Zion National Park from Wire Pass viewpoint. UT.
We have family in Southern Utah, and usually for the holidays, we travel down to see them not only to reunite, but to refresh our spirit and vary our perceptions through the natural colors, textures, and formations so different than here in the Pacific Northwest. Warmth versus cold, red rock, sunshine, and blue skies. Day trips with family to see their favorite places, and to discover new ones.
The very light is different in the Southwest as well. Brighter, more vibrant, certainly multicolored. Not better, but different, and seeing a different landscape of sun, context and shadow is always a terrific way to refresh my attitude and how I view nature and life’s next steps.
I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may—light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.”
– John Constable
Aztec Limestone, Valley of Fire State Park, NV.
I have a good friend in Western Colorado (also a photographer) who has family just down the road from us in Oregon. For the holidays, he is often headed my way while we are moving south. He texted me to see if we could get together while he was up here. And if we could spend a day looking for short-eared owls at Fir Island in Skagit County? If you have been following my photography, you know this is one of my favorite places. And while I have taken dozens of great landscape and bird images there, and know the owl is present, I have never seen one close enough to get a picture. So how happy was I to learn that on my friend’s one day there, he not only viewed the owl, but got a photo of it!
Headed for Vegas. Leaving Valley of Fire SP. NV.
Actually, I was thrilled for him, but wondered at his decision to come here during winter? Sure, come after the July 4th holiday when we have nearly perfect weather until mid-October, but late November? Raincoats, boots, down jackets and extra vitamin D is more the norm this time of year.
Big Horn Sheep. Valley of Fire SP.
I mean come on! Grand Junction has 245 days of sun each year (Bellingham has only 157, well below the national average of 205), it is the sunniest city in Colorado and one-day sunnier than Tampa, Florida. And while I was happy for him, I did spend my first day back hunting for that owl and trying to one-up my friend. Didn’t happen (again)! Revenge will require going to Colorado, and trying to keep up with him as he hikes and snowshoes through the San Juan Range of the Rockies! Will be trading vitamin-D for oxygen.
Petroglyphs in the Mouse's Tank, Valley of Fire SP.
You can see how my friend masters that light, shadow, mountains and high-elevation flora in Silverton, Telluride and Ouray at Ouray Images.
Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. UT 2020.
So where was I before this rabbit hole? Yep, Southern Utah. Along with the wonderful Thanksgiving apple pies, stuffing and turkey, and a visit with our goddaughter and her family, we got in some great hikes. We traveled out to Wire Mesa, Bureau of Land Management property, and a great mountain bike area with phenomenal views of West Temple and East Temple in nearby Zion National Park. Wire Mesa is just east of Gooseberry Mesa, both great mountain bike areas with Gooseberry being just a bit more difficult (and a long time since we have had our bikes there). The view from Wire Mesa is a happy place for my sister and brother-in-law, and now for us!
Petroglyphs in Canyonlands National Park. 2020.
On our final morning, we were out the door before six, headed south so see if we could catch sun-up in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park. It is about an hour and a half down there, and we just missed first-light, but still were in time to get the reds and shadows that makes this place so amazing. We love flying into Vegas, as it is a great entryway into the many National Parks in the Southwest. And while we can be side-tracked by a show, most often we rent a car and head immediately out to the deserts and canyons. If you find yourself in Vegas, it is really worth a day exploring Valley of Fire. It is less than an hour out of town, but you will want to spend most of the day out there viewing the Aztec sandstone, petrified trees and 2,000 year-old petroglyphs (I promise!). Best time to visit is not summer. There is a reason it is called Valley of Fire, and 111 degrees is the hottest recorded temperature.
Moon over Canyonlands. 2020.