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Utah Trip Report: The End of the Road

Winding down with more Burr Trail explorations after a marathon week of photography

If you missed the previous reports from this trip to southern Utah, you can catch up via the following links:

After five full days of photography adventures, I'll be the first to admit that I started to hit a bit of a mental and physical wall. My final two days - the sixth and seventh of the trip - were spent taking a slightly more leisurely approach to my explorations.

After sleeping in and enjoying a quiet breakfast at camp on day six, I headed into town to restock on some supplies before visiting a nearby attraction that I skipped in 2022, and then headed back to Burr Trail to take advantage of the great midday and afternoon light that came to Long Canyon with clear skies.

Day seven wrapped up the trip with a similar vibe as I explored a new-to-me hiking trail near Burr Trail. I also wrap up this trip report series with some final thoughts on the trip as a whole, and this trip report concept in general.


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Day Six: Enough Already!

It's worth noting that the timing of this trip coincided with an upward trajectory in my health (read more about that in my Struggling blog post), but I was not in the best physical shape after several months of not being well. Better than I was, but not where I wanted to be heading into a trip like this.

For the most part, my lower-than-desired physical fitness didn't impede me too much, but I was starting to feel a bit run down in general by this point of the trip. I also continued to struggle to get a good night's sleep: that's something I often struggle with when I'm anxious to wake up early for sunrises or other morning plans. My mind can't seem to place its trust in the alarms I set, and I find myself waking up throughout the night, panicking that I've overslept.

I decided to forgo an alarm and just sleep until whenever.

As I settled down the evening before, I decided to forgo an alarm and just sleep until whenever. I still woke up fairly early but after a much better night's sleep. Even so, upon waking up and peeking outside, I opted to roll over and go back to sleep.

Sunrise at a campsite off Utah Highway 12
Sunrise at my campsite off Utah Highway 12.

As the rising sun began to warm up the inside of the 4Runner, I finally got out of bed around 10am and, continuing the theme of leisure, I took time to cook a big breakfast - instead of opting for dry cereal and powdered donuts, my on-the-go breakfast of choice - and sat and enjoyed the solitude of camp for a while.

Eating breakfast at camp
As usual when cooking on my Coleman stove, I overcooked my eggs... doh! Toast isn't the same without yoke to dip it in.

After breakfast, I ran into town (Escalante, UT) to stock up on water, and then sat outside the convenience store for a while, debating what, if anything, I wanted to do for the day while I chatted with some old work friends on the phone. I was torn between continuing the lazy vibes of the day to that point or trying to make a push for more photography opportunities.

I ended up doing a bit of both.

Visiting the Devil's Garden

Devil's Garden is an "Outstanding Natural Area" off Hole-in-the-Rock Road. It consists of sandstone towers, hoodoos, and arches. I chose to skip checking out this natural landmark during my 2022 Utah trip but, given my choice to spend the day at a slower pace, decided it was a good time to check it out. I went in without any expectations from a photography standpoint as it was midday with harsh light and, from what I'd seen about the place, sunrise and sunset were the best times for compelling light on the rocky formations.

Cows crossing a dirt road in Utah
I took an earlier turn off Hole-in-the-Rock Road than what Google advised: that was a mistake as I got stuck in traffic for a bit.

Arriving at Devil's Garden doesn't instill one with an immediate sense of wonder. It's a relatively small area, with not much visible from the parking lot. My rundown mental and physical state didn't help my excitement, either, but I still wandered along the short half-mile trail. I was there, so why not?

I now wish I had brought the camera along to take a few proper shots.

As it turns out, for such a small space, especially, it's pretty cool. I left my camera in the truck, although as I look back at the phone snaps I took, I now wish I had brought the camera along to take a few proper shots. Although the sun was, indeed, very harsh (I arrived around 2pm), that very harshness is what provided some unique compositions.

Devil's Garden off Hole-in-the-Rock Road in Utah
After following the trail to the right from the parking lot, you soon get a better sense of what Devil's Garden has to offer.

An arch at Devil's Garden in southern Utah
One of the compositions that could have made a compelling photo, possibly in black and white with the use of a red filter to darken the sky (although the color of the rock contrasts nicely with the intense blue sky).

A tree through a stone arch at Devil's Garden in Utah
A test composition for the next time I visit: I tried a few different options to frame this tree within the arch.

A window in the rock at Devil's Garden off Hole-in-the-Rock Road
There are several windows throughout the rock formations, offering glimpses of the sky.

A slit in the rock formations at Devil's Garden in southern Utah
Another window to the sky.

Hoodoos at Devil's Garden in southern Utah
Erosion will create more individual hoodoos over time.

Ironically, and stereotypically for a nature photographer, I found myself most intrigued by ripples of sand I noticed as I was driving back to Highway 12 along Hole-in-the-Rock Road. I caught sight of a small area of sand and promptly pulled a U-turn to check it out. I believe I spent almost as much time photographing this little rippled detail as I did at Devil's Garden. Go figure.

Sand ripples created by wind
Ripples of sand on the shoulder of Hole-in-the-Rock Road.

More importantly, getting the camera out and making photos of that sand rekindled the creative fires a bit. Wrapping up there, I braved the horrible washboard journey back to Highway 12 and continued on to Burr Trail once again.

Wonderful Reflected Light Along Burr Trail

As I noted in my Day Five write up, the "lower" section of Burr Trail - technically known as Long Canyon - is quite dependent on strong sunlight. Although such light can create too-harsh conditions, at the right time of day it also provides amazing reflected light bouncing off the tall red and orange canyon walls.

I made one quick stop before heading along the narrower drive through the canyon, to check out the trailhead for the Upper Gulch trail. Considering it was already approaching 5:30pm, I decided to leave the hiking for the next day; I at least knew it wasn't muddy or washed out.

Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Army Green
I just had to take a glamour shot of the Photography Adventure Rig as I climbed back up from the Upper Gulch trailhead.

Shortly beyond the pull-off for that trailhead, Burr Trails continues into the narrower confines of Long Canyon. That's where the nature of reflected light comes into play.

I was held outside by the amazing glow of light that was bouncing off the opposing canyon wall

Not too surprisingly, I found myself stopping at the site of Transcendent Glow again. Instead of heading into the small slot canyon to revisit the Transcendent Glow viewpoint, I was held outside by the amazing glow of light that was bouncing off the opposing main canyon wall onto the entrance of the smaller canyon.

Singing Canyon along the Burr Trail in Utah
The backside of Transcendent Glow: sadly, my iPhone washed out the strong reflected light that was bathing this scene as sunlight bounced off the canyon wall behind me.

Given my later arrival time, I didn't bother driving beyond Long Canyon. Perhaps the dirt road in Capitol Reef National Park would have been drier (almost certainly so), but after spending an hour or so finding compositions to take advantage of the reflected light I was ready to start making my way back to Highway 12 to find a spot to camp for the night.

Photos from Long Canyon along Burr Trail in Utah
A few examples of reflected light along Burr Trail from my unedited camera files (keep in mind the files are flatter than reality in their unedited form).

I had my camping plans set on a specific little pullout along the "top" of Highway 12 as it follows Calf Creek. It's not far from the road at all, which could be cause for concern from a noise standpoint, but especially at that time of year there's not a ton of traffic, and what there is drops considerably once the sun goes down. The spot was taken the evening before when I passed it by but, fortunately, I was able to snag it for myself this day.

Car camping along Highway 12 in Utah
Campsite view from in front of the truck.

Car camping along Highway 12 in Utah
Behind and to the left of where I pulled in for the night, providing an idea of the site's proximity to the road. Ended up with a pretty intense sunset, too!

A little tour of my campsite for the night.

Sunset along Highway 12 in Utah
Beautiful sunset, although I didn't really have much in the way of foreground interest for a photo. I ended up spending more time admiring the view than taking photos of it.

4Runner car camping setup
Dinner, a mug of hot tea, and camping with the 4Runner... doesn't get much better! My new magnetic lights worked out awesomely, too.

Orion constellation over Highway 12 in Utah
The iPhone doesn't do the night sky out here justice, but I still had to grab a shot of Orion before settling down for the night.

A low-key day came to an end, but still worthwhile and quite productive. Any day where I can walk away confident I made five or so successful photos is a win in my book. I felt I had at least 10 good candidates from this sixth day of shooting.

Any day where I can walk away confident I made five or so successful photos is a win in my book.

With no set plans for the morning again, I also slept like a baby!

Day Seven: Blown Away

I woke up at... some time or other. I have no idea. It was well into daylight. I had my usual morning cup of tea to help jump start my engine, and then proceeded back to Burr Trail, this time with the goal of hiking along the Upper Gulch trail that I had briefly scouted the day before.

I didn't know if this would end up being my last day in Utah or not

At this point of the trip, I didn't know if this would end up being my last day in Utah or not: the forecast for the following day had already triggered a Wind Watch for southern Utah, northern Arizona, and much of New Mexico, with gusts expected up to 60-70 MPH. That would be a nightmare to try to shoot in. I figured I'd see how the day went and make a decision that night or the next morning.

Before hiking down the trail, I drove along Long Canyon once more to see how the light was playing out. Given I arrived shortly after high noon, there wasn't much in the way of reflected light, so I found myself mostly scouting for potential future compositions when the light was streaming into the canyon at a lower angle. Even so, I did make a handful of photos where the light still worked in my favor.

Canon R5 using a Tamron 100-400mm lens
If the 100-400mm lens is on my camera, there's a good chance I've found an interesting tree in the distance...

Photographing along Burr Trail
Phone snap of the tree that caught my eye: the light looks horrible in this phone capture, but I think the Canon R5 file has potential. Using a circular polarizer helped greatly here.

Counter to my initial plan to head out along Upper Gulch trail first thing, I ended up spending more than two hours slowly driving and walking through Long Canyon, hunting compositions.

Photos of Burr Trail in Long Canyon
A collage of unedited frames made with my Canon cameras, some more successful than others.

Finally making my way to the trailhead around 1:30pm, I took a sandwich break to get some calories in before the hike. While relaxing under the tailgate of the truck, I also surveyed the surrounding canyon walls for potential compositions, finding a couple that I was able to frame up with the 100-400mm lens.

Camera on tripod under tailgate of Toyota 4Runner
I spy in the distance...

Sunlit tree on a cliff edge in southern Utah
Doesn't look like much with the (extremely zoomed in) phone camera, but a tree with backlit foliage against a shadowed canyon wall has potential!

Sandstone arch with a tree above it along Long Canyon and Burr Trail in southern Utah
Another rough looking phone snap... as I was eating my sandwich under the tailgate, I saw something that looked like a possible arch high up on the opposite canyon wall. Sure enough, once I was close enough, I found a hidden little arch near the top. I made a mental note to check back after my hike to see if the harsh light on the left would be gone.

With some thin clouds drifting in and out overhead, I finally started my hike. I had no expectations from a photography standpoint, which is why I wasn't too concerned to be doing the hike in the middle of the afternoon, when the light wasn't best within the wider canyon. I just wanted to see what there was to see, or at least a bit of it.

It's a nice enough hike, but it's also apparent the scenery would be best enjoyed in spring or fall

The trail is about 8.5 miles long, but I only ended up covering a smidge more than the first mile before heading back to the trailhead. It's a nice enough hike, but it's also apparent the scenery would be best enjoyed in spring or fall, with either the vibrant greens of new growth or golden fall colors on the many cottonwood trees that line the creek.

Upper Gulch trail in southern Utah
I had to hop over this creek several times in the span of hiking just a mile down the trail.

Twisted cottonwood trees along Upper Gulch trail in Utah
Some nice, gnarly trees but at the wrong time of day/year.