Sunday, December 18, 2011

December Trip West - Day 3 - Dead Horse State Park, Canyonlands, False Kiva, Mesa Arch

Today was the first real day of the trip, one that didn't include any travel.  I had originally planned to leave home on Saturday but a last minute decision at work meant I need to delay my departure 2 days.  Originally I'd planned on spending a few days exploring Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands - Island in the Sky.  But since I needed to get to Page by Thursday night for my hike to The Wave on Friday I had just one day at both parks.

There were two experiences I really wanted to do at Canyonlands.  Hike to False Kiva and sunrise at Mesa Arch.  With the bad weather of the previous few days I wasn't hopeful of either prospect.  But today started off beautifully so there was a glimmer of hope.

The day started with a drive up the mesa from Moab to Dead Horse State Park.  It was sunny up top but the canyons were all filled with clouds.  I stopped at the visitor center to pay my $10 and talked to the ranger there.  She was very friendly and told me you couldn't see the river and there really wasn't a view.  I thanked her for the information paid the fee and entered the park.


One thing nice about Utah State Parks is they are dog friendly, National Parks are not.  Since Thule had been riding for two solid days I really wanted to get him out of the car for a while.  Knowing I couldn't do that at Canyonlands I got him out here.

We drove out to Dead Horse Point and sure enough the canyons were fill of clouds.  One thing as a photographer is you have to be patient.  While the canyons were full of clouds they, the clouds, were moving quickly.  All of a sudden the clouds cleared and there was the river.  A minute later the river disappeared.  It kept doing this exposing different sections, sometimes large sections only to get all socked in again.  There is a mile trail around the point that I would have like to walk but the clock was ticking and I needed to move on to Canyonlands.

Upon entering Canyonlands I stopped at the Ranger Station to show my Golden Access Pass.  Then I mentioned False Kiva and out from under the counter came the pictures, three of them, showing the landmarks to use to hike there.  False Kiva is an archeological site withing Island in the Sky.  It is not closed to hikers but is not publicized either.  While it's within the park is is not on any map.  In fact they ask that you don't publish GPS coordinates on the internet to try to keep it somewhat hidden.  But if you want to hike to it the Rangers will tell you how to find in, and find it you must.  The ranger was very friendly and made a few notes on the park map and explained the hike to me.  He said most of the way there were foot prints that could be followed but not on the slickrock.  He also said the cairns, if there were any, were not put there by the park and might in fact lead you to where you don't want to go.

So with all that good info in hand and a huge amount of excitement I headed off to the parking lot where my adventure would begin.  I'd read accounts of the trail and as I would soon find out they were quiet accurate.  If one were a mountain goat you would find it a walk in the park but for me it was quiet the challenge.  The beginning of the trail was quite easy to follow but the further I went the more confusing and harder it got.  The pictures I was shown were very helpful.  False Kiva is in a small alcove that itself is in a large alcove.  You can't even see the small alcove until the very last minute and to get to it you actually hike under it then scramble up a tallis slope.  One last hump and there it is.

I'd seen many pictures of False Kive and my first thought was how small it was.  Of course in this tight area you need a very wide angle lens to show everything and a very wide angle lens makes everything small.  Against the back wall of the alcove were some piles of rubble the ranger had told me about and asked me to stay off.  There are still unexcavated spots in the alcove that are being preserved.  I was happy to let them be.

Up to this point I'd been feeling so rushed, driving for two days to get to Moab, rush thru Dead Horse Point State park, hurry down to False Kiva, I really wanted to slow down.  Before making any images I gave my offering of tobacco.  I carry tobacco and give offerings at the Spirit Tree back home.  When I visit important Indian places I like to give an offering of tobacco.  Makes me feel good.  After giving my offering I sat down to experience the place.

There were once people living here.  Instead of modern day hiking shoe prints in the sand there were bare feet or crude sandles, whatever the Pueblonian people wore.  There were storage huts, living buildings, maybe young children running around.  It probably wasn't important back then, heck maybe it was, but they sure had a beautiful view from their alcove.  The archeologists don't think this area was inhabited for long.

I stayed a few hours until the sunset.  I never did get to the state of calm I'd hopped for.  My mind was still going to fast to enjoy the experience like I should.  It was wonderful being there alone and having just the sounds of nature around me.  It is definitely a place to return to with one of my people.

The hike back out was quite exhausting as most of it was up hill.  The air is alot thinner at this altitude which requires many stops.  I did use my GPS to get to False Kiva and had my 'bread crumb' trail to follow on the way out.  Sometimes I'd loose my way but eventually I got around the obsticles and with the aid of my headlamp made it out safely.  By the time I got back to the car it was pitch black even though it was just 6:30 or so.

Earlier in the day I'd scouted out Mesa Arch as a possible star trail site.  Since the sky was clear I decided I'd spend the night in the back of the Forester with Thule in the campground and shoot stars.  After a quick 'dinner', two turkey sandwiches, to replenish my energy from the False Kiva hike it was back to Mesa Arch to setup a star shot.  Not wanting to haul all of my gear the 1/2 mile to Mesa Arch I prepared everything in the car.  The humidity was quite high.  One problem we always run into is the lens fogging up when it's humid out.  I developed a method using heating pads to keep the lens clear and it's worked the few times I've used it in Minnesota.  Another problem we run into when it's cold is the batteries die alot sooner.  So I rigged up another solution that I hope will keep the battery warm that I was trying for the first time.

I gathered up all my stuff and headed down to the arch.  When I'd scouted it out earlier I noted some spots I thought would be good for sunrise.  As it turned out one of the spots should make a good spot for the star trail and since the moon was going to rise about 9:30 I thought some of the distant buttes should get some moonlight if it's clear enough.  I made my customaty dozen or 2 setup shots, check the settings and was ready to begin.  It was at that point I realized I was missing an important piece of equipment, the shutter release.  Crap.  So back to the car I went, grabbed the shutter release, then back to my camera.  Finally I got the shots going.  The bummer was I lost about 25 minutes of star shots going back for the shutter release.

The plan was to do a 4 hr star trail, actually 4 hrs of 30 second exposures,  Seeing as though I got a cell signal at Grand View Point I went back to the car and drove the 6 miles to the point.  I wan't going to spend no 4 hrs waiting at my camera, besides there was no one else in the park anyway, and it's cold.  At Grand View Point I could talk to Carolyn.

When I returned to the camera at 12:30am I found the battery dead.  Don't know when it died but when I looked at the last image there was the moon as bright as can be.  Bet you photographers can guess what the moon looks like exposed at f4.5 for 30sec with an ISO of 4000. I didn't do anything with the images but found this one I quite like.  A moon burst over Mesa Arch.

It was on to the campground and a nice night in the Forester.

I have a remote start in the Forester.  Before retiring for the night I turned the heat and fan both on high.  Before climbing out of my sleeping back the next morning I started the car.  By the time I did get up the car was nice and warm.  What a life.


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