Devil's Kitchen Sunrise: Three Views of the Needles

devils kitchen campground in needles canyonlands
Devil's Kitchen Sunrise at 105mm
There is no quicker way to change a picture then to change the focal length.  If you have a zoom lens, simply twisting it back and forth can remarkably bring distant objects closer.  Twisting the opposite direction, a very wide angle can be obtained in which the whole universe seems to come into the lens.
I thought it might be interesting and educational to show 3 different views of the Devils Kitchen, but a remote section of Canyonlands Needles District.  I traveled in there by car without any weight restrictions.  I brought my 300 mm lens and several other heavy photographic tools.  The first shot was taken at a focal length of 105 mm.  This is actually zoomed in quite a bit.  It helps bring the flowers and the spire is a little bit closer together in the photograph.  Nevertheless, the flowers are very small.
devils kitchen wildflowers at sunrise
Devil's Kitchen and Wildflowers at 50mm
There is no quicker way to change a picture then to change the focal length.  If you have a zoom lens, simply twisting it back and forth can remarkably bring distant objects closer.  Twisting the opposite direction, a very wide angle can be obtained in which the whole universe seems to come into the lens.
I thought it might be interesting and educational to show 3 different views of the Devils Kitchen, but a remote section of Canyonlands Needles District.  I traveled in there by car without any weight restrictions.  I brought my 300 mm lens and several other heavy photographic tools.  The first shot was taken at a focal length of 105 mm.  This is actually zoomed in quite a bit.  It helps bring the flowers and the spire is a little bit closer together in the photograph.  Nevertheless, the flowers are very small.
devils kitchen hoodoo chimney spires
Devil's Kitchen Spires at 600mm
Lastly, I brought out my heavy lens and attached a 2x tele-converter to it.  This makes a focal length of 600 mm.  With this heavy, long lens the spires filled the whole frame.  You can see what this does to the picture: focus on one thing.  Nothing else fits into the photo.

The Joint Trail in Needles, Canyonlands

Joint trail steps from chesler park hike
Stone Steps into the Joint Trail from Chesler Park
Hiking sometimes is pure drudgery.  Other times it is a magical experience.  The joint trail is one of those magical trails in which the destination is not the only aim.  The journey to the destination can be just as much fun along a wonderful trail like this.  The narrow canyon walls, fun and silly "cairn room" are the destination among themselves along the way to the beautiful Chesler Park.  It is also very cool and pleasant deep in these slots, a nice break from the sun and heat..
hiker on joint trail from chesler park
Hiker on the Joint Trail in Needles District
cairns on the joint trail needles canyonlands
Cairns along Joint Trail

Chesler Park Sunset: The Needles of Canyonlands

needles canyonlands chesler park sunset beautiful
Chesler Park at Sunset:  The grassy meadow surround the sandstone towers is gorgeous.
Chesler Park is a very special place.  Of all the locations I have visited, this is one of the most difficult to reach.  That difficulty is part of the reason it is so special.  If you are here as the sun sets, you basically have this wonderful meadow and collection of spires to yourself.  The "park" is never crowded because there is no easy access to Chesler Park.  Several miles hiking is required.

Armed with a precious camping permit at Chesler Park campsite #4, my daughter and I hiked in from the Joint Trail.  We set up our tent and camp between 2 wonderful round boulders and I started to wander around the meadow preparing for sunset.

The golden hour can be prolonged more than one hour in the right conditions with clouds and changing weather patterns.  The golden hour can also be shortened to 10 minutes when the skies are empty of clouds.  Such was the case on this night.  No clouds in any direction could be seen.  The sun set through the clear blue sky.  Only as the sun was reaching the horizon did the colors change to a golden orange hue.  I'd been taking photographs for quite some time and realized they would all be useless after seeing such wonderful light at the very moment of sunset.  This is my favorite photograph of Chesler Park.  The sun had already stopped shining on the grass but was still touching the tallest spires.

Trail Report: Hiking Paria Canyon to Buckskin Gulch and Beyond

paria canyon hiking adventure and paria windows.
Paria Windows are just one fascinating find on the hike from Paria Canyon to the Buckskin Confluence
Hiking from the White House trailhead near the Paria ranger station all the way to the confluence with Buckskin Gulch is a wonderful adventure.  This is a very easy, level hike.  There is virtually no change in elevation at all.  The challenge to this hike is its length.  From the White House trailhead to buckskin Gulch is 7 miles . . .  one way.  To hike further up Buckskin Gulch adds more time to your hike. I ended up hiking 2.5 miles into Buckskin Gulch making my one-way total mileage of 9.5 miles.  My return trip increased the total up to 19 miles in one day.   I want to describe my experience so that others can benefit from it as they plan to explore this amazing slot canyon.

I started hiking at 5:30 AM.  It was very dark and I used headlamp for about one hour.  I wanted to be deep into the Paria Canyon by sunrise that I could shoot some of these amazing structures without having bright direct sunlight on them.  The first amazing thing that you come across are the Paria Windows.  These are 2 miles into the hike.  I actually photographed these on the way out of the canyon as the sun was setting.  These are the first things and the most accessible of Paria.

after hiking 2 miles, you reach paria windows
Paria Windows are found 2 miles into the hike
I hoped to reach Slide Rock Arch at dawn.  This structure below made me stop for some photos and I was tricked into thinking it might be Slide Rock arch.  I took several photos (probably too many) before hiking on.
paria canyon hiking to buckskin gulch
This interesting rock is about 5 miles in Paria Canyon
Between the above formation and Slide Rock Arch there are several fascinating formations in the canyon.  The most interesting are numerous small windows in the sandstone.  These are on both sides of the canyon anywhere from 2 feet up to 10 feet above the ground.
paria canyon hiking trail
Smaller windows are found just before Slide Rock Arch
The screaming ghost caught my attention.
paria canyon ghostly face in sandstone rock
Screaming Ghost was found in this section.

Only a few feet from the screaming ghost, Slide Rock arch is found.  Slide Rock arch is just under 7 miles from the trailhead.  This is an incredible formation.  The size, weight and the beautiful canyons surrounding it make it a destination for photographers.  I stopped here on my way in and on my way out to take photographs.  The light is different at each time of the day and both times yielded wonderful photographs.
hiking paria canyon to slide rock arch
Slide Rock Arch is nearly 7 miles into the hike
Between the arch and the confluence with buckskin gulch, more water and mud are present.  The farther downstream you go in this wash, the more water accumulates.  This is where I had to walk through quite a bit of mud and water.  It is very easy but a little bit slippery.
Near paria and buckskin confluence hiking
Near the Confluence with Buckskin Gulch, mud and water abound
The confluence with buckskin gulch is interesting but not necessarily photogenic.  I did not stop to take a picture there.  Instead I started hiking up buckskin gulch.  After about half a mile, the narrow canyon opens up to a beautiful red-cliff paradise.  Trees and boulders are everywhere.  Wonderful reflected light enchants anyone who can reach this paradise.
buckskin gulch hiking trail from paria canyon
Great boulder and trees in lower Buckskin gulch
trail to buckskin gulch amazing adventure
Golden Wall and Green Trees in Buckskin Gulch
Traveling further upstream, buckskin gulch becomes very dark, deep and cold.  Light will reflect off the canyon walls differently throughout the day.  There are lots of photo opportunities.  This is also where the mind seems to dry up and curl into small scrolls.  This is a fun place to take pictures of the mud and the canyon walls together.  This area is between 8 and 9 miles from the start of the trip.
deep dark buckskin gulch narrows
Deepest and darkest sections of Buckskin Gulch
Mud rolled up like a scroll in Buckskin Gulch hike
Scrolled up mud and sand are abundant here
hiking buckskin gulch adventure
Pillars with Eyes
rolled up mud like a curled scroll
Mud Macro from Buckskin Gulch
At approximately 9.5 miles from the trailhead, 2.5 miles upstream from the confluence of Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, you come across an enormous vertical stone impaled into the ground.  When I saw it I immediately thought of a name for it:  Thor's Dagger.  At Thor's dagger I went a little further.  The canyon narrowed and got dark again.  I decided that it was time to turn around.  The time was 2 PM.  I'd been hiking and photographing for 8.5 hours already.  I knew I'd photograph several spots on my way back out as the light had changed.  To have time for that, I needed to turn around.

 Although I started at 5:30 AM in darkness, I did not get back to my car until about 8:30 PM.  It was getting dark again about that time.  This was a very long but extremely rewarding day for hiking, exploring, adventure and photography.
Thor's Dagger in Buckskin Gulch
Thor's Dagger is 2 miles upstream from the Confluence
Be sure to take plenty of water.  I had 3 L of water but I ran out with about 5 miles to hike.  Fortunately I had some fruit and other things with moisture to keep me going.

Gordon's hike rating:
Hike Difficulty:                   ★★★ Moderate
Trail Condition:                   ★★★ Moderate flat
Trail Hazards:                      ★★ Mild:  mud and smaller rocks
Trailhead:                              White House campground
Time Required:                     1 - 16 hours
Distance round trip:              1 - 18 miles, at least 10 to reach the good stuff
Off the Beaten Path:             ★★★★★ Yes, 5 Stars
Scenery:                                ★★★★★ Spectacular, 5 Stars
Photographic Potential:        ★★★★★ Amazing, 5 Stars

Paria Windows

Paria Windows with cracked mud Grand staircase
Paria Windows:  Cracked Windows of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Several beautiful sections of Paria Canyon give different photographic rewards.  The easiest one to reach is the Paria Windows.  These formations are scooped out from the cliff.  Wind and water erode them.  They are bleached white by the floodwaters which occasionally traveled down.  Higher up, the deep red canyon walls give a wonderful colorful contrast to the whitewashed windows below.

If it hasn't rained recently, deep cracks in the mud are usually present in front of the windows.  When I visited, it had one week earlier.  Much of the water was dried up but not very many people had visited this area since the last rain.  Consequently there were no footprints and these cracked mud surfaces were undisturbed.

Curiously while I was there, water did start to flow down.  It did not reach the windows photographed above.  It did reach some of the windows farther down the canyon.  A photograph of them is below.
flash flood Paria Canyon water reflection at the windows
Paria Canyon windows and flood water

Slide Rock Arch: Photography in Paria Canyon

Slide rock arch paria hiking utah
Slide Rock Arch in Paria Canyon:  Massive and Beautiful
Slide rock arch is a spectacular destination deep inside Paria Canyon.  It is neither easy to reach nor easy to photograph.  The massive size as well as the restrictions of a slot canyon present challenges.  The mixed lighting (some direct, some reflected, some indirect) is also a challenge.  

To deal with the lighting difficulties that often arise at mid day, I hiked very early so that I would reach this before light was shining directly into the canyon.  To deal with the massive size, I also used my tilt shift 17 mm lens.  Taking several different shots, I was able to stitch them together to create the photograph above.  This is what the eye can see.  This is what is too wide for a standard camera to include.  

Several other views of slide rock arch are included here so that you can get a good idea of what this special place is really like.

Slide rock arch utah paria grand staircase
Slide Rock Arch photographed from a small sandy hill in Paria Canyon
utah arch slide rock paria
Triangles in Nature:  Slide Rock arch and Reflection of Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon heavy boulder arch Utah
Huge, heavy boulder creating Slide Rock Arch.  

Deep in Buckskin Gulch

buckskin gulch hiking through deep narrow canyon
Curve and Glow:  Buckskin Gulch
Buckskin gulch is famous for the deep and extremely long narrows.  I think it is possible the hike  through these narrows without ever having the sunlight directly strike you.  These narrows are so deep.  The light which you see is primarily reflected off the canyon walls much higher up.  This creates a beautiful blowing color on the walls.  As a landscape photographer, this type of life is so unique and wonderful to me.  There are a few examples of that light and what it can do in a beautiful canyon.
hiking through buckskin gulch amazing.
Sculpted wall of Buckskin Gulch
buckskin gulch deep and narrow canyon
Deep Glowing Wall far into Buckskin Gulch
buckskin gulch sandstone narrows
High canyon wall and light reflected everywhere
in Buckskin Gulch

Paria Canyon Narrows: Glowing Light and Mud

paria canyon narrows grand staircase escalante
Paria Narrows:  hiking through mud and glowing light.
One of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is the Paria canyon and Buckskin canyon combination.  This hike begins at the White House trail head, heading south down the Paria canyon.  Initially it is very wide and unremarkable.  After about 5 miles it becomes more narrow, wet and fascinating.  In this narrow section, lites seems to come around each corner, illuminating canyon walls beautifully and artistically.  In the shot above, I had to wade through that slippery pool of mud in the center of the picture.  Then I turned around and composed this photograph.  I was careful not to overexpose because this is a fairly dark environment.  I did not want to "blow" the highlights in the brightest sections.

Of course I used my tripod because of the relative dark.  A long shutter speed was required.

The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI

the baths national park virgin gorda bvi
The Baths of Virgin Gorda
The Baths are a national park of the British Virgin Islands.  Boulders as large as houses are stacked up on the beach, sometimes sitting atop one another.  An amphibious trail snakes under, around and over these boulders from the main beach to Devil's Bay on the southern tip of Virgin Gorda island.  This is a wonderful place to enjoy a unique natural beauty.  I took plenty of photos here but I spent more time swimming, snorkeling and lazily watching the water.  Remember to enjoy the moment.
virgin gorda bvi baths boulder caribbean
Devil's Bay, Virgin Gorda
snorkeling at the baths british virgin islands
Fantastic snorkel awaits at the Baths
the baths and beach virgin gorda
Dawn at the Baths

Trail Report: Sandy Cay, BVI

Caribbean island sandy cay bvi
Sandy Cay as seen from the water
Sandy Cay is a national park of the British Virgin Islands.  A visit here is highly recommended.  The islands is a tropical paradise with beautiful sandy beaches and a wonderful trail circling the island.  The trail is not long at all but highly pleasant. On the same island, cactus and palm trees co-exist.   You'll start by landing your watercraft (in our case a kayak) on the beach.  Then walk around the beach to the right where you'll discover a trail leading through the trees.  After a few hundred feet, the trail climbs onto rockier and higher ground.  Here the cactus thrive and you'll have a splendid view back toward the beach.  Keep circling around the trail and you'll drop back into the forest canopy.  Finally, you return to the beach.  Total time:  20-40 minutes.  Memories:  priceless.
sandy cay beach and waves bvi
When you land with your kayak or dinghy, this is what you see.
hiking sandy cay bvi
Looking back to the beach from the high point of the island.
Many Cactus are on this part but a fine trail goes through them.
palm tree island beach caribbean bvi
The trail returns to the beach where you can
go for a swim or take photos of paradise.
british virgin islands sandy cay crab
Native crab on Sandy Cay

Sandy Spit, BVI and how I got this photograph

Sandy Spit, British Virgin Islands (as seen from Green Cay)
Few people are lucky enough to visit the British Virgin Islands once.  Even fewer go twice.  Just such an opportunity came to me because of a family member who is passionate about sailing.  He invited me and a few others.  That makes more fun and we divide the cost of the ship.  But I digress.

My first visit to Sandy Spit in 2008 was remarkable.  Here's this tiny piece of beach surrounded by water everywhere.  What could be more beautiful than that?  Taking a photo of this beauty should be easy right?  Wrong.  From the level of a sailboat or the beach itself, you cannot see the island's other side.  You can't see how small and cute it is.  My photos from 2008 disappointed me.

A higher vantage point is needed to show this island in its' best light.  I did some advance research this time.  I checked out surrounding islands and their heights.  Could they be climbed?  Can a ship anchor near enough to allow a visit?  I figures that Green Cay would be an ideal location to shoot down on Sandy Spit.  The best time would be near sunset, so that any smaller boat who visit during the day would be gone.

The boat I sailed on anchored off Little Jost Van Dyke.  In the distance I could see Green Cay and decided to see if I could reach this isle.  With camera in a waterproof dry bag, I started on a paddle board.  Just a half mile away, but with wind and waves blowing against me, this distance was far enough.  A rough rocky shelf surrounds the island.  I tossed my board on the rocks and searched for a trail to the top of the island.  I circled halfway round the island before finding a small trail to the top.

From this vantage point, I finally took the photograph which I hoped to create 5 years earlier.  

Shooting Silhouettes at Cooper Island

cooper island sunset photography sailboat
Cooper Island Sunset
Sunsets:  They're pretty, they're peaceful and you want to remember them.  For many people sunset is their favorite time of day.  We all love to gaze into the dimming sky to see colors that make their debut and disappear 10 minutes later.

From a photographer's standpoint, sunsets present some technical challenges.  The dim light requires larger apertures or a longer shutter speed.  The extreme differences in contrast are another problem.  You cannot naturally have the bright sunset and a dark sailboat each shown in detail.  You must choose which you want to photograph (specifically, which will you expose for).  For most of us, the sky is the star of the show and we should expose for that.

An automatic camera will expose for the whole scene.  In this case, that won't work and you'll lose details in the sky.  I set my camera on manual exposure, take a test shot and check my histogram.  You can also enable "highlight alert" on Canon camera which will flash on and off if highlights are overexposed.  Using this and my histogram, I dial my exposure down to record those lovely colors in the sky.

Shooting this way causes the sailboats to be silhouettes.  I can live with that.
sunset british virgin island from sailboat
Silhouette Sunset at Jost Van Dyke

Bikini and Sailboat: Sandy Cay, BVI

bikini-clad woman and sailboat Sandy Cay, BVI
Bikini and Sailboat:  Postcard-Perfect Photo from Sandy Cay, British Virgin Islands
I would like to step back from vacation location information and focus on what makes a good photograph.  Everyone would like their vacation photographs to capture how beautiful that beach is or how clear and blue are the waters.  So many times vacation photographs fall short.  I see this all the time as friends will share their pictures with words such as "It looks so much better in real life" or "You had to be there."  Although nothing is as good as being there, I like my photographs to come very close.

Sandy Cay is a national park in the British Virgin Islands.  This small island was donated by the Rockefeller family and is an absolute treasure to visit.  You truly get a sense of Paradise found.  That is what I was hoping to convey in this photograph.  I isolated a lone sailboat with a beautiful woman walking into the water.  These 2 are balanced on either side of the photograph.  I included enough of the beach to show how beautiful it is as well as how empty it is.  I hopee to communicate a feeling of giddiness and glee at finding such a beautiful place in the world.  

Trees in Buckskin Gulch

hiking buckskin gulch utah slot
Entering Buckskin Gulch
Buckskin Gulch is so spectacular.  Much better than I anticipated and a very rich area for photography.  Here share photos which all have trees as a common theme.I was quite surprised to find so many beautiful green trees and buckskin.  The narrows do not allow any of these to grow but there are small portions throughout buckskin gulch where the canyon becomes wider and allows enough sand and sunlight for this small oasis to thrive.
utah slot buckskin gulch
Rolled Up Mud Buckskin Gulch
Tree in buckskin gulch utah
Around the Next Bend

White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, BVI

white beach sailboat bvi jost van dyke
White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, has the Beach Beach in the World!  (no exaggeration)
Jost Van Dyke has several places to visit and to anchor for the night.  By far, the most beautiful on the island (and perhaps all the BVI) is White Bay.  Two amazing beaches stretch for miles separated by a small rocky prominence.  Sailboats come and go.  Sections of the beach are empty, virgin.  Others have lively bars and restaurants.  Here you can sink your toes in the sand and know that there is no better place in the world. 

From a photography standpoint, the surrounding green hills and colorful boats are like icing on the cake.  These provide more photo subjects to mix into the beautiful beach scene.  In the photo above, I tried to capture these elements.  I crouched low on the sand and photographed some incoming waves.  In one corner I positioned the lovely red sailboat and in the other I included some palm trees:  Snapshot of paradise!
sailboats in white bay jost van dyke bvi
High Above White Bay, Sailboats and the BVI stretch out in the distance.
If you want a workout, there is a road that climbs above White Bay and onto a high ridge.  You'll see a few goats along the way to the top.  Up above, you can get a different perspective on White Bay and the BVI in general by seeing far into the distance.  Sailboats and green islands are in every direction. 
sailboat and cactus white bay jost van dyke bvi
Another White Bay shot, this one from the rock point.