Memories of the Desert, part 1

I hope you’ve been following my posts over the last few months. I’ve been telling the story of Mike’s Grand Adventure: my preparation, the cause I was fundraising for and my adventures out in the American Southwest. Now I’ve told all that there is to tell, or at least, all that you might want to hear. I thought I’d end this theme with a gallery of highlights. I’ve broken it into two parts; here are the first 15 of 29 of my favourite photos, each capturing a different unforgettable moment of my adventure.

1: The Inner Gorge

Millions of years of erosion has widened the canyon to an enormous breadth, but at the heart of the expanse is Granite Gorge. Here the Colorado River has delved down to the igneous rocks known as the ‘Basement’ because they form the very foundations of the American continent. Deep, dark and difficult, this mysterious cleft will take you back 1.8 billion years in history…if you can reach it…

The Inner Gorge
The Inner Gorge

2: South Rim Thunderstorm

Part of what made this trip so special was the weather, and the fact that we were there long enough to witness the Grand Canyon in all its moods. Here a late summer thunderstorm rolls in from the Gulf of Mexico to strike the rim with lightning. The rain fallen from storms like this drains into the canyon and adds its scouring power to the Colorado’s network.

South Rim Thunderstorm
South Rim Thunderstorm

3: Life on the Edge

There are viewpoints, and then there are edges. The view from the former is impressive, but to really appreciate the canyon my brother and I felt compelled to get to the very edge. Just below Powell Point we did just that, sitting on a ledge of limestone cap-rock that jutted out over a thrilling 2,000-foot drop. It was an amazing place from which to savour the grandeur.

Life on the Edge
Life on the Edge

4: Fire and Rimstone

Getting up before dawn is always worth it when rewarded with sights like these: sun-rise from Yaki Point. Perched on a gloomy promontory, we waited patiently as the sun came up, bringing the canyon to life in an astonishing parade of colours. But, before the sun actually rose, the sky was a fiery red and looked like the menacing glow of Mordor, or the violent birth of the world itself.

Fire and Rimstone
Fire and Rimstone

5: Daylight Breaking Through

Shortly after dawn there was a struggle of titans in the sky as wind and sun battled thunderstorms for control of the Grand Canyon. Rapt, we watched it all unfold from our rimside vantage.

Daylight Breaking Through
Daylight Breaking Through

6: Redwall Rainbow

If you ever wondered where rainbows are rooted – its in Redwall limestone – or at least this one was. Half an hour after dawn the battle still raged in the skies, and we treated to this glimpse of glory as a rainbow shot with the sun’s early rays plunged into the abyss.

Redwall Rainbow
Redwall Rainbow

7: East Rim Glory

Sunlight finally won the battle: it would be a glorious day. After the aptly-named Grandview Point we settled down at Desert View. I spent some time talking to God, looking out over the splendour of His creation and relishing the warm sunshine as it crept over me. From here I could see the upper reaches of the canyon, where the Little Colorado River meets its larger cousin to continue the work of sculpting the finest architecture on Earth.

East Rim Glory
East Rim Glory

8: Valley of the gods

Blasphemous its name might be, but Valley of the gods is an extraordinary place nonetheless. It took us 2 hours to rumble through its 17 miles, picking our way between idiosyncratic sandstone buttes. This view, from the top of nearby Moki Dugway, reduces those ruddy towers to toy-like blocks, glowing in late afternoon sunshine as desert thunderstorms sweep across the horizon. Valley of God more like.

Valley of the gods
Valley of the gods

9: Arch Before the Arch

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is an amazing place, but most people don’t know about the best vantage point to view it from. Following my curiosity, I clambered up a slickrock slope and found, to my delight, a mini arch commanding this wonderful view over Delicate Arch, its bowl-like foreground and its mountainous backdrop. The black and white of this photo really brings out the stark beauty of the place, and my delight at discovering it.

Arch Before the Arch
Arch Before the Arch

10: White Rim Window

We never got to Mesa Arch at dawn, when it would wonderfully frame the sunrise, but this eastward-looking vantage point was still spectacular later in the day. It yawns over a giddy overhang of the White Rim and is easily the most recognisable feature in Canyonlands NP’s Island in the Sky region. The view through this window, of labyrinthine canyons stretching as far as the eye can see, is truly stupendous.

White Rim Window
White Rim Window
  1. Turrets and Towers

Leaning out from Mesa Arch, looking north, this is what you see. The La Sal Mountains steepling the horizon, stair-case layers of rock crumpling the middle distance, and a formidable fortification of rock. These bastions now stand apart from the battlements of the White Rim, its impressive outliers which will one day crumble into the plateau below.

Turrets and Towers
Turrets and Towers

 

  1. Eye of the Sunset

After one failed sunset attempt in Arches NP we quickly identified North Window Arch as a much better bet, and indeed it was. Sitting on the warm, flushed orange rock as the sun sank was a blissful experience, but it was well worth venturing through the arch briefly and looking back. The sunset glow around the arch’s edges make it look like a fire-rimmed oculus, perfectly framing Turret Arch beyond. Quite possibly one of the most memorable photos I have ever taken.

Eye of the Sunset
Eye of the Sunset

 

  1. Star-Field

As if the fabulous North Window Arch sunset wasn’t enough, we were treated to further spectacles as our decision to linger around in the park after dark was rewarded in spectacular fashion. In one of the darkest skies in America, spoilt only by the lights of tourist cars exiting the park (that’s the reddish glow at the bottom of the picture), the stars came out in unbelievable numbers and brightness. The Milky Way appeared like I’ve never seen it before, like a mesmerising fissure in space. It seemed to grow out of the towers of rock nearby, as if I unwittingly stumbled upon the portal to another world.

Star-Field
Star-Field

 

  1. The Golden Road

State Highway 12 is rightly listed as one of America’s finest scenic byways – it takes much longer to reach your destination, but who cares when Capitol Reef and Goblin Valley are found along the way? One thing we weren’t expecting, though, was this flare of rich autumnal colour at the top of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Here the quaking aspens of Dixie National Forest had burst into golden yellow, going down in a blaze of glory before winter took hold.

The Golden Road
The Golden Road

 

  1. Calf Creek Falls

3 miles through cougar-infested canyon to reach, too cold to swim in, but a photographer’s dream: Calf Creek Falls. Providing nourishment to a thin strip of line in an otherwise barren desert, this waterfall was like a mirage at the trail’s end.

Calf Creek Falls
Calf Creek Falls

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