Four Corners Trip
May 23 to June 14, 2014
June is just about the last chance to visit the high plateaus and canyonlands of the Four Corners area before it gets too hot. I started the trip with a week in Las Vegas, which really doesn't hold much interest for me. But after that it was a wonderful trip, good weather and incredible scenery. I was especially pleased to revisit and re-photograph the Betatakin Ruin, Monument Valley, and Hovenweep. A short loop through the Rockies added variety near the end of the trip.
Although I was gone for over three weeks, the first week was at the conference, so the real traveling/photography time was only thirteen days. I made 162 panoramas.
(Click any picture to open a larger version.)
This trip began with one of my standard first-day drives, south on I-5, east over Tehachapi Pass to Barstow in the middle of the Mojave Desert, then north a few miles to Owl Canyon Campground. I spent two nights there, sunny and warm, very peaceful except for a little problem with bees that swarmed around the drain from my ice box and kept me trapped inside, then outside, my camper.
One of the few sporting events I follow is the annual Indianapolis 500 race, but it just didn't work out this time. I walked into a casino in Primm on the Nevada state line just in time to see it end - apparently the last ten minutes of the race was quite exciting, but I saw only the actual finish.
I checked into the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas to attend the IVRPA (International VR Photography Association) conference. A week of being with people all day and every evening exhausted my meager resource of sociability and by the end of the week I was desparate to get out of town and be alone for a while. I only took two panoramas in Las Vegas, and those only to try out my new Bushman tripod and pano head.
I drove directly from Las Vegas to the Kaibab Plateau, north of the Grand Canyon. I turned onto a side road at Jacob Lake, then a minor road branching off that, then a set of wheel tracks into the forest. It was beautiful and peaceful, an open pine forest and nobody around for miles, just me and a single shy Kaibab squirrel.
I spent three days without stirring from that remote camping place in the Kaibab forest, doing very little. On the fourth day I made a trip to the North Rim, took a few panos, filled my water tank, bought cold beer and ice, then returned to my secret spot for another night.
From the cool forested Kaibab Plateau I dropped into the red desert and followed the Vermillion Cliffs to Lee's Ferry on the Colorado. Across the Navajo Bridge, north to Page, then back across the river at Glen Canyon Dam, into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on Lake Powell.
I made a few panoramas at Glen Canyon Dam, backtracked a bit to Horseshoe Bend, then drove through the Navajo Indian Reservation to Navajo National Monument.
The next day, at Navajo National Monument, I joined the ranger-guided hike down into Tsegi Canyon and up to the alcove sheltering the Betatakin Ruin. I had done this hike before, but by a different route, and was startled to find that this recently re-opened trail descended hundereds of feet on steps, partly cut out of a sheer cliff face.
I considered camping at Gouldings, but it was crowded and very hot, so I checked into a motel in Kayenta. It was in fact my only solo motel stay of the entire summer.
I spent the morning driving the loop road at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. A band of clouds passed over and added some drama to the skies, but midday light is not ideal for photographing this spectacular landscape.
From there I wandered north through Mexican Hat and the historic town of Bluff, both on the San Juan River, and arrived at Hovenweep in time to take a series of panoramas in the beautiful evening light.
Before leaving Hovenweep I made another circuit of the little canyon, shooting panos in the morning light. Then on to remote Painted Hand Pueblo, the Lowry Pueblo with its great kiva, and the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores. From there the road led me north into the Rockies over Lizard Head Pass, and up a side road to Ophir.
After a supply stop in Telluride I found this campground in the San Miguel Range, a few miles to the west. I arrived just as a thunderstorm let loose, and immediately hunkered down for the night.
The weather cleared as I drove down from the campground and back up the canyon to Telluride, a nicely restored mining town, very lively. I considered driving past the Pandora Mine to the waterfall and over the pass, but the summit was still blocked by snow.
The rest of this day was spent following the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway through interesting country but under threatening skies, north all the way to Grand Junction.
The logical route from the Grand Valley was to follow the Colorado River into the series of canyons that lead to Moab. I was disappointed to see that the historic Dewey Bridge had been destroyed by fire. I took a short walk at Fisher Towers, which really require morning light for optimal photography. There was a continuous procession of float trips making their way down this relatively tame stretch of river.
From Moab I returned to I-70 and followed it right through the San Rafael Swell into the Pahvant Range.
I have driven past Fremont Indian State Park many times, but this time I had a look around before moving on. This was remote country until the interstate was rammed through, and the park is intended to somewhat mitigate the damage.
At this point I decided that I had been on the road long enough, and began the drive home. I encountered heavy traffic in Provo, and gale force winds across the Great Salt Lake, but made it to Wells in time for dinner.
The wind died overnight and it was an easy drive from Wells to the Bay Area the last day, 540 miles in less than eight hours.