn’t have a lot of time to waste. I turned into the campground not really knowing if there would be any spots available or not, the first three sites, being the most easily accessed were all taken. I headed down the short road through the campground and I’ll say that I think the road in the campground was actually worse than the road coming in. None the less, I found a site and claimed it. A really nice feature of this remote site is that the campsites are free with a first-come first-served basis.

With my campsite claimed I headed out of the campground and turned toward the rim, I knew it was only a short ways to the rim from here but I figured with the light already good and the sun headed toward the horizon I would try to drive to the rim. For the most part the road between the campground and the rim looks a lot like this…


It wasn’t long before I came to a large mud hole encompassing the entire width of the road.


I really wasn’t sure what the bottom of the hole was like and I didn’t have the time to try to figure out if I could drive through it without getting stuck in the mud or not so I parked at the Saddle Horse Canyon Loop Trailhead and walked briskly to the rim.

I quickly found the rim of the canyon (pretty hard to miss), and it was one of the most impressive views of the Grand Canyon that I have ever seen. The canyon here is at one of it’s narrowest points and the walls of the canyon drop off dramatically three-thousand feet straight down. The rim here is lined with sandstone making for a variety of compositions and shots possible. Since I was pushing it for time I scurried along the rim trying to put together a good composition as the sun was already setting in front me. I found an interesting piece of sandstone and planted my tripod, shooting the grand display in front of me while listening to the song of the canyon winds whistling below me. It was a fantastic evening.

Tuweap Ribbon

I walked back to my truck in the dark, really in the dark, since my headlamp must of somehow turned on in my pack and was currently dead (note to self, always have extra batteries on hand). Luckily I didn’t run into any rattlesnakes on the road back to my truck and it was a relatively short and easy drive back to camp. After a quick dinner I relaxed by the campfire for a short while before heading to bed, hoping that no storms would roll in during the night.

The next morning I rolled out of bed (actually the back of truck) and was hiking down the road toward the rim before I knew it. There is a classic shot from the Torroweap Overlook that I wanted to try and capture so I set up my tripod and camera looking to the east and I waited. The sunrise dawned with a few clouds overhead. There was just enough cloud cover to make the canyon walls glow from the soft light of morning, making for another memorable and beautiful sunrise shoot.

Looking East

To the south, across the canyon, there was another large storm looming. It didn’t seem to be moving very fast but I knew that if it caught me out here I was probably going to be stuck for awhile. The road in wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be but there were still a couple of spots among the long gravel road where it looked like it would become a mud pit in a heavy rain.

My plan for the morning was to try to make it to a rock art site just outside of the National Park Boundary in what is now Grand Canyon – Parashant National Monument. As I headed out down the rocky road leaving the Tuweap Area I noticed that the recent rains had filled a lot of the potholes on the sandstone in the area. The morning sun was still giving good light so I stopped and explored a little sandstone area just north of the Torroweap Campground with a nice view of Torroweap Point in the distance.

Torroweap Point

After that I made pretty good time getting to Nampaweap, the rock art site I was looking for. It’s actually a site developed by the Park Service and BLM so there is a trail and interpretive signs at the parking area. An easy walk brought me to a small canyon, named Billy Goat Canyon, that at one time was presumably a main travel route for the ancient inhabitants of the area.

Among the lava rock boulders that line the walls of the canyon are hundreds of petroglyphs. The dark rock makes a nice backdrop for the ancient art work, adding to the variety of compositions that can be made while photographing. I was a bit distracted during this shoot due to the impending storm that seemed to be slowly heading my way, but none the less I still enjoyed shooting the rock art and doing a little exploring.

Forgotten Name


After about an hour of shooting I felt that I probably had pushed my luck as far as I should so I hightailed it back to my truck, packed up, and headed back toward the highway. I was happy with my decision when I saw the first rain drops hit my windshield just as I pulled onto the pavement of Highway 389. A sudden sense of relief came over me as I crested an overlook east of Fredonia and stopped for lunch, witnessing the storm that had been haunting me all morning boiling over the area that I had just left with lightning and sheets of rain driving down.

I figured I was pretty much in the clear since I was planning on heading to the National Park Area with plenty of paved roads. It rained for about an hour on my way to the park and then the skies cleared giving way to scattered clouds. I was hopeful for a good sunset but I still didn’t know exactly where I wanted to shoot.

To make a long story short, once it started raining it never really stopped, this storm pretty much started the next two weeks of almost solid rain for the area. I ended up staying on the North Rim for another three days in hopes that there would be some opportune breaks in the weather to shoot some images however this time the rain definitely prevailed and left very little room for shooting. I did manage to get out a couple of times, including a hike along Cliff Springs Trail, which I highly recommend for a rainy day on the North Rim. The trail is pretty short and it leads to some pretty interesting pictographs. The best thing about it is that a lot of the trail is under some large overhangs in the cliff so even if it’s raining you can still shoot some pictures if you want to, or just enjoy being outdoors and not getting soaked! I also did head out to some viewpoints and made a few images between downpours but for the most part it was way too foggy and cloudy to really provide good light for photography.

Stone Canyon

Bright Angel

It was a great trip for exploring and seeing some things that I have always wanted to see and once again it has planted the seed for future trips to the North Rim.

South Rim Storms at the Grand Canyon

A couple of weeks ago I made a quick overnight trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon while visiting some family in Flagstaff. I had not been to the Grand Canyon in probably twenty years so I figured why not give it a shot and see what I can find.

The trip started by preparing myself mentally for the crazy swarms of people that I figured would be found there, and truth be told, yes there were A LOT of people and the place is definitely built up kind of like an amusement park in a lot of ways, especially around Mather Point and the lodge area. None the less, I enjoyed the South Rim overall and I thought the viewpoints were fantastic.

Once I entered the park I headed east down Desert View Drive stopping at all the viewpoints for a few minutes to get a sense of where I would like to shoot for sunrise. By the time I reached the last viewpoint, Desert View, it was well into the golden hour and I decided that I best go find a spot to unfold my tripod. It wasn’t hard at all to find a nice vista away from the crowd at Desert View, I just walked a short ways east down the rim and I felt like I had the whole canyon to myself.

Lucky for me the monsoon storms had come through in the late afternoon and were just starting to clear up, I could still see the occasional flash of lightning off in the distance across the canyon. The sunset was beautiful with the clearing storm. I made a few images before the magic light of the evening faded and then I lingered on the edge of the canyon for a while, enjoying soft sound of the wind rushing below me. It really is an amazing place; there are few places that can make you feel more insignificant and connected to the world around you at the same time.

Summer Sunset

Since the trip was kind of an afterthought and a bit rushed I hadn’t really done a lot of planning as to where I was going to stay that night. I figured if I slept in one of the overlook parking lots I would probably get kicked out in the middle of the night by a ranger so instead I drove out of the park toward Cameron. I didn’t have to drive too far before I found a small dirt road heading out into the desert, so I turned off and found a place to pull over for the night.

The lightning continued to flash in the distance all night long and I was up early to drive back into the park and head to my chosen spot for sunrise. I decided to head to Lipan point and see what dawn would bring. Apparently I overestimated my drive time back to the park because I arrived at Lipan Point well before sunrise so I caught another half hour of sleep before getting out of the truck and searching for a place to throw down the tripod.

As I got out of the truck I could once again see the occasional flash of lightning across the canyon, but I could see stars above me so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect for the coming sunrise. I ended up hiking just a short ways along the canyon rim and scrambling a short ways up to the top of a rocky outcropping which seemed to provide a good vantage point with even a sliver of the mighty Colorado Visible below. As the sunrise progressed I was greeted by some nice clouds and colors.

Grand Sunrise

From there I figured I would backtrack along Desert View Road and do some scouting for future trips. By the time I had made my way back to the main area of the The South Rim it was late morning and most of the good light was gone so I headed to the Yavapai Geology Museum to browse the exhibits. I have always found geology fascinating and the museum proved to be really interesting with some really nice informational displays, definitely worth a gander if your in the area.

From there I wanted to get a look at the more historic parts of the South Rim so I headed to the lodge area, which was definitely a congested traffic area, after driving around the area three times I did finally manage to find some parking. I had read a sign about an exhibit at the Kolb Studio that was actually featuring an exhibit about the Kolb Brothers that lived and photographed around the Grand Canyon in the early 1900’s. The Kolb Studio itself was constructed in 1904-1905 and is quite the site to see, teetering on the edge of the canyon rim, offering beautiful veiws of the canyon below. The exhibit was awesome, I had honestly never before heard of this duo but their story is definitely one of adventure and intrigue, exploring and photographing the whole region of the Grand Canyon in a time when few people had ever stepped foot in this wilderness. The exhibit ran the entire summer there at the Kolb Studio but according to the website it appears that it ended on September 3rd. If they show it again I have to say that it is worth a trip to check it out. Here is a link to the exhibit information page presented by The Grand Canyon Association.

I also ended up buying a book, Through the Grand Canyon: from Wyoming to Mexico, by Ellsworth L. Kolb, one of the Kolb brothers. I’ve only made it a short ways into the book so far but it seems like a good read. The  brothers decided that they wanted to be the first ones to run the Grand Canyon while shooting a motion picture camera, capturing the adventure live. The book was written by Ellsworth after the adventure. 

From there my quick trip was pretty much done, I returned for dinner with my family at a fantastic little Thai Restaurant in downtown Flagstaff.

But the seed had been planted and I wasn’t quite done with The Canyon yet…

I’ll be posting my trip report from the North Rim soon…