Colorado Plateau Trip: Day 8

Sunday May 9, 2010

Every night, rolling waves of wind engulf the Watchman campground of Zion National Park. It starts as a rustling of distant cottonwood leaves. The sound grows louder as the wave approaches. The wind is passed from tree to tree without hesitation — a game of arboreal hot potato. As the wave rushes overhead, my tent is filled with cool, crisp desert air. The clean scent of cottonwoods linger as the rustling of leaves fade into the darkness of night. In the distance, another wave of wind approaches.

If you don’t sleep well at  Zion, there is no hope for you. The waves of wind, and rustling of cottonwood leaves represent nature’s perfect white noise machine.

I do not know the reason for these waves of wind, but I suspect the rugged sandstone cliffs create eddys as the cool air sinks into the valley.

At dawn, after a very restful night sleep, I visited back-country permit office. I wanted a permit for hiking subway the following day. I figured there might be others with the same idea, so I arrived early.

You see, the Virgin river was at darn near flood stage. They don’t let people hike up the Virgin narrows unless the flow is less than 120 cubic feet of water per second. According to the latest reports, the river was flowing in excess of 500.  The virgin river is fed by snow melt, but the left fork (where Subway is located) is fed mostly by spring water.  Even if the Virgin river was a torrent, subway is accessible.

With a campground filled to capacity with adventurous hikers, and the Virgin narrows off limits, subway permits might be in short supply.

I arrived before the office opened, and had no problem securing a permit. This is a very strenuous hike, so my goal was to take it easy today. My plan was to scout the high country in the eastern section of the park.

It was still very early when I made my way to the high country. I hiked among the swirling sandstone formations, and Dr. Seuss inspired trees. It’s an amazing place, but difficult to portray in a photo.

Despite my goal of taking it easy, I hiked nearly to the top of a large sandstone monolith. From the road, the path I took looked impossible, but it wasn’t very difficult. From the top of the formation, I was treated to a grand view of the valley below. There were many photogenic trees, but nothing I felt like shooting on this trip — maybe some other time. That particular mesa would be great for sunrise, but it would be VERY dangerous getting there in the dark.

I scouted 3 other areas, and stumbled across a very photogenic little pine tree. The twisted trunk reminded me of a churro. In all fairness, this was day 8 of my trip. After a week of dehydrated food, water, and gatorade — anything reminded me of a churro.

Churro Tree: a worthy subject for return trips with better light

I believe this little tree has a lot of potential, though that will need to be realized on another trip. I checked my GPS, and estimated where the sun would set. The towering sandstone cliffs would force an early sunset, and block the low golden light. Maybe this scene would be best during the winter. The sunset angle would be more ideal, and snow would add some visual interest. During certain times of the year, there should be a narrow window where the background cliff is in full shade, but the tree sees some wonderful golden side lighting.

I stuck around through sunset, and setup my 6×17 camera for a shot of this little tree. I triggered the shutter just before this scene was engulfed by shadow. Oh, did mention that the wind was now gusting at over 40mph? That sure throws a wrench into the photographic process. My 6×17 camera does not move in the wind, but my 4×5 or 8×10 would have been unshootable. I waited for a break in the wind to take this shot. My shutter speed was 1/8sec, so I’m surprised that I was able to freeze the tree as well as I did. The conditions are not ideal for this shot, but it gives me something to think about for a return trip. I can study the composition, and plan my return trip to this little tree under better conditions.

On a side note, I named this file tree.jpg. This might not mean much on first glance, but this is a very generic name. It’s not tree23.jpg or ziontree.jpg — just tree.jpg. What does this say? I really don’t shoot many trees. Let’s hope that my return trip to this location will produce awesomeziontreecoveredinsnowwithdramaticlight.jpg.

One Response to “Colorado Plateau Trip: Day 8”

  1. Ron Richins Says:

    I experienced those winds last November. They were so obnoxious. I thought it was the weather for that time of year, but it sounds like it’s a pretty common occurrence.

    I can’t tell you how many times I thought I would take it easy the day before a big hike, and I end up going farther than planned.

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