Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Capitol Reef National Park

New Mexico

^ Road sign representative of northern New Mexico, which really has nothing to do with anything else in this post.

Capitol Reef, in south central Utah, is a severely underrated national park. The parks in southern Utah are some of the best in the country, and while places like Arches or Zion get all the publicity, Capitol Reef has top notch desert scenery without the crowds. A lot of the park is accessible via rough two-track trails, and I decided to drive Cathedral Valley road, which goes through (surprise) Cathedral Valley, including a couple of rock formations called Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon that I've wanted to visit and photograph for a couple of years but haven't had a vehicle I could confidently drive out there.

I mounted my GoPro to the roof of the car to film the drive down Cathedral Valley Road, using the GoPro suction cup mount. Like basically everything else GoPro branded, the mount sounds good in theory but doesn't actually work very well. The video was extremely shaky, and the entire mount would pop loose every few minutes. Eventually I gave up on the GoPro mount and stuck the camera on my GorillaPod on the hood, with one of the feet stuck under a wiper blade. This worked better, but I still wasn't satisfied with it. I think I'm going to rig up some better mounting system. A tripod ball head on the front of the roof rack should be good, and allows me to mount better cameras than the GoPro.

The western half of Cathedral Valley road had a steep, loose descent down to the valley floor which could be interesting for a 2WD vehicle on ascent. Then it was sandy road most of the way. After arriving at Temple of the Sun/Moon in late afternoon, I did a few pictures:

Capitol Reef backcountry

Capitol Reef backcountry

Then I got the drone out and did a flight right over Temple of the Moon:

I wanted to shoot the formations in good sunset light, and again after dark. So I pulled into the shade under Temple of the Moon and set up a timelapse while I waited. Then I laid out my sleeping pad and went for a four hour nap until sunset. I woke up an hour and a half later with grit in my teeth from the wind whipping everywhere. Seems a storm was brewing while I was asleep:

Now it was decision time: I could keep waiting for sunset, risking the rain. The problem with rain is the road crossed several muddy washes that could turn into flash floods pretty easily, then I'd be stuck waiting for the water to go back down. Since the clouds looked like they'd ruin my evening and nighttime shots anyway, I decided to get while the gettin' was good. The eastern half of the road went through some really neat badlands-style scenery with lots of switchbacks on slickrock around small canyons and mesas. Definitely the more interesting half of the road, and also less rough; a regular passenger car could do this in good weather. I stopped for a picture:


And then it was back out to the highway. It took all afternoon to go 50 miles. I guess I'll have to come back another time since I didn't get to shoot the location the way I wanted.

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