Utah Trip 2012! ~ Part One

Do you ever just feel like taking a road trip?  Following a mostly uneventful, dull winter that was almost completely devoid of adventure, I was ready to get out of town for a few days of sunshine and solitude.  Sure, there was that recent trip to Banks Lake, but that trip was to attend a funeral so it hardly qualified as a weekend of R & R.  I had finally managed to save up enough paid leave from my job, and I wanted to go to a place where I could totally forget about the familiarity of home and really get away from it all.  And let’s face it: my photo portfolio could really use a little spicing up with some refreshing new landscapes.

But where to go?

A few years ago I spent several days in Utah exploring the excellent Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.  On that occasion, I regretted not making enough time to also check out the superb grand views of the neighboring Island in the Sky district.  I had vowed to return someday, and here was my chance.  During my week away, I would also make the trek over to Capitol Reef National Park for a few days before finally making the return trip home by way of the Colorado National Monument.  Unfortunately on this trip, a bum knee would prevent me from attempting anything too physically strenuous like backpacking, so practicing good photography became the focal objective, along with sprinkling in a few easy day hikes for fun.

One downside about traveling to Utah from Montana by car is that you have to drive through a whole lot of Wyoming.  Now, most people probably wouldn’t think of that as a downside, because when most people think of Wyoming, they probably imagine vivid scenes from travel catalogs that look like this:

But having driven through Wyoming on several occasions, I can testify that most of it actually resembles something more like this:

This type of landscape goes on for literally hundreds of miles, and it can take an entire day to cross it.  And while it may hold beauty to some, to me enduring endless views of lackluster sagebrush was merely an obstacle to reaching my final destination which held the promise of filling my camera’s memory card with the incredible new scenery that I craved.

On the other hand, I had this huge fear that after driving all day, arriving at the last hour in a popular Utah national park would be a guaranteed recipe for not being able to find an open campsite, and therefore having to spend and uncomfortable night attempting to sleep in the car.

That said, I did some last minute planning and decided to split the first leg of the trip into two days.  I would make the best of it by attempting to seek out the most interesting route through Wyoming while still maintaining a more or less direct course to Utah in time to attain a strategic campsite for convenient sunrise and sunset photo opportunities.

This line of thought brought me over the mountains through Riverton and Lander to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area for my first night, whereupon my “morale o’meter” immediately struck the first low point of the trip.

Operating under the delusional hubris of colorful internet photos, the Flaming Gorge was definitely not the desirable destination I was expecting.  At this early time in the season, most of of the campgrounds turned out to be closed, and there were really no services to speak of.  Couple that with being tired and lonely from driving through Wyoming all day, plus viewing the lake under dull, overcast, less-than-ideal skies for photographing, and what can I say?  This place just wasn’t what I was hoping for.  So much for last minute planning.

Still, I did manage to pop off this miniature panorama and an iPod snapshot of the dam for the sake of documenting my visit.

That night I poached a campsite at the closed Dutch John campground and got some much needed rest and an attitude adjustment.  I awoke before dawn the next morning refreshed and prepared to face whatever surprises lie before me on the road ahead.

Tomorrow:  It gets better, I promise.  With spirits raised, I finally arrive at my destination.  Epic photos from Canyonlands National Park – stay tuned!

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