Down into Canyon Country

Photographing Canyons

February, 2022 - Utah

Before the sun rose, I left Torrey and headed east for a few hours, mostly on dirt, traitorous roads. I arrived at my “trailhead” which wasn’t much of a trail at all to start down the dusty, rocky game trail. I started high above, looking down at the canyon floor 1,500ft below. I can see the reflection of ice, a faint sound of flowing water, I wondered what I was going to experience down below.

Silence filled the air as I descended deep into canyon country, without a soul in sight. The precipice hike is quite mellow, with only a handful of steep, loose sections. Time flew  by and before I knew it, I was at the bottom of the canyon. To my surprise, each bend of the river was jam packed full of ice, feet thick. Every exposed rock is capped in ice. The river was a chocolate milkshake color with blue/white ice chunks racing down the river at an alarming rate. 

I searched the river bank and found two large sticks to assist my crossing. I sat at the shore to determine my route. I started thinking; this water is going to be painfully cold and I really do not want to cross this again until my trip is over.

Slot Canyon Colors

I put one stick in the river, hold it against my leg to test the depth, knee deep. Hoping it doesn’t get deeper than that. I throw on my 35+ pound pack, un-buckle the hip and shoulder straps for safety measures.

The first step in, the pain is instant. Softball sized ice chunks are bouncing off my legs and zooming down the river. One step after the next. The sticks are doing their job. Halfway through the pain ramps up. With each step, my thighs and toes are throbbing in pain. I took a big step up onto a small island in the middle of the river. The pain seems worse now than when I was in the river. I quickly scurried across the rest of the river.

I threw down the sticks and started rubbing my legs frantically in order to get the blood flowing. There is nothing I can do but to start moving. I walk barefoot till I arrive at the entrance of a wide tributary canyon and set my pack down. This will be camp.  After I have everything organized; tent pitched, the bed set, I load up my camera gear in a lightweight pack. 

The moment I have been waiting months for!

Waves of Light

Just 10 minutes into the canyon, it begins to narrow. The walls close in and start to wave in intricate and unique patterns. I come to what seems to be an entrance; both sides of the canyon almost meet in the middle, as if saying, enter here. I giddily walk through with amazement, gazing upward then down to my feet. WOW. Nature’s natural forces created this unreal canyon that I haven’t even begun to experience! Each bend of the canyon reveals new chambers, fascinating textures of smooth and rough walls while small to large boulders carpet the floor.

Some bends are receiving faint golden glows - exactly what I am after. The canyon gets tight then quickly widens. I walk through dark tunnels which slowly turns to light. 

I reach what looks to be the end of the canyon, as the walls lowered by 20 feet. The textures were smooth, the light was soft and gold with hints of blues and magentas. This looks too good to not photograph! Before I knew it, the light was fading and it was time to get back to camp.

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Faint sunlight woke me. I zipped open the tent door to a concerning sight; heavy, dark clouds up river a few miles. I wasn’t going to take any chances. I quickly shoved everything into my pack and I was off. I crossed the freezing river at the coldest time of day, hiked up a nearby hill and found a great spot to set up my tent. This view is much prettier than my previous camping location but now I have the ice filled river to forge at-least twice a day.

Back in the canyon I am noticing amazing light all around. Light is morphing around bends, creating shapes and mind-melting beauty! Blue, cyan and magenta colors fill the shadows of the cool canyon. 

I spent all day exploring each bend with optimism, awe and with my camera and tripod in hand.

After eight or so hours in the canyon, traveling up, back down, up again and again, I became disoriented! What way is up canyon or down canyon? I had to sit and get my bearings. In my defense, I hadn’t eaten anything or had much liquid due to the natural distractions of the canyon aesthetics. Eventually I exited the canyon, crossed the river back to camp. 

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I hiked high above the river in order to see the setting sun. The cliffs towered like natural skyscrapers, while the frozen river below reflected the blue sky. Sunset came, as did the wind. Time for bed.

I rose early to enter the canyon. I spent most of the day photographing. Afterward, I packed up all my gear. Todays destination was my truck. I arrived just in time for sunset. 

High Cliff Sunset

I stood along a cliff with a 360 view of the natural world. Still not human in sight, not a sound to be heard, just the sight of the sun along the cliff band that faded into the horizon.

The following day I drove across the hell-ridge down into washes leading to the river. I took a swim in the freezing, chocolate milkshake river while the outside temperature rose to 80 degrees fahrenheit. This was my last full day in the area. I wanted to hike around some new terrain.

As I was driving in a new direction, something out of the window caught my eye; fingered, stand-alone cliffs, towering high into the sky. I intermingled in washes, up steep lava flows, onto a mesa and there it was, looming in the distance.

My alarm rung out, it was early, it was dark. My headlamp pierced the dark air, lighting up a few feet ahead. I navigated the washes, up the lava flow and onto the mesa. Just ten minutes later I was right under the cliff band. I set up my camera to wait for sunrise, hoping that the feature would receive amazing light. I waited patiently but soon realized no light was going to penetrate the subject I wanted. Nothing to do but enjoy the stillness of the landscape.

Time to head home.

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