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2013 Year in Review

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

“Of all the things I wondered about on this land, I wondered the hardest about the seduction of certain geographies that feel like home — not by story or blood but merely by their forms and colors. How our perceptions are our only internal map of the world, how there are places that claim you and places that warn you away. How you can fall in love with the light.”  — Ellen Meloy

“I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience of returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can’t go home again. I have done it, coming back here. But it gets less likely…we have lived too shallowly in too many places.” — Wallace Stegner


Another year has passed and I am re-reading my blog posts and journals from 2013, as well as reviewing my images, retracing my year.  Last year was one in which I grew tremendously in my photographic vision and voice.  This year, I hoped to build on that growth.

Looking at numbers of images produced, 2013 was relatively light for me.  Some of this was intentional: I spent significant time in the mountains over the summer and fall, but often left my camera at home, focusing on introspection and reflection.  I used to carry my camera everywhere with me, but have learned to let that go somewhat–sometimes being in the moment is more valuable than trying to capture every moment with a camera.  Details and intimacy with the moment get lost that way, as counterintuitive as it may seem.

Despite the few images I made this year, it was productive in other ways.  I was able to redesign my website and restructure my image portfolios.  I had several fantastic backpacking trips and was reminded how good getting off the grid for a few days can feel.  I was fortunate to enjoy two of those backpacking trips with Jackson Frishman, who I have known for several years through our blogs; I really enjoyed getting to know him in person this year.  I also was able to further develop some thoughts on the West, and on sense of place, which is an ongoing subject of interest for me:

Potsherds

In Defense of the West

Preserving Wildness

Personally, it was a year of deep introspection, revelation, and unexpected hope for me; 2014 should be an interesting year photographically as well as personally.   One thing I did confront within myself was the fact that my parents are aging and won’t live forever–this has been a theme since January and in some ways continues to be so.

My biggest recurring theme this year was the concept of ‘home’ and how we fit into the landscape.  I’m not talking about home in the sense of having a street address and a house, but rather the feeling you get when you arrive in a certain location.  Why are we drawn to certain landscapes more than others–why do we feel “at home” in certain landscapes, but not in others?  I feel like this is should be a central tenet of landscape photography: conveying a sense of place, a sense of belonging, to the landscape.

As humans, we are at an interesting crossroads: we can use the landscape to drive our development, we can simply be inhabitants of the landscape, or we can become part of the landscape, existing as part of its rhythm.   Only the latter option is a completely synchronous way of living–the former two are somewhat asynchronous.  The bottom line is that we must strive to create a life that’s in balance with our own needs, but also with the land.

I found balance this year by visiting familiar locations, revisiting places I haven’t been in years, and discovering new landscapes I haven’t visited before.  As I was reviewing my portfolios and images from the year, it struck me that many of my favorites from this year were in monochrome.  Why?  I guess I just saw the world that way in 2013.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the images, and that 2013 was good to you.  I hope you a fantastic 2014 as well!

Markagunt Plateau Aspens

Aspen grove, Utah. September

Aspens and granite boulders

Aspens & lichen-covered granite, California, August

Blooming Mojave Yucca

Mojave Yucca, California, April

Intimate mountain landscape

Tree & Rocks, California, May

Canyon Abstract 2

Canyon Walls, Utah, June

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Shadows and Hillside, California, March

Death Valley Sunrise

Stormy Desert Sunrise, California, January

The Little Colorado River

Little Colorado River Canyon, Arizona, February

Wildflowers, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Mountain Wildflowers, Wyoming, July

Preserving Wildness

Friday, August 16th, 2013

If you keep up with my blog, or if you’ve purchased our ebook, An Honest Silence, some of the themes in this essay, even some of the direct words, will seem very familiar to you.  I consider all of these thoughts an ongoing synthesis of experiences, and the repetition–in my mind–is part and parcel of the evolution of these thoughts.  My apologies if it seems derivative.

As we board our homeward-bound flight, the sun is disappearing over the Rocky Mountains, reminding me of my early childhood years living in Denver.  The sunset becomes more intense as the plane is pushed onto the runway, takes off, and moves quickly over the Front Range, leaving the city lights behind.  Flying westward, the Earth’s Shadow and Belt of Venus seem to be unable to let go of the day, keeping me company as I look out the window over my sleeping son’s head.

Below us, lights from the small towns of the West are starting to come on.  However, the empty spots—the growing blackness between the towns—are what capture my imagination and attention tonight.  I’ve been a passenger on this route enough times to know what’s below me:  the foothills of the western slope of the Rockies, the Green and Colorado Rivers, the white rim of the Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, the Basin and Range province, and eventually John Muir’s beloved Range of Light.


Like so many others, I first discovered these places while on summer vacation with my family.  We drove through the national parks and along lonely highways, filled with buttresses, canyons, peaks, and monoliths; they stuck in my memory as I returned home, and I read everything I could get my hands on about the adventurers who explored these wild, remote, isolated, and dangerous locations.  As often as I was able, I ventured out in search of my own adventure.

Today, more than 20 years later, I am finally beginning to understand the value of both wilderness and wildness in our lives.  The architects of the Wilderness Act envisioned wilderness as a place “untrammeled by man,” essentially to remain a blank spot on the map.  Indeed, we find ourselves in a world where we try to be big.  Everywhere, we are connected—via 3G—to the civilization that surrounds us, the number of empty places we experience is decreasing rapidly.  When we take the courageous leap, hit “Command-Q” on our keyboards, and venture out into these blank spots on the map, we are able to acknowledge that we are indeed small in this world, that we are connected to—not isolated from—nature.

Our nation’s Wildernesses represent much more than acreage and species diversity—things that can be quantified.  They offer a place for us to experience a quality of life—the wildness Thoreau wrote about in his now famous passage, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”  Earlier this year, a close friend was backpacking alone in a California Wilderness area; his first evening out, he realized he was being stalked—at close range—by a mountain lion.  It was a long, sleepless night for him, but everything turned out all right.  Facing the prospect of moving down on the food chain, my friend experienced a visceral, almost ancestral, reaction to the wilderness.  We should all be so lucky.  We go to the wilderness to find true wildness, and while it may come in forms that sometimes surprise us, hopefully we will come out kinder, gentler, sweeter human beings.

(Thoreau believed that we should embrace this sort of wildness on every walk in nature.  In his essay Walking, he wrote, “We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms.  If you are ready to leave father and mother…never to see them again…then you are ready for a walk.”)1

After nearly a quarter century of wandering our nation’s wilderness in search of excitement, solace, adventure, and myself, I am watching my son discover his own wild nature through play in the outdoors.  In observing him, one becomes keenly aware that there is a quality of wildness in the wilderness experience.  Much emphasis today is placed on protecting wilderness as a parcel of land, but saving our own wild nature is just as important.  In wildness is the preservation of us.


Aldo Leopold wrote, “To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”  Tonight, sitting on this jet with a bird’s eye view of the West, I have to wonder where my imagination would wander if there were no blank spots on the map.   If the peaks and mesas below me had been leveled, if more lights dotted the landscape, these places—as well as our experience of wild nature—would change forever.


1I do not completely agree with Thoreau; I do not believe we need such harrowing experiences to appreciate either the Wilderness areas that have been set aside by Congress, or to understand our own wild nature.  First, encounters like my friend’s have the tendency to make all but a few people fearful to be in the outdoors, and the preservation of wildness is diminished dramatically if we pit ourselves against perceived dangers, whether biotic or abiotic—the Other.  We share common elements with all of nature that are billions of years old, elements forged in stars that are light years away; we have a primal connection to the landscape and its creatures.  Acknowledging and embracing this is perhaps the ultimate act of courage and humility—the first steps in realizing our smallness in the world.  Second, I believe we need wilderness because of the connection that is fostered, as Wallace Stegner wrote, “even if we never once in ten years set foot in it.”  Knowing it’s there gives our daydreams a place to drift to, maintaining sanity and health.

Dolomite Dawn

The nature of loss

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

I’ve often (somewhat seriously) joked that the only reason I’d want to be the President of the United States is because of the Antiquities Act.  This law enables the President–with the swipe of a pen–to protect our nation’s “antiquities” by declaring a national monument.  Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the bill into law, used the Antiquities Act to create Devils Postpile National Monument, as well as Grand Canyon National Monument, which would later become a national park.  Most boys want to be an astronaut when they grow up; I wanted to create national monuments.

Today is the 105th birthday of Utah’s first national monument: Natural Bridges.  The monument protects three large natural bridges, including the world’s second largest, all of which are carved out of beautiful, white, Cedar Mesa Sandstone.  Two relatively untamed canyons come together in Natural Bridges, and between the large arcs of stone, Ancestral Puebloan ruins are also protected, standing sentinel over these canyons as they have for hundreds of years.  Natural Bridges is out of the way and remote, located in one of the darkest nighttime areas of the United States, earning it the title of the world’s first International Dark Sky Park.

White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument

Perhaps it’s an ironic coincidence, but on the birthday of Utah’s first national monument, a group of congressmen–one of whom is from Utah–will begin a hearing in an attempt to undermine the framework of the Antiquities Act.  If passed, this body of legislation would require an act of Congress to declare a national monument as well as remove restrictions on land use within national monuments.  In Nevada, the Antiquities Act would become null and void (as it is in Wyoming currently).  My fear is that in today’s hyperpartisan congress, these changes would make it virtually impossible to use this law as it was intended.

What strikes me even more deeply is the fact that I see the world changing.  We are developing land and extracting natural resources at a rate which is simply unsustainable.  As a nation, we are slowly but surely abandoning wild places, which is opposite of the notion on which we built our country.  Wallace Stegner wrote in his now-famous wilderness letter, “We need wilderness preserved–as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds–because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed.  The reminder and reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it.

Much has been written on the value inherent in preserving these places and I can’t begin to reiterate all of it here.  You can read about clear cuts, pipelines, and mining all day.  However, I can’t help but think there’s something deeper happening which we must examine.  The material impact of our society on wilderness is obvious, but what about the impact of wilderness on us?  Does it no longer move us?  Are we no longer in awe of what’s “out there?”  Are we simply missing the bigger picture?

What’s the connection to photography?  Honestly, I’m still working on this.  As landscape photographers, we have the ability to inspire people, to make them want to see places that they might not otherwise see.  We have the ability to become an impassioned voice.  It’s worth considering, and it beats the alternative.  The loss of nature will eventually force us to examine the nature of loss one way or another.


If these mountains die, where will our imaginations wander?  If the far mesas are leveled, what will sustain us in our quest to be larger than life?  If the high valley is made mundane by self-seekers and careless users, where will we find another landscape so eager to nourish our love?  And if the long-time people of this wonderful country are carelessly squandered by Progress, who will guide us to a better world?  — John Nichols


When I was a boy I didn’t want to be an astronaut; I wanted to be in the wilderness.  I still do.

Armstrong Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument

A Celebration of Wilderness–ebook release

Friday, October 12th, 2012

The day has finally come…Ann, PJ, and I are very happy to make An Honest Silence: A Celebration of Wilderness available for purchase.  We are offering the book as a 48-page, 25.1 MB , PDF download for $5.  A portion of the sales will be donated directly to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

You can download your copy now by clicking here, clicking at the “eBooks” tab at the top of this page, or clicking the “buy now” button at the bottom of this post.

This will be my 266th blog post here at Alpenglow Images, and I’ve learned over the last three years that there is something very gratifying about writing, but at the same time also scary.  When you write, you are putting yourself out there…letting the world in.  While we want to be accepted, we can easily be judged.

Because of the “risk” involved, the release of this book carries a genuine excitement with it; I hope you enjoy reading it.  I want to thank David Leland Hyde as well for writing the foreword; David works harder than anyone I know to perpetuate the legacy of conservation that began with his parents, Philip and Ardis Hyde.

This book represents three voices that are asking for more to rise up in the defense of wild places.  We need these open spaces, and cannot live without them.  If we are truly successful, you will be moved.  Moved to write a letter to a legislator in support of wilderness.  Moved take your children hiking.  Moved to spend an afternoon under a tree in your favorite wild place.

Will you celebrate with us?

Buy Now

Climbing Mountains

Friday, August 10th, 2012

I recently did a solo backpack into southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains.  My primary goal was to climb San Gorgonio Mountain (11,503′), the tallest point in southern California; my secondary goal was to escape the searing heat in the valleys below.  On August 11, I’ll have lived in southern California for ten years (as a somewhat macabre coincidence, August 11 is also the ten-year anniversary of Galen & Barbara Rowell’s death), and I decided it was finally time to climb this formidable mountain.

Over the past decade or so, I have not really climbed mountains for the sake of climbing mountains.  In college, I used to drive down to Colorado and climb 14,000′ peaks a few times a year, but I seem to have gotten away from that.  I suppose the time period  that I stopped doing long hikes was also the time I got into photography.  In some ways, the two don’t really dovetail well–long hikes require early starts and the pace can be, “go go go” for hours on end; when you’re in the mountains, a 16-hour day isn’t uncommon.   Photography, on the other hand, calls for quiet contemplation.  It can be a tough balance.

San Gorgonio Mountain at sunrise

San Gorgonio Mountain, 11,503′, January 2011

This disconnect has bothered me, and like so many other insignificant problems, I’ve let it stay on my mind longer than it really should.  I’ve largely solved the problem by carrying with me a small point-and-shoot camera that can capture images in RAW format, still giving me the ability to edit them, but also giving me the flexibility to pursue more difficult and athletic outdoor pursuits.  There is, of course, the tradeoff of image quality when you use a point-and-shoot over a DSLR, but it is one I was willing to make.

When I was in college, I read Robert Pirsig’s, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I’m not sure I completely understood it, and even if I reread it today, I’m not sure I would.  It’s pretty far out there, and it’s deep.  However, the theme of the book–quality–has been on my mind since.  Every time I go into an outdoor store, I drool over all the sexy new gear, and sometimes I succumb to advertising, but I pride myself on my really old equipment.  For instance, I’ve been using the same backpack for over 20 years now, and it’s still going strong, after 1,000s of miles.  I used my nifty point-and-shoot camera to for some self-portraits to highlight the pack in action on my recent trip to San Gorgonio Mountain.  Despite my allegiance to my gear, the specter of consumerism hovers near me most of the time.

A backpacker in the San Gorgonio Wilderness of southern California

20 years old and still going strong, self-portrait, August 2012

(click on the diptych to see it full size)


“All that matters is that you spare yourself nothing, wear yourself out, risk everything to find something that seems true.”   –Tony Kushner


To summit San Gorgonio Mountain, I got up at 3:30am, and was on the trail by 3:45.  From my campsite, I was able to summit at 5:30am, just before the sun came up.  I used the self-timer on my camera for a few self portraits, and then headed back down to my campsite for a cup of tea before packing up and heading back to my car.  The morning was cool, and I forgot how long the Earth’s shadow and Belt of Venus seem to hang in the sky at this elevation.  Even though I could see the megalopolis of southern California stretching below me, I had this mountain completely to myself.

Predawn light on San Gorgonio Mountain

Predawn light, San Gorgonio Mountain, August 2012

On my hike down I thought about the physical act of climbing mountains as well as the mountains we climb within ourselves.  “Like those in the valley behind us,” wrote Robert Pirsig, “most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships.”   I thought about my point-and shoot camera, my 20-year-old backpack, people in my life, and the mountains we all find ourselves challenged by every day.

I am happy that I finally ventured into the San Bernardinos to climb San Gorgonio Mountain.

Mt. San Jacinto at dawn

Mt. San Jacinto as seen from San Gorgonio Mountain, August 2012

 

Sunrise on the flanks of San Gorgonio Mountain

Krummholz, Jepson Peak, and the Earth’s Shadow, August 2012

Little Wildernesses

Monday, May 21st, 2012

As the urban/rural boundary has blurred over the years, I’ve come to see that growing up in the city had its rewards. The inner-city life has adventures all its own, but I was also lucky to have grown up in the city when I did, when there was still some open space around – untended little wild spots, overgrown orchards, vast open fields that seemed to stretch forever without a building, dense arbors in urban parks where we could hide securely from school and cops.

-Ernest Atencio

Open space was a huge part of my childhood.  Every day after school, my friends and I would gather at the vacant lot near our houses, building jumps for our bicycles that were destined to break at least a few bones (although somehow they never did).  We went home only when our parents came looking for us.

For those few hours after school each day the city we lived in seemed to melt away, and we could pretend to take our bikes to anyplace in the world we wanted.

As we grew older, we ventured further from our neighborhood, eventually making our way out to the piñon-juniper woodland that surrounded my hometown in northwestern New Mexico.  There, we encountered coyotes, deer, as well as mysterious noises in the bushes that were probably nothing more than a deer mouse scurrying around, however it was enough to stir the remnants of an overactive childhood imagination.

So it was that my formative years were not spent in ‘wild’ wilderness necessarily, but it was wild enough to spark my curiosity, to make me want to see more wild places, and to instill in me a sense of adventure and stewardship.  It was in those pygmy forests of the Four Corners that my lifelong relationship with wilderness was born.


“Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man-controlled environment.” writes Wallace Stegner in his ever-poignant Wilderness Letter.

Stegner continues, “We need wilderness preserved–as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds–because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there–important, that is, simply as an idea.”

Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

The Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

What Stegner is saying is that every one of us needs wilderness.  I worked for several summers doing biological data collection in the White Mountains of eastern California.  One summer a volunteer in our lab came to the field with me for the first time; he grew up and spent almost his entire life in Los Angeles.

 

The Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

The Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

After leaving the pavement, he said to me, “I didn’t know there were any dirt roads in the U.S.”  That day, things I naïvely thought were commonplace appeared as a whole new world to him: deer, hawks, wild horses, violent but brief thunderstorms, and views that stretch on forever transformed his perception of the world before my eyes.

This is the wellspring of my hope.  Everyone perceives “wilderness” differently, and we have all been introduced to it in different ways.  We all have our own personal reasons to fight for its protection.  Yet, we need it, according to Stegner, for our spiritual health.

Our spiritual health.

Perhaps it is something rooted deeply in our evolutionary past, but wilderness is healing, a place of solace and comfort.  As far as efforts to protect wilderness go, we as a people have unity in our diverse perceptions of wild places.  Some wildernesses are little, some are big, but they are all equally valuable.


I wonder what those piñon-juniper forests of my youth would look like today, seen through older eyes.  I know at least some of it has gone away to make space for homes.  However, selfishly, I like to think they remain a place of hope, sanity, imagination, and peace.  Who knows, maybe some kids are building their own bike jumps there right now.  That may not be such a bad thing.

When it comes to things I care deeply for, words sometimes fail me.  I make photographs that (I hope) express my emotions for wild places.

What experiences formed your relationship with wild places?  Where are the places you seek comfort?

A small child in the outdoors

My son, 2 years old (photo by Brent Deschamp)

Overland Flight

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

As we board the homeward bound flight, the sun is setting over the Rocky Mountains, reminding me of my early childhood years living in Denver.  The sunset becomes more intense as the plane is pushed onto the runway, and takes off, leaving Denver International Airport behind.  The beauty of flying westward into the sunset is that it lasts longer–the earth’s shadow and Belt of Venus seem to be eternal, keeping me company as I daydream looking out the window over my sleeping son’s head.

Below us, lights from the small towns of the West are starting to come on.  I wonder what’s happening in those towns on this Friday night; people are relaxing at the bar after a long week of work, teenagers are cruising Main Street looking for something to do.  Despite that, its the empty spots, the growing blackness, that capture my imagination.  I’ve been a passenger on this route enough times to know what’s below me: the foothills of the western slope of the Rockies, the Green and Colorado Rivers, the white rim of Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, the Mojave Desert.

Its quite possible there’s not a whole lot of unexplored areas left in the West, but part of me wants to hang on to the notion that there is still some “out there” left out there.  David Roberts recently had a thought-provoking op-ed piece in the New York Times arguing that with 21st Century technology, there’s not a whole lot of wilderness left.  That hopeful naïveté I cling to wants to disagree with him–that possibly there is still an unexplored canyon, or at least a hill which offers a great view of this everlasting sunset–that has yet to be enjoyed.

Aldo Leopold wrote,

To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”

Tonight, sitting on this jet with a bird’s eye view of the West, I have to wonder where my imagination would wander if there were no blank spots on the map.   As a photographer, I have been thinking a lot lately about documenting these wild lands–what is my responsibility as an artist, my obligation to protect these lands?  If those peaks and mesas are leveled, if lights begin to dot the landscape, these places will change forever.

Where does your imagination wander?  None of us would argue over the value of those blank spots on the map, but what do you think–is there a fine line between artist and activist, or are they one and the same?

Sunset and moonrise at Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

End of the Day, July 2010

Mecca Hills Wilderness

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Late last week, we made a day trip out to the Mecca Hills Wilderness, which is located near Indio California in the Coachella Valley.  The landscape twists and turns in a very unique and beautiful way; formed by the San Andreas fault, the Mecca Hills are a badlands with colors reminiscent of the Artists’ Palette in Death Valley National Park, and canyons that would rival even the narrowest of slot canyons in Utah.

While there, we made sure to stop and hike through the popular Ladder Canyon.  Only 3-4′ wide in places and over 200′ deep, Ladder Canyon would be a technical ascent (or descent) if it weren’t for the ladders which give the canyon its name.  Due to the hike’s popularity and proximity to Palm Springs, solitude came in sporadic bursts.  Still, it was great to be in there, making images.

Ladder Canyon, Mecca Hills Wilderness, California
Ladder Canyon, March 2011

A series of unusually strong late-season storms have been hitting southern California for the last week or so, too.  Driving out, the fast-moving clouds from one of the systems had an interesting play on the light over the badlands.

Mecca Hills Wilderness Badlands, California

Badlands & Clouds, March 2011

I’m unplugging and heading off to Utah and Nevada for the week.  Hope you have a good one!

The Value of Being Wrong

Friday, March 11th, 2011

How do you find your landscape photography locations?  We’re in an age where many of us own at least one guidebook to an area; indeed, there are a lot of photography location guidebooks out there, and some of them are excellently written.

A few of you have heard my story about “Bob,” another photographer I met in Joshua Tree National Park one afternoon a couple of years ago.  I was photographing some boulders late in the day, and Bob came up, asking if he could shoot around me.  No problem.  I watched him pull a few folded up sheets out of his pocket–they were images he’d printed off the internet of other photographers’ images from the area.  He went through each one of them systematically, moving his tripod to exactly copy each photograph.  I confirmed with him that this is what he was doing.

Contrast Bob with who I call the “Wanderer”.  The Wanderer explores areas that may not necessarily be famous, but when done well, can come up with unique compositions and subtle beauty just about anywhere.  Bob and the Wanderer are the two extremes of a continuum.

Most of us, I think, lie somewhere along this continuum.  Most people are constrained enough by time (i.e. other commitments in life) that they can’t always wander as much as they’d like.  Personally, I do rely on guidebooks and word of mouth to help guide me to pretty locations, but once I’m in the area, I very often will wander, looking for unique compositions.  Fortunately, most of these locations are really conducive to letting creativity flow.

Despite relying somewhat on guidebooks, sometimes serendipity can strike in really sly ways.   In January, I followed vague directions to what is supposed to be a charming set of hoodoos in southern Utah.  From the parking area (a cow pasture), the directions I had told me to “walk up the canyon for an additional mile to the hoodoos.”  The problem is that there were two canyons.  Which way to go?

It turns out I chose wrong, and the hoodoos were nowhere to be found, even after more than a mile of walking.  I ended up at the head of a canyon that I would bet only ranchers and cows have been in for a very long time.  However, I was able to find some badlands, and one hoodoo, and I ended up really loving this image–not a bad “consolation prize” at all.

Hoodoo near Church Wells Badlands in southern Utah
Church Wells, January 2011

I guess all of this is a roundabout way of saying that even though its okay to follow directions to beautiful places, don’t be afraid to wander up the wrong canyon now and then.  You might just be delighted with what you find.