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The Coyote Buttes Trip Day 2, Part 1: Paw Hole by default

Richard Charpentier Arizona, Canon Cameras, hiking, Notes from Rich, Off Road Adventures, Photography, RLC Design Leave a Comment

Before I get into this post I totally forgot to mention something from first day.  As we made our way into the Paw Hole area to scout we saw a coyote run across the road.  I exclaimed, “Coyote.”  Moments later we saw a huge cow sitting under a tree and I exclaimed, “Cow Yote.”

I just thought you should know how funny I really am………

Alright, with the comedy bit out of the way (don’t ask about the Jack Rabbit), let’s talk about the first half of day 2.  Things didn’t start out the way we had planned, but that happens.

Josh’s IPhone and my IPod touch were setup as alarm clocks for the morning.  At 4:30 an annoying little sound effect woke me up in my tent.  I didn’t know where the snooze was on the IPod touch, so I was up.  Across the way I heard Josh moving around in his tent.  The IPhone had gone off as well.  All the commotion told Tom it was time to get out of his tent too.  Ah, mornings in camp.  Ken was a different story.  He was at the next site over, and our movement didn’t stir him immediately.  Lucky guy.  But honestly, he wasn’t far behind us.

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Early into the Paw Hole hike heading due West I found this interesting framing. HDR, 3 shots.

After a quick breakfast setup we loaded up in the vehicles and headed out.  The plan?  Cottonwood Cove for sunrise, Paw Hole for sunset.  That was the plan.  It didn’t work out……..

As we made our way out it became apparent quickly that the sun was moving around our planet extra fast.  It was coming up quicker than we thought.  Clearly we got up too late, got rolling too late, or a combination.  No way we’d make sunrise at Cottonwood Cove.  So, at the last possible moment we changed our plans.  Paw Hole became the goal for the morning!

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The sun hadn't peaked into this area yet. That's me checking out the rocks in a self portrait HDR

Like the night before, the Titan was parked about 1.2 miles in as advised by the ranger person.  I still thought I could make it, but figured I’d err on the side of caution.  We unloaded the truck quickly and piled into Ken’s Jeep.  Tom and Josh sat in back without a seat.  Ken had left that home in order to bring more gear……c’est la vie!

In no time at all we were in Paw Hole.  Everybody jumped out of the Jeep and started getting ready.  Josh was the first one into the Paw Hole permit area, and I wasn’t too far behind.  Then Tom made his way in, and finally Ken.  The sun was starting to light different formations, but many toward the west were still in shade, and that’s the direction Josh started heading.  In the interest of sticking with the pack, I followed him, and Tom followed behind.  Ken stayed near the Paw Hole Teepees, and we didn’t see him for a while.

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Josh shooting the banding as the sun rises.

As I caught up with Josh he’d move along.  Looking for that right light, that right shot, etc.  I was doing the same, but I was also checking everything out.  Coyote Buttes is a place I’ve wanted to see since the 90’s.  Good old Backpacker Magazine……

I meandered and Tom caught up.  We shot in one outcropping for a while, then followed where Josh had headed.  We were moving due west, then we started to move north.  I was looking for a way up and in.  And I wasn’t seeing it.

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A scene that cried out to be captured when Tom and I got deeper into Paw Hole. This is a 3 exposure HDR

As we rounded the next bend I completely lost track of Josh.  I yelled for him a few times, and Tom answered each time.  Go figure.  I told Tom I’d lost track of Josh, but I didn’t worry too much.  He had one of the radios, Ken had another.  The other two were back in my truck as there was a bit of rushing when I was packing up.  In other words, I was going too slow at the truck.  Ah well.  I had my GPS, marked the parking lot, and knew I was good.  Tom was sticking with me as we’d hiked together before, so we were all good.

After failing to find a way up and in we made our way back to the entrance to Paw Hole, then moved around the eastern edge.  The lighting was much better, and we quickly found a way up into the formations.  We also bumped into Ken, invited him along with us, but he soon disappeared on his own again.  This would later bite us in the ass.

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Enjoying our first location on the eastern side I decided a self portrait in explorer mode was appropriate. Presented as shot.

Tom and I spent a long time in each spot shooting.  Changing light, looking all around, really taking things in.  Plus we were already getting tired.  See, if you’re not on slickrock, your in sand.  Deep sand.  And trudging in deep sand can wear you out fast!!!  Really fast.

Fortunately we rounded a bend and saw an amazing scene.  Best of all, it was downhill from where we were.  We’d deal with the uphill on the way back.  The landscape laid out before us was beyond amazing, and it drove us to forget the dune walking.  In no time (half a mile) we were into a pocket that blew our minds.

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It might not be the "Wave", but it sure worked for me. Presented as shot.

Now, Paw Hole doesn’t have the infamous “Wave” formation, but what we found was a wave all the same.  The banding, the curves, the colors…….truly amazing!  We reached the formation quickly and sat down for a second breakfast in the shade.  The sun had not yet fully lit the area, so we had time.  I also took a few minutes to make the first video of the trip!

After our short rest, Tom and I set about shooting.  Too many angles, too many possibilities, and not enough time.  That summed up our time in this particular pocket.  I could return again and again looking for new opportunities.  And remember, this is one small fraction of what Coyote Buttes and Paw Hole have to offer!

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Moving out of our "mini wave" we found even more photogenic sites along the way. Presented as shot.

More than 30 minutes after finding our little gem we moved on.  South and west up above the formation.  We wanted to go up.  You know, to see what’s around.  And as we made our way out of the low lying spot we found more angles and views on the area that went beyond wowing us.

Finally we reached a pinnacle of sorts.  The dune we’d climbed brought us up above one of the areas we shot earlier in the morning.  We could see the teepees in the distance, and even the parked Jeep.  We could not see Ken or Josh though, and that was concerning, so we made our way down.

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Moving out of the "wave" we found more opportunities to play with shots. Presented as shot.

As we pushed back toward the Jeep we continued shooting.  And we took our time.  A very steep sand dune helped us take our time by exhausting us.  Every step was hard.  Step, slide back, sink in, repeat.  Shoes were filled with fine dirt, legs became tired pulling out of deep sand with each movement forward.  And things were heating up.  Wow, what a workout.

Finally, we reached our first spot on the eastern side and kicked back in some shade once more.  Still no sign of Josh or Ken.

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Seriously, if you're not on slickrock you're in deep sand. The dunes go right up to the formations, and it's hard walking! Presented as shot.

In the distance we heard a truck’s motor, then a horn beep.  Someone was driving through.  Looked like a pickup truck.  Hmmmmm…..the Titan could have made it.  I’d later learn that it could have made it and should have made it.  Lessons in off roading.  But that’s another story for another post.

Tom and I rallied once again after a much needed rest and began the last leg out of Paw Hole.  We were looking forward to sitting down at the Jeep with Josh and Ken to see what they found, where they’d gone, and take a look at their camera’s play backs.  As we made our way toward the parking area we ran into a group of Germans (consistent theme up there lately…..Germans are visiting in a big way) and asked them if they’d see our compatriots.  Indeed they had!  Hooray, everyone was okie dokie!

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If you haven't noticed, I'm putting forward the sand dune theme. Presented as shot.

Finishing our walk out we arrived at the parking area to quite a surprise.  No Jeep.  No Josh.  No Ken.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  Bupkiss.

I looked at Tom and he looked at me.  What do we do?  Hike back to the truck.  Wait to see if the Jeep would return.  Where did the Jeep go?  No note, no message, no clues.  We figured Ken might have gotten bored waiting for us and checked out the road to Cottonwood Cove, but we weren’t sure.  And we didn’t know how long ago the Jeep left, if it was just Ken, etc, etc, etc.

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A tight squeeze that I didn't try. Walked around instead. Presented as shot.

We decided to wait.  40 minutes.  We were just about to start walking to the truck when we heard a vehicle in the distance.  Sounded like Ken’s Jeep.  And to our great relief it was!  I was ticked.  Actually, beyond ticked.

Ken explained he wanted to check the road toward Poverty Flat and Cottowood Cove.  They actually drove all the way to Cottonwood to check it out for our evening’s photography.  Ken thought the Titan would do better on the long way in, and that’s what we decided to do later.

We went back to the Titan, loaded up, and headed back to camp for some lunch.  Josh told us his harrowing story.  Plain and simple, he got lost.  He trucked on ahead assuming we were behind him.  Tom and I just weren’t moving that fast, Ken was way back near the parking area, and rather than running along at a strong clip I wanted to slow down and find the things I wanted to see.  After we totally lost track of him, Tom and I had a decision to make.  We chose to photograph and ask Ken to contact Josh on the radio (which we did do, and Ken guided Josh in).

In all honesty, we violated several rules that I’ve always lived by when hiking in unfamiliar places.  We didn’t keep the group together, we weren’t even within earshot, and communication was poor at best.  Now, when I’m out I’m not looking to wrangle the crowd.  We’re all responsible adults who should know what our limits are.  But I did screw up because I knew better than letting the group seperate so quickly without talking about where folks were going, what they were doing, etc.

The second screw up……taking off in the vehicle while leaving half the party behind.  Personally I was floored.  I’ve never had that happen on any trip I’ve participated in, and I’ll be sure that it won’t occur again on any future trips.  Like I said, communication was poor.  In the end, we were fortunate to get back to camp and all enjoy a lunch together.  Lessons learned we got ready for the second part of our day, which will be continued in part two of this post……….

Note:  The photos in this post are a mix.  4 HDRs, and the rest, straight out of the camera without any edits or post processing.  I still haven’t had time to really sort, select favorites, etc.  Fortunately we visited such an amazing place that most of the photos are wowing me.  Can’t wait to sit down and really get into the shots.  Stay tuned for the next post, and don’t forget, podcasts will be coming too!

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