Posted by: kerryl29 | September 27, 2021

The Desert Southwest: Lower Calf Creek Falls

Whether it was directly a function of the previous day’s experience or not, there was relatively little photography on this day of the trip. We did not get up for sunrise–understandably, I think. We had actually planned to hike into Little Death Hollow, but when we arrived at the parking area around mid-morning, after doing some scouting, we were advised by someone who was just coming out–after spending a couple of days in the canyon himself–that it would be a push to be able to get to, and photograph, the best parts of the hollow as a day hike, given our starting time. After what happened at Coyote Gulch, pushing it was not a popular option.

For the first (and only) time on the trip we did make use of the diffusers I had brought to photograph a flowering Claret Cup cactus we had spotted on the side of the road.

Claret Cup Cactus, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

We also spent a fair amount of time, during the generally harsh light portion of the day, exploring several spots in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The light was not flattering to these locations at this time on a crystal clear and quite breezy day, but the areas were noted (I marked them on my GPS) for possible future reference.

Our next stop on the trip was the Capitol Reef National Park area, several hours away, but we had to decide whether to head straight there or not. One of the spots we had wanted to visit, still in the monument and not all that far from the town of Escalante, was Lower Calf Creek Falls, a good-sized waterfall, quite different than anything else we had photographed (or would photograph) on this trip. We had more or less written off the location, but once we had decided not to do the Little Death Hollow hike, it was back on the table. Jason–who had been there before–was confident, based on his experience, that the waterfall would be in even light by late afternoon. So, by mid-afternoon, we arrived at the trailhead and began the roughly three-mile hike (six-mile round trip) to the 126-foot waterfall. Jason was correct; the light was perfect for waterfall photography.

It’s a testament to our stamina (or stupidity or both), I suppose, that we didn’t blanch at the notion of making a six-mile round trip hike, some of it through (ugh) loose sand the day after hiking 17-plus miles. But I don’t think either of us had any problems with the hike itself.

The waterfall is quite something. It’s nestled in a fairly narrow canyon that’s much, much cooler than the exposed areas on the hike in. The tight canyon also sheltered the location from the wind. Lower Calf Creek Falls is also quite photogenic.

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

There are a surprisingly large number of ways to compose photographs of Lower Calf Creek Falls, partly because it’s possible to approach it from numerous directions. The view above requires clearing a stream–which can be done by rock hopping, if one is careful. I ended up having to go back and forth twice because I left my backpack on one side of the stream (this was intentional–I figured that the rock hopping would be significantly easier if I wasn’t weighed down–and I ended up forgetting an accessory and had to go back to retrieve it. Still, I made the crossing both times without incident.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Black & White, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

For the second time in as many days, we ran into James Kay‘s workshop. This time, they reached the location of interest before we did. We assured them that we weren’t stalking them.

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Lower Calf Creek Falls Intimate Black & White, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

When we finished at the waterfall and made the hike back to the parking area, it was time to make the drive toward Capitol Reef. We were looking forward to spending the night in a motel for the first time on the trip, after six consecutive evenings of camping. (This meant the opportunity to take a shower (!) among other things involving indoor plumbing.) But on the way, we stopped at an overlook on the extremely picturesque Utah State Highway 12 to take advantage of what the evening light was doing to the rocky mesas and domes in the distance.

Last Light, High2ay 12, Garfield County, Utah
Last Light, High2ay 12, Garfield County, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park was our next stop.


  1. Absolutely gorgeous. I love your inclusion of the black and white photos. They just seem perfect for the shots you used them with. Thank you for sharing your work and comments on the journey.

    • Thanks very much, I really appreciate your taking the time to comment.

  2. Kerry,
    I really like the cactus image, and Lower Calf Creek Falls is certainly unusual for southern Utah. I’m interested, though, that you found the lower falls shaded in mid-afternoon. I’d been going by Laurent Martres’ book on southern Utah which says these falls are shaded in AM. Based on that, I was planning to be there early AM. Sounds like I should revise that day’s shooting schedule…

    • Thanks, Steve.

      The falls may well be in shade very early in the day as well. The waterfall lies in a fairly tight canyon, as I mentioned, so as long as the sun hasn’t crested whatever wall it needs to peek over, it should be in even light. But I don’t think it’s an accident that James Kay brought his workshop group up there in the afternoon. They went up before we did (they were already pretty close to done photographing when we arrived), so my guess is that the waterfall was already shootable by the time we began the hike up, which was probably between 3 and 4 PM. I suspect that it was between 4 and 5 when we got up there.

      • Looking at the falls on Google Earth, it’s pretty clear that the falls face east, so either very early AM (starting the hike well before sunrise) or mid-PM will be the best times. Early AM light would be good, but reflected light mid-PM would also be nice, so I’m sure you’re correct that the James Kay group wasn’t there at that time by accident. After all, why get up at oh-dark-hundred for a hike if you can do the same thing at least as well in daylight? I’ll have to rearrange the shooting schedule for that area. I’m really glad to have caught this before the trip!

        • Agreed; I can’t think of any particularly good reason to do that hike in the dark (other than to ensure that you’ll have the place to yourself at first light). If it’s especially warm it is possible that you’ll have to deal with people splashing around in the pool, but there was no one doing that when we were there.

  3. Wow, so inspiring and beautiful.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  4. […] the sun came up. The sky was, in fact, completely clear. A good chunk of this day would be spent, again, scouting, but we spent most of the rest of the morning–until we lost the light […]

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