The Scenic Route

I might have just driven 1000 miles for a rock climb. Actually, that's unfair. I drove that distance to spend time with a close friend. I'm also keen to watch fall descend upon the Rocky Mountains, and to follow the colors around the Western territories. But more than anything, I might have driven 1000 miles simply to feel like I'm moving again.

 The need for a changing horizon...

The need for a changing horizon...

August was spent almost entirely in California. After spending July alternately languishing in the muggy heat of Massachusetts and the searing mountain sun of Colorado, I broke into a fit of giddy laughter when I stepped out of my van in Santa Cruz and felt a stiff breeze puff up my shirt with cool coastal air. Immediately I gorged myself on taqueria fare and craft beer, rode my bike through redwoods and along coastal bluffs, huffed chalk in my favorite climbing gym, got to see all of my favorite people and paid homage to their pets. And then I went insane.

 Perseid meteors burning up, viewed from Mt. Charlie Road

Perseid meteors burning up, viewed from Mt. Charlie Road

After three weeks in Santa Cruz, I felt a little seed of despair growing in the pit of my gut. A growing sense of comfort that felt incredibly discomforting. You don't quit your job and cram your life into a van only to return to the same place and indulge in the same things that kept you there for a decade. This was nice, but it was not progress (what is progress?).  There's nothing wrong with knowing what you appreciate about a place and occasionally enjoying those things, but I've grown allergic to the feeling that I'm settling down in any one place. 

 None of this is to say I don't like it here...

None of this is to say I don't like it here...

One phone call was all that it really took to get me back on the road. I got word that temperatures and leaves were dropping in Colorado, and that conditions would be prime for me to start working on The Eighth Day, a 45-meter sport climb I had tried half-heartedly in July. The climb had baffled and demoralized me earlier in the season, but after a month away from Rifle Canyon I felt (at least mentally) refreshed and prepared to lob myself at this monstrous climb.

 The Eighth Day - Rifle, CO - Photo from mikesironcladbeta.blogspot.com

The Eighth Day - Rifle, CO - Photo from mikesironcladbeta.blogspot.com

So, I sketched out a loose plan - first to attend a friend's wedding in Santa Barbara (beautiful courthouse, by the way), then to wend my way eastward in as circuitous and scenic a fashion as time permitted.

 My new "most liked" photo on Instagram, which was taken with an iPhone, incidentally.

My new "most liked" photo on Instagram, which was taken with an iPhone, incidentally.

My first stop was the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave desert. I've vowed to never make the slog on I-15 between Barstow and Las Vegas ever again, instead electing to drive most of that stretch through the Mojave National Preserve. I woke up a bit too late to fully capture the sunrise on the dunes, and two (very nice) hikers beat me to the summit. As it turns out, their footsteps made for a more interesting photograph than the blank dune-scape I had wanted to capture, and I couldn't help but expect company on Labor Day. Now I've seen both the sunrise and sunset from this vantage point, and I'm excited to return with a tripod and some slide film.

 Thor's Hammer in Bryce Canyon National Park. Mature Ponderosa pine at bottom right for size reference. Earth's shadow visible in the fading sunlight.

Thor's Hammer in Bryce Canyon National Park. Mature Ponderosa pine at bottom right for size reference. Earth's shadow visible in the fading sunlight.

I had grandiose plans of swinging through Zion, to tick a few things off of my totally-a-tourist bucket list, like wading The Narrows and hiking up to Angel's Landing. Alas, even after Labor Day weekend, Zion remained a zoo. So once again I found myself in Bryce Canyon, bewildered by limestone hoodoos and enthralled by the bizarre scenery.

 The canyon fins of Wall Street illuminated by the moon. It proved impossible to get a sharp image because the wind was whipping up through the canyon walls and shaking my tripod during the 30-second exposures.

The canyon fins of Wall Street illuminated by the moon. It proved impossible to get a sharp image because the wind was whipping up through the canyon walls and shaking my tripod during the 30-second exposures.

Interestingly, Bryce Canyon is not a canyon at all. Technically (and boringly) speaking it's a giant plateau of eroded limestone, but there are myriad small canyons formed between the eroded fins and hoodoos. Semantics aside, it's a great place to practice photography. It's really easy to be overwhelmed by the busy landscapes, and it's a place that is teaching me to compose scenes in a more careful and deliberate fashion. I only spent one afternoon taking pot-shots along trails, and I can't wait to return and invest some time exploring the "canyon" in earnest.

 Capitol Reef, Capitol Dome in the center of frame

Capitol Reef, Capitol Dome in the center of frame

The next day I awoke bleary-eyed at Panorama Point outside of Capitol Reef NP. Even further removed from the Interstate than Bryce Canyon, this park sees little traffic and doesn't get enough love. It's not as monolithic as Zion, or bewildering as Bryce, or as vast as Canyonlands, but it's worthy of at least a day of exploring. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, it's especially worth fording the Fremont River and driving the backcountry loop. The Temple of the Sun (pictured at top of this post) is an amazing, and way, way out-there place.

 Lesson learned: sometimes you should drop the tripod down a bit closer to the ground. I would've been a lot happier with this image if I had placed the far-off cliffs under the juniper tree's branch.

Lesson learned: sometimes you should drop the tripod down a bit closer to the ground. I would've been a lot happier with this image if I had placed the far-off cliffs under the juniper tree's branch.

From Capitol Reef, I booked it straight to Rifle Mountain Park and got a good half-day of climbing in. I feel out of shape and twisted into knots by the drive, but I'm genuinely excited to get to work on The Eighth Day. But while I love climbing in Rifle, I can't wait to get back on the scenic route and keep that horizon changing.