A trip to the Grand Escalante Staircase

Richard Charpentier Airstream Blogs, Arizona, hiking, Notes from Rich, Photography Leave a Comment


The obligitory photo of Horseshoe Bend. I HDR'd the tar out of it just for giggles, and because everyone takes this photo.

Home again, home again.  And a day early to boot.  Not happy about that part, but there it is.

Thursday morning I set off with the Airstream in tow to points unknown.  I had a few ideas in mind and decided to wing it like I used to when traveling the country.  Set a direction and then see where you land.

Of course, I had a few spots in mind.  Cortez Colorado and a visit to a few favorite locations was on the list.  Canyon De Chelly or Monument Valley.  And finally, the AZ / UT border to explore photo locations for an upcoming trip.

By the time I reached Flagstaff I had made my decision.  The AZ / UT border!

I’ve mentioned on the blog previously that it takes a few trips to get a good idea of what I’m shooting.  Is that a sign of a bad photographer?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that the first time I photographed fire dancers I sucked.  The second time things improved because I learned from the first time.  The third time was even better!  Each time I practice I improve and learn more about how I want to shoot a situation.

With that in mind, I decided a prep visit for the next trip was in order.  Plus I have several friends coming along, and I wanted to make sure I knew the area well enough so we can enjoy our photo opportunities and spend as little time roaming around in the truck as possible.


Into Coyotoe Buttes North. 3 exposure HDR

From the “preparation” perspective the trip was a complete success.  From a personal, “Gosh I wish I could have photographed that” perspective it wasn’t super successful.  I did cut the trip short a day early to boot, and that’s a little disappointing.  If you haven’t watched the podcast yet, check out Episode 8.  I’m picking on myself a bit as I couldn’t for the life of me find the trail head for Yellow Rock…….sad, but true.

Not feeling well this morning or yesterday morning.  I have a sneaking suspicion that I got food poisoning the other night. My poor gut….and what a ride home!

Thursday early after noon I arrived at the Paria Canyon Guest Ranch.  The place has a few RV sites, camping sites, a bunk house, and horse back riding.  Easton, the owner, has a very cool spot and a great launching point for folks who want to explore the Vermillion Cliffs, Coyote Buttes, and Cottonwood Canyon Road.  If you’re not an RVer that’s ok.  Bunkhouse, keep that one in mind!

During my trip I had the opportunity to visit the Coyote Buttes area, Cottonwood Canyon Road, Hackberry Canyon, and a few other random spots.  The upcoming trip will be covering Coyote Buttes South and Yellow Rock.  We’ve got 2 full days of shooting time and 2 days of travel time scheduled.  Not much time, that’s why I decided to go exploring over the weekend.

The truly maddening part of my explorations?  Yellow Rock.  Heck, I did a podcast dedicated to finding Yellow Rock.

Now, I’m not blind.  I did see Yellow Rock in the distance from several angles.  Heck, I saw it hiking into Hackberry Canyon.  But for the life of me, I just couldn’t find the trailhead.

It’s at this point I really need to say something about letting other people’s concerns impact me.  See, two times on the trip I let other folks discourage me.  Once in Coyote Buttes, which I’ll write about another time, and the other discouragement came while searching for the trail head to Yellow Rock.  See, while hunting for the trail head I ran into a German tourist who was also looking for the Yellow Rock trail head.


Into Hackberry Canyon

I explained to the gentleman from Germany that I was looking for the trail for Yellow Rock.  He too was looking for Yellow Rock and had parked in a different spot than I had so he was walking up the wash toward the canyon.  He looked at the slope I was looking at and didn’t believe the trail was there.  The book I was using, Photographing the Southwest, said 300 yards south of the mouth of the Hackberry, and up a 45 degree slope.  I thought I was close, but after talking with the tourist I went off with him to look for the trail closer to the canyon.

When I returned to my Airstream I went online with my Blackberry and found the trail GPS location.  I was so close to the trail head it wasn’t funny!  Seriously, had I gone a little South of where I was looking I would have found the wash I was looking for, and I would have gotten up to Yellow Rock (I GPS’d my search area).  My own fault for getting discouraged by someone who had no more expertise on the area than I did.

I know exactly where the trail head is now.  On the upcoming return trip we’ll have an easy time locating the climb.  From there, who knows what we’ll find.  From what I could see of Yellow Rock I think we’ll have a great time.  It looks so cool!  I wish I had seen it on this trip, but oh well, things happen!

Before the trail frustrations occurred I did explore other areas.  Hackberry Canyon was extremely cool, and it will be worth another visit.  Cottonwood Canyon Road deserves a few days of exploration……..

Actually, the entire Grand Escalante Staircase deserves more time.

Have you ever been somewhere the earth was just ripped up, pulled apart, and then pushed up?  No?  You should see this area  Jagged outcroppings, pushed up rock formations, tears in the earth itself.  Driving along Cottonwood Canyon Road stunned me the entire way.  I felt like I was driving in a fault line!  The slopes above me looked unstable, ready to tear apart further.  What a landscape.

I’ve seen aerial photos of the area, just crazy stuff!


The land along Cottonwood Canyon Road seems to be pushed up toward the sky

So, there’s the quick trip wrap up.  Some nice photos, a lot of off road driving, and ideas for the next trip.  I’m looking forward to September 26th to be sure!

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