Saturday, December 26, 2015

Zion Narrows - A Startling Labyrinth

Zion Narrows

Deep inside Zion National Park, the red-rock walls start closing in. There, our first experience in the dark chasm was negotiating that startling labyrinth known as The Narrows.

At first you follow a traditional pathway but after a mile, the river becomes the road. From this starting point, the shallow stream is about ankle high but before long you’re wading through water that is waist deep.

Tinted a muddy green, the Virgin is an unpredictable force propelled by a swift current that gets even stronger as the canyon becomes compressed. Thunderstorms that occur miles upstream can create a dangerous situation for unsuspecting hikers in Zion.

Heavy rainfall can send a powerful swell through the unforgiving gorge, trapping anything unlucky enough to be stuck inside. Fortunately, our canyoneering experience was filled with nothing but beautiful scenery and blue skies.

Due to unstable footing, attaining the mysterious slot was a slippery endeavor but well worth the struggle. The way out went much better as the brisk water swept us smoothly back to our original port of entry.

I found the Southwest to be anything but desolate as the unusual landscape shocked my senses with wonder and awe. I’ve spent years observing how things work in the mountains but life in the desert remains a mystery.

Traveling through Utah was such an eye-opening experience that I’d like to record my impressions with pencil on paper but I’ve found it too difficult to describe. Maybe if I close my eyes and dream about the extraordinary colors everything will turn out fine.

Red-rock walls start closing in

A startling labyrinth

The river becomes the road

The shallow stream

The virgin river is muddy green

A swift current

An unforgiving gorge

Beautiful scenery

Unstable footing

An unusual landscape

The desert is a mystery

It was an eye-opening experience

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Mule Deer - A Curious Creature

Curious Mule Deer

On a wintery afternoon, a hardy visitor unexpectedly appeared out of the mist. A young mule deer buck was out in the meadow foraging for the most nutritious food source available.

Munching on mostly shrubs, twigs and tree branches, our famished friend displayed an enormous appetite. On just such a diet, the disheveled deer had managed to survive another harsh winter.

As I slushed through snow to document our encounter, the curious creature came even closer. Face to face with a magnificent muley, time stood still during an unforgettable nature moment.

I’m not sure what he was thinking. Maybe he thought I had food for him or maybe he wondered why I was out in the middle of a snowstorm. Anyway, after close inspection, he went back to his herd and I went back to mine.

An unexpected visitor

Foraging for food

Munching on shrubs

Another harsh winter

The curious creature

Came closer

Face to face with a muley

A nature moment

Middle of a snowstorm

He went back to the herd

Saturday, December 12, 2015

San Rafael Desert - Lonely Land

San Rafael Swell

Positioned just above the sacred Goblin Valley, the San Rafael Swell is a dramatic gateway to some of the best scenery the state of Utah has to offer. Desolate and devoid of life, this lonely stretch of land is more lively than you’d expect.

Traveling west through Colorado, the big, blue and green mountains give way to brown mesas until you reach Grand Junction. From there into eastern Utah, the landscape becomes distinctly barren and beige book cliffs rise out of the sandy soil.

Down around the town of Green River, things really start to look deserted as the terrain becomes flat and featureless with not even a single tree in sight. The desert becomes difficult to understand and you begin to feel like all is lost.

Just when things look bleak, a narrow pass winds its way through a spiny ridge of jagged spires where the earth is uplifted and sculpted by a spectacular canyon. Placed above it all, a gigantic, pale sky overwhelms the pastel-colored plateau.

We’re out of our element as we travel through this empty outback. While hiking here in the wild, you may feel like you’re misplaced but if solitude is what you’re looking for, the desert is one of the few environments on earth where peace can be found.

A dramatic gateway

Some of the best scenery in Utah

A lonely stretch of land

The desert is difficult to understand

A spiny ridge of jagged spires

The earth is sculpted

A pastel-colored plateau

An empty outback

Solitude

Peace can be found

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Winter Storm - A Lonesome Wilderness

Beaver Brook, Colorado

Last week meteorologists issued a severe weather warning for Jefferson County. They projected a winter storm for us and asserted that it would progress in the usual, predictable pattern.

That afternoon, a faint wind whispered through the treetops foretelling a frosty future. By morning, a spiraling system from the east had screamed into the Front Range foothills.

Basking in mild temperatures, the mountain landscape dissolved into an opaque atmosphere of wet flakes. Still pretty in gray, the pine trees were coated with a glossy sheen of sparkling silver.

The next day was much colder as pellets of fine powder were drizzled over the entire area. Rocky crags were capped with heavy snow and the evergreens were plastered in solid ice.

It was utterly bone-chilling, hiking out in the open meadow. Luckily, we discovered that once inside the insulated forest, there was a natural, geothermal warmth.

By day three, the storm had passed and clouds cleared but a blast of arctic air swept in. Below blue skies, plowing through Beaver Brook was like walking into the North Pole.

Down at the frozen reservoir, long shadows stretched across the lake’s smooth surface. The surrounding trees resembled an exhibit of exquisitely carved marble sculptures.

Painted with pure white, the transcendent beauty of that lonesome wilderness was absolutely pristine. With so many storms already on canvas this year, I have a feeling it’s going to be a winter to remember.

Winter storm in the foothills

The mountain landscape dissolved

Pretty in gray

The pine trees were a sparkling silver

Fine powder was drizzled over the entire area

Rocky crags were snow-capped

The open meadow was bone-chilling

The forest was insulated with warmth

The storm had passed

Walking into the North Pole

The trees were like marble sculptures

Transcendent beauty of a lonesome wilderness

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Great Blue Heron - A Lanky Waterfowl

Great Blue Heron

On a chilly winter day near Nebraska’s North Platte River, a great blue heron swooped in searching for prey. After a brisk feather-ruffle, it proceeded to patiently stroll along the shoreline of an icy pond.

Sharp eyes scanned the water’s surface for small fish. With its sinewy neck coiled into the shape of an S, the big bird was ready to strike. A long, dagger-like beak would deliver the final death blow.

After an unsuccessful hunt, the lanky waterfowl became annoyed with the uninvited intruder. It promptly straightened up, delivered a harsh croak and soared swiftly to the safety of a nearby cottonwood stand.

A chilly winter day

Searching for prey

Ruffled feathers

Patiently strolling

Sharp eyes

A sinewy neck

Coiled into the shape of an S

An unsuccessful hunt

A lanky waterfowl

Straightened up