creative endeavors of Judy Tilley

Posts tagged ““nevada”

2014-10/11 WA/OR/CA/NV/AZ/NM/UT 2/5

Day 8/Monday/October 13:

We awoke to another sunny day and drove north on Highway 89 toward Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lake Almanor was again on our route so we stopped on the south side of the lake near a boat launch, day use area and campgrounds. The lake was low but evidently high enough for the California Department of Fish and Game to plant 6,000 trout. They were chauffeured from the Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery near the town of Burney. We watched the fish wiggling and flashing their way to freedom from the two pipes.

Continuing east on 89 to its meet with 36 where it became 36/89 would bring us toward Lassen. Just past Morgan Summit (5750) we turned north onto Lassen Park Road through a heavily forested area. Along the way we were delayed by some road construction but it seems it is an ongoing activity in the rush to complete projects before inclement weather.

Our plans were to spend the night at either campground in Lassen. But, we were not that impressed with the park, at least not impressed to remain longer than a drive through. Because we have a dog, we are not able to hike the many trails that are available to park visitors. We are fine with that and, at times, either of us hikes the shorter trails while the other wanders the parking lot with Toller. also, it was sunny so I believe it would be more photogenic on a stormy day or if there was fresh snow. We stopped at several viewpoints, including one to have lunch where the wind blew strongly.

Once through the park, we turned north on 44/89 toward the Pit River campground off Highway 299, where we had stayed several years before. On the way there, we stopped at the Subway Cave off 44. But, the path to the cave or tube looked too much like rattlesnake country so we just admired the large pine trees in the parking lot.

Returning to Highway 89 we drove north toward Highway 299. Just for a change of pace, we turned onto the Cassel Fall River Road, a meandering narrow two lane county road eventually ending up in Fall River Mills and 299. Turning west onto 299, we soon arrived at the road leading to the Pit River campground. A USFS campground, the price for a night’s stay was $4 with our Senior Pass.

We were the only ones there besides some day use picnickers and the camp host. We picked a spot, set up and I wandered with my camera gear to the boat launch on the Pit River to see if the light was adequate to photograph the two mini waterfalls that, split by a wooded islet, emptied into the stiller waters in front of me. Our previous visit was later in the year so the fall color hadn’t peaked. The light was dull and the color even duller, so I packed up, walked and fed Toller, fixed supper and went to bed.

Day 9/Tuesday/October 14:

The light improved in the morning so I was there at the boat launch to shoot some frames with slow shutter speeds for the cotton candy effect and some to catch the sputter of the water as it poured over the rocks. But, there was neither the color nor the fog like the previous time. You take what you get and enjoy being in a special place.

Pit River Powerhouse #1, an impressive Art Deco structure, was just a short drive away through a private guest ranch (yes, you can drive through despite private property postings). We spoke with several workers who said it was really cold in this area in the winter. The facility was fenced and gated so we couldn’t tour it so I just snapped a few iPhone shots through the chain link fence. It was spare, austere and had those long multi-paned windows.

About five miles west on 299 and five miles north on 89, is beautiful Burney Falls. A fisher at Pit River told us we could come in the back way and walk along the trail to the lower view of the falls which can also be accessed by going to McArthur-Burney State Park and walking down below the upper overview. We drove down a road and parked in a small parking lot. I noticed a sign that gave directions and distance for the local trails plus the Pacific Trail. As I walked down to the bridge that crossed Burney Creek, I wasn’t really sure which direction to head (directionally dysfunctional) and didn’t want to encounter a bear alone (no dogs allowed on trail so Tony remained behind the sign), so we drove to the entrance of the park.

We walked the short distance to the upper viewpoint and I shot a few frames as the falls dropped 129 feet, but the best images are photographed along the paved walk down to the bottom. All along the way, there are compositions using a wide angle for the entire falls and a telephoto to capture the details. We had visited here last April when the Spring greens were vibrant and lush. This time, I wanted to shoot the Fall color. After about an hour or so, probably the “or so”, we ate lunch in the parking lot. There are trees in this park that I am unfamiliar with. We also saw them in the surrounding forest. I have included a photo of one titled “Mystery Tree”.

The wind was beginning to pick up and the rain was sputtering as we drove on 89, 44 and 36 on our way to Susanville to fuel up and buy a few groceries. We stopped along Highway 44 at the Bogard-Lassen Rest Area, a palatial rest stop for such a sparsely populated area; check out the photo below. It was really howling as we arrived in the Safeway parking lot. We weren’t really sure where we would camp for the night. We ultimately wanted to explore the Smoke Creek Desert area then drive along the western shore of Pyramid Lake but knew that driving into arid areas  in the rain in the coming dark would be foolish.

Using an iPhone app, I found Ramhorn Spring, a BLM campground north on 395 that we could tuck into for the night then decide which way we would drive in the morning. The campground was populated by hunters who were off looking for mule deer. One who stayed behind said he had a night vision camera that caught a few mountain lions sneaking around behind the boulders we camped next to. Mountain lions which we have behind our home wasn’t bothersome; I was thinking rattlesnakes tucked into the rock pile. We set up as dusk approached, ate supper then went to bed sheltered from the elements.

Day 10/Wednesday/October 15:

The rain intensified during the night and the wind hadn’t slowed down. We decided to skip the Smoke Creek Desert to head for the west side of Pyramid Lake. There were some places that one of the WtW folks suggested we visit but we can return here as it is closer than our New Mexico destination this trip. We drove south down 395, turning east on Wendel Road just past the BLM Wild Horse Adoption Corrals.

As the paved road turned to gravel, it became Sand Pass Road. The rain began breaking off abut the dark storm clouds were ominous. We could see that the sky was become lighter toward the southwest which was our general direction. Just as we were approaching the turnoff to Highway 2 which would bring us along Pyramid Lake, I saw a large rainbow. “Let’s follow that rainbow”, I yelled, thinking that a photograph was in the making with the desert, brooding clouds and a rainbow.

Driving north along the Sand Pass Road, we could see that multi-colored arc over the hills. We drove on until we could see just a short wide band over the alkaline dry lake bed. We were a little late but did bang off a few as I was running down the road. After it disappeared, I looked around to see two square white wood-framed buildings along the RR tracks. They were falling into disrepair, no longer needed. I am not sure what their purpose was, maybe for supplies or living quarters for the crew or maintenance employees. The trains still run. It is named on our Benchmark maps as Sand Pass.

We backtracked to Highway 2 into the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. Along this road is the access to the Fly Geyser, a multi-hued wonder, on private land. No trespassing means that and you need special permission from the landowner.  You are also required to obtain permits to even drive off the main road if you are non-Native. We could see the Needle Rocks off in the distance, their jagged points guarding the lake’s shore. The light shining through the clouds played off the beautiful blue of this large lake. The Truckee River feeds the lake, although there is no outlet. It is one of the few remaining lakes that were once a part of ancient Lake Lahontan.

When 2 became 445, gravel turned to pavement. At Sutcliffe, there is a fish hatchery that raises the cui ui, an endangered  fish endemic to these waters. In the same area along the shore is an RV park (parking lot type), marina, visitor canter and ranger station. South of Sutcliffe, 445 turns toward Reno and 446 goes to Nixon and 447. There are several tribal parks, lake access points and picnic areas along the western shore but you need to buy a permit at the Paiute Tribal Headquarters in Nixon. On the other side of the lake is Highway 447 from which there is no lake access except for a closed gated gravel road. If you followed that road you would drive by the Great Stone Mother and Basket and The Pyramid which can be seen from 2/445.

At the junction of 446  and 447, we turned south to Wadsworth and Fernley. We bought fuel by the I-80 interchange and headed south on Highways Alt 50 and Alt 95 toward Silver Springs. Past Silver Springs, 50 turns toward Carson City and Alt 95 continues south to Yerington where Alt 95 joins 95 just past Shurz. On 95, traffic is fast as it is the main connector between Reno and Las Vegas. Semi trucks are especially fast and will pass you. The highway is flat, very straight in long stretches but there are very few places to pull off to allow them to pass.

Soon, we arrive at 20 Mile Beach, a free BLM campground on Walker Lake. There were a few campers near the vault toilets but we chose to drive down a sandy road to be closer to the beach. At last, Toller could run and run. I think he knew as we unfastened his harness and detached the leash that he was free to go. We watched him run in circles then flat out sprint. All too soon, it was time for his supper and ours as the light was fading quickly. At the south end of the lake is the Hawthorne Army Depot where there are miles of bunkers storing munitions, I believe. We only hoped that we would not be awakened in the darkness of night by a huge KA-BOOM!

Day 11/Thursday/October 16:

Quiet reigned (no missiles raining down) during the night so we were in one piece in the morning. We were greeted by a superb sunrise over the mountains across the lake. It lasted for some time and spread clear across the eastern sky. Toller was allowed to run again and took full advantage of the opportunity. We broke down our camp quickly and returned to 95 to fuel up in Hawthorne, just a few miles south.

From Hawthorne, one can take Highway 359 through some sparsely populated areas into California arriving at Mono Lake and the eastern entrance to Yosemite. One could also take the Bodie Road, a rough ride to Bodie State park, a genuine ghost town, preserved in a “state of arrested decay” by the California State Parks Department.

But, our destination was exploring some 4×4 roads off of Highway 6 on the way to Tonopah. There isn’t much to see from Hawthorne to where 95 joins Highway 6 at Coaldale and there isn’t much to see there, either. I wanted to see about a gravel road that went from 95 to Mina but some trucker was on our tail so we had to speed on by. These roads aren’t often marked and you are going by so fast that you have passed the entrance by the time you figure out that’s where you want to turn.

95 goes through two towns that are barely hanging on: Luning (population 40) and Mina (population 75). I noticed in a Google search that their populations are in decline. Luning has a rest stop and Mina has the Hard Rock Market (for sale, I think).

At Tonopah Junction, we left busy 95 for Highway 360. This road isn’t as flat and straight but there is some traffic, mainly semis. close to the highway, we saw a pair of burros grazing. I looked at the map and there was a POI for the Marietta Wild Burro Range. We drove down the road until we came to an overlook. We saw a group of four burros about 500 feet off the road, nibbling at the sage brush while over behind the mountains to the north, we could see and hear some major dynamiting happening at a mine among the cluster on the map. They must have become accustomed to the booms because they only looked up occasionally to check us out.

It is probably a good thing we did not find that road off 95 as there are many mines in the area and the road may be off limits. At times, that is the case; we find a road that has ghost towns or interesting geology and it is either closed or the trucks are running to deliver goods or remove the extracted material. Marietta was no longer a ghost town, but had a small settlement there with modern trucks.

Back on 360, we stopped at Belleville, really not much more than a site, as the few buildings were reduced to a pile of stone rubble. It was a community set up to provide water to the Candelaria Mines down the road. It had a population of about 500 people at one time and included a restaurant (we found oyster shells), doctor’s office, telegraph and assay station, livery stable, school, two hotels, restaurants, blacksmith shops and seven saloons. Belleville existed for about twenty years, from 1872 until 1892 when the mines got their own water source nearby. People, since its demise, have been poking through the rubble. We found many items including ceramic beer bottles, bone china, very small shoes, some hardware, rusty pieces of machinery, lots of thick aqua blue, purple, and olive green bottles, etc. All of the china and bottles were broken but we did find a used up but intact bottle of  E. G. Lyons Jamaican Ginger.

We journeyed on to Highway 6 picking up 264 which continues south until it splits into 266 (to 95) and 168 (to 395). 264 merges with 773 which is the road we wanted. Off 773, we drove across a wash and continued up to where we camped last April. We wandered around looking for interesting rocks and photography locations. Boundary Peak, Nevada’s highest mountain at 13,140′ was visible from our camp site. The lighting too direct and the sky wasn’t filled with the dramatic storm clouds I like so I shot detail shots of the petrified wood hoodoos.

The quiet filled our ears and the millions, no billions, of stars filled our eyes. There is a large ranch or two nearby but we couldn’t see their lights. I love these silent, barren places where there are no distractions except the stark beauty. Listening to the nothing as we watched the sunset is magic. We were the only ones within miles. It is so different from our home where large trees obscure our sky views and the city lights shine too brightly for the next hill over to block completely.

Day 12/Friday/October 17:

This morning I shot more telephoto images of the same subjects as yesterday. The foothills below Boundary Peak had some interesting light so I worked that for awhile. We had breakfast then decided to drive the truck down to the lower area to follow the wash. We stopped to look for rocks and found a pocketful of Apache Tears, some clear, others more opaque. We could hear a group of ORVs close by and soon they revealed themselves coming up the wash. With a wave, they drove up to where we had been.

We drove further on the wash, stopping at a wide area. The wash made a right turn then left. Where the right became a left, the road was blocked by a foot tall rocky upcropping that would challenge our rig. We could see that it had been breached before. We contented ourselves to wander around checking out the petrified wood hoodoos. I wanted to stay longer to explore beyond to see the end of the wash, to see if the end, if there was one, was a box canyon. But Tony had an itch to rockhound for agates near Tonopah.

Once on Highway 6 we drove to Tonopah, stopping only at the now familiar Millers Rest Stop. After fueling up at the Shell, we went directly to our secret location and, darned if we didn’t get skunked. Maybe the light was bad in the late afternoon or maybe we took them all last April. We wandered around a bit, hope fading in tandem with the sun’s rays.

This is as good a place to stay as any, we thought, so we popped the top, made sandwiches and looked at the maps for our next destination. Often, we have a general idea of what we want to see by circling POIs on our well-worn Benchmarks. I also jot down a “general” itinerary on my iPhone. Sometimes, we go by the script, but mostly just allow serendipity and the signs along the way  be our guides. Tomorrow was to be one of those days. I wanted to drive to Delamar, a remote ghost town, but that would mean miles of driving. Anticipating the unanticipated, we went to bed.

Day 13/Saturday/October 18:

The light made all the difference: we pocketed (knapsacked?) more than two dozen big’uns (1″ -2.5″D) in about two hours. They differ from  the Summer Lake area because they are not as lumpy and are a milky blue color. Our agate lust sated, we headed east on Highway 6, stopping at the Saulsbury Wash Rest Area.

Last April, we had driven south from Highway 50 on the gravel road through Monitor Valley, crossing the Monitor Range over to Antelope Valley then recrossing the Monitors to the Ralston Valley. In Antelope Valley, we saw a large herd of wild horses. Since we didn’t complete our Antelope Valley drive (which segues south into the East/West Stone Cabin Valley), we turned north onto the road through West Stone Cabin Valley to see what we could see. As we drove along the gravel road, we saw a small group on a bluff, two white ones brightly shining in the sun. They watched us as we drove by slowly, looking up then browsing. We passed by a couple of springs, a few more horses then turned around to find a place to camp overnight. We almost drove to the junction where we drove into the lovely McCann and Hunts Canyons last April.

The green oasis of Stone Cabin Ranch was visible during much of our drive, so we turned east toward it knowing that the road would be okay. It is a typical Nevada ranch, complete with corral, stock yard, old rusty trucks, tractors and implements, a few weathered outbuildings and a main house. We then drove south on the road that passes through East Stone Cabin Valley. Suddenly, a band of 3 horses galloped across road ahead of us. They left their hoof prints in the alkaline area that we thought might make a good spot to camp. To the west was a small canyon that they disappeared into. We ate dinner as we watched the sunset. It was another quiet night.

Below are iPhone 5 photographs but the DSLR images can be found HERE

Delivering fish to Lake Almanor in California

Delivering fish to Lake Almanor in California

Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Picnic site in the day use area at Pit River campground along 395 in California

Picnic site in the day use area at Pit River campground along 395 in California

Camp site among the pin oaks at the USFS campground Pit River

Camp site among the pin oaks at the USFS campground Pit River

Pit River Powerhouse #1

Pit River Powerhouse #1

Mystery tree in McArthur-Burney State Park. Cedar?

Mystery tree in McArthur-Burney State Park. Cedar?

Pacific Coast Trail sign near Burney Creek

Pacific Coast Trail sign near Burney Creek

Burney Creek ablaze in fall color

Fall foliage ablaze along Burney Creek

Burney Falls plunging 129' from the overlook at McArthur-Burney State Park.

Burney Falls plunging 129′ viewed from the overlook at McArthur-Burney State Park.

Burney Falls from along the walk don to the lower overlook at McArthur-Burney State Park.

Burney Falls from along the walk down to the lower overlook at McArthur-Burney State Park.

Bogard-Lassen Rest Area along California's Highway 44

Bogard-Lassen Rest Area along California’s Highway 44

Ramhorn Campground off Highway 395 between Susanville and Alturas, California

Evening glow at Ramhorn Campground off Highway 395 between Susanville and Alturas, California

Road sign along High Rock Road on the way to west side of Pyramid Lake

Road sign along High Rock Road on the way to west side of Pyramid Lake

Looking our over Smoke Creek Valley. Rainbow was over to the left

Looking over Smoke Creek Desert from Sand Pass. The rainbow was over to the left.

Welcome to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation

Welcome to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation

Tufa forms in the foreground; The Needles Rocks in the distance. Pyramid lake is barely visible as a thin line in between

Tufa forms in the foreground; The Needles Rocks in the distance. Pyramid Lake is barely visible as a thin line in between


Walker Lake north of Hawthorne, Nevada. This lake has receded greatly; 168 vertical feet since 1868 and is ⅓ its former size due to the Derby Dam on the Truckee River and irrigation

Sunset along Walker Lake looking north from the west side.

Sunset along Walker Lake looking north from the west side.

Walker Lake sunrise looking east on west side of the lake

Walker Lake sunrise looking east on west side of the lake

Pretty in pink wildflower at Walker Lake

Pretty in pink wildflower at Walker Lake

Early morning looking south at Walker Lake which is another remnant like Pyramid Lake from ancient lake Lahontan

Early morning looking south at Walker Lake which is another remnant like Pyramid Lake from ancient Lake Lahontan

Welcome to the Murietta Wild Burro Range. We saw a total of 6.

Welcome to the Murietta Wild Burro Range. We saw a total of 6.

Overlooking the valley where the mining town of Marietta lies. Over the mountains in the distance you could see and hear the dynamite blasts. The burros we saw browsed without comment.

Overlooking the valley where the mining town of Marietta lies. Over the mountains in the distance you could see and hear the dynamite blasts. The burros we saw browsed without comment.

Broken refuse from the ghost town of Belleville along Highway 360

Broken refuse from the ghost town of Belleville (1872-1892) along Highway 360 in Nevada

Broken china and beer bottles left at Belleville

Broken china and beer bottles left at Belleville, Nevada

Remains of a dwelling (?) at Belleville, Nevada

Remains of a dwelling (?) at Belleville, Nevada

Remains of a stone structure at belleville, Nevada-note the broken glass and rusted cans

Remains of a stone structure at belleville, Nevada-note the broken glass and rusted cans

Petrified tree stumps left after Lake Lahontan dried up

Petrified tree stumps left from a swamp after ancient Lake Lahontan dried up

Walking along the wash in a former swamp in the former Lake Lahontan

Walking along the wash in a former swamp in the former Lake Lahontan

Where the natural rock barrier ends most vehicle's attempts to follow the wash

Where the natural rock barrier ends most vehicle’s attempts to follow the wash

Another view from the other side of the rock outcropping

Another view from the other side of the rock outcropping

Petrified tree stumps that were once a swamp in Lake Lahontan

Petrified tree stumps that were once a swamp in Lake Lahontan

Walking along the wash passing petrified tree stumps

Walking along the wash passing petrified tree stumps

Lunch along the dry wash at the turnaround for most vehicles

Lunch along the dry wash at the turnaround for most vehicles

Parking spot where the wash ends

Parking spot with a view

Beautiful yellow wildflower along West Stone Cabin Road

Beautiful yellow wildflower along West Stone Cabin Road

Rusting work trucks at the Stone Cabin Ranch

Rusting work trucks at the Stone Cabin Ranch

Hoof prints in the alkaline soil crust near where we camped along the road in East Stone Cabin Valley

Hoof prints in the alkaline soil crust near where we camped along the road in East Stone Cabin Valley

Sunset where we camped along East Stone Cabin Road just north of Nevada's Highway 6

Sunset where we camped along East Stone Cabin Road just north of Nevada’s Highway 6

2014-05-06 WA/OR/NV/AZ/UT/ID Part 2/5

Day 6/Sunday/June 1:
What we thought was a road that not often used was actually on the way to a local fishing hole or reservoir. Before 7:00 am, 4 trucks drove by to do some Sunday fishing. It was a clear sunny morning so we broke camp early to beat whatever traffic is on I 80 from Winnemucca to Battle Mountain. I 80 usually has a lot of truckers as its route is across the country. Just last April we traveled the opposite distance returning home.

Traffic on 140 was light but increased as we turned south on 95 toward Winnemucca. Once on I 80, a well-engineered freeway, travel was smooth and fast at 75mph. We passed semis and a few RVs. A stop at the Valmy rest stop, dating from the CCC era, broke up the journey. Everything inside the restrooms was cold: steel toilets, water and hand driers. There was a sign proclaiming I 80 the Dwight D. Eisenhower Highway honoring the author of our nation’s interstate system.

We fueled up in Battle Mountain then turned south on 305. We turned up a road just to see where it went. A huge mining company had taken over most of the hills to the north: Phoenix Mines. The road was closed at the mine, but you could drive on eventually ending up on Highway 50 near Middlegate to the Southwest.

Reaching the end of 305 at Highway 50, we turned east toward Austin, a town from the mining days of old. It is a mix of old store fronts and a few tourist shops plus at least 4 churches. We went up a dirt road to The Tower built by a mining magnate from the 1860s. It was built using native stone by local craftsmen based on a tower the owner saw in Italy. The family used it one June and July then lost interest.

We continued east on 50 or “The Loneliest Road In America”. Out of Austin, the road climbs and descends as it winds through the mountains. There were a few straight stretches then we arrived at the BLM’s Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area to view the rock etchings and camp for the night. There was only one other site occupied and remained that way the rest of the evening. The amenities were vault toilets, garbage cans and picnic tables, some with slatted sun shades, all for free.

There seemed to be some interesting light and clouds to the east but nothing exciting happened that would warrant pressing the shutter. As I waited, in vain, a few vehicles drove by on 50 nearing dusk. For a lonely road, there was more traffic than you would assume.

Tomorrow, we will walk the short Petroglyph loop (.3 miles) to see what the ancient culture left behind. More sandwiches and time for bed.

Day 7/Monday/June 2:
The short Petroglyph loop was long on history. There were many panels along the trail that were done in the Central a Great Basin curvilinear style. That is, incised lines into the stone rather than dots. There were several references to the sun, one with a narrow pointing to the direction of the sunrise. Some were puzzling but one was clear as it showed a arrow with feathers, drawn simplistically with lines. One large boulder displayed rock art that differed from the other panels although still curvilinear. Surprisingly there was little modern graffiti. Someone from the Simpson Expedition left his initials from 1858.

We drove east on 50 stopping at a promising gravel pit. We have found a few of these roadside rock piles productive. Today we found two somewhat large agates and some agatized jasper. It was beginning to get hot and the wind was very dehydrating so we drove on to find the back road to the almost ghost town of Belmont. On the way, we would detour to the Miniature Grand Canyon which I saw on the Benchmark Atlas and read a blog entry about. Why not visit a mini one and a grand one on the same trip?

The Monitor Valley road was a well graded gravel road with soft shoulders. It was shown as the Belmont Road in the Benchmark Atlas but the sign read Monitor Valley Rd. We stopped at another gravel pit for lunch but the hot wind kept that visit short. It was there that we encountered the first of two vehicles we saw all day.

We passed the geographical center of Nevada according to the atlas but there was no marker to indicate otherwise. The only markers were for federal roads or ranches. North of the Monitor Ranch we saw two horses saddled up and tied to a rail in a corral. We felt badly for them as it was dusty due to the many dust devils but we soon saw the second vehicle, a truck with a stock trailer coming to their rescue. At the turnoff to avoid passing through the ranch we saw a sign saying “Bye, bye BLM” with a bother indicating a meeting. Hmmm, Sagebrush Rebellion.

At the next turnoff, we turned east toward the hills: Potts Ranch and Antelope Valley in hopes of finding the Miniature Grand Canyon. I had vague directions, a Topo map app on the iPad Mini and the a Benchmark Atlas for Nevada. We soon found ourselves on 373 after a confusing array of roads going every which direction.

We were now heading for Dobbin Summit at 8657′ in the Monitor Range. Our surrounding changed from mostly sagebrush to juniper and pine with some sagebrush. There was a hunting campground in one of the few open areas. The road twisted through the trees and suddenly we were at a huge gap in the rocks. Dobbin Creek, a small creek carved a fairly deep canyon through the rocks to Antelope Valley. We pulled into a turnout as the road had been one lane since turning off past Potts Ranch (which appeared abandoned due to some dilapidated wooden structures but had a corral, fencing and cows).

We discovered a small chunky cactus blooming in bright orange red. The canyon wasn’t very spectacular but was an interesting side trip. The road we were on was in good shape so we decided to continue on into Antelope Valley to take another indirect way into Belmont rather than backtrack to the Monitor Valley Road.

Antelope Valley is narrower and shorter than its neighbor Monitor Valley. The Monitor Range divides the two. At Clear Creek, there was a log home with sod roof, another log building with upright logs and a roof patched with the tops of old 5 gallon metal buckets as at Bodie State Park in California, an old boiler, and a rock structure. The atlas indicates this collection of buildings as Clear Creek Ranch.

Several curves later we were on flat ground with sagebrush dotting the landscape. We saw horses off in the distance, about a half dozen. Further along, there were groups adding up to 3 dozen. I snapped a few shots with my 70-200 mm lens but the wind blew my scent toward them and they scattered. We weren’t sure if they were wild as there was a collection of buildings in the distance snug against the hills. But, they spooked so maybe they were wild.

It was getting late so we wouldn’t make it to Belmont so we began looking for a place to camp. There were quite a few open range cattle with heifers and their calves and big bulls so we didn’t want nighttime visitors. We were again in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest so maybe the cows wouldn’t venture past the cattle guards. In Box Canyon we came upon a closed gate that only asked that we close it behind us. We saw only a few more cattle after Box Canyon although we had left the forest. Luckily, we found a clearing amongst some pines where others had camped. There were some rabbit droppings, deer prints and what could only be a snake trail across the road.

Out here in the middle of Nevada or any open range area in the west it is difficult to tell who owns what. Nevada has the most federal holdings of any state, mostly military but the USFS and the BLM have a large chunk. We saw quite a few signs indicating that we were either leaving or entering the national forest but many ranches have grazing allotments and what may be BLM or forest lands have cattle guards and fencing. We saw a few no camping signs at the Potts Ranch but no other types like no trespassing or no hunting. We saw no sign of humans other than buildings.

Since it was after 8:00 pm we again ate our sandwiches and hit the sack, well, our sleeping bags. Tomorrow we go to Belmont then head toward Highway 6 and Tonopah for fuel as backcountry traveling eats up the miles and fuel. Then, we plan to explore back roads that leave the highway heading north.

Day 8/Tuesday/June 3:
After we got ready to hit the road, we saw the first people since yesterday morning. A rancher and his (grand)son were moving their cattle up our dirt road probably to Box Canyon where water awaited in big stock tubs. So, we just watched as they expertly kept them on track and keeping this year’s calves with their moms. The young boy, probably about 10 or 12 knew what he was doing.

After they passed by, we headed south looking for the turnoff to McCann Canyon. Interior Nevada does not have street signs. Occasionally, you will see a sign indicating how many miles to whatever canyon or ranch you are seeking with arrows and miles or a USFS road number. But, sometimes they are missing or faded or rotting off to the side.

However, this time we saw a dirt road leading west with a sign for McCann Canyon and other destinations. We followed it to a barbed wire gate, beyond which lay a narrow single lane road which look like it had seen little use. After some debate, we decided to forge ahead just because this was the shortest way to Belmont and we didn’t want to get there in a very round a bout way.

The road shortly improved and we wound through the canyon which had meadows of blue flag iris, several abandoned sheds of stone or logs or more recently of milled pine lumber. There were also fences of local wood where the wire had become loosened from the posts.

Soon, we began climbing toward the summit anticipating the steep grades that the atlas pointed out were ahead. Hah! There were grades but they weren’t steep and soon we were descending into Longs Canyon. This was a beautiful canyon reminiscent of Utah. There were sculpted stone outcroppings and hoodoos, colorful rocks and side canyons. This was a canyon we needed to return to for its photographic possibilities. There was a rather prosperous ranch but no one was home. The home was newer and looked more like a summer home. However, there were implements, corrals, tanks, etc. and the requisite cattle.

Arriving at the first paved road since Highway 50 on Sunday morning, we turned right toward Belmont. If it hadn’t been for lovely Longs Canyon, we should have continued south on USFS Road 139. The famous brick courthouse was crumbling while it was being renovated. The stone buildings and homes were partially crumbling as were those of pine. But, the most irritating situation to us was that people were living there amongst the ruins in either derelict RVs or in modern homes. This was a town that boasted 15,000 people at one time. It could have been preserved like Bodie, CA in a state of “arrested decay”. I don’t know the history of how it evolved that way but it was sad and a disappointment.

We turned around after a few images and lunch behind the courthouse to go to Tonopah for fuel, info at BLM and the USFS and drinking water/groceries. Tonopah can’t really decide what defines it: mining, gambling, or new technology. There are carved mountains in town from mining plus the Round Mountain gold mine which is huge and is gated, there are several casinos and a solar array is being built northwest of town which brought in newcomers displeasing the locals. Essentially, due to its location of the junction of highways 6 and 95, it a stopover for fuel or a rest as it is about equidistant between Reno and Las Vegas.

The next problem was a place to stay; the casino and RV parks were out so we selected a gravel pit off of Highway 6 which isn’t as heavily traveled as 95. We arrived too late for some of our errands so it was a quick 4 miles into town.

The gravel pit sheltered us from the hot sun, wind, and the little traffic noise. Even though there is an airport and race track across the highway, it was fairly quiet. I found a milky agate while walking the dog but found no others. It was getting dark so we ate and went to bed.

Day 9/Wednesday/June 4:
Apparently one of us thought we had transitioned to Mountain Time once we were in Nevada. It could have been the navigator as she takes care of logistics and mattered of time, distance and space. This positioned us in town a full hour before anything opened. Okay, so we could use the time to feed, water, groom and walk Toller, wipe down dusty lights and figure out questions and map requests. Grocery list was simple: chips, sour cream, bananas, pop for Tony and fresh fruit for me.

The people who live in Tonopah are pretty nice folks. We discussed rattlesnakes, geology, canyons, politics and Ford Diesel engines. USFS and BLM are next door on 95 and Scolari Market is just a few doors up from them. We came away with some answers, groceries, drinking water (Scoalris has a dispenser in the rear of the store by the chips), and maps. Tony also found some cool agates in the landscaping rocks at the USFS office who said, yes, okay, take a few and here is the number for Harris Gravel.

Karl at Harris Gravel was kind enough to invite us to his new pit and okayed our stay last night in his old one. Back on 6, we drove to the new pit, met Karl and started to find a few rather large agates, some milky and others kind of like clear gristle. After collecting a large zip lock bag, we waved goodbye and headed east on 6 toward our next destinations.

We stopped at the Saulsbury rest stop for lunch and met a photographer from Portland who was on his way home from a quick trip trip to the Grand Circle area. We exchanged POIs and business cards. Here was another person who saw the world in prints and also looked for things by shapes and colors rather than by name (like grocery items).

Traffic was light and the road fairly straight or with gentle curves so at 75 mph we soon were at our next turnoff to Tybo past Warm Springs. Tybo is a firmer mining town way up in the hills north of highway 6 up a dirt road. We passed different wildflowers and some sphaeralcea (orange blooms) and a large white poppy like we saw at Belmont.

Tybo looked like it may arise as there was a line of power poles marching up the mountain to the town. There were some pine lumber cabins, a brick structure still upright and the remnants of mining activity. We saw no one but there were a few “No Trespassing” signs posted so we snapped a few photos then headed to Hot Creek Canyon with a stop at Keystone, another old mining town. Hot Creek Canyon was recommended by a geologist in Tonopah who did his doctoral thesis in the Monitor Range.

Somehow, we missed the turnoff to Keystone although the sign laying on the ground indicated it was in the same direction as the canyon. We passed through Hot Creek and Upper Hot Creek Ranches, the latter who had trenched out a large wetland for irrigation. The canyon was a box canyon and actually ended up at the a Box Canyon we passed through on Monday. We passed by a herd of several hundred cattle, all horned and drove through several open gates.

Instead of arriving at the Old Page Place, we drove through a small ranch surrounded by poplars fronting a stream. We felt sorry to drive through someone’s front yard especially since a gate was ahead. We began to turn around when a nice gal appeared to brush aside our apologies. She and her husband lived at the old Dugan Ranch and had for twenty years since they discovered it on a camping trip. They had a green house, a few cows and horses. It really was a lovely spot nestled in this valley surround by poplars.

We returned to the crossroads by the Hot Creek Ranch which would lead to South Sixmile Canyon which we hoped would lead us to some fascinatingly named geology: Jumbled Rock Gulch, The Needles, and Slanted Butte. It was getting late so just before the entrance to the canyon, there was an old corral with a few cleared areas from years of use by or pother campers: Rock fire pits and rusted flattened tin cans.

Darkness revealed one light across Hot Creek Valley on some distant mountain range. There were a few clouds but the stars were brilliant in the pitch black darkness of central Nevada. Toller was restless because of all the smells of cows and jack rabbits. He was still excited about seeing the chukars in the last canyon. Time for bed Toller, it has been a long day.

Day 10/Thursday/June 5:
Waking up again to a bright sunny day, we left early before it became too hot. South Sixmile Canyon appeared to be great candidate for exploration so down a narrow rocky road we went. There were some interesting rock formations but no signs of civilization due to the narrowness. We found a place to turn around as the road was deteriorating beyond what we were comfortable with.

As we drove off USFS Road 812 to USFS Road 804, we were greeted by many cows and their calves along with some large bulls. Cows are very curious so they stopped to watch us drive by. These cows were thinner than the ones who were part of the Hot Creek Ranch herd. Later, we saw some antelope sharing the same grazing area.

I don’t know how we made it through the jumble of roads as few were numbered but we did arrive at Moore’s Station, which is a ranch/private residence. We passed by a large runway and a huge aquaduct. Since we didn’t go to the Project Faultless Nuclear Test Site (warned away by local geologist who said it was still highly radioactive. This could have been part of the support system for the detonation of the first atomic bomb.

Further north was the road to Jumbled Rock Gulch. It looked a scenic canyon but the road was rutted, very rocky and narrow. We couldn’t find any roads for Slanted Buttes and The Needles so we headed back to Highway 6 via the road that follows Moore’s Station Wash.

Once on Highway 6, we turned east toward Lunar Crater National Natural Landmark. We had planned to shoot Easy Chair Crater in the morning, but it was really hot and it was only late morning. So, we backtracked to a shortcut to 375 or the Extraterrestrial Highway called Twin Springs Ranch Road. It was scenic and not a bad gravel road. There was a mono line just before the ranch and the ET Highway.

375 has little traffic like 6 and 50. We passed through Rachel arriving at the junction with Highway 93 to turn south toward a Valley Of Fire State Park. We bought diesel in Ash Springs which sees lots of semi traffic. We passed by the Pahranagat a Lakes then turned east on 168, a shortcut to I15. There is a large scale development at the turn called the Chase at Coyote Springs which has a large green golf course and plated lots with street names and some mechanical support like water treatment facility but no homes. This is in the area where there is a preserve for the endangered Desert Tortoise. Why a huge sprawl like that was allowed near a preserve escapes me. For the tortoise’s sake, I am glad it didn’t grow any more.

I 15 had the usual mix of semis and passenger vehicles and in 2 exits we were on 169 to Valley Of Fire State Park. It had been hot all day and our Fantastic Fan helped some to cool us down. Showers were free so I gladly took advantage. The rock formations all around us glowed as the sun set. A late dinner of sandwiches as usual and we were off to sleep.


Yes, I know, it is day six and not a peep from me. I have dutifully written notes in a spiral notebook so I will be able to reconstruct from my sometimes illegible hand (backroads are bumpy).

Update: Day 1 * September 20, 2010 * Monday

2:30 am! What a gawdawful hour or half-hour to get up! It didn’t sound THAT early when I arranged our arrival in Las Vegas before their rush hour and to be at Valley Of Fire State Park for an evening photo session. But, it came too early for both Tony, my husband, and me. I am not a real early riser anyway but 2:30 am?

Other than our Airporter Shuttle driver having to swerve to miss a car that couldn’t stay inside the white lines on I5 and the turbulence our Southwest airplane encountered on its descent into Las Vegas, that leg of our trip was uneventful. But, it took us over three hours to leave the big city behind. By the time we retrieved our luggage, boarded the car rental shuttle, decided that we didn’t require the $31 extra cost per day for insurance, (Yay, MetLife! Our agent back home informed us that that MetLife is one of the few insurance companies that cover a car rental the same as your personal vehicle), found a grocery store to buy ice, a cooler, groceries, and returned to the Lake Mead Parkway, it was almost 4:00pm.

And, Las Vegas was still too HOT. 100 degrees, the residents said, is a cooling trend.

On the way to Overton via Lake Mead Boulevard, after flashing my recently acquired Senior National Park Pass at the Lake Mead Recreation Area ranger, we soon turned onto Northshore Drive. This is a curving but well-engineered road that sees little traffic as most people travel Interstate 15. The road construction that we encountered last year in early September was almost completed. Improvements to win the battle of the washes where the highway always lost to the flash floods were installed. This route is more scenic, including canyons and badlands that reveal the violence of the geological processes that leave jagged-edged cliffs with fractured sandstone threatening to tumble onto the road as boulders and isolated strata that heave vertically into the sky. Although it appears to roughly parallel the lake, it is only possible to see occasional glimpses from the road. If you allow for extra time, there are several roads, both paved and rough, that will take you to the lake.

Unfortunately, we were both very tired, so after dinner we settled in for our one night in Overton without visiting Valley of Fire State Park. This park is one of my favorites because of the variations in rock formations, the multi-hued swirling slickrock, several arches, and Native Rock Art. We stayed at the Plaza Motel in Overton recommended by Wayne and Terry at the Sun and Sands in Kanab where I spent a few nights last January. Our room included a full-size refrigerator, oven, dishes, microwave, coffee maker/coffee and a bedroom suite for $40 per night including tax. Lin’s is an independent  well-stocked grocery store a block and a half from the motel where groceries are reasonably priced and varied. Memo: next time we will bypass Henderson’s mess and stop here instead to stock up.

Update: Day 2 * September 21, 2010 * Tuesday

The rumble of trucks throughout the night did not encourage slumber, so we awoke sleepy-eyed to try for some early morning photography at Nevada’s Valley Of Fire State Park. It was dark but road construction was already underway on Northshore Drive (Nevada State Route 169) as we turned onto Valley of Fire Road  (SR169), the road that runs through the park connecting to Interstate 15. We placed the $10 park entrance fee in an envelope, inserted it into the metal tube at the self-pay kiosk and entered the park. The sky was just beginning to lighten in the east after we drove up the White Domes Scenic Drive and turned onto the Selenium Cliffs Road. The photographer’s curse, a clear blue sky, forced us to shoot abstracts of the landscape as it started picking up the light, revealing an earthen palette of reds, creams, and soft yellows in the chunky boulders or swirled slickrock. We heard them before we saw the dozen or so Desert Bighorn Sheep parading sure-footedly across the slickrock below to find shelter from the hot sun in one of the many hidden canyons.

As the sun both blew out the highlights and began to burn our skin, we decided to begin our journey northward to Panaca up Nevada’s State Route 93. Because there would be few services available until we were close to our destination, we filled up the tank at the Sinclair gas station at the junction of I-15 and SR 169. If only we had known that eight miles westbound on the interstate at the exit for SR 93N we could have bought gas for $2.75 per gallon at Love’s rather than Sinclair’s $2.89.

SR 93N is a long, straight road that gradually climbs then descends almost due north. We traveled through a Joshua Tree dotted valley contained on the west by the Sheep Mountains and on the east by the Meadow Valley Mountains. Fences along the west side constrained the Desert Tortoise in a preserve. Although we were miles from Las Vegas, the city that isn’t real has influenced the growth of communities out in the middle of nowhere and lent an authentic bit of its own realism: huge cement palm trees surrounded an entry sign for a large planned/platted development that was as real as the palms.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge was a welcome stop after an hour or so of a very tedious drive. Few cars were on the road and those going our way easily passed us on the straight highway. Lower Pahranagat Lake is the smaller of two lakes that comprise this refuge. It is also shallower and has a whitish (alkaline?) shoreline extending from the reeds and rabbit brush. But, it was filled with birds, feeding and resting, which were too far away to identify. After we drove through a short canyon, Upper Pahranagat Lake came into view. It is much larger, supporting more greenery (grasses, willows and cottonwoods) and wildlife. There were several places to camp and picnic along the shore. We ate our lunch at a defunct boat launch, watching the long-legged shore-wading birds searching for their lunch. Dragonflies were hovering throughout the reeds. Birds were numerous: kingfishers, three types of hawks, ducks, cormorants, snow geese, little yellow jobs, and others we couldn’t identify.

Moving on, more slowly now due to road construction, we sat in the air-conditioned coolness of our rental car while waiting for the flagger to motion us on. She had a portable fan, lots of water and the shelter of a car hatch from the hot sun. For fun, we turned west to follow Nevada State Route 375, the Extraterrestrial Highway. Five miles into the drive, the only alien we saw was a very large silver inflatable figure next to a pole building.

We turned around and headed back on SR 93N to Caliente. As we climbed eastward, the scenery changed to Pinion Pines from the Joshua Trees. Now and then big jumbles of boulders would decorate the landscape. Caliente was a small town of 1200 with a large train station, a white stucco building that evokes an Art Deco/Southwest décor. It is currently being used for government offices, food bank, art gallery and library. It will soon receive some needed renovations. A single row of small-town storefronts hid the few side streets nestled in the hills above populated with cottages, small stucco buildings that may have been miners’ homes during this area’s mining boom days.

We ventured further on 93N then cut off on 319 to easily find our lodging for the next two nights: the Pine Tree Inn and Bakery Bed and Breakfast in the small ranching town of Panaca. The hostess who greeted us at the door was a retired teacher, her husband a fifth generation rancher. The room was cozy and clean. Fitted with high thread count sheets and piled with generous layers of covers, the pillow top mattress was luxurious. A wide screen TV and a jetted tub completed the package. For all this, we paid a very reasonable $68.25 a night including a full breakfast one morning and a custom packed lunch the next. After twenty-one nights in rooms other than home, we agreed this was by far the best value.

After settling in, we visited the overview at Miller Point (two miles from the 93/319 junction) from which we viewed a small canyon where a trail traversed along the bottom from the picnic area in Cathedral Gorge State Park to the top of the lookout. I looked for a glow similar to the one at Bryce however most of the formations are buff white which may lessen the reflected light.

Update: Day 3 * September 22, 2010 * Wednesday:

We were up early to shoot inside Cathedral Gorge State Park in the dark (admission: $7). The staff at the Regional Information Center told us it was a small park easily navigable. But, not before sunrise as we discovered. Our compass showed us where east was so we used the lightening sky to find a large rock formation to catch the morning glow. Watching the sunlight light up a small red rock peak was a treat but there was no foreground interest. If we return, there is a pathway that skirts around the park that may offer better vantage points with foreground interest than where we shot from the campground site. When we noticed that the sun was coming up over the “cathedrals”, we chased over to the picnic area but the light was too harsh having shed that golden glow. Black and white conversion to the rescue?

We returned to our lodging to a sit down breakfast of eggs, ham, fresh fruit, juice and coffee prepared just for us at 10:00 am. Our hostess mentioned Condor Canyon, one that we might enjoy as photographers. You would never guess that a red-walled canyon would exist here in this mostly flat area with a few scattered buttes but we drove there via a street in Panaca that became a gravel road leading to a few area ranches. Once past the ranches, we entered a beautiful red rock canyon on a single-lane road with reflected light. There were a few clouds in the sky behind a cathedral-spired rock formation just beyond where the road ended. A large shallow cave glowing red fronted by some photogenic green trees for a complementary composition was conveniently by the roadside. The wind was rustling the leaves so quick shutter speeds were required.

An uphill drive north on SR93 brought us to a detour on Business 93 for a scenic drive through the town of Pioche. A sign at Panaca Summit listed the elevation as 6900′ from Panaca’s 4300′. Pioche had a Wild West reputation along with other mining towns such as Bode and Tombstone. Boot Hill, a cemetery with some very crudely hand-made wooden boards marking the mounded dirt graves of some of the 75 people who died of other than natural causes testified to its reputation. We also toured the Million Dollar Courthouse which, due to unwise bond investing, cost almost that amount before being condemned four years before the payoff. It was sadly in need of some major restoration due to a leaking roof. The second floor featured an entire courtroom with dummies, original furnishings and flooring. A very dark, spartan affair with steel plated cells and doors and iron cots, the jail housed some of those responsible for the reluctant inhabitants of Boot Hill. Dominating the town was the aerial tram, complete with cables and clamshell buckets, frozen in time, suspended from the ore-containing hill above to the large Godbe mill below. Pioche’s downtown has a shabby collection of storefronts many of which are closed such as the GEM Theater. Crossing the road on our return to Panaca scurrying as fast as he could was a very large hairy tarantula, perhaps seeking a mate as they do in the fall.

We returned to Cathedral Gorge State Park to attempt some late afternoon images of the formations. I discovered that I had inadvertently changed my setting from RAW to jpg normal early that morning when fumbling about in the dark. Note to Judy: always check your settings. The light wasn’t the best but I shot across the fields from the “cathedrals” and managed to catch some interesting side-light hitting some formations to the north. I should have followed the fast-walking German piled down with pro gear headed further down the trail for some dramatic side lighting of the same formations. Sometimes, there is a reason to be in the right place at the right time: after sunset, we spotted a desert fox making his way across the scrub of the desert looking for his next meal.

Update: Day 4 * September 23, 2010 * Thursday:

Our packed lunch was awaiting us in the fridge as we left our lodging early for a morning shoot at Miller Point Overlook (somewhat disappointing, Miller Point, not the lunch). The wind had died down enabling us to reshoot the colorful red alcove with stilled foliage in Condor Canyon. Unfortunately, the clouds had dissipated, but you can’t have it all and you take what you get. There may have been some updrafts in the higher reaches of the canyon as we both watched a Golden Eagle circle and soar higher and higher, narrowly clipping the walls with his outstretched wings, until he was out of sight.

Back on the road from Panaca, we continued on Nevada State Route 319E until it became Utah State Highway 56. Twisty and curvy, this route climbed and descended as we traveled eastbound. The scenery was typical high desert with large ranches and very small towns to service them. We encountered another tarantula crossing the road. And, we discovered the what the large circles were we saw from the air on our flight to Las Vegas: these were real crop circles as the field irrigation pipes pivoted radially on wheels powered by motors.

Having watched the movie “September Dawn” about the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857, we detoured to the Memorial site near Enterprise, Utah off of Utah SR 18. It was quite sobering to know that around 120 unarmed pioneers were murdered here due to misunderstandings and hysteria. To cut off some miles and time, we left SR 18 to turn onto the Bench Road, a backroad that lead us back to Hwy 56 and into Newcastle. We saw little traffic and many ranches, a scene that would repeat many times before we returned home.

Coming into Cedar City, home of Southern Utah University and big box stores, was a shock after several days of lonely backroads, nearly deserted highways and barely alive settlements. Cedar City is on Interstate 15, the main connector between many large towns and cities in the Western U.S. such as Las Vegas, Mesquite, St. George, and Salt Lake City. SR56 grew from two to eight lanes very quickly. Our night’s lodging, Knights Inn, was on one of the main streets through town. Smith’s Grocery Store, located a few blocks away, honored our Fred Meyer card so we stocked up on more food.

Once settled in, we discovered that Utah had moved ahead one hour but we hadn’t so we had to scrap our plans to shoot the lovely red rock canyons of the Kolob section of Zion National Park. This was unfortunate as they are best sited for evening photographs as we discovered the next morning. Knights Inn had an on-line manager’s special so our night at this chain motel was one of the less expensive stays at $40.14 including tax. It had the required microwave, mini fridge and was clean.

Update: Day 5 * September 24, 2020 * Friday:

To avoid Interstate 15 and its 75mph speed limit observed by truckers, commuters and RVs alike, we detoured on Old Highway 91 (aka Frontage Road) through Kanarraville that we would follow again on our return several weeks from now from LaVerkin to St. George and again from Snow Canyon State Park to Mesquite. Old Highway 91 was replaced by Interstate 15 in 1973 and Highway 91 was decommissioned in 1974, in use today mainly by local traffic. We did have to use I15 for a few miles to access the exit for Kolob which was unavoidable but at 75mph, you enter and exit quickly.

We aimed for starbursts from behind the very large red walls as there was absolutely no side lighting anywhere along Kolob Canyon Road, the six mile scenic route that dead ends at a viewing area. There may be better images during either solstice  in the evening hours from different viewpoints but the morning offers little for photographers. I did discover an interesting green-red complementary color  composition along the side of the scenic drive.

When I was planning this trip, I relied on various Visitor Bureaus for local information. We were advised to check out the Fall color on the Kolob Terrace Road and in the Right Hand Canyon area. On our way up this winding road, the color was spotty and not as prevalent as predicted. We did find an overlook where a plaque told us that on a clear day like today we could see into Nevada where we were yesterday. Returning to Utah Scenic Byway 14, we meandered our way to Cedar Breaks National Monument. Turning north on Utah State Route 148, we toured the monument until we arrived at Brian Head, the destination for our night’s lodging. A few miles away  from the park, Brian Head is a destination ski resort in winter so the rates increase in mid-November. Our  junior villa at Cedar Breaks Lodge was very roomy with jetted tub, flat screen TV, full kitchen and two very comfortable queen beds for the summer rate of $107.35 including tax.

Cedar Breaks National Monument, it is said, is a preview of Bryce National Park. Although Bryce may be the star, Cedar Breaks is no mere understudy. While it may not boast the many shapes and sizes of Bryce’s hoodoos, the colors and layers of the geology, particularly in the evening light, were just as luminous. It is a smaller, less frequented crown jewel, with fewer trails and overlooks. We didn’t encounter the busloads that swarm the more popular national parks. Its elevation is also higher at over 10,000 feet vs the 8,000′ to 9,000′ for Bryce. The honor system admission fee is a very reasonable $4 payable at the visitor center if you arrive at the south end from SR14.

After our late lunch in one of the picnic areas provided, we took a quick  afternoon drive to 11,300′ Brian Head Vista where after a quick walk to an open shelter we could see a 360 degree view of the area. During the ascent, we encountered a herd of sheep when we came around a long curve. As we returned to SR148, we saw a sharp cheek-boned Basque shepherd tall in the saddle of his horse.

Because several overlooks were closed, we were limited to shooting the Amphitheater from the one at Sunset Point. Lens flare was definitely a problem so the choice of isolating various geologic features rather than wide angle framing was the answer. Clear blue skies usually make for a boring image so featuring the geology is the way to go using the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens. The two mile roundtrip Spectra Point and Wasatch Ramparts Trail would have been an option but we didn’t want to stumble back in the dark. This would be an excellent hike in the spring months for wildflowers and features some ancient Bristlecone Pines. The light was extinguished as the sun set and we drove the short distance to our junior villa.

Update: Day 6 * September 25, 2010 * Saturday:

This cold morning (29 degrees) we were glad to have included our fingerless gloves and warmer clothes when we packed. The wind heightened the cold but we were toasty warm. The evening light, despite lens flares casting golden hazy spotlights, definitely enhanced the colorful layers of sandstone more than that of the morning. In the light of dawn, the colors were softer, more muted and not nearly as dramatic. This was again the time and place for the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens to isolate various formations and color patterns in the folds of the badlands and canyon of the amphitheater at the Sunset Point Overlook.

We then tried in vain to find that iconic image of the Quaking Aspens which were in various stages of the fall color transformation of their foliage. At this higher altitude, their trunks were spindly and some were distorted. When the winds rustle through their leaves, you can see why they are so aptly named. But, rustling leaves and bright sunshine are not the best conditions for iconic images, so we left the park heading south on SR148 to connect with Utah State Scenic Route 14.

SR14 or the Markaguant High Plateau Scenic Byway is aptly named as it curved and descended to meet with US Highway 89 further east. The aspens were golden in patches. If we had been more familiar with the area, we may have opted to bypass the Sunset Point morning shoot and scooted straight on to a lovely small lake with quaking aspens reflected in its quiet waters. We could tell that cold weather was coming as we noticed many pickup trucks hauling open utility trailers heading into the wooded areas in search of firewood.

Once northbound on US Highway 89, we couldn’t drive so leisurely as this is known as the main arterial to the major national parks such as Glacier, Yellowstone, Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon with offshoot roads making the final connections. This historic highway passed through range lands, thinly populated areas, and the small town of Hatch following the Sevier River.

We soon turned east onto Utah Scenic Byway 12  aka the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway which we will follow, first to Bryce National Park, then traverse the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, to its terminal at Torrey, the portal for Capitol Reef National Park. It is becoming more evident that we are nearing Bryce: the RVs dragging their SUVs, huge tour buses, and numerous passenger cars in a hurry to complete the Grand Circle Tour (the big four of the national parks: Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, and Arches). We stopped near Red Canyon, part of the large Dixie National Forest for lunch. A paving crew slowed traffic down so we could take a more leisurely look at the carved canyons walls that are said to be redder that those in Bryce. Two short tunnels through the red rock caused the snap and shoot crowd to roll down their windows and shoot away.

A right turn onto Utah State Route 63, the 62 mile scenic drive that meanders through Bryce, took us to our lodging for the night in Bryce Canyon City at the Bryce View Lodge. The many tour buses and the few cars in the parking lots clued me in to why it was so difficult to find lodging in Bryce. $95.25 including tax bought us a place to stay very close to the park, two queen beds (more firm than we prefer), and microwave and mini-fridge on the second floor. The managers told me that they overbooked so they had to put people on a waiting list.

After the unpacking and stowing, we continued down SR63 to our first overlook: the much celebrated Sunset Point. Although tour buses disgorged visitors frequently, we never had to wait for a spot to position our tripods. After scrutinizing the fenced off viewing area from left to right, I noticed a glow toward the right looking toward Inspiration Point. After scrambling up some slickrock anchored by a tree without the fencing, I found a safe spot to unfurl my tripod and mount my Nikon D700 and 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens to isolate the areas that seemed to announce their photogenic quality. Most people didn’t notice this, being in awe of the total package. And, I was thankful that we left as early as we did to shoot as even at 4:30pm the glow was on. We continued to shoot until the light disappeared. Bryce did not disappoint.