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Not Arizona, But A Side Trip Close By

September 5, 2012

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.

Eroding Layers & Edges, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Eroding Layers & Edges, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

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. πŸ™‚ 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”.

Maple Syrup Sunset, Alstrom Point

Maple Syrup Sunset, Alstrom Point

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.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2012 15:43

    But Royce, if we would have traveled by mules, we would have never made it out to the Point before sunset!! πŸ˜› I’m so glad you and Pete had a chance to experience and see such an amazing site during your stay. Let me know when you’re ready to go again! Great post and pics, by the way.

    • September 5, 2012 15:54

      Thanks, “FT”! With mules we would have made it in time for sunset… just not on the same day! Or else we would have to have started even earlier in the mornings than the “oh-dark-thirty” we were already doing… πŸ˜‰

  2. September 6, 2012 10:35

    Maybe it’s just because I never did get around to pouring myself that cup of coffee this morning but I can’t decode “FT”. I mean I had fun making up a few of my own as to what FT could mean in relation to Colleen but I’ll have to get the code sheet from you Royce next we meet.

    My feelings about the entire trip are well known by now. If there was a highlight of highlights then maybe this would be it… then again there were those other 50 spots we went to that were incredible and where we had great laughs. It was all good. No need to pick a best.

    Maple syrup sunsets… forever a phrase that will bring back great memories and put a big smile on my face…

    • September 6, 2012 11:34

      “FT” for “Full Throttle”! πŸ™‚

      Agree 100%, Pete, no need to pick favorites… the whole thing is a favorite. Still, maple syrup… mmmmmm. πŸ™‚

  3. September 10, 2012 15:21

    These are very lovely images, Royce; I’m glad to finally see one of my very favorite places through your creative eyes. I think that your image of Alstrom Point really does have a big human element considering it *may* not be as much of a location if Lake Powell weren’t there.

    Anyway, beautiful images, and I look forward to seeing more!


    • September 10, 2012 15:42

      Thanks very much Greg! You’re absolutely right. “Lake” Powell of course is really a man-made reservoir, not really a lake in the natural sense. In this small web resolution you can’t see them very easily, but the water is dotted with huge houseboats and a few jet-skis as well. So this image would have made my final selection for the exhibit, in terms of human / cultural content. If only it had been a completely home-grown Arizona scene… πŸ™‚

      Anyway, lots more to come… we will hopefully have an online gallery paralleling the show, and of course I’ll get images up on my own sites once the exhibit launch event is wrapped up. I hope the material will be a pleasant surprise, for anyone who considers me a die-hard landscaper. But of course I did shoot some landscapes and those will come along as well. πŸ˜‰

      • September 10, 2012 15:48

        Yep, you were just a few miles too far north to use your Alstrom Pt image as part of the show. Alas.

        I don’t consider you a die-hard landscaper at all. Don’t get me wrong, your landscapes are wonderful–thoughtful and creative–but some of your images that stick most in my mind are not landscapes at all. As an example, I remember an image of yours from Chaco Canyon in New Mexico that is really great.

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