Slot Canyons (Utah 2019 II)

Escalante is a dreamy little village on spectacular Utah Highway 12, featuring a great little restaurant in the annex of the outdoor outfitter store. For some, this place is just a stop at the most scenic portion of the highway, for others the place to begin an exploration of the many slot canyons nearby.

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Our destination was Dry Fork Trailhead, a 30 minute drive away on a bearable dirt road (Hole-In-The-Rock Road). Bring plenty of water. 

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There are four slot canyons accessible from this trail head. They are all long and narrow. We went through one of them, forth and back, because we couldn’t get up the steep boulders at the end. It would have been easier to enter at the other end at slide down.

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But only in retrospect: These canyons are really narrow, and you should never make a move that you cannot undo.

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Often one has to wedge oneself through, trying various body positions. I wonder how many people get seriously stuck there.DSC 1752

Small occasional caverns let you take a break and rearrange your limbs. I found that the most unreal part about this place is that I actually fit through. This doesn’t happen in real life.

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Don’t forget to save some water for the long hike back.

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Coexistence

Bryce Canyon in March is a risky endeavor. Two years ago strong winds and temperatures below freezing prevented us from exploring much else than the vistas. Yes, we are wimps. This year most trails were open, but it was still cold enough to keep the crowds away.

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Looking at the amphitheater from above in the late afternoon light doesn’t suggest that there is a trail though this maze of hoodoos.

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Descending the Navajo Loop Trail from Sunset Point reveals competing inhabitants in this sloped landscape.

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I did not expect to see forests at the bottom of this. The contrast is peculiar. Short lived trees among eternal rocks?

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The direction of growth is different, though. Nevertheless, the hoodoos and trees protect each other from erosion and desert climate.

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After completing the Peekaboo Loop, we say farewell to the trees.

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In my next life, I want to be a hoodoo, too.

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Balance (Zion National Park)

Every symmetry needs to be broken.

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The tree up above stands on a pass that separates the Upper East Canyon in Zion National Park from the area south of it that eventually drops into Parunuweap Canyon. The casual tourist driving on route 9 will not wonder what else there is beyond the magnificent scenery that is accessible from the road. We did. The symmetric tree on the pass is not an indication what to expect.

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The way up through the sometimes narrow Checkerboard Mesa canyon is not difficult, and the view back from the pass is already rewarding.

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Turning around, the landscape opens up. We are on top of an intermediate mesa, and can stroll around, even climb some minor peaks.

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Few people come here, we had all this for ourselves. Still, there are regions higher up, not (yet) revealing their secrets to us.

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Then, this rock, put by chance upon much smaller support that did not erode away like everything else, and kept it in balance.

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So this is what we seek: Broken symmetry, but still balance.

Secret Passage (Utah)

Continuing the exploration of special places in Kodachrome State Park, here is the Secret Passage, on a optional side loop of the Panorama Trail.

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It is bordered by a tall vertical wall on one side, a sloping climbable rock on the other, and leads nowhere, symbolized by the two meaningless boulders.

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So what is special about this place? The texture of the vertical wall is so rich of detail and variation that I just stood there for a while, staring.

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Of course everything is mindnumpingly red.

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This reminded me of an exhibition of large format abstract paintings by Emil Schumacher that left me unimpressed until I discovered their textural richness.

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In both cases, the fractal-like richness of detail seems to provide a non-spatial third dimension to the otherwise mostly flat wall.

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Cool Cave (Utah)

This year was the fourth time that I spent Spring Break in Utah, and it has become a mixture of revisiting familiar places and exploring new ones. One of the new discoveries is the Kodachrome State Park, a detour for people traveling Highway 12, much less overwhelming than nearby Bryce National Park, but in a very positive way. I met just two other hikers on the 10 mile Panorama Trail. The landscape is serene and has many spots that feel special. Let’s begin with the most remote of them, the Cool Cave.

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The pine trees guard the narrow entrance and the color palette suddenly becomes monochrome.

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Inside, there is just one open space. One hears the wind and clicks from small rocks falling down. Apparently, sometimes the rocks can be larger, too.

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The simplicity of this description is deceiving.

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The view back to the cave entrance, for instance, could be the work of an artist. The tonality is miraculously supporting the depth of the image, and the interplay between light and rock offers ample material for contemplation.

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The Grand Gulch

Spring Break 1994 took me to Utah. After 24 hours in the car the landscape started to look like Max Ernst would have painted it.

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The entire week we (a group of eight members of CHAOS) would spend hiking through a large part of the Grand Gulch, a primitive area in the south eastern corner of Utah.

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This meant packing food for six days, and hoping that there would be enough water.

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Hiking through a canyon like this can be claustrophobic. After descending to the canyon floor, one is constantly surrounded by unclimbable walls, and the barren vegetation is little consolation.

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But of course the landscape is full of surprises, with new views at every turn. And then there are the Anasazi ruins.

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The Ancestral Puebloans (or Anasazi) were a large Native American civilization that disappeared after 1150 CE, likely due to a climate change. Not much is known about them, but in the Grand Gulch one can find their cliff dwellings and pictograms.
There are worse things to leave behind.

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Landscape Without Sky

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Of course this landscape has a sky. But everything in Zion National Park is so big that our human field of vision is somehow inappropriate.

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It’s like the romantic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich about which Heinrich von Kleist wrote that when looking at them, he felt like his eyelids had been cut away.

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After a while, the desire to grab the widest lens in the bag and to take it all in fades. We become aware of a landscapes full of still lives.

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This is in particular true for the eastern part of the park, where most hikes are off trail (and which is much less overcrowded).

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Navigating this terrain is fun, but one needs to be careful. What appears easily accessible can well end in sheer cliffs.

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Also, be sure to pack plenty of water. The trees will thank you for it.

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