Capitol Reef and Great Basin

Preface:  Unless otherwise noted, the shots in this post are only those taken with my digital camera.  The photos made with my film camera will be displayed in my “Gallery” pages after I have them developed and scanned in the Colorado lab.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015:

You and Me and Rain on the Roof 

It’s noon, and I’m in my top bunk, listening to the “Deep Tracks” channel on SiriusXM, and to the rain hitting the roof. I’m the only one parked in the free Cathedral campground at the northwestern end of Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, where I arrived yesterday just before sunset. I haven’t seen a soul since I arrived in the park, which is maybe not surprising, since it’s raining and the road is suitable only for 4×4 vehicles, headed by a sign that says, “Roads may be impassable due to storms.” It’s been raining ever since dinner last night, loud enough to need earplugs to sleep.  But there’s no smoke and no smog and it’s a cool 64 degrees at about 7,000 feet elevation, and it’s a beautiful, wild landscape. And I heard an owl early this morning. And the alpine air smells wild and sweet.  After Gordon and I came here in May this year, I had wanted to return to get more photos of this magical place.

I left Salt Lake City two days ago, after my iced latte at Starbucks to celebrate the installation of my roof-lifting struts. (They really do make a difference, doubts over which worried me before; now, someone with much less upper-body strength could lift the roof with much less trouble). I arrived in Torrey on Monday night, had a tasty and spicy chicken dinner with corn-on-the-cob (and Negra Modelo!) at Capitol Reef Inn and Cafe, then crashed at the nearby RV campground. After consulting with the Capitol Reef NP visitors center the next day (yesterday), I headed on an unpaved road towards a primitive campground about 30 miles south called “Cedar Mesa.” It’s a road I hadn’t tried before.

I never saw a sign for the campground, so I found myself arriving at the Burr Trail turnoff for the town of Boulder, in Escalante National Monument, where Gordon and I visited last May. I decided to make the loop through Boulder (for a pina colada yogurt smoothie at the Burr Trail Trading Post) and back north to Torrey and up Rte. 72 and camp here, instead of re-tracing my route. Judging from the road running past it, Cedar Mesa was likely to be pretty sun-drenched in 90-degree weather, anyway, and I’m not in the mood for heat, and neither are the camper batteries that run the fridge.

The sun in this northern end of Capitol Reef was obscured by clouds yesterday, and I’ve been hunkered down in my camper since then, so I’ve taken no photos, and I’ve been thinking of leaving, since it’s really socked in and looks like this rain will last.

1:00 PM: Yeah, I’m outta here. Here’s what it looks like around here in the rain, from inside my truck:

sockedin    highcows   dyingtree1close

8:20 PM. Surprise! I’m back in Cathedral campground, and I just ate dinner, and it’s socked in. I’m still the only visitor since yesterday. I did drive the 20 miles or so to Loa this afternoon, intending to head for Great Basin National Park in Nevada. But a pit stop at the Texaco station in Loa changed my mind. The attendant said that the weather report alleges the sun will emerge this afternoon, so I returned to camp, hoping to see the “cathedral” spires in the valley from the overlook, which was impossible earlier today due to low clouds.

Upon arriving at the overlook I was excited to see the cloud bank had lifted above the valley. It was still cloudy overhead, with little sunlight making it through. I got some valley shots from 5 PM to 7:30 PM. The overcast day made for less contrast, which was easier to shoot without exposure wash-outs, but also less warm and inviting:

Eden1    SpireCloseup    Eden2Sunset

EarlySunsetCapitol     Eden3Sunset   SpiresCloseUp

As I shot I could hear a lone coyote in the distance to my left, yelping and whining occasionally. Other than that it was dead quiet.

As soon as I drove back to camp and popped up the roof, it started to rain again. I intend to wake at 5:30 AM and see if I can get some sunrise shots of the valley from the overlook. It appeared to me, using my compass, that the sun should hit the cathedral spires at sunrise (due at 7 AM or so), or within a few minutes afterwards.  Even if the sun hits them only in profile instead of head-on, they should still present a pretty picture.

Thursday, August 27, 2015:

Get Me to the Church on Time

My iPad alarm went off on time, at 5:30, but I was already awake, thinking about the upcoming morning. I secured the camp items, dropped the roof and clamped it down, and left the camp at 6 AM.  I was still the only visitor.  When I arrived at the overlook about 15 minutes away, I was pleased to see no clouds to speak of.  I set up my tripod on the overlook, composed my first shot, and waited for sunrise.

It was so quiet that hearing my stomach rumble startled me. At first I thought it was a large, foraging mammal in the juniper bushes!  So, I took a quick break and walked back to the camper about 100 feet away and fixed a bowl of cereal. I got back to my tripod with about 5 minutes to spare.  At 7 AM, right on schedule, the sun’s first rays started to hit the Cathedral Valley cliffs and foreground, and I started shooting:

CathedralSunrise1    SunriseCapitol3    SunriseCapitol2
By 7:45 the best “magic hour” light was gone, so I packed up and headed for Loa again to gas up and buy a few groceries. I’ve still seen no other visitors in the park since I arrived Tuesday afternoon!  I’ll be back!  I want to shoot the “Temples” again, in another part of the valley I saw last May.  My plan is to arrive in Great Basin National Park in plenty of time to scout potential photo ops for sunset and sunrise in the limited time I’ve given myself. On the way to Loa I shot some local fauna from my window:

stripecows    stripecowswide

“Tags? We don’t need no stinkin’ tags! We got our own, natural ID that everyone can see from a mile away.” – Cattle in Fremont, UT, reminding me of the cover of a favorite album from 1970.

Again in Fremont, I shot these horses mainly for Gary’s benefit:

HorsesWalkngHorsesLooking “You know, my muddah was a mudder.”

“Your mother was a mudder?”

“What’d I just say?”


The drive through Nevada, as usual, is borrrinngg:

Outback    Nevada   windview

Truly the American version of the Australian outback, it’s driving in Nevada when audio books are literally a life-saver.  But I did conduct some tests of my gas mileage at various speeds, one advantage of long and perfectly straight and level roads.  And I did determine that the recent addition of a wind deflector made a positive, surprisingly substantial difference of 2 mpg, not to mention a smoother ride.

Great Basin National Park is one I’d never seen, and it’s a charming place in the middle of nowhere, Nevada.  It was cloudy, with no stars visible, but the air was clean.  No smoke, no smog.  I found the perfect campsite right away: Campsite #1 at about 7,500 feet elevation in Upper Lehman Creek Campground. It has perfectly level parking, it’s private, the restroom is right across the campground road, and only a stone’s throw behind it is Lehman Creek, with perfectly spaced trees for a hammock:

BasinCamp    BasinHammock   CampDeer

A deer picked its way through my campsite, not 30 feet from me, and I quickly and quietly grabbed my camera that I had left on the passenger seat in the truck.  I had the deer perfectly framed and shot it broadside, but my camera wouldn’t shoot.  I was sure the camera was turned on, and tried to shoot again, but no go, until a 10-second delay.  When I realized that I hadn’t disengaged the self-timer for the selfie of me in the hammock, the deer was almost gone, and all I could get was its rear-end as it walked away.  I’ve done this bonehead maneuver before.  Nikon should time the self-timer setting so it reverts to normal after 5 minutes.

I prefer rustic campsites like these, but RV campgrounds do have their moments.  At the KOA in Salt Lake City on Sunday night, after I popped up the roof and settled in my campsite, I took a little walk around the place and ran into a woman with a cat on a leash. “Walking your cat?” I asked rhetorically. “More like he’s walking me,” she said.  We chatted for about 10 minutes when I told her I’d been thinking about getting a cat myself for traveling, and she recommended it. She told me that she sometimes leaves “Sammy” alone in her RV for up to 10 hours with no problem. One advantage she has: A 50-foot mobile home. My truck is only 19 feet long. But she did say that Sammy was a year old when he got used to a leash within a week, and now he loves to go for walks and jumps up eagerly at the sight of the leash.  I wish I had the presence of mind to take their picture. I’ve got to get used to carrying my camera around more often, you just never know what you’ll run into.

The Park Service has an astronomical program at night here, so apparently the stars are known to be prominent here, when the conditions are right. Tonight is too cloudy, but it’s worth chalking this place up for future visits. Who knows, maybe the Milky Way will show itself to me here one day.  I would like to come back here and do a morning hike near Wheeler Peak.  There is a 3-mile loop trail around some lakes up there.  I drove all the way up the mountain road to 10,000 feet today, and the views and environment are fantastic.  Only $12 per night per vehicle, until Oct. 3rd, when a lifetime senior pass cuts my camping cost in half.  There is no entrance fee here, but that would be waved with the pass, anyway.

Friday, August 28, 2015:

Time Waits for No One

Another bonehead maneuver:  I set the iPad alarm for 5:30 AM the next morning, to give me plenty of time (1.5 hours) to get to my overlook for sunrise, which I knew was scheduled for 7:00 AM.  I woke up naturally an hour before the alarm, so I went back to sleep.  When the alarm went off, I was shocked to see how light it was outside already.  Then I realized:  I had crossed into Pacific Time when I drove into Nevada from Utah yesterday.  My analog dive-watch now said 6:30, set to Mountain Time (Idaho and Utah), but my iPad said only 5:30, because my cell-phone-enabled digital iPad knew it was now in Nevada.  The 7 AM sunrise was for western Utah, not eastern Nevada, and from the overlook that I picked for this morning’s shots, I could see the Utah mountain over which the sun would rise at 6 AM Nevada-time.  Only thirty minutes from now!

I rushed to break camp, booked up the road for 5 minutes, and made it to my sunrise overlook with 10 minutes to spare.  It was at about 8,500 feet elevation:

SunriseTruck   SunriseOverlook   NevadaSunrise   TruckSunrise2

I then headed immediately for Baker, the town just outside the park.  I had almost seven hours of driving ahead of me to Boise, and I needed gasoline.  Baker was still sleeping, and no service station was in sight, anyway.  The next town was Ely, which was 62 miles away.  My dashboard computer said I had 100 miles left in my gas tank, so I headed to Ely with confidence.  On the way to Idaho I shot another scene out of my truck’s window, on the fly:

Waxin1   Waxin2

Raisin’ it up, waxin’ it down.  Looks like that tycoon, F. V. Zappa, expanded his operations from Montana to Nevada.  (“Just look at the ears on that crop we have this year, Adelaide!  It’s almost time for harvesting!”)




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