Lower South Desert Overlook: Jailhouse Rock photographs

Cathedral Valley guide:  photography and exploration in Capitol Reef
Jailhouse Rock stands hundreds of feet high on a stormy day.
Lower South Desert Overlook in Capitol Reef is a gorgeous remote treasure.  As part of the Cathedral Valley loop drive, this should be on everybody's to-do list.   Park your car and walk 1/2 mile to the amazing views of Jailhouse Rock and the vast empty South Desert.  

White rocks of all shapes and sizes surprised me here.  I thoroughly enjoyed walking around these white goblins and hoodoos looking for a photogenic angle.  I highly recommend this locale as a place to get in touch with the vastness of natural desert landscape.  Enjoy!
Cathedral Valley guide:  photography and exploration in Capitol Reef
Goblins of South Desert Overlook
Cathedral Valley guide:  photography and exploration in Capitol Reef
Jailhouse Rock and White Badlands
Cathedral Valley guide:  photography and exploration in Capitol Reef
Temple Rock:  300mm lens captures this distant pinnacle

Cathedral Valley Storm: Waiting for the Light

Cathedral Valley capitol Reef landscape photography guide
Cathedral Valley Spires catch morning light for an instant!
Photographers coined the phrase "chasing the light."  "Catching the light," is another variation of this idea.  The flip side of this is "when the light's not right, shoot black and white." 

There was no light to "chase" during a recent trip to Capitol Reef.  I was 60 miles of dirt road to the nearest pavement but that would not make a difference as rainclouds blanketed the entire southwest region thanks to a hurricane near Baja California.  I hoped for a few rays of light at sunrise.  Some times sunlight will appear under the clouds at sunrise or sunset and then hide behind the clouds the rest of the day.  Sunrise did not shine through at all.  Heavy clouds blocked the eastern skies even though I could see some blue sky above.  I went to work, shooting compositions that I found with plants and rocks as foreground subjects. 

A balanced rock directly east of the Temple of the Moon caught my eye.  Here a photo of it with the Temple of the Sun in the far distance.  You can see the sky had some blue patches here and there. 
Sunrise Temple of the Sun Capitol Reef photography guide
Balanced Rock with Temple of the Sun in the distance.
I captured some solid photographs as the morning developed but never had any direct sunlight.  I saw some spires in the distance and decided to take a long walk their direction.  When I got past them, the view opened up to something truly special.  I had three amazing spires lined up side by side that could be isolated with my telephoto lens.  It was awesome.  I loved it but wished there were some light to really create the magic.  Clouds were too thick. 

I decided to wait.  Maybe the clouds would move a bit.  Maybe I'd get lucky.  I had nowhere better to go so I sat down.  I even did a self-portrait of me waiting with the view in front of me.  This is what a landscape photographer does:  he waits for the right moment after getting to a beautiful spot. 

cathedral valley landscape photography guide
Gordon Smith in Cathedral Valley
I wasn't sure how long I would wait:  maybe an hour but probably not longer.  The view was wonderful and at moments like this it's wonderful to put the camera aside and listen to the silence of sandstone. 

As luck would have it, the sun did come out to make a brief but awesome display over the valley.  It lit up the middle and tallest sandstone spire as seen in the featured photo above.  This lucky moment lasted about 10-15 minutes.  I didn't see the sun again for about 6 hours.  By then I was in a different location.  

Death Hollow Loop via Boulder Mail Trail: Trip Report

Death Hollow trail report
The big pool in the middle of a hike in Death Hollow is just one of the many highlights.  
Death Hollow is an equally challenging and rewarding backcountry experience.  I could say photographing Death Hollow is also challenging and rewarding.  Challenges include:
1.  The long miles of hiking
2.  The multi-day nature of this undertaking
3.  Coping with the ever-present water (dry bag for camera)
4.  Backcountry survival skills
5.  Trail finding on the first crucial day

But the beauty is there, mostly undiscovered and waiting for a man or woman with camera to come and record the wonders of this land and creek.  Because of the incredible things about hiking through Death Hollow, I dedicated a detailed post for each day in my previous posts.  Please see them for details.  

I would do it again.  My wife says she's glad to have done it but is not as sure she would repeat it, often using words like "hard" and "long" when explaining her verdict.  Her trip rating may be different than mine but I'm the judge on my blog so . . .

Gordon's Hike Rating
Hike Difficulty:              ★★★★★  Difficult and requires multi-day expedition
Trail Condition:              ★★  Good in many places, bushwhacking in others.  Cannot get lost if you
                                                  make it into the canyon.  The first day is critical.  
Trail Hazards:                 ★★★★  Steep descents, river crossings, slot canyon risk, poison ivy, car 
                                                  shuttle required, must purify water
Trailhead:                        Boulder Mail Trail at the Boulder Utah airstrip—backcountry sign-in box
Exit Point:                       Escalante Trailhead near Calf Creek and Kiva Koffeehouse
Time required:                Three whole days
Distance:                         21 miles for the whole loop
Off the Beaten Path:       ★★★★★ Yes, far off that path
Scenery:                          ★★★★★ all five stars for spectacular scenery
Photography Potential:   ★★★★★ five stars for amazing original location

Death Hollow Backpack adventure: Day 3

Three twisted cottonwood trees in Escalante Canyon.  This is just one of the cool
discoveries that remain on a trip through Death Hollow.
Day 3 in Death Hollow was all about getting moving.  We had 8 miles from the confluence to our car and a little extra just to reach the confluence.  After a nice breakfast of oatmeal I put on a clean pair of socks.  For a whole 5 minutes I walked without sand, water and grit between my toes.  It was a brief but divine luxury.  We broke camp and started walking.

The stream here is much more flat and shallow . . . so the temptation is to walk faster in the stream . . . which leads to falling down.  I had walked no more than 10 minutes before I slipped and fell hard on my left elbow.  Dang it hurt.  No sense stopping because that would do no good whatsoever.

We kept walking and quickly reached the confluence.  Here the clearer waters of Death Hollow mix with the Escalante River.  The Escalante water looks so thick with sand and sediment that it should support my full weight when walking.  The Escalante Canyon is also vastly wider than Death Hollow.  I'd say it was 10 times wider in most places.  We still had many crossings.
Death hollow backpacking guide blog
Sisters hiking at the confluence of Death Hollow and Escalante River
Death hollow backpacking guide blog
Climbing out of the river and onto the banks of Escalante River
Traveling east in an east-west wide canyon, I expected the sun to shine in my face all morning.  Happily those canyon cliff walls remained high enough to keep us in shade about 50% of the way.  This canyon is beautiful yet different from what we'd experienced in Death Hollow.  Much longer trails led away from the river and were faster foot travel.
Death hollow backpacking guide blog
Trail through Escalante Canyon.  The trails often separate from the river.
Death hollow backpacking guide blog
Escalante Arch
The landmarks on this section of the hike were Escalante Arch and some Anasazi granaries.  Our sore feet kept us from exploring these in close detail.  Both are on the south side of the canyon.  I know the arch could be more photogenic than what I captured but this was a lesser jewel after what we'd experienced the day before.

Here are some photos from the canyon itself and our journey through it.
Death hollow backpacking guide blog
Tall cliffs and wider canyon floor are typical of Escalante Canyon
Death hollow backpacking guide blog
A red monolith towards the end of our journey, where the canyon grows
even more wide and exposed to the sun.
We made it!  We celebrated by eating lunch at the Kiva Koffee House near the trailhead.  I drank water that wasn't from the river for the first time in days.  The lime-mint smoothie tasted better than anything drink I can remember in my whole life.  Yummy food and lots of hydration were a great way to end this amazing trip. 

Death Hollow Backpacking adventure: Day 2

Death Hollow backpacking guide
Death Hollow beautiful landscapes in the middle section of this hike.  The stream, high canyon cliffs and lots of green trees are common in is awesome section.  
This section of Death Hollow is easily the most beautiful.  The hard work we put in the first day and we would put in the last day was worth it because of this middle day in paradise.  After some small storms through the night, the morning was glorious with blue sky and some light clouds.  Our campsite was one of the more open parts of the canyon.  This yielded fabulous views of the cliffs and canyon.  One of my favorite shots of the trip was my wife and her sister drinking their morning hot chocolate with a fabulous view.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Two campers enjoy the morning in Death Hollow.
We began hiking and enjoyed some awesome scenery.  The trail itself was an inconsistent thing.  We'd have a traditional dirt path in some locations.  Then we'd have branches and have to push through large bushes.  Then we'd have tall grasses up to our hips.  The trail changed every 50 feet.  We had to cross the creek numerous times also. 
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Morning comes to Death Hollow
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Trail through Death Hollow in a clear and scenic section.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Just five minutes earlier we'd been bushwhacking through grass
and branches taller than our heads.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Grass as high as our hips grew in other places.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Another slanted tree makes a good landscape photo subject!
Death Hollow backpacking guide
A river crossing in a deep section of the canyon.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Looking up at the pine trees and cliff wall.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
A picture of me with my backpack.  It looks extra light because my
wife held the camera and tripod for this moment.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Perhaps my favorite photograph from the whole trip.
This was a glorious section of Death Hollow
After a couple hours of hiking and loving the scenery, we reached a deep swimming hole.  I'd see this before on other blogs.  We stopped for a skinny dip and relaxation.  This place is delightful.  By this time, I'd forgotten all about civilization back home.  That's the great thing about immersing yourself in nature.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
THE BEST swimming hole is midway through the hike.  
Death Hollow backpacking guide
The jump at Death Hollow's deep pool.
Onward we marched.  Some areas got really quite deep when wading.  Again, it's hard to put into words how pretty this section of Death Hollow is.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Poke it with a stick to see how deep it is.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
I loved this deep section of Death Hollow.  The colorful canyon walls is
a different shade of yellow-white.  This is not the same as Zion or
Canyonlands or any other place I've been.  This more like Capitol Reef.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Another pretty section of Death Hollow.
The character of the canyon changed once again as we went from the lush tree-lined shores of the creek to a more narrow slot section.  This was all rock.  Maybe I should rephrase that. This was all slickrock.  I put my camera away after shooting these shots because it was slippery, wet and some pools here were very deep.  I gracefully slipped and fell through this part.

We were again looking up to darkening skies.  Every day about 3 PM it started to rain.  We were in the deepest and most narrow section of the slot canyon on this particular day.  We hurried through and felt some raindrops on our heads.  The water level never rose.  No flash flood.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
We reached the most narrow section:  some thing that resembles the Subway in Zion.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Monsoon Skies as seen from a slot canyon.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Death Hollow slot canyon section with fast-flowing water.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Coming out of the slot section to some beautiful green again.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Dead tall tree and Death Hollow creek.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Semi-narrow Death Hollow section downstream from the "subway".
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Trail in Death Hollow going over rocks, bushes and through water . . . all of it pretty.
Death Hollow backpacking guide
A pretty canyon wall with trees and boulders in Lower Death Hollow.
I hope you can see from the photos how beautiful this place is.  I stopped and photographed fairly often because the scenery changed a lot from one mile to another.  By comparison, Spring Canyon in Capitol Reef, the Narrows in Zion, and Buckskin Gulch do not have such a great variety in one hike.  The Subway in Zion is the only hike I've done comparable in variety and scenery to Death Hollow but it's not nearly as long and does not permit camping.

We found a large and sandy alcove for this night.  The sand was perfectly soft powder and went down to the river for filtering, cooling off, bathing and pondering life.  Here's some pictures of our camp.  We had no chairs or logs for sitting.  I sat in a tree just to find a position different from standing and lying flat.  This night was peaceful with a full moon.

Death Hollow backpacking guide
Sitting in a tree for a different position.  Our pants, shoes and socks
were all out to dry in the tree.  
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Sandy alcove was perfect for the night.  
Death Hollow backpacking guide
Filtering water from the creek.  The water tasted quite good.

Death Hollow Backpacking Adventure: Day 1

grassy trail through sublime Death Hollow, Utah
Trail and Towers:  exploring Death Hollow is a wonderfully rich experience in adventure,
photography, nature, serenity.
Death Hollow is a fabulous adventure and a photographic destination.  The photographic potential for this scenic locale is off the charts because there are 21-miles of pristine wilderness that are rarely visited and even less-rarely photographed seriously.  Death Hollow has been on the top of my radar for years and this summer I hiked the wonderful loop.  

Starting the night before, my wife and I drove to the Boulder airstrip and the adjacent trailhead.  We arrived with rain imminent.  Through the night we had lightening to the north but slept well.  The mid-July forecast was for 10% chance of rain but no flash flood warnings.  

We woke to clearing skies and pleasant temperatures.  I could have worn shorts but I'd heard about the poison ivy and bushwhacking.  The trip to Death Hollow goes roughly southwest from the trailhead.  The trail is good with cairns along the way.  When we reached sandstone, those cairns kept leading us down to Sand Creek.  
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Cairns along the way over slickrock
Sand Creek has water year round, or so I've read.  The rain had recently fallen so we were not surprised to see many tanks filled with water and even some flowing water in the creek.  After only 2 miles hiking, we did not require a refill on our water so we kept hiking.  The hike up out of Sand Creek left me huffing and puffing but it was relatively short.
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Sand creek:  volcanic boulders and white sandstone with pine trees.
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Hikers at Sand Creek:  water runs here all year
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Hiking up from Sand Creek:  sun started feeling really hot now.
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Two Trees:  these lovely trees contrasted in so many ways.
With the beautiful skies, I had to stop for a photoshoot.
A cool historical piece of information is that the telegraph line from Escalante to Boulder followed this route.  The telegraph wire runs along this trail in many places, even suspended in the air as it runs from tree to tree.  Seeing this assured me we were on the correct path.
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Telegraph line and Author:  the trail follows the old
telegraph line from bygone days.  
Correct path?  Did I say correct path?  We came out at the dropoff over Death Hollow and I had to reconnoitre some.  The cairns led off over this sandstone ledge that seemed to drop off into nowhere.  I worried we were in the wrong place but how could this be?  The big fin at the bottom of the canyon is easily recognized as the place we were supposed to be.  I just wasn't sure how to get there.
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Route down appears to disappear over this ridge.  Follow the cairns and
you'll discover this is the correct way.  I had my doubts at first.
We followed the cairns and as they went over the ridge, the safe path became obvious.  It just took a little travel down the path to become convinced it was correct.  Following are several photos of the trip down.  We had one member of our group afraid of heights.  She got quite nervous but made it down just fine.  Although you drop 700 vertical feet into the canyon, there is NO place where you are exposed to a huge dropoff.  If you have that on your trip, you are on the wrong path.
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
On the trail
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Rough sketch of how the trail descends to the canyon floor.
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Loving the adventure!
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack

Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
2/3 down, here's a view looking back up with a sketch of how the trail goes down.  
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Nearing the bottom of Death Hollow
Once at the bottom, we ate a picnic along the creek under pleasant shade.  The uphill portion of our journey was all done.  We also would be near or in water the rest of the trip.  We began crossing the stream to find the trails which went from side to side.  No sense trying to stay dry.  We went around several curves in the canyon. 
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
A pretty curve in the canyon we encountered on day 1. 
The water depth varied from a few inches to 3 feet.  
About 3 in the afternoon, clouds grew dark and it looked like rain.  We looked for an alcove for some type of shelter.  We found one with sand in a narrow strip for our beds.  
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
The shallow alcove on the lower left of this butte was our home for the night.  
Our camp for the night was narrow but under some shelter.  It rained briefly but not hard a couple of times.  We stayed mostly dry.  I explored and found several better campsites near the river but they afforded no shelter from wind or rain so we stayed here.  We did not bring tents on this trip in an effort to travel lighter.
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Cooking dinner under a shallow alcove.  We slept on the sand.
Death Hollow hiking guide backpack
Gourmet dinner thanks to my wife:  chicken, veggies and couscous.
We ate wonderful food for dinner.  I did some photography downstream from our camp until sunset and then returned for a night of deep sleep.