A Twelfth Anniversary Adventure for Abby and Richard
“Running towards the setting sun Wading through the time and tide We don’t have to turn around Under an endless sky…” ~Balligomingo
The Road West
Among our adventures on the road west was dinner in Albuquerque with friends Greg and Terry Smith. I hiked and made pictures with Greg on a few occasions, but Abby had never met them. As Greg nears retirement, he becomes more interested in fine art photography as well as shooting his impressive collection of firearms, so there was no shortage of conversation.
On to Monticello
From Albuquerque to Monticello, Utah, I decided to take a route through Window Rock, Arizona and Sheep Springs, New Mexico which we’d never seen before. Since so much of the Four Corners region is beautiful and mesmerizing, I felt we couldn’t go wrong. Just north of Window Rock we spotted an impressive Veterans cemetery awash with U. S. flags.
Farther down the road we crossed the southern end of the Chuska Mountains and made some nice images.
We rejoined the familiar U. S. 491 (formerly 666) at Sheep Springs, New Mexico, and enjoyed being on the road, stopping periodically to make pictures.
By late afternoon we rolled into Monticello, Utah, our headquarters for the week. We were joined for dinner by our long-time friend Scott Andersen.
Abby and I have come to prefer smaller towns as base camps for our vacations, if for no other reason than to get away from the trappings common to mainstream America: big box stores, traffic, city noise, commerce. This is also why I like camping, particularly camping far back into wilderness, like my camping experience in April 2015.
Small towns are friendlier and easier: the restaurants are home-owned, the convenience stores are staffed by local high schoolers, it takes five minutes to go from town to country.
On this occasion, we stayed in Monticello, Utah, 58 miles south of Moab, Utah. Moab has changed considerably in just the 12 years since we got married there, and we don’t like it much any more.
Scott invited me to photograph nearby Wilson Arch after dark. I have photographed Wilson Arch for many years (since it is easy to access and near my destinations), including at sunset and in the snow, but this was the most unusual instance. As Scott and I approached the arch from the south, we saw flashes coming from the arch, and couldn’t quite fathom why. Were people making selfies with their on-camera flash?
When we got out of the car, we saw what appeared to be a photographer using a flash to “paint” the arch with light. After making some images at the base of the slope, we hiked up and met the photographer, Adam Hynes. He was making a long series of multiple exposures to “stack” together in Photoshop, a technique just outside of my own idiom, one requiring considerable patience and devotion.
The Joint Trail at Canyonlands
With Abby’s blessing, Scott and I met at 5 a.m. hoping to be in a great spot for sunrise. We loaded up on coffee and headed north to the Needles District at Canyonlands National Park, an old haunt of mine, with the goal of hiking to the Joint Trail, one of the few I’d never seen. We made better time than I expected, and were on the Chesler Park trail as the sun rose.
Scott and I hike at a similar pace and seem to have similar abilities and similar photographic goals.
Scott carried much more than I did. I tend to minimize, but Scott brought more water, more food (including apples), and more photographic gear that I ever carry on the trail.
The weather was ideal and we moved through the beautiful mixed terrain of Canyonlands swiftly.
Much of our trail was familiar to me, but our stated goal was a trail deep in the heart of The Needles, the Joint Trail, noted for its soaring cave-like structures and narrow slots.
We arrived in late morning, and were not disappointed by the sights. The area lent itself well to exploration and imaging, and we both had an amazing time.
We made a loop back to the Chesler Park Trail, then descended into Elephant Canyon, a route I hadn’t seen since 2002. We kept open the option of turning south at the bottom of the canyon and hiking the two miles to Druid Arch, but by the time we got to that intersection, daylight was becoming a factor, so we made our way back the Elephant Hill trail head, then back to Monticello.
The Honaker Trail, Goosenecks, Below Muley Point, Muley Point, and Sunset at the Needles Overlook
Abby didn’t feel like getting up early, so I set out south with some maps and a sense of exploration. I saw the Honaker Trail on my Cedar Mesa map and wondered, as I have for years, if it would be worth a look. Near Goosenecks of the San Juan State Park, the roads are completely unmarked, causing me to miss one turn. The trail head is near the end of a bona fide four wheel drive road that required using the crawling gear on our Nissan Frontier at one point.
The Honaker Trail was originally built as a supply point for gold miners, but was never used as such. Instead, it is a study in geology, leading from a mid-level rim of erosion to the San Juan River below. Hiking down it is a simply affair, but coming back up is strenuous.
After the hike, I took the Frontier on down the sometimes four wheel drive road that winds around the meanders of the San Juan. I drove until I came to a gate just below Muley Point. The gate wasn’t locked, but I let it decide it was time to turn around.
I drove to Goosenecks and made a few images, then made my way up the Moki Dugway and over to Muley Point, where I was able to pinpoint just where I’d been below it earlier.
Finally, I wanted to be somewhere photogenic at sunset, and picked the beautiful and easily-accessed Needles Overlook at Hatch Point. I had the place nearly to myself for a cold, windy, beautiful sunset.
Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage, Fisher Towers, and La Sal Mountains Drive
Watching a television program some weeks ago, Abby and I saw a reference to the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage; from that moment I knew Abby would want to see it, particularly since many of her favorite John Wayne films were not only featured at the museum, but filmed here, in the nearby Professor Valley.
From there we took the recommended La Sal Mountains Loop drive, which was nice.
Murphy Hogback Trail
Abby decided to relax on this day, and sent me north to Canyonlands, where I set my eye on one of the steep trails that leads off the Island in the Sky District toward the White Rim, the Murphy Hogback trail.
The visitor center was very crowded, I guess because of the beautiful weather, and I saw a number of people at the trail head. None, however, followed me down the Murphy Hogback trail, electing instead to take the much easier Murphy Overlook trail, which I hiked on two other occasions, most recently with Jim Beckel in 2013.
The going was steep and rough, descending 1000 feet, but incredibly fun. The air was cold and still, and I moved quickly. As with the Honaker Trail two days earlier, the route down was easy compared to coming back up, but definitely worth the effort.
Santa Fe Plaza
There are few places Abby likes as much as The Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico. With our Chihuahuas, Max and Sierra, along for the walk, we enjoyed an afternoon of shopping and photography; The Plaza never fails to provide photo opportunities.
Madrid, Clines Corners, and Las Vegas
Abby is very fond of the small arts and crafts community of Madrid, New Mexico, which she and I visited for the third time.
We then started our trip east toward home, stopping at Cline’s Corners, New Mexico for lunch and two or three more souvenirs, including two more “travel rings” for me.
By early afternoon we were in Las Vegas, New Mexico at the Old Town Plaza. I wanted to take Abby to this location because one of our favorite shows, the Netflix Original drama Longmire, is filmed here, standing in for the fictional Durant, Wyoming. She and I recognized the locations, and found that the building used in the series as the Absaroka County Sheriff’s Office still bore the markings from the show.