Sunday, September 12, 2010

Zebra Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante - Utah

Zebra Canyon is part of the Escalante river canyons in Utah, a river system mostly dry except during intermittent flash floods. From Bryce Canyon National Park, I drove east on Highway 12, a beautiful scenic drive, by the way. I stopped in Escalante in the BLM visitor center to learn more about the weather forecast, the road conditions and buy the 1:24000 scale map of Zebra's canyon area.
Hole-in-the-Rock road is running south from Highway 12, just a few miles east of Escalante. This graveled road was in very good shape and pulled over 8 miles later just after the cattle guard. I followed a good hiker's trail heading ENE, parallel to Halfway Hollow.
The first part was quite easy, despite the temperature. I just had to make sure I was drinking every 20 minutes. I wondered how wild flowers could grow out there.

Zebra Canyon

After entering Harris Wash, I walked north to find the entrance of the canyon. This last part is much harder, as you have to walk through sand. The best part of the canyon is near the entrance. This canyon is very narrow, and I saw some people turn around as they couldn't find their way through. I had to climb along the walls to get to the best part, a very photogenic canyon cutting through pinkish stripped Navajo Sandstone.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Antelope Canyon, Upper Canyon
Antelope Canyon is the most famous slot canyon in the Southwest. Located in the Navajo Reservation, a few miles away from Page, it is easily accessible and therefore attracts large numbers of people.
Although very crowed, especially the Upper Canyon, it is really worth the stop. Take a photo tour. Not only will you have a lot more time in the canyons, but the guides know where to go, at what time, while pushing the crowd away from your photographs. Rays of light entering the canyon appear at specific time, making this place so unique, while indirect lighting is great to emphasize the color of the rock.

Do not count on taking pictures without tripods. You want to limit noise as much as possible so increasing the sensitivity of the captor is not an option. At a focal length of f/8, I had to use an exposure time between 1/20 to 3". Automatic White Balance is also not an option as the frame is full of orange, an unusual color. Don't forget to set up the white balance manually or by using an overcast preset.

Rimrocks and Wahweap Toadstools - Utah

Toadstools were created by two types of rocks with contrasting erosional characteristics. The toadstools in the Rimrocks and wahweap Creek are made of the Entrada Sandstone Formation. White pedestals are made of fine-grains massive sandstone while the capstones or topknots are either made of reddich conglomerate or gray weather-resistant sandstone.

In the case of the Wahweap Creek toadstools, when it rains and the pedestal becomes wet, gravity pulls the column down, literally melting away. They were once much taller than they are today.

The Rocks of North Coyotte Buttes, Paria Canyon - Utah

Sandstone model of Star Wars Imperial Destroyer
North Coyotte Buttes in the Vermillion Cliffs wilderness area is mostly famous for "The Wave", an eroded fossilized sand dune, part of the Navajo sandstone, a geologic formation of Glen Canyon Group. The massive cross-bedded sandstone demonstrates their aeolian origin, while the colors originate from diagenesis. Groundwater has dissolved and precipitated minerals in the pore spaces of the rock. The forces of erosion have sculpted this magnificent landscape, worth exploring.

Before heading to the Wave, which is at its best after mid-morning, I decided to explore the buttes. I was fascinated by such beauty as I was walking through the buttes. Low angle light from the rising sun is perfect to raise the natural color of the rock, from purple to red, orange to yellow.

The Southwest is a vast arid region where rock exposures abound, with canyons and cliffs. I can already promise myself that I will keep exploring this area, so full of surprises.

Geology of the Grand Staircase, the succession of sedimentary rocks in the Southwest (sources wikipedia

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Wave, North Coyotte Buttes, Utah

The Wave, Paria Canyon - Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area
Labor Day weekend was a perfect reason to escape the hot humid weather of Houston, for a few days of hiking and camping in the Southwest, near Page.
North Coyotte Buttes, in the Paria Canyon area,  is a very protected wilderness area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. They only deliver 20 permits a day, 10 four months in advance, and 10 the day before, both by lottery. Each group under 6 people can submit an application and hope for the best as applications are randomly drawn until the ten permits are delivered. I was one of the lucky ones.

One of the beauties of camping in a wilderness area at the border between Utah and Arizona is that you can admire an amazing sky at night, with billions of stars in the milky way. Another advantage is that you can start walking the trails at dawn, alone. Exploring North Coyotte Buttes is a blast, for those who like desert, photography or rocks. The Wave is certainly the highlight of this place as erosion has carved through a fossilized dune. Indirect lightning of side canyons creates beautiful colors and effects.

This unique location is perfect to compose with curves. One of the main challenges I have faced is to compose pictures in complex lighting. I had to wait hours so shadows would go away. On the other hand, by coming early, I had the chance to observe the variations of colors in this sandstone when the light is reflected by an adjacent wall.