This month's photo expedition found us scouring the landscapes of Southern Utah. See my Utah gallery for select fine art images from this trip at www.gregclurephotography.com/utah. A geologically rich area, this portion of the state is part of the Colorado Plateau. Once under a shallow inland sea for millions of years, these sedimentary layers were uplifted as the Pacific Plate slides under the North American Plate. As the area rose, the sea was drained and erosion began to form this unique landscape. One of the best examples of this erosion is at Bryce Canyon National Park, our first base camp for this nine day trip. Bryce Canyon is best photographed in the early morning hour before and just after sunrise as its east facing hoodoos, spires, and cliffs often are lit-up as if on fire from the rays of the rising sun. In addition to the main road overlook stops of Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration and Bryce Point all with spectacular views into Bryce’s main ampatheater, we also took in the sights of the southernmost viewpoints of Yovimpai and Rainbow Point and the many stops in between. We had the time to take a few scenic day hikes starting with the Navajo and Queen’s Garden Trail loops descending the Navajo Trail at Sunset Point and exiting through Queen’s Garden and out Sunrise Point. Another day, we did the Fairyland Trail from Fairyland Point to Sunrise Point six miles away. Fortunately we had two cars and we were able to shuttle back and did not have to hike the 3 mile rim trail to our car parked at Fairyland Point. One other short hike that we did was the Bristlecone Pine Loop at the southern most view points of Yovimpai and Rainbow Points. Our last hike in the area was in the far northern part of the park to an area known as Mossy Cave. This trail head is accessed outside the main park to the east just off Hwy 12. The short trail leads to a natural spring that percolates through the sandstone in an alcove overhang filled with hanging ferns and mosses. A spur trail leads up the perennial creek to a nice waterfall. Also in the general area, we explored a few state parks that should not be missed, most notably, Red Canyon and Kodachrome Basin. Red Canyon while on a smaller scale offers richer red hoodoos and cliffs than its larger brother Bryce Canyon. We did a few short trails in this park to get a good feeling for what it had to offer. While Kodachrome Basin is entirely different and offers some unique sandstone monoliths and sand pipes--spectacular rock columns forming surreal spires reaching for the sky. While this was mostly a car tour, we did take a couple of short hikes one to Shakespeare Arch and another nature trail near the parks campground. Our second base camp was located in the small town of Escalante on the north central edge of The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. From this location we were able to explore Hole-in-the-Rock Road which runs for 55 miles starting five miles east of town and dead-ends at Lake Powell. The road is named after the Mormon pioneer expedition in 1879 which had to cut a primitive route through the cliffs near the Colorado River for their wagons to pass. This gravel road runs parallel to the Escalante River drainage and offers numerous canyons, waterfalls, slot canyons, arches, bridges and bizarre rock formations to photograph. A good example of the later would be Devil's Garden, located about 12 miles down this road. This area which is just off the main road has an abundance of petrified sand dunes, weirdly shaped monoliths, small arches and colorful hoodoos. But our main objective in this area was to explore several of the more notable slot canyons which require day hikes with round trips from 3 to 7 miles. Our first slot adventure took us to the Zebra Canyon drainage a short but stunning slot canyon with alternating layers of red and white sandstone walls punctuate with moqui marbles. Unexpected, this slot is home to a local bird which nests on a flat ledge about five feet off the ground near the end of the passable section. During our visit, a baby was occupying the nest which appeared to be a week or two from flying. In the same area but about a mile down the wash we entered tunnel slot, another short slot canyon with the best part being almost completely enclosed at the top forming a tunnel. While July is one of the hotter months to be exploring this area, it was our experience that if you leave early enough most of the hiking can be completed in the cool, early hours of the day with only the end of the hike out being uncomfortable. Most days we were back at the trail head by noon. Of course, the one main advantage to summer hiking the slots is no mud or deep water holes to trek through, all the slots we went through were completely dry. Our next slot canyon adventure found us on the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch, starting with the narrows of the Dry Fork, this slot canyon seeming goes on forever. With walls about 70 feet high the narrows range from 5 to 15 feet wide as it slowly twist and turns away from the Gulch. A little further downstream from the Dry Fork is Peek-a-boo slot canyon. One of the most twisty and narrow slots we have ever been in as well as one of the more difficult slots to traverse. Although no special equipment was needed, we found ourselves, crawling though, around, and over many of the stunning features in this slot canyon. I would have to imagine that the presence of water in this canyon would only add to the difficulty of exploration and if there were a significant flow would make it impossible. One of the more spectacular features in this slot was near the entrance, a rare double arch bridge. A little further up, a narrow hole that required you to go through or over and many sharp twist and turns throughout this slot canyon make for a really fun time. Although we did not get to it this trip, Spooky Slot is located about a half mile further downstream form Peek-a-boo and as its name suggests is often quite dark and not all that easy to photograph. Since most days we were out of the slots by noon, we had the rest of the day to see a few more state parks as well as take in some scenic drives along Highway 12, the Burr Trial and Hell's Backbone Road. Just west of Escalante we saw some excellent examples of petrified wood at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and just to the north of Boulder we were immersed in the culture of the Anasazi at Anasazi State Park. The Burr Trial cuts through the northeasten part of the Escalante Monument and ends in Capitol Reef National Park where it connects to the Norton-Bullfrog Road. The beginning of the trail (from Boulder) offers some excellent examples of Navajo petrified sand dunes with extreme cross-bedding and interesting striations. Further down the road comes Deer Creek, a gorgeously cottonwood covered canyon and state campground. A little further down the Burr Trail finds the 7-mile gorge of Long Canyon. At this point we turned around and headed back to our Escalante base camp via Hell's Backbone. This scenic road traverses the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness which culminates in the 9000 foot high view of the Box with cliffs peppered with short squat pines stunted due to their precariously weathered locations. This is a beautifully forested drive for most of the way with abundant deer and other wildlife sightings along with meadows of wildflowers. Highway 12 from Escalante to Boulder is a very scenic drive as it climbs up slick rock and through the higher Grand Staircase cliffs as well as along the Escalante River Canyon before entering the highly photogenic Calf Creek area. Unfortunately, we were not able to hike to the lower Calf Creek Falls area due to construction in and around the Calf Creek Campground and Trail Head. (Looks like we will be making a trip back to this area in the near future.) Just above the Escalante River Canyon Trail Head we took a short hike up to a very large pictograph named the Hundred Handprints. As the name implies, this is an Anasazi rock art panel containing four long rows of handprints. Finally, on our last full day we took a road trip to Capitol Reef National Park via the Scenic Byway 12 which crosses though the Dixie National Forest and over the beautiful Boulder Mountain. Here again, lots of deer and wildflowers with vistas that extend as far as the eye can see to the east. Hwy 12 connects to Hwy 24 in the town of Torrey. We traveled Highway 24 from Torrey just outside the western entrance of Capitol Reef well past the eastern entrance of the park to the town of Hanksville. The highlights of this scouting drive took us past Chimney Rock, Panorama Point and the Castle as we approached the visitor’s center. From the visitors center we explored the Fruita area, once an old Mormon colony on the banks of the Freemont River. Leaving Fruita, we took a side excursion down the 7-mile Scenic Drive featuring the landmarks of Grand Wash, Fern's Nipple, Slickrock Divide and the Egyptian Temple. Many hikes in this area, which of course means we will be back since we did not have the time during this quick tour of the park. Back on Hwy 24 we passed by the old school house and onto the waterfalls of the Hickman Bridge area. Our next stop was at the Behunin Cabin site, a one room cabin that housed a family of eleven. On the far western edge of the park we took a half mile drive down the Norton-Bullfrog Road to get a glimpse of the extreme northern end of the Waterpocket Fold, one of the main geological features the park was created to protect. We did not have the time to do any exploring very far off Hwy 24 into some of the more remote sections to the north and south of the main highway which features the Cathedral Valley, Cainville Badlands and the Waterpocket Fold. Finally, as we made our way to Hanksville east of the park we saw some amazing all grey hills and rock formations that could pass as a moonscape. We stopped just past a little store called Luna Mesa to create a few images. Not much going on in Hanksville, but we did find a restaurant for an early dinner before our two hour drive back to Escalante. The next morning, we headed home. See my Utah gallery for select fine art images from this trip at www.gregclurephotography.com/utah.