Posted by: kerryl29 | October 25, 2021

The Desert Southwest: Finale: Skyline View, Capitol Wash and Little Wild Horse Canyon

We began the final day of the trip where the previous day left off: in the pitch dark at Skyline View. We had made it to this location–after several false turns, because the route was unmarked and we weren’t entirely certain where we needed to go–without being able to see anything surrounding us the previous night, and pitched the tent in the overwhelming blackness. Jason had assured me that the sunrise shoot would make the trouble worthwhile. He was more than vindicated.

When we awoke it was still dark, with just the tiniest signs of increasing ambient light. I put on my shoes and climbed out of the tent and as my eyes adjusted to the light–and as it became incrementally brighter–I found myself in a truly singular landscape. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Our tent was no more than a couple of hundred feet from a cliff face, itself several hundred feet above the valley below. This is the Blue Valley and it’s utterly barren. This overlook is known by several–as far as I know unofficial–names, including Skyline View (the name I’ve chosen to use here) and Moonscape Overlook. It is truly a sight to be seen, as words are incapable of adequately describing it.

I returned to the vehicle, which was adjacent to the tent, and grabbed by camera bag and both of the tripods I brought with me. Yes, I had two tripods. This is something I’ve taken to doing when I drive to a location where I think there may be an opportunity to photograph using multiple lenses from the same location: a sunrise/sunset overlook is a perfect example of this. For this approach to work, I have to be set up close to my method of transport. (I may be a tripod acolyte, but I am not going to hike any distance with two tripods!) You may recall that I did this a couple of times during my trip to Big Bend National Park. It paid off nicely at Skyline View; it was the only time during this trip that I used two tripods.

There weren’t many clouds in the sky, but–fortunately for us–those that were present were hovering around the eastern horizon. The moon had risen just an hour or two before sunrise as well, which provided another element to include for the first photograph of the day.

Blue Valley at Dawn, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

You can gain a sense of what the Blue Valley landscape looks like. There were several prominent buttes and ridge lines running out from the overlook. About that overlook, by the way: it runs for several miles, mostly on a north-south trajectory. I actually liked the spot that was closest to where we’d made camp because there were a couple of bluffs that could be used for foreground interest and/or a sense of depth.

Blue Valley at Sunrise, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

There is no visible vegetation in Blue Valley, at least from where we stood; this is obviously where the “moonscape” moniker comes from.

Blue Valley at Dawn, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

As the sun began to approach the horizon, I waited to see how the effect would impact the features in the valley; it would hit the tops of the buttes and ridges first, of course, and it would gradually seep into the contours of the folds in the hills. That, I figured, would be a very interesting effect indeed.

Blue Valley at Sunrise, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

In the meantime, as we waited for direct sun, I decided to let Blue Valley reveal how it obtained its name.

Blue Valley at Sunrise, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

And then, the sun made its appearance…

Blue Valley at Sunrise, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

…and it was remarkable how much the color palette of the scene changed.

Blue Valley at Sunrise, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah
Blue Valley at Sunrise, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

The greater the effect of the rising sun, the more likely I was to move to the tripod housing the camera with the telephoto lens attached.

Blue Valley, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

The combination of the landscape and the impact the sunlight had on it made this setting a perfect canvas for long lens abstract imagery, which worked both in color and black and white, as each type of rendering depicts the scene quite diffeently.


Blue Valley Black & White, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah
Blue Valley at Sunrise, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah
Blue Valley Black & White, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah
Blue Valley, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

I did survey a wider version of the scene at least one more time…

Blue Valley at Sunrise, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

…before returning to the telephoto setup.

Blue Valley, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

As the sun played footsie with the cloud bank near the eastern horizon, the color changes were palpable.

Blue Valley at Sunrise, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah
Blue Valley at Sunrise, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

A few more images were produced in the minutes before the light became excessively harsh.

Blue Valley Black & White, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah
Blue Valley, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah
Land of Shadows, Blue Valley Black & White, Skyline View, Wayne County, Utah

It had been quite a morning and, as we drove out of the area, we admired the edifice of Factory Butte in the distance. This was a location that begged for a return visit at some point.

When we wrapped up at Skyline View, we decided to make a quick run back to Capitol Reef. There had been a few spots in Capitol Wash that we wanted a second crack at. It took the better part of an hour to get back there, but we were greeted with beautiful reflected light and hastened to take advantage of it. Speed was recommended because, shortly after arriving, the wind–which had been entirely absent all morning–suddenly kicked up.

Between the worsening of the light and the wind, there wasn’t as much of an opportunity to mine the many appealing locations in the gorge. But we took what we could get.

Capitol Wash, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Capitol Wash, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Capitol Wash, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Capitol Wash, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Capitol Wash, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

When the combination of wind and encroaching direct sunlight became overwhelming, we decided to move on. We’d decided to pay a mid-day visit to Little Wild Horse Canyon, in the San Rafael Swell area. This slot canyon combines easy access with numerous intimate photographic opportunities. It’s not as tight as Spooky Canyon and has a very different feel to it.

There’s a hike–a very easy one–of at least a mile before you hit the head of Little Wild Horse Canyon, and another half mile or so before you get to the first part that’s particularly interesting, photographically speaking.

The first thing that caught my eye was the abstract that you see below, that I like best when rendered as a black and white.

Little Wild Horse Canyon Abstract Black & White, San Rafael Swell, Utah

From this point on, the camera was out pretty regularly until the shoot was over. As is the case with most, if not all, slot canyons, the best opportunities change as the position of the sun changes, casting attractive reflective light here and there. What may look awful at, say, 10 AM, might look tremendous at 2 PM.

Little Wild Horse Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Little Wild Horse Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Little Wild Horse Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Little Wild Horse Canyon Wall Abstract, San Rafael Swell, Utah

Near the end of what we decided was the most interesting part of the canyon, from a photographic perspective, I started mining the many, many locations that I thought made for excellent opportunities to produce graphic/abstract images. I probably could have spent several days producing nothing but these types of images, but I settled for an hour or two.

Little Wild Horse Canyon Wall Intimate, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Little Wild Horse Canyon Wall Intimate, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Little Wild Horse Canyon Intimate Black & White, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Little Wild Horse Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Little Wild Horse Canyon Wall Intimate, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Little Wild Horse Canyon Wall Intimate Black & White, San Rafael Swell, Utah

As we were hiking back toward the trailhead, we reached a spot that had been in open sun several hours earlier, on the hike in. It was now bathed in reflected light and we had to stop for what turned out to be the last photo opportunity of the trip. I liked the scene so much I shot it both vertically and horizontally.

Little Wild Horse Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Little Wild Horse Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah

When we were done at Little Wild Horse Canyon, it was late in the afternoon. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, nor was there forecast to be for the rest of that day or the next. We had considered staying in the San Rafael Swell and photographing sunrise the next morning before making the long trip back to Colorado Springs (which would be followed, for me, by a more than 900-mile drive back to Houston). In addition to the cloudless conditions, the wind was now whipping up dust storms in the desert. We’d been sheltered in the slot, but out in the open it was nasty. All things considered, we decided that the prudent move was to begin the trip back to Colorado. We stopped for the night in Grand Junction and made the rest of the trip back to Colorado Springs the next day. I then drove to Amarillo, Texas and stayed there before driving all the way back to Houston the day after. It was a lot of driving over three days, but it would have been much tougher if we’d stayed in Utah that final evening.

In all, it was a great trip, filled with many terrific photo locations, almost all of which were entirely new to me. I fully expect to be back in the desert southwest, probably sooner than later.


Responses

  1. just WOW!

  2. Amazing photos!

    • Thanks very much!

  3. Excellent Photos, I really like the atmospheric affect of the arial photos, with the blue shadows and pink light.

  4. Definitely a stellar shooting day to end the trip.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

  5. I love these. I love geology so rocks are my thing.

    • Thanks. If you’re into geology, that part of the world would be a veritable playground for you.

  6. Beautiful!! 💜

    • Thanks very much!

  7. Kerry, by coincidence we’re in Hanksville this week and were at the Skyline Overlook this evening, returning tomorrow for sunrise. We also visited another location down a 2-track just south from Moonscape with quite a view down a huge canyon/valley (I can’t find a name for it). Later in the week, we’ll be hitting Little Wild Horse as well. I’ll be interested to see how our impressions compare with yours. Thanks for your post — as usual it was educational and your images delightful.

    • Hi Steve. I hope the trip is going well and I’ll be extremely interested to hear your thoughts about these locations (and others, of course).


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