Not Arizona, But A Side Trip Close By
While I was in Arizona with my compadre Peter Carroll, photographing material for our TEOE exchange project, our teammate & local guide at the time Colleen Miniuk-Sperry took us on a brief side trip over the border into Utah. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a region of stunning landscape, but I knew it only from photos I’ve seen; it’s a place I hadn’t yet explored in person or with my own camera. With “Full Throttle” Colleen at the wheel, we took a brief stab at a southern part of the area, and found it was breath-taking. Since Utah material isn’t going to be used in our exhibit (Arizona and Alberta content only, thank-you very much!), I’ll show a couple of scenes here as a teaser of things to come.
At the beginning of our little jaunt, it wasn’t so bad. I’ve lost track of our precise route but I believe we were going along Smokey Mountain Road for part of the way, a luxurious thoroughfare in comparison to what came later. We passed mile after mile of amazing terrain in some pretty good light, but unfortunately we didn’t have a huge amount of time if we wanted to reach our intended position in time for sunset. The image above is a quick hand-held photo from one of the times when we just had to stop. Here, erosion is a very visible factor. It’s cutting down through harder upper rock and softer lower clay layers, exposing jagged ridges and pyramid-like structures above more rolling features below. The eroded clay deposited down below becomes quite slippery when wet; I’ve experienced trying to walk on wet bentonite clay, and it gets pretty ugly pretty fast. Even when dry, the fine clay dust gets all over (and into) everything. For all the ease of travel during the parching conditions we had this day, I’m told the road is all but impassable after a rain. I believe it.
The latter part of the drive out to our ultimate destination shown below, Alstrom Point overlooking Lake Powell, is one of the roughest 4×4 trails I’ve personally traveled. We had some major bouncing & rattling around inside Colleen’s 4Runner, a few white-ish knuckle moments, and some hilarious attempts at camera phone video footage that are now retained as potential blackmail material. Though of whom, or for what purpose, I’m not sure. 🙂 I’m glad Colleen’s vehicle didn’t break down or explode! I drive a 4Runner myself, and know it’s a sturdy & reliable vehicle; but I’m convinced going out to Alstrom Point on mules would have been more sane. No matter… we made it there and back, and the trip was rewarded with a lovely display that we soon dubbed the “Maple Syrup Sunset”.
On this project, we laughed a bit because, despite being known primarily as a landscape photographer, I said I deliberately wanted to go against type. I wanted to avoid the iconic “landscape” locations, hoping instead to work up material based more on people, cultural and architectural subjects. We did plenty of those things, for sure, but I’m glad in the end that we also hit some of the landscapes that the region is so justifiably known for. Certain locations become iconic because… well, because they are actually icons. These places can hardly fail to impress; more importantly, they stand for something that we need to see & experience, as our truly wild places — and our appreciation of them — continue to retreat under the press of human development.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is an area that I definitely need to return to and explore in more depth. In the meantime, even though the location didn’t contribute to our exhibit material, I’m glad Colleen took us on a side trip and that we had the chance to experience this rugged terrain, even if only for a brief moment.