This trip was my third visit to the National and State Parks in eastern Utah over the past six months. My first two trips to this area are briefly described here and here. On this third trip, I again visited the Colorado Riverway (Utah state highway 128), Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, and Dead Horse Point State Park. The earlier trips covered several well-known icons in these parks, and this trip re-visited some of them in different light.
This trip felt different than the first two, since these popular parks were more crowded and resulted in a less engaging experience. To get a more “natural” feeling, I also visited Capitol Reef NP and Dinosaur National Monument, both of which are much less visited.
To see more photos from this trip, please visit the Utah NP location gallery here. Click on any image below to see a larger version.
The weather forecast for this trip called for clear skies, so I was planning to make photos of the Milky Way above the canyons. However, Mother Nature had other plans. There was light snow falling as I drove east over Vail Pass, and heavy rain as I continued across the Colorado Western Slope. After camping at a BLM campground overnight, I awoke to rain on the first morning and was reminded that a prolonged, steady rain can make the 4Runner feel quite small. However, the stormy conditions gave rise to interesting clouds and storm light.
Later in the afternoon, I visited Arches NP and noticed that there were small groups of wildflowers scattered across the sandy soil in front of some of the rock formations. This was another fleeting benefit of the rains.
A strong storm passed through the park, after which the low-angled sunlight and dark clouds made for an interesting contrast.
The next morning was rainy again, so there were no Milky Way photo opportunities. After driving through Canyonlands and feeling a little discouraged, I decided to look for someplace less crowded and headed to Capitol Reef NP. The drive on US24 parallels the San Rafael Reef, an interesting wrinkle in the earth which is quite different from Arches and Canyonlands. My destination was the Cathedral Valley in the little-visited north end of Capitol Reef. I stopped at the park visitor center to ask about the road into the Valley, but the ranger said that they did not know of any visitors to that area in the past two weeks. Fortunately, the road was in good shape and the rains held off during my visit. I was able to drive to the Temple of the Sun in the southern part of the Valley, and camped near the formation to shoot a cloudy Milky Way and a bright sunrise.
There were no other visitors at the site, and it felt like there were no other living souls within 30 miles. This was the complete opposite of Arches and Canyonlands.
I drove north out of the Valley on a rough road over Thousand Lakes Mountain, and then north on the highways to Vernal, UT, where lightning and a roaring thunderstorm changed my plan from camping to motel. After a dry night and a hot breakfast, I visited Dinosaur National Monument. This park has so few visitors that the Visitor Center was locked up tight on a mid-May morning. The rain continued to follow me, and I waited for the fog to lift out of the Yampa and Green river valleys.
Although I was not able to make some of the Milky Way photos that I had planned, this was still a productive outing.
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