Books to Check Out

A few Simonds-oriented books have come out in the last year.  Check them out:

Graceland Cemetery: A Design History just came out which covers O.C. Simonds role in the landscape design of the cemetery.  Sadly I have never been to this cemetary (keep having it on my list when I visit Chicago), and have not read the book yet.

Graceland Cemetery: A Design History

Mountain by Sandy Hill is a great (and huge) coffee table photo book that just came out all about mountains and the history of mountain climbing. Sandy Hill is a famous climber who also barely escaped death on Everest in 1996 captured in the book Into Thin Air.  I was approached more than a year ago to include a photo in the book.  Great to see it finaly come out.

Mountain: Portraits of High Places

Low-Key Genius is a biography of the work of O.C. Simonds by Barbara Geiger which came out in May, 2011.

Low-Key Genius: The Life and Work of Landscape-Gardener O.C. Simonds


Best of the Southwest

For the family members who are too busy to consume all the photos and blog posts I’ve been spewing out, here is a collection of the best shots from the southwest trip:



We arrived at Zion with one more camping night before ending our trip w/two nights at a great B&B.  A real bed + hotub.  It was great because our night camping in the Zion canyon was not very restful as the winds blew a steady 30-40mph.  Big gusts rolling off the canyon walls, spilling into the canyon and rattling our tent all night.

After a short hike on the busy Emerald Pools trail (boring), our first real excursion was into the Zion Narrows at the end of the canyon.  I have no photos of that trip.  The message ‘No CF card’ showed on my camera when I first pushed the shutter about an hour into our hike.  I could have thrown my camera into the river.  Regardless we had a good adventure hiking up the Virgin river, at one point we had to put our packs over our head and wade through a deep pool up to our chests.  Refreshing!

The next morning I did a solo hike up an un-named canyon (although later I found that some people call the area ‘muddy pools’) on the east side of Zion.  It was a spectacular area full of amazing cross-bedded sandstone and little pools of water sculpted out of the rock.  A great photo every hundred feet – and I took a lot of shots.  Some our already printed and up on our wall.  Later in the afternoon we drove up to the west side of the park to the Kolab Plateau to experience some more high-country, but taking an easy hike (we were hiked-out at this point) to an area called Northgate peaks.  A great area of Zion and mostly deserted of people unlike the main canyon.

We finished off the trip with a real meal at a great restaurant in Springdale and then headed home the next morning.  We had a little time before the flight so on the way up I convinced Nina to take a little detour and find a fossil quarry that lets you hunt for trilobite fossils.  No luck, turns out the place you go to pay and the actual place where the quarry is were very far apart.  No time for that.

Zion photos are here:

A great trip.  Many things we didn’t get to do that were on my list for the next trip:  Antelope Canyon, The Wave, Wawheep Hoodoos, The Subway and many more.  We have to go back!


Highway 12, Dodging Storms and Bryce

At the end of our second day in Utah it felt like we had been there a week.  We experienced an amazing ride on Highway 12 from Capital Reef, through Escalante, passed our Coyote Gulch entrance (boohoo) and on to Bryce NP.  Highway 12 is said to be one of the most scenic drives in the country.  I agree.  It was amazing.  Over Boulder mountain, a long extinct volcano giving amazing views from ?? feet plus huge groves of blinding white aspen trees.

Then it winds through the Grand Staircase of endless gulches, canyons, cross-bedded sandstone and amazing views every 1/4 mile.  It was a drive that everyone should take.  We stopped briefly in the small town of Escalante visiting a few of the small outdoor outfitter shops there serving the canyoneering croud then headed off to Bryce in a hurry.  A hurry because we were running out of time.

We still had no idea where we would be sleeping for the next two nights.  We were committed to hiking into the back country and camping away from everyone for 2 nights but the weather was crazy.  Big thunderheads were building up in the hot sun all across the horizon and we decided that the Bryce canyon might be a good place to hide.  We got to the visitor center at 5 PM and I rushed up to the ranger desk, topo map clutched in hand, saying “I need a back country permit”.  The ranger saying “where do you want to go”?  I reply “no idea so give me a recommendation”.

The ranger was great.  Showing me where they allowed back country camping in the park, where water could be found (a bit of a non-issue of course with all the rain) and what sort of elevation changes were there.  I picked a camp site that was remote, but that I felt Nina and I had a chance of making before sunset.  When finished, the ranger asked me to look at the weather board on the far wall and make sure everything was OK.  The weather board showed rain and lightning bolts everyday for the next 5-days and it was raining outside.  Perfect!  Lets go!

We drove the trailhead, prepared our packs in somewhat of a frantic hurry (which later resulted in us eating with no utensils at all for the next two days) and hit the trail.  It was raining a bit when we left, but the storms spared us.  We spent the next two days with thunderheads skirting the canyon rim every 4 hours. Thunder, cracks of lightning and downpours were hitting the entire area – except the lower remote part of the canyon where we were camping.  We saw only a couple of people on the trail briefly during our time down there – a far cry from the throngs up on the canyon rim.

After hiking out, we spent a restful night in a small hotel and I took time to photograph the stunning geology from the canyon rim at sunset and sunrise. Turns out sunrise is the best time for good shooting since the sun sets behind the canyon rim.  And, shooting the sunrise is best shot from ‘sunset vista’, not ‘sunrise vista’.  Go  figure.

It’s hard to take a unique shot of a scene that has been photographed so much, but regardless it was still awe inspiring to look over that landscape and try and take a few unique shots.   Hiking around the area for three days at 7-8,500 feet was great exercise – especially with a full pack including camera gear.

All the Highway 12 and Bryce Canyon pics are here.


Back from Utah

Nina and have returned from our week in the Southwest.  A fun, hard, dramatic and relaxing trip all at the same time.  I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape, and being a former geologist and avid photographer, in complete nirvana.  We got a lot of exercise hiking all over the place almost always in excess of 6,000 feet.

I will write a couple of entries about our trip as I plow through and post the myriad of photographs I took along the way.

We started out arriving in Capital Reef National Park after our drive down from Salt Lake City.  This was not the plan.  We planned to arrive in Escalante, camp in a local campground for the night and then take a 3-day back-country hike down Coyote Gulch in a very remote part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.  But, as they say all great plans…

Weather had turned sour a few days before we arrived and sure enough the entire Southwest was getting hammered by rain and thunderstorms the day we got there.  Even the locals were saying they couldn’t remember a September that was like this.  So, all non-paved roads were impassible (all of our plans involved non-paved roads) – and hiking in slot canyons was strongly discouraged.  So we decided to swing by Capital Reef and see what we could see. We ended up staying in a campground in the National Park for the night and spent the next day hiking in some high-country.

This shot is an example of what was going on there.  That’s the Fremont River below, normally flowing low enough that you can drive across it to access a big part of the park, but not today.  It was blood-red and angry.

So we hiked in a narrow, but high canyon and kept watch on the weather (a theme for the whole trip).  This was my first up-close contact with Southwest Geology and it was amazing.  Cross-bedded standstone, hoodoos, slot canyons and even strange things like big basaltic boulders laying around on the groud like they had been placed there as part of an exhibit.  Turns out their source has been studied a lot and are believed to be transported by glaciers and then moved into these gulches by flash floods.  They were everywhere in the park.

Nina was a trouper on the entire trip putting up with my photography, helping me change lenses and laughing at how excited I got everytime I saw something new.  Mid-way through the hike we suprised a Bighorn Sheep that hung around close enough to us that I was able to change lenses and get a few great close-up shots of it.  Good thing because it helped break up the endless shots of rocks and mountains in my photos.

We hiked all morning, then finally headed out of the park by noon with no idea where we would be sleeping that night.  With the weather still ugly, Coyote Gulch was definitely cancelled and we were desperate for a place to camp in the wilderness away from all the retired people in RVs that descend on the National Parks after Labor Day (the people-watching of the National Park croud was a topic of ongoing conversation between Nina and I).

More about that afternoon and evening in the next post.  For now, here is the link to the Capital Reef shots:

I definitely want to go back to this park.  Unlike the other parks, most of it is very remote, only accessible via 4-wheel drive or hiking.  The Cathedral Valley loop is a must- see 4-wheel drive adventure that I really want to take.  Will need good weather for that – maybe next time.

Utah Prep and Improvisation

Things are looking bleaker by the minute for the upcoming trip to Utah.  Thunderstorms and flash-floods are now predicted for everyday of the week we are there.  3 months of planning and I’m frantically re-planning most of the trip with less than 24 hours to our flight.  Our primary goal was hiking and back-country camping in the canyons in Escalante and Zion – but with flash floods happening daily, being in slot canyons is a very bad idea.  And virtually every road we need to take has the caveat of ‘may be impassible after rain’.  Not good.

So I am looking at alternatives, staying in higher country in Bryce and Zion and possibly Capitol Reef National Park.  As always, it’s important to be flexible and fluid.  Perhaps my photography eyes should be set on storm clouds and lighthing over the vast plateau’s of southern Utah rather than canyons.  Regardless, still exited to go – I’m done downloading waypoints into my GPS, Nina is figured out meals and we are headed south ready or not.

Posts and tweets will come as we travel.