Horseshoe Canyon

As adventures go, this one didn’t start off very auspiciously. Long planned, constantly delayed, it seemed I would never make it into Horseshoe Canyon of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. And today, of all days, yet another roadblock loomed before me. But today, I would have none of that and pressed forward. I’m glad I did. It all worked out. Let’s back up and start more at the beginning.

Looking at Horseshoe Canyon
Horseshoe Canyon and where we’re heading for our adventure

Horseshoe Canyon is home to one of the, if not the, most significant rock art panels in the Southwest: the Great Gallery. Significantly, its sixty figures are six feet tall, and the gallery stretches almost three hundred feet long. It is impressive, to say the least. This panel contains both pictographs and petroglyphs. Pictographs are painted on the walls, while petroglyphs are carved or etched. The panel called to me across the years.

I’ve photographed many rock art sites over the year. However, this one, in particular, was always in the back of my mind. I knew I had to visit it, and the need to do so became more urgent as time passed.

Rock Art and the Barrier Canyon Style

The rock art of the Great Gallery is in the Barrier Canyon style. This style is exemplified by long panels with heroic figures. These figures are life-size or larger and feature several variations, particularly among the figures we consider sprit-like. And the Great Gallery is regarded as the prime example of the Barrier Canyon style.

The panel is relatively accessible, although it does require a seven-mile round-trip hike, the last part of which is straight up. However, I also wanted to be at the panel by myself, as I often do, to be alone and silent without interruption. This meant going in the offseason to lessen the likelihood of seeing other people. Also, the hot summers make the strenuous hike all the more challenging. Winter is ideal, but the snows also increase the difficulty, if not making getting there impossible. For me, spring and fall are my best bets.

I planned the trip several times, but a scheduling issue would arise each time, usually at the last moment. I was beginning to think that I should not make this journey. Finally, this fall, a window of opportunity popped up, and I went to Utah without a second thought. My thought was to get there while I could. I put my backpack together, gathered my gear, and was gone in a flash. No one could stop me now!

Except myself.

Previously, and I am unsure how I did this, I managed to twist my knee. The injury wasn’t enough to stop me from walking on it. Well, no, that’s not true. It was enough to stop me from walking normally. For weeks it had been bothering me, on and off. Some days it was OK, more or less, and other days it was decidedly not OK. Each morning was a little different, and I knew it would be fine sooner or later.

The Journey Begins

I drove to Green River, Utah, and stayed at a hotel there, providing a comfortable night before my hike. I woke up bright and early, and I do mean bright early. Not even the alarm clock was awake before me. I sprang out of bed and immediately discovered that my knee had decided that today was a good day to not bear any weight on it. This was a dilemma. The sensible option was to head back home.

Yeah, we both know that didn’t happen.

Limping around the hotel room, I gathered my backpack and ensured it was ready to go. I miraculously found a hot cup of coffee in the lobby. With that one discovery, the day was brighter already. I crawled into my SUV, started it up, and realized that even pressing the accelerator was painful. This was really not a good idea. I have had many adventures that were not a good idea, so why should this one be any different?

Ignoring my discomfort, I headed down the road to Horseshoe Canyon and the Great Gallery! I had reasonable directions, but it was dark out, meaning the world beyond my headlights wouldn’t exist for many more hours. That’s OK. I figured I knew where I was going. All I had to do was make one critical turn onto a sketchy dirt road, and I would be fine.

Once I missed the turn onto the dirt road I was expecting but didn’t see, I realized that my plan could have been more foolproof than it was. I thought there was a sign, but the darkness hid it if it was even there. I’m not admitting that I drove in circles for a few minutes hunting for that road, but I did turn around several times. I eventually found a likely candidate and decided this was the right road. Time to find out if my hunch was correct.

I was expecting a long, slow ride to the trailhead, and I wasn’t expecting the road to be marked. Meaning it would work out and I found the road, or it wouldn’t, and I took an aimless drive in the pre-dawn desert. I would know in about an hour. Either way, I headed off into the darkness and possibly into oblivion.

The road was rutted, bumpy, full of washboards, sandy, and everything a desert dirt road is supposed to be. Unexpectedly, after about a half hour, I found a sign and knew I was on the right road. My knee was no better, but neither was it any worse. I pressed on, now enjoying the ride and thinking about the hike ahead.

I made it to the trailhead as the sun was beginning to rise. So, parts of my plan were working out quite well. I was pleased as I wanted to be on the trail at first light. I stepped out of the SUV, realizing my knee would still not fully bear weight and would be a problem. But hey, what’s a strenuous seven-mile hike on a bad knee?

I changed into my hiking shoes, slugged my pack onto my shoulders, drank the last of my coffee, and locked the SUV.

Off I went into Horseshoe Canyon. I was committed now to seeing this journey through.

Into Horseshoe Canyon

I was worried that I might be unable to find my way, but that was an unfounded fear. It was easy to locate the trail, and I began my descent into the canyon, every step reminding me this was not ideal. I’ve done worse, although this one is right up there. Quickly, I made a beeline toward the Great Gallery. I knew there were other panels in the canyon, but I wanted to make my primary goal, then slowly work my way back.

I also worried that there might be others, but that did not come to pass. Although there were other cars already at the trailhead, they were camping and not on the trail. I was alone in the canyon, which was a magical experience. Although it was painful to walk and the descent into the canyon was difficult, I was also keenly aware of this incredible experience. The significance was not lost on me.

I enjoy hiking in the wilderness. There is something about having your pack on your back, a trail or even no trail, before you as you trek onward. Hiking in the early morning is even more enjoyable as I wander through the land as it is just waking up.

As I continued, the sun was still low on the horizon, and the autumn morning crisp. Eventually, the sun’s rays began to light up the top of the sheer sandstone walls of the canyon, and I enjoyed watching the sun slowly make its way down toward the canyon floor.

Sometimes I enjoy companionship on my adventures. But for others, I prefer to be alone with my thoughts to go deeper into the experience. To me, Horseshoe Canyon is one of those times best experienced without companionship.

I continued on the trail, wending through the canyon, drawing closer to the Great Gallery. I saw the other panels I needed to visit along the way and noted their location for exploration on the way back.

Eventually, there it was! The Great Gallery! It was everything I hoped it would be, and the moment I saw it, I simply stopped and stared. How could I not? I don’t know how long I stood there. My watch also stopped, and the moment was timeless.

Once I could breathe and time flowed again, I shrugged off my backpack and marveled at the panel. I examined it from left to right, then back again. I looked at every figure and then looked again, wondering what the message was. But I knew that the answer was not mine to understand. That’s OK. Some answers will never come.

I made the photograph I longed for all these years: the Great Gallery.

Great Gallery
The Great Gallery. Click/tap for a larger view

The left side of the panel is colloquially known as the Holy Ghost. I spent a lot of time staring at this section and made Holy Ghost, another photograph I had dreamed of. I could not be more pleased with how it came out. There are more details about this section, too, in the link.

Holy Ghost

My goal was accomplished; I journeyed into the past and marveled that the figures have survived until today. The experience remains etched into my mind. The photographs turned out even better than I had hoped, and I am beyond pleased. The reward was well worth the effort, and I breathed a sigh of relief at accomplishing this photograph.

Eventually, it was time to leave. That was not easy, both mentally and physically. My knee reminded me this was still not a good idea, and I knew the remaining three and a half miles would not be comfortable. I put my backpack on again, felt its weight on my knee, and headed back to the other panels.

High Gallery is another spectacle panel. Named for its location—high up on the canyon wall—it contains figures in the same style as the Great Gallery. As before, its message remains unclear and unknown to me. In this photograph, I stepped back to include the cottonwood tree in peak fall color, which I think adds to the scene.

High Gallery

There is a question of why this panel is so high up the wall. At a guess, it is a good fifty feet off the canyon floor. It could not have been easy to create this, leaving us to wonder why there, of all places? Why not put it closer to the canyon floor, just as all the other panels are?

And High Gallery contains a secret, too! Look very closely at the left side just above the cottonwood. Do you recognize the woman’s face in relief? And do you see what she is looking at?

Now the placement makes perfect sense. The woman is looking directly at the gallery, and now more of the meaning becomes clear. Not to rain on my own parade here, though, this is only one interpretation, and it may be sheer coincidence. However, it is the interpretation that I choose to go with.

I want to highlight another panel that I particularly like. The Horseshoe Gallery has similar enigmatic figures in the same Barrier Canyon style. As with the other panels, the meaning is not mine to know, yet I still enjoy the experience of staring deep into the past.

This was the last panel I photographed, and I carefully repacked my backpack for the hike out. I knew I had a steep ascent ahead of me, and it would not be easy, given my knee. I also knew there was nothing for it, so I set out, slowly aching step by slow step.

No sooner had I left the last panel than I heard voices coming from further up the canyon, and soon enough, I saw the hikers attached to them. We exchanged hellos, and they headed off searching for their own adventure. I soon encountered a larger group and then a small one. It’s as if the canyon knew I met my goal and deigned to let the rest of the world in.

I silently gave thanks for my solitude and wished my fellow hikers well.

The Final Ascent

I approached the steep ascent with trepidation, yet met it as I always do—via a single step forward, followed by all the rest. My knee did not appreciate the extra effort, and let me know that. But, I have, quite literally, crawled out of a canyon before, and this time I would walk on two feet, so I counted it as a victory. It was only a seven hundred feet ascent, but it took me a while.

I exited Horseshoe Canyon and returned to the SUV, grateful for the opportunity to sit down and rest. Eventually, I readied myself for the trip home, and the trailhead receded in my rearview mirror. It was past midday, and easy to find my way back to pavement and civilization and then home.

Today, as I write this just over a month later, my knee still hurts off and on, although it is slowly healing. The pain will eventually fade to nothing, but this experience will always be bright inside me.

Bring home Holy Ghost

You can learn more about the Holy Ghost panel, and even bring it home for yourself!

Departure: Everglades

If you’re joining this adventure with this post, you can quickly catch up in Arrival: Everglades. Let’s continue our where we left off and continue to explore Flordia’s Everglades National Park.

As you remember I was just making my way back to shore after my harrowing sea excursion. We were lost at sea, captured by pirates, and weathering the fiercest ocean storms. Nah, not at all. The day was calm and serene, our small boat a pleasure to be in, and we drifted into the dock without even a bump. I thanked the captain and was off to see more of the Everglades. Being back on terra-firma was great!

There is little difference between solid ground and swamp in the wetlands, making the term “land” a bit of a misnomer. In general, it’s a swamp, and wet feet are part and parcel of the experience. Now resigned to that, I headed deeper into the wetlands to see what awaits me. My feet “Ker-plopped” with every step, intermingled with a few “splooshes” and now and then a “splash”. Once your feet are soaked, it doesn’t matter, and you forget about the wet feet. Onward I ventured, ever deeper into the swamp. I might have found dry land at one point, but probably not. Who knows.

Everglades Swamp

Scenes like this are common. Small ponds, or perhaps creeks, or, well, let’s just say a heck of a lot of water, surrounds cypress trees and everything else. In and amongst the trees we can find all sorts of creatures, from large to small. The air is full of mystery, for who knows what lies just out of sight, or who might be lurking in the pond? It is best to keep your eyes peeled at all times. Far from being gloomy, the swamp is alive. Sure, there are insects galore, most of which are determined to taste you.

And there are snakes here. Goodness knows, there’s plenty of snakes, most of which are fifty-five feet or longer. Maybe one hundred feet long. Probably longer still. I don’t really know, because at the end of the day I do not care for snakes so I never stuck around long enough to find out how long they really were. I’m confident they are at least two hundred feet, for sure. Aside from the things that slither and slink, and setting aside the eyes attached to alligators, the swamp is a beautiful place. Yes, it is beautiful. It is more of a single organism, perfectly balanced, perfectly in harmony, and a powerful, primeval force. A place with snakes, but every rose has its thorns.

Everglades Swamp

Everglades Dragonfly

Making my way through the swamp, I eventually found an area of taller grasses and ground that was definately dry. A buzzing sound filled the air. Not the kind of buzzing of bees, but subtly different. A closer examination revealed dragonflies–more than I could count. The flitted from here to there, from stem to stem, in no order at all. They didn’t stop on any stalk for long before retaking flight. The mesmerizing scene was chaotic, although calming as well. Luckily, one dragonfly stopped long enough for me to make Everglades Dragonfly before it moved on. My feet were dry here and I was in no hurry at all to move on. There were no snakes that I saw, and no gators that wandered by. It was a small, welcome, reprieve from the swamp I had been in. Did I mention there were no snakes and my feet were dry? I was in heaven. So was the dragonfly.

Everglades Dragonfly

Heading Out

Teaing myself away from the dragonfly fields I trekked on, intent on making my way out of Everglades National Park. As I was doing so, a leaf-filled pond caught my eye, pausing my journey. There is something serene about a quiet pool, and I ended up spending quite a while there, just reflecting and contemplating. The leaves floated, uncaring about little else, moving only when the breeze pushed them this way or that. Small insects hopped from leaf to leaf, never lingering for long. The leaves remained undisturbed and continued their companionable silence. Water drops came and went. The sun played hide and go seek with the clouds. The pond, the zen pond, simply was, allowing me to focus on simply being part of the moment. The spell was complete and time stretched to eternity.

Everglade's Leaf

With a final act of willpower, I broke free of the enchanted pond, stood up, brushed myself off and continued onward. I memory of the pond remains with me, even today as I write this, although I long to be back there.

Everglades Wetlands

Everglades Wetlands

Alas, it finally was time to leave the Everglades, but not before making just one more stop. This vast open expanse is what I expected the Everglades to look like, and this scene does not disappoint. The tall grasses sway gently in the breeze. A lone bird flies overhead, in no hurry to get anywhere in particular. The croak of a bullfrog calls from my right, echoed by a louder croak from my left. The more I look, the more I see. And the more I listen, the more I hear. The more I remain still, the more alive I became. I felt as alive as I have ever been. For far too short of a time the wetlands claimed me as one of its own, and let me into its world. It let me be a part of it, it let me understand it, and it has never quite let me go. That’s OK, and a good thing.

Just as the swamp, the wetlands are a complete organism in complete harmony. They are beautiful and magnificent. They are glorious. This is the Florida Everglades.

We must be aware that these places are unique, where land and water easily comingle into one. It’s our duty, it’s our right, and it’s our privilege to protect these wild places. And so we must. For if not us, then who?

Arrival: Everglades

The day had been long, and predictably for the time of year, rainy. Since I was in southern Florida, the wet part was not wholly unexpected. Rain it did, and at times, it seemed as if it wanted to remind just what rain could be. I continued, intent on my destination: Everglades National Park.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I arrived. Maybe a grand entrance, replete with a soaring archway, and perhaps a multi-lane highway leading on. Instead, the entrance is a small sign, a narrow two-lane road and another sign that said “Visitor Center: 1,000 miles” Maybe it was less than one thousand miles, but it sure seemed that way. In any event, it didn’t matter because I probably would be distracted long before then.

That distraction occurred quickly enough in the form of a small, one lane, dirt track that seemed like it led…somewhere. I was heading down that one track before anyone could blink. The tall grasses thickened and rose above me, and then gave way to small trees and dense shrubs. Before you knew it, I couldn’t see anything except straight ahead of me. There might have been a road behind me, but the option of retreating didn’t cross my mind.

Alligator Eyes in the Everglades

An alligator lurks in the swamp in Everglades National Park

Before long I came to a small pond. Like a moth to a candle, I was all about that pond and was standing beside it in no time. The air was oppressive: still and quiet. The atmosphere in the Everglades is like the air nowhere else, and it holds a sense of anticipation as much as anything. Slowly, almost too slowly, it dawned on me that I was not alone at the pond, for there, staring back at me were two large eyes. The kind of eyes that were sizing me up for a snack. The type of eyes that were liking what they were seeing and were attached to an alligator of unknown size, and worse still, of unknown temperament. Alligator Eyes remains one of my favorite Everglades photographs.

I slowly retreated, for now, retreat was indeed an option, and continued down the road, a lot more wary of what lurks all around me.

Leaving Shore

Having decided that ponds were more occupied than I first anticipated I decided, perhaps not unwisely, that another way to explore the Everglades is via boat. Not having the foresight to bring one with me, this thought required me to find a vessel, preferably one with an engine and someone to pilot it. After all, it wouldn’t do for me to think I was headed into the park while I was actually pointed toward the open ocean. After a bit of scrounging around, I managed to find both a boat and a captain, and with that, I was on the water. I’ll admit that I was slightly disappointed the captain didn’t have a peg leg nor a parrot, but the boat also didn’t have a plank I could be forced to walk, so all in all, I was content.

A calm day on the water in Everglades National Park

We departed first thing in the morning, well before daybreak. The waters were calm, quiet and utterly serene. We sliced through the water with ease, looking for, well, anything and everything that caught my eye. A small island up ahead held my attention, and we headed for that. Along the way daybreak happened, providing Everglades Calm.

Egret Rookery

The small island hosted snowy egrets and was their current rookery. Here, safe from land-based predators, the egrets care for their young until it is time for them to leave the nest. There is always–always–something happening around the rookery, and today was no exception. The egrets flitted from here to there and back to here again, all without any order I could see. I made Egret Rookery to reflect the joy of watching the egrets.

Egrets flit about their rookery in Everglades National Park

Alas, it was time to head back to shore and leave the egrets behind. We’ll pick up from there in Part 2.

Bring the Adventure Home

You can always stare at Alligator Eyes in your own home. Head on over to the photographs page to purchase a copy for yourself.

Yosemite’s Treasures

Spring is an incredible, magical time of the year. The trees are waking up from their long winter’s nap and spreading new leaves with vim and vigor. Birds are displaying their best plumage in hopes of attracting the perfect mate. Flowers begin to spring up and bloom, eager to participate in the bright sunny days ahead. And in Yosemite National Park, California, the waterfalls are roaring, full of newfound run-off, echoing and booming throughout the storied valley. Yosemite’s Treasures is a collection of four of my favorite Yosemite photographs to celebrate this famed park.


A little further along the valley, just across from El Capitan, one can find the Cathedral Rocks, an impressive grouping of rocks and spires. In spring, small seasonal ponds sometimes form, such as this one, which gives us the equally impressive Cathedral View. As spring turns to summer and the summer wears long, this small pond will quickly dry up, along with some of the waterfalls themselves, and scenes such Cathedral View quietly disappear.

Still further along the valley, well past the towering granite cliffs, we find the setting for Lupine’s Day. The lupine grows throughout the region, and this grouping, coupled with the absolute perfect clouds, combine to make this stunning photograph.


Finally, as promised, we return again to the Merced River. Beautiful, sunny days in Yosemite make for fantastic photography, but so do the storms that notoriously roll through the valley. Stormy Valley is one of those moments. I like the contrast of the lush green grass, the flowing river, and Bridalveil Falls against the stormy skies above. There’s something powerful and dramatic about the contrast, and it draws me in time and time again.

Yosemite National Park is full of wonders, small and large, and it was hard for me to settle on just a few images. Rest assured, for more stories await us there!

Yesterday’s Glow

I am always deeply fascinated when I visit the ruins of the Southwest. There is something awe-inspiring when you are standing there with a structure that was built a thousand years ago, and yet is still standing today. The wind brings echoes of the past to you and it is easy to be transported back to that time. I ponder what it must have been like living there. The pueblo would have been brand new, and probably still being built, for they certainly weren’t static structures. The signs of the hustle and the bustle of daily life would be everywhere, and perhaps children ran squealing from one room to the next as children often do. I imagine life back then, and marvel at the ingenuity and courage of those who lived here. As night falls, the scene fades back into black, and is lost among the night. Yesterday’s glow fades along with daylight.


The National Park Service, for just one day a year, will light up–from the inside–the Spruce House Pueblo in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. This is not a trivial effort, by far, and even at that, they take their time and make everything perfect. Rangers strategically place lanterns and lights in the ruin itself, and they do so with eyes of artists. This is no haphazard be-what-it may arrangement, but instead slow, deliberate and careful. It takes them days to make all the placements. If that isn’t enough, the Rangers and volunteers also place luminarias all along the walkways of the Monument, again, not a trivial task. For the park’s centennial celebration they placed four thousand luminarias!

Crowds gather up at the top on the anointed day. The Rangers light each light and luminara, one by one, then make whatever final adjustments they need to. The crowd is always quite lively and the conversation brisk, but as dusk begins to fall and the ruin comes into its own, absolute silence descends. Everyone is completely transfixed, and for this moment–this one, special, magical incredible moment–we are all transported back into time, and the pueblo, for it is no longer a ruin, comes back to life.

Light streams from the doorways and the windows, just as it must have so many centuries ago. Shadows dance and play among the walls, perhaps remembering the children that once did that in the flesh. Light pours up from kiva, calling us to the ceremony taking place there. The entire effect is absolutely surreal. Eventually, the crowd regains its voice, but now it is just a murmur, as the full impact of what we are seeing settles in. Yesterday’s Glow now mixes past and present seamlessly.

But the Park Service did one better than Spruce House on their centennial. They also lit Cliff Palace, which is one of the largest and most magnificent ruins anywhere in the Southwest. The effort to do this was extraordinary. All the lights and lanterns, and especially the heavy propane tanks, had to be carried in on the steep, narrow path down to the ruin. Cliff Palace is a big ruin, and it took a tremendous amount of time to place each light. Doing this pueblo in addition to Spruce House was a monumental task, yet they did it, and they did it expertly.

As with Spruce House, when dusk began to fall the pueblo sprang to life. The site was, well, beyond words. Even as darkness came in and tried to cover all, the pueblo glowed with an intensity that went well beyond the lights that were there. Eventually, one by one, the lights were put out and the ruin once again was there, the dancing shadows living on only in our memory.

What makes this event so incredible is that it is only the second time that the Park Service has lit Cliff Palace. And who knows if they will do so again, if ever.

But the photographs remain, and allow us to see the pueblos as they once were. Yesterday’s glow will remain with us forever.

Purchase Yesterday’s Glow

You are can purchase Palace Light  and always keep Yesterday’s Glow alive.

Three Nightscapes

As the sun slips past the horizon and night begins its march across the land, many of us head indoors. We turn on the lights without a second thought, and continue our day inside. Should we glance toward a window, we see a square, if you have square windows, of inky blackness. We look away and enjoy the pleasures that light brings us. But what was it like long ago before the advent of electricity? What did our distant ancestors do after dark?

To begin to understand this we have to find truly dark skies. Today, that is not an easy task. You need to be far away from the nearest significant light source, and you might be surprised at just how much light even the tiniest of towns emits. There are places which are still truly dark, though, which is a good thing. Out west, it is a little easier to find dark skies.

From the moment you turn off all light, be that the sun or whatever light you brought with you, your eyes will begin to adjust. This is a gradual, slow adjustment, but a richly rewarding one. The stars slowly come to life, one by one, two by two, dozens by dozens and before you know it you are staring into the depths of space and a sky filled with countless stars. The more you look, the more you find, and the more you find, the more you look. In some locations and at some times of the year, you can see the core of the Milky Way, and that is a completely staggering sight. It can literally leave you speechless.

One startling thing about the night sky is that it isn’t quite as dark as you might first think. If there is even a sliver of the moon you will be able to find your way around. If it is a full moon it might as well be broad daylight and you will know it is night, but it won’t slow you down. Conversely, if you find truly dark skies on a moonless night, well, it is dark. Such nights are perfect making photographs of the night sky.

These three nightscapes are some of my favorites, and represent how different the Milky Way can look.


Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah’s Night was made in the badlands of New Mexico in the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area. This area is little known and well off the beaten path. Few people venture out here, but that is their loss for it has some amazing rock formations, and some of its hoodoos are beyond the imagination. On this moonless night it was dark as dark can be. Even with my eyes fully adjusted I never could see my hand in front of my face. However, that was to my advantage because I was able to create the entire scene. I lit up the hoodoos that I liked, and positioned the Milky Way where I wanted it, making this beautiful photograph. As a completely unplanned bonus a meteor streaking through the frame (you can see it as a small vertical line jus above the hoodoos in the back). The wish I made certainly came true!

Abo Night is the last of the three nightscapes and showcases the mission and pueblo in the Abo unit of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in New Mexico. Although unoccupied since the 1600s, the mission still stands and makes an imposing foreground to the New Mexico night sky. Although not quite as pitch-black as the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness, it is still dark and the stars shine exceptionally bright. As with the Grand Canyon, however, modern civilization intrudes, with the cities of Socorro and Albuquerque contributing their glow to the scene. Still, it is not hard to imagine how this scene must have looked more than four hundred years ago.

When you get a chance, turn off your lights and step outside. Take a few moments looking up at the sky and let your imagination wander and roam. The stars above will be your guide. If you are in a city and you find yourself in the country, take a moment there to look up.

In the meantime, let these nightscapes inspire you!

Virgin River

There are always those places that hold your attention and draw you back time and time again. For me, one of these places is Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. The park is world-renown for its awe-inspiring beauty, from soaring, majestic mountains, to red rock formations that defy conventional description, to its tree-filled main canyon, an oasis in the desert that makes you feel as if you walked onto a different realm altogether.

I’ve been in the park more than a few times, and I’ve been known to drive a few hundred, or more, miles out of my way just to drive through it. There is, however, one feature of the park that draws me back: the Virgin River.

The Virgin River is not, by any means, the mightiest river around. Far, far from it, and most days, it is quiet and unassuming and you can walk though it without getting the tops of your shoes wet. However, when the flash floods come, and they do, this small river becomes a torrent in its own right, and it has cut through and down into Zion National Park, leaving impossibly high and sheer canyon walls and small hidden treasures.

For this small adventure, we’ll work our way from north to south along the Virgin River.

Our first stop is called The Subway. Here, the river has cut a near-tunnel through the solid rock. It’s not a true tunnel, as there is an opening, perhaps just a couple of feet wide, at the top. The walls are gently curved and rounded, however, and it resembles more than anything else its namesake: a subway. The river seems to be so gentle here; a thin film of water, not even an inch high, covers the entire floor. And yes, as you might expect, it is exceptionally slick, too, and you need to be mindful of where you put your feet. The highlight, though, are a few emerald green pools of water. The pools are a few feet deep, deep enough that you don’t want to fall in them, and just deep enough for the emerald green color to appear. In any event, The Subway is a highly photogenic location.

Just downriver from The Subway is a small, gentle series of cascades known as Archangel Falls, or sometimes, Arch Angel Cascades. To me, this is one of the most beautiful locations in the entire park, if not this entire area of Utah. The river still isn’t very large at this point, but what water there is cascades over a long series of sandstone shelves. The water flows every which way here, and when viewed from the bottom, the cascades really show their beauty. With the high canyon walls behind it, and the characteristic glow of reflected light on sandstone, the scene is absolutely breathtaking. A small stand of foliage at the top completes the tableau.

Further downriver, many miles in fact, the Virgin River is more of a river. Small side streams and springs along the way feed into the river, and it slowly begins to build. Along with that is the power to cut through canyon walls. The Narrows is a section where the walls are staggeringly high, almost one thousand feet, and the river runs from edge to edge. The effect is, well, dramatic, to say the least. This small river is now a quiet powerhouse. For me, I love the feel of the blue-green waters of the river and the high sandstone walls; the color combination just cannot be beat and again it feels like you are walking through a different time and a different place.

We’ll leave the Virgin River with one more view of the Subway. This view is at the beginning of the Subway, looking up into it. I really like how the small waterfalls are formed between the pools, all flowing into a fault on the river’s bottom. This scene, perhaps, is my favorite one of the Subway.

The Virgin River cuts through Zion National Park, leaving us a myriad of wonders to enjoy.

Teton Winter

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is one of our more impressive National Parks. Dominated by the soaring Teton Range, the park stretches the length of it, encompassing and protecting this environment. In addition to the mountains, the Snake River flows through the park, and there are numerous lakes, making for a wide and diverse ecosystem. For me, that means opportunity, regardless of the time of year.

This year I made the journey there in the winter months. Much, if not most, of the park is closed to vehicles in the winter. The snow depth is not trivial, and measured in feet, not inches. An average snowfall can add a foot or more to that depth, and clearing the roads which are seldom used in the winter just doesn’t make sense. They keep one main road open as best as they can and the rest is left to nature. This is exactly how I prefer it.

Teton's Winter

This panorama, Teton’s Winter, shows the mighty Teton range as I encountered it. The fresh, unbroken snow started at my feet, creating the perfect foreground, and ended at the top of Grand Teton (which is the tallest peak in the center of the image; it has a slight crook to the right). As I stood there, absorbing the vista before me, letting it all soak in before I made this image, I was struck by how massive these mountains are. Moreover, they do not have foothills to speak of, and they start unexpectedly from the flat plains. The Snake River runs from right to left in this scene, and is in the line of trees.

Speaking of the Snake River, this scene, Teton Afternoon, also called to me.

Teton Afternoon

As Mary Beth and I were driving through the park I looked out the window and saw this. I was immediately, and I mean instantly, transfixed by it. The way the Snake River flowed in front of the mountains, and the frost still covering the trees spoke volumes to me. Unfortunately for Mary Beth there was no viable place to stop and photograph. Remember above when I was talking about how deep the snow was? It applied here, as well. I stopped our vehicle in the middle of highway, much to her consternation and considerable alarm, grabbed the camera gear I thought I might need, and suggested that she might keep driving and come back for me in a bit. She took this advice, luckily, before any other car came along. Unfortunately for me, I was so caught up in the scene that I completely forgot about small things like a coat. At least I had my camera.

As I stood there on the side of a highway in the snowbank, camera in hand, in just a T-Shirt, I made this photograph, one of my favorites. A few cars whizzed by–I couldn’t help but wonder what they were thinking. At last Mary Beth came along, too, and retrieved me, which was good since my teeth were really chattering by that moment. Still, the result was well worth it.

Grand Teton National Park held something else for me as well–a couple of red foxes!

I had been looking for a red fox in the snow for quite some time, and my patience, such as it was, was finally rewarded. I encountered this beautiful female deep in the park and was able to spend some quality time with her. She was skittish, as is to be expected with any wild animal, but she also tolerated my presence. As I stood there, still as a statue, she finally relaxed and went about her day. She walked across the snow ever so lightly! Even though the snow was fresh, she barely left any tracks, and I spent the longest time just watching her. Fox Stride was made during this encounter. I love the way she is looking ahead, staring at a spot where perhaps, just perhaps, a meal awaits below the snow.

Fox Stride

I saved the best for last, however.

I also encountered this beautiful male red fox, curled up on the snow, just looking at me. For me, this photograph, Fox Curl, is destined to become one of my all-time favorite photographs. We looked at each other for the longest while. He was comfortable, and not bothered by me in the least, although I was quite a ways away so as to pose no threat. He was enjoying the sun while it lasted, and I was enjoying him. All in all, it was a very good moment for the both of us.

Grand Teton National Park is winter is a magical place.