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A personal blog of photography and commentary by Andrew McAllister.

Posts tagged Travel Story

Top of the World Trail

Day two of the Kokopelli Trail the most photogenic of the trip. We crossed increasingly scenic landscape starting with the austere Cisco Wash followed by the increasingly rugged Owl Draw and Dome Plateau (pictured Below). The day concluded with the Top of the World trail that terminates at a rock ledge hundreds of feet above the valley floor. The view from the Top of the World trail terminus one can see Onion Creek and Fisher Towers below you, Professor Valley and the Colorado River in the distance and the ridge line of the windows section of Arches National Park some 15 miles away.

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Cisco WashCisco Wash section of the Kokopelli Trail

After a hearty breakfast our group broke camp and headed for the trail for a long day in the saddle that would cross increasingly scenic territory. The first section took us from our camp at Fish Ford over to Utah 128 via a dusty two track that crosses Cisco Wash. Seeing the depth and departure angle of the wash I jumped out to get the shot above for Sean’s trailer review. Being in a wash like this one, I can understand why maps have warnings about roads being impassable when wet. This last section of this trail was pretty dusty and our groups vehicles spaced out for safe driving. Below a member of our group waits for the last vehicle as we turn onto Utah Scenic 128 and head toward Owl Draw. The helicopter was just flying by.

Cisco Wash section of the Kokopelli Trail

Owl Draw and Dome Plateau20130501_Kokopelli Trail_028

Utah Scenic Route 128 connects I-70 and 191 and follows the Colorado River through Professor Valley and well worth the trip. Owl Draw is a 4×4 road that starts near Gordon Ranch just as 128 closes in on the Colorado River. Above is looking North towards the East Tavaputs Plateau.

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After some time we made a quick stop at a scenic overlook to stretch the legs and grab a photo and we were off again. Interesting to see how the wind is sculpting these sandstone cliffs and the effects of water drainage on the soil.

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Above: Yellow Jacket Canyon

20130501_Kokopelli Trail_040We welcomed the long sandy stretches of road and breathtaking views as we headed toward the river crossing at Dewey.

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Close to the trails end our group passed through a gate with a nice view of the Colorado River and the crossing at Dewey. There are two bridges at Dewey. The original wood plank bridge burned in 2008 and there is a local effort to restore it. Our group would meet up at the old bridge foundation and then head to our campsite near the Delores River where we would have lunch and drop trailers before heading to the Top of the World trail. Note the tilted angle of the earth’s crust. Below: sandstone cliffs and domes near Utah Scenic 128.

20130501_Kokopelli Trail_046Top Of The World Trail
Top of the World Trail

Ace from the Book Cliffs Cruisers leads the charge as we start the Top of the World Trail. Guide books state that this trail takes about 3 to 4 hours to complete and we were starting after lunch so we had to make good time when we could if we were to make it back to camp before dark. The first five miles were graded dirt road and have plenty to stop and look at if you get an early start. The picture above shows the start of the trail. The rock steps above would eventually turn into proper ledges as seen below at the first obstacle point. The Fun-treks guide book mentioned that this trail has gotten more difficult and once was doable in an aggressive stock vehicle. This would be my first time on a “Difficult” rated trail.

Top of the World Trail

Above: Drivers assess the first major obstacle and plan a route. Below: With a good line and all lockers engaged Sean’s 80 series Landcruiser clears the ledge and pulls a trailer up it too. Since he was writing a review on the build and trail handling he opted to bring it while the others left their trailers at the campsite.

Top of the World Trail

Below: Richard takes a line more suited for the FJ-40’s shorter wheelbase and clearance.

Top of the World Trail

Below: Darius looses traction on his first attempt but soon clears the ledge.

Top of the World Trail

Below: Rocky sections test a vehicles articulation and the drivers ability to choose a line that considers the trailer as well as the tow vehicle. Passengers need to hold on… or get out and take pictures.

Top of the World Trail

Below: In the far distance is where we started from this morning. On this trail you do feel like you are going to the top of the world.

Top of the World TrailTop of the World – The viewTop of the World Trail

The view from the top was nothing short of spectacular. When we arrived every one grabbed whatever camera they had and started snapping away. Being late afternoon the sun was harsh and hazy and I have had to spend some time in Adobe Lightroom to get the images to the state you see here. Above you can clearly see the windows section of Arches National Park. This is a great location that I’d love to photograph in first light.

Top of the World Trail

Above: Looking down on the backlit Fisher Towers and Onion Creek area of Professor Valley. Amazing view!

Top of the World Trail

Above: Looking North West toward The East Tavaputs Plateau. The haze and fact that I was using a longer focal length lens made this a hard shot to resolve but the view of over 30 miles was worth the effort. The sandstone cliffs in the mid ground are where we were a few hours earlier. I-70 is visible just below the center on the left side.

Top of the World Trail

The overhang at Top of the World is a great photo op. Google it and you find tons of shots just like this. Sean however was not aware of the over hang and was surprised when he saw the picture.

Top of the World Trail

Above: Richard and Kim on top of the FJ-40, on Top of the World with dog co-pilot Shamrock.

Top of the World Trail

Above: Should you look down you will see Onion Creek and to the East: Fisher Valley pictured below.

Top of the World Trail

Below: After the photo ops we needed to get going as we still had a difficult trail between us and camp. A few people received phone calls at the top but cell reception would fade fast as we started back down the trail.

Top of the World Trail Top of the world Trail – Return tripTop of the World Trail

Ace again leads the way. With the sun getting lower on the horizon and progress to be made I had to make the most of shooting from the Landcruiser. The shot above is through the windshield and below at a turn in the trail. Not bad if I do say so myself.

Top of the World Trail

After a brief section of trail we came to a series of ledges that would challenge the Landcruisers with longer wheelbases. The ledges were covered with sand and spaced so that both front and rear wheels would be climbing up at the same time.

Top of the World Trail

Below: A tight section of trail forced me to use the widest lens I had available to illustrate the spacing of the ledges. After this shot I switched to the other side of the trail and a safer position.

Top of the World Trail

Below: Driver error caused our trailer to flip when stepping off this ledge. It was quickly righted with a couple of extra hands. As you can see the ledge has a high side and the trailer is top heavy with the tent configured the way it is. Sean writes about this incident in his review.

Top of the World Trail

As soon as the trailer was ready to go our group progressed and we were on the main graded road before dark. Below: Joe steps his Landcruiser down one of the many ledges on the return from Top of the World.

Top of the World Trail

Long day in the saddle was the correct way to put it. It was twilight when we got to camp. Everyone hustled to get tents setup before it was completely dark and with no dedicated camp chef tonight we would be on our own for dinner. After dark we gathered around the campfire and recalled the days events and planned for tomorrows adventure on Rose Garden Hill. After an hour or so I decided to call it day and head to bed. The days trek was pretty intense and I was ready for some sleep. Hopefully the winds would not keep me awake tonight as they did the night before.

Top of the World Trail

Cruise Moab 2013 Kokopelli Trail

This past spring (2013) I had the opportunity to travel a section of the Kokopelli Trail. My friend Sean had procured a spot on the trail pre-run for Cruise Moab, a gathering of Toyota Landcruiser owners and enthusiasts. In addition to sharing fuel costs and serving as co-pilot I would take pictures for a review article on a small kit trailer called the Dinoot that is perfect for what the company calls trailer supported adventure. Sean’s review of the Dinoot trailer build can be found at Off-Road.com This trail run would be a 100 mile 3 day off road adventure through new ground that neither of us had traveled before. We would be guided by Jonathan and Ace of the Book Cliff Cruisers, a club based in Grand Junction Colorado. I charged up camera batteries, packed a tripod, clothes, and my camp box (tools etc.) borrowed a tent and sleeping bag from friends as this was my first camping trip in about 20 years. After an overnight drive we arrived in Rabbit Valley Colorado near the Utah border. A campsite on BLM land was where we were to meet the other 9 LandCruisers we would be joining for the 3 day drive. Soon after we would start on our journey and I would gasp at the road conditions. Literally at the first bend in the road it was rocky with boulders and ruts. I was glad to be a rider in a very capable truck as we would encounter sections of road like this multiple times. I was in new photographic territory too, how does one capture the intensity of a trail like this in a truthful way? What makes it interesting? How to get the best shot without holding up the group? The image above was from our first stop as a group about an hour into the drive. For a newcomer like myself I was really impressed with the terrain we were covering but this was our first real ledge. If my memory serves me it was a little less than 36″ drop total. A good line and a spotter would make it an easy drop for the group. How ledges like this work for clubs is a few people spot and take pictures wile the group slowly moves through the obstacle. After the whole group has passed the obstacle we move on. I would not attempt this in my stock Xterra… yet.

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A short distance later we came across some motorcyclists on the trail. At times like this I would analyze the scene as fast as possible and if there was a picture to be had I would tell Sean to stop and I would open the door and stand up to to get the shot. With everyone else still in motion it had to happen fast. We would not encounter another set of motorcyclists the whole day.

Cruise Moab 2013 Kokopelli Trail

Crossing a boulder field a driver in our group snagged the sharp end of a rock and sliced his tire sidewall. Other drivers jumped in to assist in the wheel change and in short time we were rolling again. Funny how both guys helping are in flip flops. A great thing about traveling in a group like this is that there was plenty of knowledge and more than a few spare parts around and everything was Landcruiser centric.

Cruise Moab 2013 Kokopelli Trail

During our pitstop I had time to shoot a few landscape scenes. The Kokopelli Trail is used by used by 4-wheel drive vehicles, motorcycles, mountain bikes and the occasional atv. Everyone we came across was friendly, respectful and staying on the trail. We would meet up with the mountain bikers in the picture above a little later and it turned out that they were attending Cruise Moab too.

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After a break for lunch we traveled through many washes of Bitter Creek. This section of the trail had some grazing areas where we came across sheep and cattle. I’d like to travel this section again some time as there are a few good areas for photography. Both Sean and myself considered this trip reconnaissance and location scouting for future trips. Sometime in the future I like to have a truck like the 80 series Landcruiser above. A highly capable off road vehicle with sleeping quarters on the roof, cooking ability, food storage via onboard fridge and most importantly driving and navigation skills to get there and back safely. A sharp bend in the road and how the caravan was spaced out made this shot possible.

Cruise Moab 2013 Kokopelli Trail

Climbing out of the Bitter Creek area and heading toward Coal Draw. This was an easy section thus I was able to get a sharp picture through the windshield. Most of the way up it was rocky enough that I had to hold on as the cab rocked back and forth. In a group like this you can watch how the vehicle in front of you tracks through the terrain but it’s important to keep in mind how your truck is different. In our case we were pulling a trailer and our line would need to consider how it tracked around obstacles. Other things to consider would be wheelbase and lift (clearance), though all the trucks in our group were similar, it is often not the case.

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View from the top looking North East toward Colorado. Note the communications tower on the ridge. From this point onward the trail became less and less rugged until finally we reached pavement and enjoyed a few minutes of smooth road. Soon we would turn onto Route 179 and head to our next destination, Cisco Landing for a restroom break and the final leg of trail for day 1.

20130430_Kokopelli Trail_098This final stretch of dirt road was nice and smooth. As we increased speed we also increased the distance between vehicles to aid safe driving. As you can see from the picture the combination of loose soil and the wind create a dusty situation. Scientists have found dust originating from Utah covering snow fields in Colorado. That dust is causing the snow to melt faster. Now imagine the amount of dust that is stirred up on the hundred of thousands of dirt roads in the west. Mind boggling…20130430_Kokopelli Trail_104

After a quick stop at the Cisco Landing (pictured above) we headed to Fish Ford, a campground near the Colorado River. As it was early in the season the trees had just started to get their leaves and the overall feel was harsh. Thus not many photos of the camping area. The group spread out around the area and made camp. It was nice to be done with the driving and have some time to walk around. It was a bit windy and I was a little nervous about my first night camping in 20 years to be next to a Cottonwood tree. I set up the borrowed tent as close to the truck as possible thinking it would shield me from wind and falling branches. Pretty silly in retrospect. Naturally it rained that night and I awoke many times thinking I heard animals outside of my tent. The morning revealed no evidence of the large grazing animals that I could swear were just outside my tent all night.
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There are many advantages of traveling in a group, safety in numbers, sharing of resources, camaraderie among others. Getting going in the morning, that would be a disadvantage. Once I’m awake I want to get going, make the coffee, pack up and get on with it. With a large group it takes a while just to get everyone up and ready, then there is breakfast and breaking camp. We are talking about a multi hour process here. Not unenjoyable but different than my daily ritual. As a group of strangers camping together for the first time we did a decent job of getting on the trail at a reasonable time.

20130430_Kokopelli Trail_115A bonus of this trail run was having a dedicated camp chef for the first day and a half who would cook the group a great camp dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. Being that I had been awake the better part of 40 hours and was hanging out with people I just met I did not go into photography mode at dinner time. I did not know if I would even publish a story on the trip. Learning this blogging thing as I go I realize that a group shot or establishing photos of the group would help put things in context. Instead I have the above shot of the cooking and dining area. Far from a great record of the event you will have to trust me that the food and the conversation were a great way to end the day. Many lively conversations continued late into the night, however once the sun set I was ready for sleep and the end of an adventurous day.

20130303_Moab Trip_8304Locations like Delicate Arch are difficult to photograph. Look online and you can see thousands on technically great shots, thousands more that try to hard with star trails, sparklers, dramatic light and on and on. Lots of advice as to best time of day or examples of the arch in different seasons. The first time I was there I made a midday panorama that had around 70 people in it. A cold day in early March had a dozen people up there posing for family photos under the arch and more on the way up. Delicate Arch is kind of like the Eiffel Tower in that the thing itself is so cool and so recognizable that photographs of it rarely do it justice. Delicate Arch and they way you come up on it from the trail is so powerful that I like to sit down and enjoy the view and spend some quality time taking it all in, consider how amazing it is that this exists. Then take some pictures, mostly for my personal archive.

20130303_Moab Trip_8258As I was sitting up there on a rock at Delicate Arch, camera anchored to one of my trusty tripods, watching all the people and taking it in. A family with teenage boys approached the Arch and had a little photo session. Mom and Dad hugging under the Arch, Mom with the boys, goofy shots looking like you are pushing the arch, all the usual stuff. One of the teenage boys wandered away from the group and was messing with a phone or iPod. As I watched him I noticed that this was the picture that I wanted to make. Kind of funny to walk up to a world famous site and take a picture that does not include the “famous” thing. It’s a shot, a view, a situation that I had not seen, it spoke to me of being disconnected to the environment. 20130303_Moab Trip_8320

People watching in the National Parks is a great activity as is spotting cool cars in the parking lots. As we concluded the hike and made it to the parking lot the first thing I noticed was this really cool bright red Jeep. Chrome wheels, big tires, winch, fancy bumpers, the works. Easily a $50K ride but with no soul (at least not yet). Parked a short distance was this old Dodge Van. My friends and I gathered around it and inspected it’s scars, rust and dirt. This was not the best ride in the lot but man it has some history. Just looking at it you know it has had some serious adventures.

Above: Almost a ghost town, Thompson Springs, Utah. I have spent a lot of time looking at this humble little house making up little stories about what happened here. This little house from another time with it’s yard clearly defined from the larger surrounding. A power pole that marks the location like it was a road side casualty. Not generally a fan of the photo cliche’ of dilapidated buildings or “Ruin Porn” I usually pass these structures by and leave them to other photographers. Something about this one…

Above: Abandoned structures in Thompson Springs. Would love to find an image of what was once here. Building on the left looks like it was used for some sort of agricultural storage. Look closely at the space between the buildings. A sealed (at one time) passage. The structure on the right looks like two buildings sharing a common front. The left one had a door and a window, the right one a door and two windows. The doors are tricky. Was the original door between the windows and then at some later time when the two fronts became one the door moved to the center and old door locations filled in? I’m probably to respectful for my own good as a I honor privet property and only shoot from the road. Next time I’m down there I’ll have to find someone who knows.

Above: Almost ghost town. Classic abandoned house next to the Desert Moon Hotel (actually a small trailer park for temporary workers that live out of campers parked there. And the Hotel is for sale if anyone is interested.

Above: Detail of the doorway mystery.

Above: Shadow portrait at the Thompson Springs Diner. The diner is pretty boring both inside and out. I thought this was the best photo for the location. Thompson Springs has a few other buildings including a Hotel with about 20 rooms (all with the doors open and full of trash and graffiti) The train depot (abandoned) and a few occupied residences. Someday I’ll return and photograph them as I’d like to meet the residents of this almost ghost town. I’m sure there are some interesting folks there.

Below: Backside of my favorite house in Thompson Springs.

 

 

 

 

 

After our trip to Beef Basin we decided to check out the needles overlook before returning to Moab. As luck would have it we were the only ones there. Even though the wind had kicked up lots of dust making the view  very hazy the Needles Overlook was no less stunning. Sometime I’ll have to stay at the camp ground a few miles from here and photograph this area early morning light. I’m sure it is spectacular.

Below: Looking toward the needles district. In the distance you can see Cathedral Butte (on the right).

Below: Views form the Needles Overlook are stunning even in hazy conditions. I wonder how many lens caps and hats you could find at the base of the cliff. Strong wind can seemingly come out of nowhere and the fence is welcomed. I don’t generally have a fear of heights but this overlook had me holding the railing more than once.

Below: Be where you are. As a photographer visiting such a spectacular location it can be tempting to just get into a zone and photograph like mad. My wife taught me the saying “be where you are” and I keep it in mind when out exploring our world. Taking photographs is a major part of my experience to be sure, however I do take time in-between shots to stop and take things in. The smell of Juniper and the sound wind blowing through evergreen are some of my favorites. Watching birds in the updrafts around the cliffs is another. If you just take pictures the whole time have you really experienced the place or is it just a photo location? 

Above: Mesa’s along Route 211 toward the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. This image was taken at the end of our drive to Beef Basin. In the casual photograph it’s hard to get a feel for how massive these forms are. To capture that feeling I chose to use a normal focal length lens and a position that would not include the top of the mesa. When you see the fence at the base of the mesa you start to get the feeling of how massive it is.

Above: Cottonwood Canyon Road as it rounds Bridger Jack Mesa. Notice the car on the right side for scale. The road was in really good condition (May 2012) with a few washboarded sections and small obstacles. I think of these roads as the domain for 4-wheel drive vehicles but as with other trips you come across the odd car that you wonder how it got there. On this drive it was an old Volkswagen Squareback (early 70’s) in mint condition complete with a driver with small round sunglasses and a waxed mustache.

Above: Salt Creek Overlook. Near Cathedral Butte there is a side road that will take you out to this viewpoint. In the book Guide to Moab, UT Backroads and 4-wheel Drive Trails this section of road is listed as moderate as it is quite rocky. We drove halfway in before deciding to walk. With a little more experience I could have driven it as the Xterra has the ground clearance but today was not the day to attempt it. Next time for sure though. The walk out to Salt Creek Overlook was a easy and a nice change as we had been in the car a few hours at this point.

Above: Almost to Beef Basin we stopped for a look at these large white rock formations and to stretch our legs a bit. Just after this section of road there is a steep and sandy section with large rocks and a blind corner. A bit stressful as it was my first such stretch of road however a few miles later I would be reminded that thousands of cars have made it back up that the steep sandy spot when we came across the old Volkswagon.

Above: Classic western landscape of Beef Basin. Below: One of the many ruins in Beef Basin.

Below: Greater Short Horned Lizard spotted at South Spring Campground.

Below: As we finished the Beef Basin loop the weather started to look as if a storm was brewing. We decided it was best to start our return as it would be a few hours until we reached asphalt and another hour to get to Moab. Fortunately the only weather encountered was random spots of raindrops and nothing that would make the return trip difficult.

Below: The Xterra on Cottonwood Canyon Road. I brought extra gas not knowing what kind of milage we would get on the back roads or what we would run into. Turns out we only used a bit more than half a tank up to this point. In the future I hope to replace the rear bumper with one that will accommodate the spare tire and have room for Jerry cans so I don’t have to keep the fuel on the roof.

Researching one of my favorite areas in Cache Valley (Bear River Narrows) I came across Red Rock Pass. It is at the northern most end of the valley and the site of the cataclysmic event that partially drained the ancient Lake Bonneville. Located about an hour north of Logan, it is one of my favorite new places. The hazy light really brought out the red colors in the rock.

Looking South toward Caribou National Forest. The white on the poles is wind blown snow from earlier in the day.

The above shot looks at the western side of Red Rock Pass. The large hole above the corral looks like a mouth, above it an upturned nose and eyes. My lens could not fit the entire scene in so this is stitched from 5 exposures. On this first trip we returned to Logan via 15 South, took the first exit (Utah 36) Deep Creek Road and Weston Canyon. See my post Rolling Hills for a view of that area.

A few days later the weather improved and I headed up to Red Rock Pass to photograph the area in better light. Above view from the bend in the road. Very different light than the first visit. Stronger contrast and feel for the height but loses the subtle colors of the hazy image. This time I took S Back Red Rock Road and photographed the power transmission lines that I had seen on the first visit. Below view looking south across Red Rock Pass. The power poles below that look like giant pins are double circuit 345 kV lines.

With clearer skys to the North I traveled a short distance to Downey Idaho explored the small town on foot until it was dark. I returned to Red Rock Pass on my way back to Logan. Hoping for a patch of clear sky to illuminate the area as it was full moon. As I waited a short time before bailing do to it being cold, very windy and very creepy. Put it on the list of places to revisit in different weather. Definitely worth the effort to exit I15 drive and drive a few miles to check this location out if you are in the area.