Photography and our Public Lands

Written by Alpenglow Images on November 18th, 2016

Over the last several weeks, we have been reminded of very real threats–or at least dangerous precedents set–to the Western landscape, and to American public lands in general. First, all defendants in the 41-day standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon were found not guilty of charges of federal conspiracy and gun charges. Less than two weeks later, the United States presidential election resulted in a Republican-controlled presidency and congress, leaving federal public lands at greater risk for fossil fuel development, or even return to state control.

For anyone concerned with the preservation of wilderness, our cultural landscape, or simply the health of future generations, neither of these occurrences should set well.  Together, they’ve been keeping me up at night. Reconciling all of this news is no small task.

black and white image of the funeral mountains in death valley national park

“I want people to remember how photography works, the medium that depends on perfect darkness within the camera to capture the image, for an image of boundless light would be purely black, an exposure in perfect darkness would show just the white of unexposed paper. The visible world depends on both.” -Rebecca Solnit | Hugging the Shadows

Finding purple in a sea of blue and red

Last week, shortly after the election, I had a conversation on social media regarding the proposed Bears Ears National Monument (which I have written about before). Although I have some hesitation about the Bears Ears region being designated a National Monument, it really is the perfect candidate for protection under the Antiquities Act, although a longtime friend disagreed. While we had opposite opinions, our underlying concern for the region is the same: both of us would like to see it remain as pristine as possible. While our sedimentary layers may be different, we are standing on the same bedrock.

Looking at election maps from last week, there appears to be a deep divide in ideology between rural and urban areas, however I’d like to think we’re more purple than red vs. blue, and that the bedrock most of us are standing on is the same. Indeed, if you look at the role public lands played in western elections this season, it is clear we value our public lands.

Looking forward, I have questions.  Is it possible to search for common ground, while at the same time not compromising core values? Can we find a common currency for the value we attribute to public lands? Perhaps, more importantly, what can photographers do now?

winter storm and dark clouds over the salt playa in columbus valley nevada

Working locally, reconnecting to place

There are a few resources out there for having the conversations that are sure to happen more frequently in coming months (this is a great one). One thing they all seem to mention is to talk about feelings, rather than facts, at least to start with. As a scientist, I think, “but the facts are all that matter!” but as an artist, I get it. Art, including landscape photography, has the power to change the way people look at their world. There’s been some debate about whether artists can or should be activists or whether art should exist independently, but my gut is telling me now is the time for us all to be activists. Share your work with as many people as possible. Create content, be heard.

I’ve lamented before that as a people we are woefully detached from place, so perhaps it is the job of artists to bring us back to that. Share your work locally. Every local in every town has stories to share about their “backyard”–tap into those stories and work to reconnect people with what may have been lost.

If anything, recent news is a reminder that our public lands–and the places we love to photograph–are in danger of becoming not-so-public, and should be a good reminder to us all to educate ourselves on local politics, and think of ways to use our photography to shift the tide towards a secure future.

Sunset in western Nevada

 

Bay of the Smoke

Written by Alpenglow Images on November 8th, 2016

In 1542, two Spanish ships led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo explored the southern California coastline.  When they arrived in either Santa Monica or San Pedro Bay (it’s unclear which one), they encountered poor air quality likely due to either smoke rising overhead from nearby Tongva villages, or from a Santa Ana Wind-fueled wildfire. They named the bay they arrived in Baya de los Fumos or Bay of the Smoke, for the lack of air quality.

Shaped by the Landscape

Nearly 500 years later, the greater Los Angeles basin is still known for its poor visibility and a nearly constant haze. Fires perhaps aren’t as prevalent as they once were, and the villages have long since been bulldozed and replaced with a megapolis of concrete, home to millions of people. Myself included.

Southern California’s topography is a major contributor to our poor air quality. Cool air being pulled onshore from the Pacific Ocean, warm air being pulled out to sea from the deserts flanking the region, and a basin closed in by tall mountain ranges all make for a fairly strong inversion that will often trap clouds, haze, and (unfortunately) pollution at low elevations in the basin. The haze Cabrillo and his men described is still a dominant part of life as many as 260 days a year.

Clouds and fog in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California at sunset


“During my California visit, I enjoyed the company of fine friends whose grace and lack of complaint in their surroundings made me feel awkward and cynical and even envious…At meals they spoke intelligently of early Burgundian oenological monographs. I explained drip irrigation. Sea air and the presence of many, many succulent green leaves beautifully hydrated their skin. I looked like a desert lizard. I age my organic arugula with my fingers, dopey and slow like one of those Jurassic leaf-eaters with the pin head and the body the size of a truck stop.” – Ellen Meloy, The Anthropology of Turquoise


Getting Above it All

Even after 14 years of living here, southern California has always felt a bit odd, if intriguing, perhaps in a way that Ellen Meloy describes above. I’m not entirely sure it’s Los Angeles’ fault so much as my own reticence to loosen my grip on my roots in the intermountain West. Fortunately, the nearby mountains make it relatively easy to put some altitude underneath yourself to get a breath of fresh air. In my last blog post, I mentioned the San Jacinto Mountains, which lie at the far eastern end of the basin.

Perhaps much more dominant on the Los Angeles skyline are the San Gabriels, one of the transverse ranges, running along the northern edge of the basin. Over the years, one of my favorite views of southern California has been to venture into the San Gabriels to look back down on the valley below.

View down the San Gabriel River Canyon from Blue Ridge in the San Jacinto Mountains of southern California

Despite the haze, Cabrillo described southern California as lush and green, with abundant wildlife. Much of that has been wiped clean by the growing metropolis (although there are efforts to bring it back), but it’s still possible to get acquainted the southern California that was by returning to the mountains. Last week, we made a quick trip up to the San Gabriels after work. The clouds blanketing the coastal plain were hitting the mountains and fragmenting, making for a great atmospheric light show. That, combined with waning fall colors on much of the vegetation at 8,000′ elevation, made it a great day out.

As the sun set and the horizon shifted from shades of orange to red to blue, the wind stopped and there was complete and total silence. For a brief moment, hearing the dirt crunch underneath my feet and the cold air bite my nose, I forgot that the megapolis was just a little further below still. For the foreseeable future, I’ll continue to try to find my place with the masses of the greater Los Angeles basin, but it’s comforting to know that within an hour, I can be high above it all, seeing–perhaps–what Cabrillo saw in 1542.

San Gabriel Mountains of southern California at Sunset,

 

Autumn in the San Jacintos

Written by Alpenglow Images on October 27th, 2016

Autumn’s first real storm rolled into southern California last weekend, and we took a short walk in the mountains to enjoy the crisp air and some rain. Fortunately the rain didn’t last long and the short walk extended to about five miles, to the high point of one of the major ridges leading to Mt. San Jacinto, a dominant peak here in southern California. It was the perfect remedy for what’s been a busy autumn so far, complete with plenty of southern California’s signature traffic.

The San Jacintos are one of my favorite mountain ranges. They were formed as a block of granite was squeezed together by the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults, and the rock here is very similar to what is seen in the Sierra Nevada, albeit on a smaller scale. There are many trailheads that are easily accessible, and cross-country walking is relatively easy.  What’s more, no one really visits the difficult to reach trailheads, which is a major bonus.

Pines cones and pine needles

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being” – Ansel Adams

stormy mt. san jacinto

I hope you’re having a great autumn so far, no matter where your trails have led you.

 

Holiday Print Sale

Written by Alpenglow Images on September 28th, 2016

It’s never too early to start planning for the holidays; Christmas is, after all, only 87 days away! This year I’m starting my holiday print sale early to ensure delivery of your gifts by Christmas. Now through December 24*, I’m offering 25% off prints and canvases.

Why buy art as a gift?

Simply put, art is a gift that can be enjoyed every day. Viewing art reduces stress and improves mental health. With the increase in popularity of our national parks and other public lands, people to whom you give art can enjoy their favorite landscapes even when they’re between vacations.

How it works

I believe art buying should be a personal experience. Once you’ve decided which print you’d like, send me an email to tell me which print you’d like to purchase. You can visit my purchasing page for a price list, keeping in mind that prices are reduced by 25% through December 24*.  We can discuss the size you’d like and any other considerations, for instance if you’d like a canvas or a metal print, etc.

After the print is finished, I’ll inspect it personally, sign it, and ship it to you.  Shipping costs are included in the price of the print.

What you get

All of my prints are made on archival quality paper, which comes in a variety of finishes such as luster, matte, gloss, or pearl. Color prints are made on a state-of-the-art inkjet printer, and black and white prints are actually digitally projected and exposed on photographic paper. Custom canvases are stretched over a wooden frame, giving them a three-dimensional feel that can add depth to any room.

holiday print sale

Black and White prints are created by projecting the image onto photographic paper. Cute kid not included.

I guarantee canvases and prints for life from fading, provided they are displayed properly (for example, out of direct sunlight). I also include a free 5×7″ mini-card with all prints; mini-cards provide information about the image, and are included at no charge.

Greeting cards – perfect for any occasion!

I also have greeting cards available for purchase. There are 6 photographs printed as 5 x 7″ prints on sturdy card stock. A set of 6 is available $15 + $3 shipping within the US, $10 international. Quantities are limited, so contact me soon for the best selection!

Alpenglow Images greeting cards

Six greeting card photographs are available.

*Because I personally inspect every print, orders placed too close to Christmas will likely not be delivered by December 25.  Please be sure to take advantage of this holiday print sale by ordering as early as possible, and thank you for considering my photography!

 

Lay of the Land

Written by Alpenglow Images on September 9th, 2016

“To rise above tree line is to go above thought, and after, the descent back into birdsong, bog orchids, willows, and firs is to sink into the preliterate parts of ourselves.” – Gretel Ehrlich


The entire summer seemed busy, but August flew by at an unusually rapid pace. My son and I drove from California to New Mexico to visit my parents; on our way out there we broke up the drive by spending a quiet and welcoming night at Navajo National Monument in northern Arizona. Four days after getting home from that trip, my girlfriend and I left on a trip to the north coast of California, visiting friends and family along the way. That leg of our travels culminated at South Lake Tahoe (I know, it’s not the north coast. Don’t ask.), and my dropping her at the airport in Reno to fly home.

From there, I drove south to eastern California, picked up Jackson Frishman at his house in the Deep Springs Valley, and we headed to eastern Nevada to backpack and photograph some Great Basin mountain ranges. By the time I got home from my second trip, my car had more than 3,000 new miles and I guess you could say I really got the lay of the land.

Over the years I’ve spent outdoors, I’ve become acutely aware of moments where time seems to stand still and that particular snapshot in time seems to transcend all others. In those particular rare moments, I’m overcome with an almost indescribable peace, feeling as though there’s no other place on earth I would rather–or should–be. I imagine that Buddhists would describe these moments as feeling very much like Nirvana, when one’s soul is freed from continuous rebirth, thus permanently taking its small place in the world. Put another way, these moments represent true peace.

I’ve always liked the above passage by Gretel Ehrlich because I think perhaps she used tree line as the metaphoric “rising above,” which has always seemed more eloquent than any way I’ve found to describe the feeling. My August travels only took me above topographical tree line a couple of times, but I felt like every turn of the journey somehow took me above Ehrlich’s metaphorical tree line, and I am indeed very fortunate for that. Here are a few of my favorite images from the last month or so.

engineer-mountain-wildflowers

Wildflowers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains

navajo national monument sunrise

August sunrise in northern Arizona.

fort-bragg-coastline

Coastline along the rugged north coast of California

mendocino headlands sunset

A foggy sunset along California’s north coast

white mountains california

Sunrise over the Deep Springs Valley, California

white pine mountains sunset

Sunset on Currant Mountain, Nevada

 

Public Comments on the Grand Canyon Escalade Project

Written by Alpenglow Images on September 1st, 2016

Earlier this week, Bill 0293-16 came before the Navajo Nation Council for approval. This bill contains the much-contested Grand Canyon Escalade Project, which is a massive development project on the east rim of the Grand Canyon near Grand Canyon National Park and the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. Grand Canyon Escalade would be destructive on several levels, and I believe it should be opposed. The nonprofit group Save the Confluence has much more about the project on their website. 

The Navajo Nation Council is asking for public comments on the bill until 9/3/16 (which is not much time). You can submit your comments directly to the council by emailing them at comments@navajo-nsn.gov, with Bill 0293-16 in the subject line. 

Here are the comments I sent the council regarding Grand Canyon Escalade this morning.

Esteemed council members:

I am writing regarding the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade Project, which is up for approval as part of Bill 0293-16 and is currently before you.  As I understand it, the bill asks for approval of several items, including significant development of an area on the Grand Canyon’s east rim, near the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, near the border of the Navajo Nation and Grand Canyon National Park. I understand this project would bring tourism and revenue to the Navajo Nation and as a non-tribal member of the community, I cannot speak for what the confluence means to the families and clans who live west of Highway 89. Nonetheless, I submit my comments for your consideration.

As places go, the Grand Canyon has faced its share of threats, and fortunately it has dodged some of the biggest ones (like the Bridge and Marble dams, whose progress was halted permanently in 1969). Today it seems like the West along with many other concerned people around the world is again holding its breath to see how the Grand Canyon Escalade Project will play out.

In 1993, I came to the Grand Canyon for the first time with my Boy Scout troop from Farmington, New Mexico. We backpacked into the Canyon from the South Rim; it was my first backpacking trip and I made many lifelong memories. Since then, I have become an avid backpacker, even taking my son into the wilderness for the first time when he was two. In an increasingly busy world, wilderness provides solitude, solace, and sanctuary. I have returned many times to the Grand Canyon since 1993 and in 2013 (twenty years after my first visit) I again found myself backpacking the Grand Canyon, only this time I was hiking to Cape Solitude to see the confluence–and the proposed site for Grand Canyon Escalade–myself.

The trip was impactful for me, and it became even more clear why the Grand Canyon Escalade simply cannot happen. During the entire trip–which comprised over 40 miles of hiking–we did not see an another human, not even another human footprint. We crossed paths with a herd of elk several times, but beyond that the silence was deafening and the dark night sky mesmerizing. The loneliness was aching and beautiful. Indeed, the area of Grand Canyon National Park that Cape Solitude lies in only sees about 50 visitors a year, which is a far cry from the much more busy main corridor along the South Rim; it feels like it is a world away.

Grand Canyon Escalade would be putting undue stress on an ecologically sensitive area and destroying one of nature’s cathedrals that has been billions of years in the making. This part of the Grand Canyon doesn’t need a lot of visitors for it to be special. Wilderness is like that. As much as we need food or water, I believe we need wild places. We do not need to visit them often, and when we do they should be difficult to get to, but simply knowing these places are there calms the nerves in the hustle and bustle of city life.

One night, decades ago, the famous Western author Edward Abbey sat at Cape Solitude and wrote, “We must preserve, not obliterate, what still remains of the American wilderness, the American hope, the American adventure.” Restraint is one of the rarest of virtues, but I ask that you exercise it here, thus preserving the east rim of the Grand Canyon, untouched and unmarred, for future generations.

Respectfully,

Greg Russell

Sunrise at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers the site of the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade project

The Confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers

 

New Gallery: Oceans as Wilderness

Written by Alpenglow Images on June 15th, 2016

As hard as it is for some people I meet here in southern California to believe, I didn’t see the ocean for the first time until I was 21 years old.  I had a summer job working for the U.S. Forest Service to do carnivore population surveys in the northern Sierra Nevada, and on a string of days off a couple of coworkers and I drove to Redwood National Park.  Just outside of Arcata, California was where I put my feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

My first thoughts, in no particular order, were: “Good grief, the water is cold!”  “That’s a lot of water” “How are people surfing in this?” “I wonder how many sharks there are out there.”*  But mostly I just stood in awe at the immensity of the ocean.  I felt calmed by the waves almost immediately, the sounds, the smells.  It’s easy to see why oceans get the attention they do from writers, poets, artists.

Since that trip to the northern California coast, I’ve seen the Atlantic coast in Florida and Iceland, and explored California’s coast extensively.  And although I’ve moved to southern California, and I still don’t spend as much time with the ocean as I should.  However, every time I go, I feel the same way I did when I saw the Pacific for the first time; the youthful wonder I had then stays with me now, in a myriad of ways.

As a photographer, I have tended to focus on the landscapes I identify most closely with.  I grew up in the desert southwest, and continue focusing primarily on that area in my photography.  However, I can’t deny that the ocean has found its way into my daydreams, and I have finally decided that it’s time to add a portfolio of ocean and beach images to my website.

jalama beach sunset and pacific ocean

Oceans are critical to the health of the planet, and comprise more than 70% of the earth’s surface.  In addition, less than 5% of the world’s oceans have been explored.  There are species we have not yet discovered, ones we know very little about, and ones we’re about to lose (or have lost).  To this end, oceans are truly a wilderness, one we should treat with as much respect as our terrestrial home.

montaña de oro beach

I hope you enjoy the portfolio; it’s a growing set of images that I’ll add to as I make what is sure to be more and more trips to the beach.

*When I was little I had a more than a mild obsession with sharks, so that has always stuck with me to some extent.

 

The ties that bind

Written by Alpenglow Images on May 12th, 2016

“What holds people together long enough to realize their power as citizens is their common inhabiting of a single place.” – Daniel Kemmis

“Our gadgets and electronic maps read our exact location and desires virtually anytime and anywhere. Never before have we been so located – and yet so lost.” – Bryan Pfeiffer


I recently read an article, “Ghosts and tiny treasures,” by Bryan Pfeiffer.  He uses an example of the way we react to the killing of an individual lion by a trophy hunter, yet at the same time many of us fail to take note of the impending extinction of an entire non-charismatic keystone species like the Poweshiek skipperling, a butterfly.  Pfeiffer makes the argument is that we clearly care about other animals and places, but we have not developed what he calls a “chronic passion” for nature. Martin Litton, who was probably a bit more gruff about the subject than Pfeiffer, argued for years that we don’t harbor enough hatred in our hearts when it comes to the destruction and development of the natural world. Finding my own personal balancing point between Pfeiffer’s passion and Litton’s hatred is something that’s been on my mind for quite some time.

I recently reposted an image on my Facebook page of the Bears Ears buttes in southern Utah.  Reaching almost 9,000′ elevation, the Bears Ears are the high point of the Cedar Mesa and greater Canyonlands area.  Visible from much of the Four Corners region, they never fail to announce that I’m almost home when I drive back to northern New Mexico from my house in southern California to visit my parents.

The mesas and canyons that extend off of the Bears Ears–the Dark Canyon complex, Grand Gulch, White and Arch Canyons–make up some of the most remote, rugged, and spectacular scenery in North America.  As if the scenery isn’t enough, the greater Bears Ears area houses what may be the highest density of archaeological treasures in the country.  There are literally hundreds if not thousands of archaeological sites (ruins, rock art, etc) here, and visitors can gain a tangible connection with the past simply by walking a few hundred feet into this wonderful area.

Bears Ears Sunset

The Bears Ears buttes are the centerpiece of a proposed national monument in southern Utah

Although most of the archaeological sites are Ancestral Puebloan (ancestors of the modern day pueblo people, like Hopi and Zuni), the Navajo and Ute people, who live adjacent to the area on their respective reservations also have stories contained in–and on–this stone.  While the area is receives significantly less use than Utah’s “Big Five” national parks, it certainly isn’t unvisited. In addition to recreation pressures, oil drilling, and human development in general are knocking on the door of the area, and undesirable activities like archaeological looting run rampant.  In response to these potential threats, the Navajo, Zuni, Hope and Ute tribes have come together collectively as Utah Diné Bikeyah, and have proposed the Bears Ears National Monument to protect all of these resources for future generations.

The ecological importance of the Poweshiek skipperling–which Pfeiffer talks about in his article–might not be immediately obvious to everyone, at least not on first glance.  Similarly, the significance of cultural and natural treasures in the greater Bears Ears region may not seem that valuable, or worth protecting.  Thus, on the most basic level, Pfeiffer’s call for us to develop a chronic passion for nature and Utah Diné Bikeyah’s proposal for us to honor the wild landscape and cultural history surrounding the Bears Ears by creating a national monument are really no different.  They both symbolize a commitment to the ties that bind all of us together.

In so many ways right now in the United States especially, we’re at curious place, and the commitment that Pfeiffer and Utah Diné Bikeyah are asking for seems somewhat unobtainable, which is paradoxical to me.  While we want change (look at any social media outlet–not only do we want it, we’re downright angry about it!) and are more electronically connected to the things we want to change than ever before (webcam, anyone?), we seem to have lost the connections that really matter. Connection to place, to other organisms, to each other, is something we desperately lack right now as a people.

Now is the time to preserve not only natural Earth and the ties to our evolutionary history, but our ties to human history. But we need to re-establish our connections to both of them to do that. There is no other way.

I suppose this wasn’t really a blog post about photography, but about connection to a place, which–when present–makes photography more meaningful and personal.  In that spirit consider this the beginning of a dialogue…about connection, purpose-driven photography, and endeavoring to protect that connection.

Thanks for reading.

Muley Point Utah

A photographer in the proposed Bears Ears National Monument

 

More from the Escalante

Written by Alpenglow Images on May 2nd, 2016

“We spend our days trying to be big. In the middle of nowhere, though, we can surrender to smallness again and instead find where we fit in the landscape. Out there, where there’s nothing, is where there’s the most to learn.” – Christopher Solomon, A Case for Getting Far, Far Away


In my last post, I briefly described a backpack through the canyons of the upper Escalante River.  This entire area of southern Utah is among the most remote in the western United States.  As a result of this (or maybe because of this) it is sparsely populated; depending on where you’re at, the nearest traffic signal can be hundreds of miles away and the stars in dark night skies vastly outnumber any town lights.

Escalante River Sunset

The Escalante River and its tributaries have cut sinuously through the sandstone in this area below the Aquarius Plateau.  As I said in my last post, it’s rugged country, but its matched perhaps only by the mettle of the area’s first explorers*.

As an underscore to the already remote nature of this country, about a century after the Escalante-Dominguez expedition, Major John Wesley Powell came through this area (roughly) on his Colorado River expedition.  He named the Henry Mountains, which are not insignificant, and are visible from much of southeastern Utah. The Henries were the last mountain range in the contiguous United States to be named and explored (the Navajo call them Dził Bizhiʼ Ádiní–mountain whose name is missing).

Henry Mountains Sunset

Grand Staircase Sunset

There are certainly places you can go in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument where you would feel anything but alone, but there are far more that would give you a feeling of complete isolation.  I can’t help but think that perhaps searching out that feeling of solitude–taking time to listen to the deafening silence–is something we should do from time to time.  I’m grateful there are still places like this for us to do just that.

*Father Silvestre Vélez de Escalante is regarded as one of the first Europeans to have explored this area as part of the Escalante-Dominguez expedition in 1776.  Before reaching this area, they were forced to kill and  eat their horses while searching for a crossing of the Colorado River (the place where they eventually crossed is now known as the Crossing of the Fathers, which is underneath Padre Bay in Lake Powell).

 

Backpacking a wilderness of rock

Written by Alpenglow Images on April 18th, 2016

“The upper Escalante Canyons, in the northeastern reaches of the monument, are distinctive: in addition to several major arches and natural bridges, vivid geological features are laid bare in narrow, serpentine canyons, where erosion has exposed sandstone and shale deposits in shades of red, maroon, chocolate, tan, gray, and white. Such diverse objects make the monument outstanding for purposes of geologic study.” – Presidential Proclamation 6920 (establishing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument), September 18, 1996


A wilderness of rock.  That’s what I imagined the historic Boulder Mail Trail would be when my dad and I set off to backpack it last month.  Indeed, to paraphrase Maynard Dixon, the upper Escalante Canyons expose the earth’s skeleton in a beautiful, if austere, way, exposing the earth’s skeleton.

The Boulder Mail Trail (which isn’t much of a trail at all), is the historic mail delivery route between the hamlets of Boulder and Escalante, Utah.  Highway 12, which now connects Boulder and Escalante, wasn’t paved until the 1970s, so the Mail Trail was the quickest route for quite some time.  All along the route, the old telegraph wire connecting these towns is also very obvious, although it’s fallen down in a few places.  The Mail Trail now lies almost entirely within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

A couple of months ago, my dad asked if I wanted to go backpacking this spring, and of course I jumped at the chance.  A while back, I wrote a blog post about January trips with my dad, and I continue to feel really fortunate that my parents are both willing and able to be active.  It was our first backpacking trip together in many years, but it ended up being very fun, and just the right length for two old “geezers.”

For early spring, the weather was what one can expect on the Colorado Plateau: windy and cold.  Out of the wind in the sun, it was pleasant, but it was never too hot.  When we set off from the trailhead outside of Boulder, snow flurries were ducking in and out of the canyons on the Aquarius Plateau to the north, and looked like they might reach us within a few hours.  Dark skies to the west seemed to promise wet weather as well.  That’s better than boring blue skies, though, right?

Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Utah

The Mail Trail is more than just a walk across sandstone, as it crosses a few fairly large tributaries of the Escalante River.  The most significant of these is Death Hollow, which despite the name is known for being a fun backpacking trip in its own right (save for the poison ivy it is also well known for!) and is about halfway along the Mail Trail. Death Hollow is surprisingly lush (hence the poison ivy), and is a wonderful riparian habitat tucked neatly away into the desert. We ended up camping in the bottom of the canyon amongst giant ponderosa pines because the weather was just spunky enough that we didn’t want to get blown off the rim and into the night as we slept.  We ended up falling asleep early, and despite a small sprinkle of rain and major sandblasting from the wind, the storm never really developed.

Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Utah

The next morning, we hiked about a mile down Death Hollow before the route continued out the west side of the canyon, and towards Escalante.  We were able to see Escalante within a few hours, but it took much longer to wind our way down through the sandstone and back to the car we had parked at that end of the Mail Trail.  A quick run up to Boulder for the other car, and a beer (or two) at Hell’s Backbone Grill topped off the trip.

Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Utah

Despite the increased popularity of the Escalante area since President Clinton included it in his massive 1996 National Monument, the upper canyons of the Escalante River seem to be less visited than other more popular areas along the lower river.  It was nice to be able to experience a little bit of history, wilderness, and complete solitude for two days.  That said, solitude shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise–there isn’t a traffic signal for at least 100 miles from Escalante, and this is one of the most remote and rural places in the lower 48 states.  Combine that with world class scenery, and this wilderness of rock is truly an area to be cherished.

Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Utah