The Yant Flat Album

Yant Flat #2

Yant Flat is anything but flat. It is actually tilted one way or another, just about everywhere, which means you have to pay attention while walking on it. The one-mile-or-so hike into it is pretty much flat, hence the name. But it is all worth it. Yant Flat is one of those dramatic and beautiful red rock landscapes on the Colorado Plateau, in the same vein as Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches and other National Parks — but in this case it is smaller and much less well known. Whenever I have been there, I have been virtually alone.

Yant Flat #11
Yant Flat #11

The main feature here is a series of sculptured sandstone cliffs that cascade down from a wooded rim towards deep canyons below. There are two aspects of most interest for the photographer: Southwest-facing cliffs that are nicely lit by the late afternoon sun, and southeast-facing cliffs that catch the early morning dawn light. The southeastern aspect is larger and more interesting, but they both have their rewards.

Much of the orange, red and white sandstones of Yant Flat are eroded into small, symmetrical checkerboard and honeycomb patterns, as wind and water worked at layer boundaries and cracks over the aeons. Combined with the large, rounded landforms, these create many unusual and intriguing light patterns when the sun is at low angles in the morning and evening.

Yant Flat #6
Yant Flat #6

Yant Flat #8

Yant Flat #8

Any time spent at Yant Flat is rewarding. However, most visitors decide that several visits, encompassing different times of day and different seasons, are required to fully appreciate what light can do to transform this amazing piece of geography.

Yant Flat #3
Yant Flat #3

There is very little in the way of vegetation on the cliffs — perhaps a little cactus here and there, which might be an good photo possibility when it is blooming in the Spring. However, tree limbs and logs sometimes fall down from the canyon rim and can inspire interesting photos, even if they seem totally out of place in this land of bare rock.

Yant Flat #10
Yant Flat #10
Yant Flat #9
Yant Flat #9

Presented with practically an infinite number of perspectives and viewpoints, visitors find themselves walking uphill and downhill, on sidehills and diagonals, relying on the friction of their boot soles to stay upright. So bring good boots. And lace them up tight.

Yant Flat #5
Yant Flat #5
Yant Flat #1
Yant Flat #1

Yant Flat is surrounded by civilization, but doesn’t get that many visitors. The trailhead is served by Forest Road 031, a gravel road that comes in from either north or south. In good weather, most any passenger car with decent clearance can handle it, 4wd not required. But like all such roads, it can quickly become impassable in moderate rain.

From the north, exit I-15 at Leeds, follow Silver Reef road through a subdivision, and it becomes Forest Road 032. Road 031 branches to the left in a mile. Follow it 6 or 7 miles to GPS coordinates 37.234776, -113.477087, where there is a tiny parking area and a tiny “Restricted Access” sign. Forest Road 903 comes in from the north here. Don’t look for a Yant Flat sign — it doesn’t exist.

From the south, start in St. George at the intersection of E. Red Hills Parkway and Cottonwood Springs Road, and take the latter north as it becomes Old Dump Road, heading for the Red Cliffs National Conservation area. Past the Red Cliffs, it becomes Forest road 031, and continue to follow it north as above. Of the two approaches, from Leeds or St. George, the Leeds route is more gentle.

If you want to camp near the trailhead, there are plenty of side roads in the vicinity where you can pull off and set up a tent or RV. This is BLM-type unimproved camping in Juniper-Pinyon forest — no facilities, no water. Nights will be cooler than you think as mountain breezes pour down from the Pine Valley Mountains.

The trail from here is an abandoned Jeep track that cruises along mostly flat ground about 1.25 miles to the edge of the cliffs. The last quarter mile is sandy. You will arrive at the southwest cliffs; walk left along the precipice to a draw that will give you access further down. Further east from this point a quarter mile are the southeast cliffs. A couple of cairn trails will show you a safe route down. Bring headlamps or flashlights. You’ll find yourself staying later than you thought you would.

The Coalmine Canyon Album

Coalmine Canyon #1

Yes, there was once a coal mine here in the late 1800s. But the seam was small, the coal was poor quality, and so the pioneers moved on from Coalmine Canyon and left the land to its owners, the Navajo and Hopi tribes of Native Americans. Good thing, because this gem of the Southwest is as lonely as it is gorgeous. The coal deposits at the top levels of the canyon are a key to its unique beauty, as they add black and blue colors to the usual red, orange and yellow tones of the desert, constructing a landscape like no other.

Coalmine Canyon #2
Coalmine Canyon #2

It is a photographer’s paradise on many levels. Most obviously, it is colorful, high relief, and in a climate zone of constantly changing light and seasons. Dawn, mid-day, sunset, bright sun and passing storms all change the character and mood of Coalmine Canyon. You will never see it and photograph it the same way twice.

Coalmine Canyon #4
Coalmine Canyon #4

It is also lonely. Not only will you see few other people exploring its rim, but the Native American stewards minimally manage your explorations. The Navajo tribe requests you get a permit to visit from any Navajo Tribal Parks office, but it is managed as wilderness and you are on your own to care for the land and respect the privacy of landowners.

Coalmine Canyon #5
Coalmine Canyon #5

One of the fascinating aspects of the canyon that appeals to me is the thin but intense red sandstone layers that occur among thick layers of white mudstone. In the canyon relief they give the strong impression of elevation lines on a topographic map.

Coalmine Canyon #7
Coalmine Canyon #7

Not only do I find these features appealing in horizontal vistas, but when seen in aerials taken directly above, they achieve an abstract quality. It can take a moment to realize what you are looking at.

Coalmine Canyon #8
Coalmine Canyon #8

As with most landscape photography, it is the light that makes or breaks the picture. The warm, angled light of dawn and dusk — broken clouds streaming patches of light across the immense acreage — even bright sun penetrating into impenetrable canyon — every condition presents new possibilities of color and composition.

Coalmine Canyon #6
Coalmine Canyon #6

To get to Coalmine Canyon, go to Tuba City, Arizona, which is on the Navajo Nation an hour north of Flagstaff,an hour south of Page, and an hour southwest of Kayenta. Stop at the Tribal office in town for a visit permit, then take Highway 264 southeast for 20 minutes, and you’re there. Find a few turnoffs on short dirt roads that will take you to overlooks. Most passenger cars can get to the closer vistas; a high-clearance vehicle takes you to some of the more remote spots.

Coalmine Canyon Arizona Map
Coalmine Canyon Arizona Map

Dawn on the Rim, Colorado National Monument

Dawn on the Rim

Grand Junction, Colorado, must be the luckiest city in the western USA. On it’s very doorstep — close enough to walk there with coffee before it gets cold — are soaring redrock canyons that others less fortunate drive hours to see. The sandstone towers and cliffs of Colorado National Monument give nothing away to more famous places on the Colorado Plateau such as Zion, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Park. It even has a beautiful stretch of the Colorado River at its feet. But more like Grand Canyon National Park, its main vistas are from the rim, looking down, where one feels expansive — rather than from the bottom, looking up, where diminutive is the word of the day.

The monument’s proximity to Grand Junction — a small city of 60,000 — may work to its disadvantage, too. It is very easy to sleep late in a cozy home or comfortable hotel, have a leisurely breakfast, and visit the park in midday and thus never see it at dawn. That is not my way, however. Few things are more revealing about a landscape than to see it unfold from darkness as the sun comes up and shows an infinite variety of moods. This sunrise photograph, despite the proximity of 60,000 people, is a work of lonely isolation, with virtually nobody around to witness the beauty. At dawn, it might as well be hours away in the wilderness. (Pricing schedule D)

Once There Were Farmers

Farm Wagon Capitol Reef

This long-abandoned farm wagon sits in a most unlikely place — along a creek bottom in the once-remote desert wilderness of what is now Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. This oasis is in a forbidding landscape that was one of the last districts of the American west to be explored and settled. Pioneer Farmers in this valley date from 1908, a good 40 years after the last of its wagon cousins carried pioneer all the way across the continent. It sounds sentimental, but standing in this spot, photographing this relic, does carry you back in time for a moment.

Many US national parks are based on pristine wilderness….but not all. Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is a good example of the latter. Pioneer farms dotted the habitable places long before anyone ever thought of setting the area aside as a national park. Here, visitors can be surprised a bit as the park incorporates an entire small community — the village of Fruita, where canyon-bottom orchards are still harvested for sweet fruit, and the summer hay is taken in to feed livestock. In virtually all national parks with pre-existing habitations, they have been incorporated into the park history, and operated consistent with the national parks’ historical mission. (Pricing Schedule E)

Gifford Barn, Capitol Reef

Many US national parks are based on pristine wilderness….but not all. Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is a good example of the latter. Pioneer farms dotted the habitable places long before anyone ever thought of setting aside the area as a national park. Here, visitors can be surprised a bit as the park incorporates an entire small community — the village of Fruita, where canyon-bottom orchards are still harvested for sweet fruit, and the summer hay is taken in to feed livestock. In virtually all national parks with pre-existing habitations, they have been incorporated into the park history, and operated consistent with the national parks’ historical mission.

The Gifford Barn and the nearby homestead at Capitol Reef fits like a charm. Its third occupant family since it’s construction in 1908 sold it to the park in 1969, but it continues to host visitors and livestock. It is easy to imagine what must have been an idyllic existence working the land in the shadow of isolated, spectacular cliffs and skies. Photographing the Gifford Barn has the same effect — kind of slow, relaxing, and homey. My intention is that the photograph conveys the same feeling. (Pricing Schedule E)

Burning Land, Burning Sky

Burning Land, Burning Sky

This photograph embodies a common problem with southwestern USA sunsets: The red colors are beyond belief. Literally.

The effect of brilliant scarlet sunset on rock that is striped psychedelically with red, orange and yellow creates scenes right out of the crimson heaven or perhaps the fiery furnace of hell. Either way, the person who has not seen such a scene with his or her own eyes will not believe it really exists. I, and many other photographers, have sometimes been accused of pushing the saturation or emphasizing the reds past nature’s capability into some gaudy realm of poor taste. I plead not guilty, and I find myself sometimes moderating the colors to stay within the realm of limited human perception. In this scene from the Valley of Fire state park near Las Vegas, Nevada, I have toned down the red rock stripes, and emphasized the blue and indigo sky tones with credibility in mind.

The ultimate solution to this problem, and what I urge upon you if you haven’t done this — is to get out in the redrock desert and see it for yourself. Camp among the rocks, eat dinner early, and wander about at sunset to see fire on rock for yourself. (Pricing Schedule B)

Photo Series: Get the Red Out.

Wave Monochrome 1 Spring Salon

Are the famed red rocks of the southwest USA always better in red? It depends on what you want to see. Here is my study of the The Wave, rendered in monochrome. Tell me how it succeeds — or not.

Wave Monochrome #11
Wave Monochrome #11
Wave Monochrome #10
Wave Monochrome #10
Wave Monochrome #9
Wave Monochrome #9
Wave Monochrome #8
Wave Monochrome #8
Wave Monochrome #7
Wave Monochrome #7
Wave Monochrome #6
Wave Monochrome #6
Wave Monochrome #5
Wave Monochrome #5
Wave Monochrome #4
Wave Monochrome #4
Wave Monochrome #3
Wave Monochrome #3
Wave Monochrome #2
Wave Monochrome #2

Breaking Wave, Monochrome

Wave Monochrome 1 Spring Salon

“The Wave” is a sandstone rock formation in northern Arizona that is a frequent photographic subject. It is in the backcountry, several hours’ hike from the nearest road, and the government stewards do not permit camping. For that reason most of the photos from here are taken at midday and are rather ordinary because light is harsh and blue when the sun is high.

For the sake of art, I broke the rules and stayed overnight because I wanted to explore this site in the warm, dim, flat light of dusk and dawn. The results justified my wanton lawbreaking, I think, producing a hue and flatness that highlights these formations’ abstract qualities. Later I explored black and white versions of these images and found them compelling in the way they translate the compressed layers of sand into movement and energy. Enjoy the sublime and improbable wildness of “The Wave!” (Price Schedule A)

Vermillion Cliffs

Vermilliion Cliffs

The sublime Vermillion Cliffs are at a nexus of the classic Old West, witness to Spanish explorers, Navajo and Hopi tribes, and immigrant settlers, not to mention a geologic wonderland carved by the Colorado River. They also have the misfortune of being surrounded by some of the most famous national parks in the western US — Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon. This is explains why their great beauty is unknown to many – everyone is driving past as fast as they can to other places. I have been coming back for years, however, entranced by their unpredictable light and changing moods.

This time I found them at exactly the right moment, backlit by the warm light of late afternoon, and crowned with beautiful cumulus clouds, and I had enough composure and adequate skill to not make a hash of it. A few more flips of the coin, and now you are part of this amazing sequence of chance events. What luck! (Price Schedule B)

Needles at Dawn, Canyonlands

Needles Sunrise 1, Canyonlands

It should come as no surprise that in photography, as any other profession, you have to go the extra mile to get the better shot. Or in this case, about sixty extra miles.

The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park is right there on the map, as are plenty of descriptions of the dramatic rock formations to be seen, and the facilities to make you comfortable as you visit. BUT…it’s a sixty-mile drive, one way, from a main highway that’s already a lonely track in the desert. That’s apparently too much time for most people. And at the end of the road, there’s more: backpacking into the wilderness, getting up before dawn, dodging the heat and the scorpions.

No wonder few recognize this gorgeous scene. No wonder beautiful photography of the Needles is a rarity. But if you are in the rarity business, as I am, you eagerly do these things, with a smile, and with faith that the result will startle someone, or perhaps everyone. (Price Schedule B)

The Grand Staircase

Grand Staircase

Sometimes you have to get away from the trees to see the forest. The Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument offers a classic example. It is the largest national monument in the lower 48 US states and features endless terraced mesas, redrock formations, shady slot canyons, lonely streams, and an immense stratigraphic and paleontologic record book. It is impossible to comprehend when you are inside it.

I was at nearby Bryce Canyon National park on a winter afternoon, and the combination of elevation, snow, and the warm, low-angle light of sunset was a sudden, almost accidental revelation. The literal Grand Staircase was in right in front of me, its terraces compressed between a bluff in Bryce Canyon and the shoulder of Navajo Mountain, 160 kilometers away — and the lines, shapes and colors made it beautiful in a way few had noticed before. This rendition is one of my favorites, not only for its beauty, but for the way it simplified its complexity for me. I love it when a shot comes together. (Price Schedule A)

Bryce Winter Sunset

Bryce Winter Sunset 1

Winter in the wildlands is transformative — but that’s hard to fathom unless you turn off the TV and get out in it. That doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable. Well, maybe just a little. Take Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s quite accessible all but the deepest snows — just dress warm and wear winter boots, and it is easy to see everything that summer affords, but in a whole different light.

Even so, when the afternoon sun hits the horizon it gets very cold very fast, and most people will dash for their supper and their shelter. I have been the fortunate recipient of many good photographs, however, just by lingering a little longer to see what happens to the colors and the shapes. This is one of those scenes, when the last rays break through the only gap in the ridge to throw a dying beam of red light on red rock, and set it on fire. Must have been fire, for sure, because I could feel the heat. (Price Schedule B)

Panorama at North Window Arch

Panorama at North Window Arch

Scene: camped along the Colorado River near Moab, Utah, gateway to Arches National Park. A faulty alarm clock got me out of my sleeping bag an hour too late to catch dawn at a different location I had planned. But I also had this location in mind, and it was closer, so I scurried around and found a spot for my tripod just in time, scrambling up a few boulders to a narrow spot on the side of a cliff. And what a surprise! The view of Turret Arch through North Window Arch was an obvious “go to” shot – but the continuous panorama to the southeast was truly mind-expanding. My compliments to the cloud arranger, they were absolutely perfect.

Funny how those things work out. (Price Schedule B)

Breaking Wave

“The Wave” is a sandstone rock formation in northern Arizona that is a frequent photographic subject. It is in the backcountry, several hours’ hike from the nearest road, and the government stewards do not permit camping. For that reason most of the photos from here are taken at midday and are rather ordinary because light is harsh and blue when the sun is high.

For the sake of art, I broke the rules and stayed overnight because I wanted to explore this site in the warm, dim, flat light of dusk and dawn. The results justified my wanton lawbreaking, I think, producing a hue and flatness that highlights these formations’ abstract qualities. Enjoy the sublime and improbable wildness of “The Wave!” (Price Schedule B)

Wave, Three Textures

Wave Textures

“The Wave” is a sandstone rock formation in northern Arizona that is a frequent photographic subject. It is in the back country, several hours’ hike from the nearest road, and camping is not permitted by the government stewards. For that reason most of the photos from here are taken at midday and are rather ordinary because midday light is harsh and hot blue.

For the sake of art, I broke the rules and stayed overnight because I wanted to explore this site in the warm, red, flat light of dusk and dawn. I was very pleased with the results. I think I captured these phenomenal natural abstractions in their best light, so to speak. I especially like this shot because it studies the contrasting texture of the sandstone, and ignores the broad scenes which usually come from this amazing place. (Price Schedule E)

Breaking Wave

“The Wave” is a sandstone rock formation in northern Arizona that is a frequent photographic subject. It is in the backcountry, several hours’ hike from the nearest road, and camping is not permitted by the government stewards. For that reason most of the photos from here are taken at midday and are unfortunately ordinary because midday light is harsh and blue.

For the sake of art, I broke the rules and stayed overnight because I wanted to explore this site in the warm, red, flat light of dusk and dawn. I was very pleased with the results of this wanton lawbreaking, capturing these phenomenal natural abstractions in a unique light. Enjoy the sublime and improbable wildness of The Wave.