It’s true. Utah is great. This may not be a very popular opinion, especially among people who are not from Utah or have certain ideas about the state’s character, namely that it’s a bleak desert wasteland with foul weather and full of hyper-religious extremists. I am not from Utah, though I did live there for six years and admit that certain aspects of the state got on my nerves (like the horrible drivers, the insane traffic, and the endless urban sprawl on the Wasatch Front), but nowhere is without its drawbacks and all that becomes a moot point considering the state’s diverse natural beauty. I’ve photographed landscapes in many different places throughout Utah and still feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. So getting to go back this past week for a family reunion at Bryce Canyon got me excited to see some more great scenery.
This first shot came on highway 20 between Beaver and Panguitch on our way to Bryce. Driving into this high valley (I think it’s called the Lower Bear Valley), a summer thunderstorm was breaking and the sun came through the clouds and lit up the green underbrush of the fertile steppe. But, pulling off the road to get this shot, some local bro in a little green Saturn sped past me at 75mph, middle finger held high out the window, yelling at me for apparently not getting my car off the highway fast enough. Still, even despite that, I think Utah is great.
Since we only had a few days, we spent the majority of our time at Bryce Canyon. One of the downsides of Bryce is that its beauty is so easily accessible , which means in the summer the park is overrun. At times, getting a decent view of the canyon required pushing my way through the unwashed masses, dodging sour-faced Frenchmen and other grumpy Europeans. I was getting a little annoyed until I reminded myself that I too was a tourist come to gawk. Whether from California or Germany or Japan I suppose we’re all tourists, except for maybe the bro in the green Saturn; I’d say he’s pretty much a yokel. But, on the whole the landscape was spectacular enough that I didn’t mind braving the overwhelming crowds to get a glimpse.
The next morning however, we woke up at 6am to get into the park before the crowds and we experienced a quieter side of Bryce. The sun was just coming up, spraying dramatic light on the Bryce Amphitheater. As we hiked from the canyon rim down into the darkness of the lower washes, we passed maybe three people on the whole trail.
Down in the depths beneath the red rock, I caught the early morning sun illuminating the hoodoos above us. It was quiet in the canyon, only the occasional raven cruising silently overhead and a couple of lizards darting in and out of sight between the rocks. Much better company than the crowd from the day before.
I realize that I may have a mild case of agoraphobia, but I can’t help it if I prefer solitude. After leaving Bryce we made our way back to California through my favorite part of Utah: the West Desert. Away from the jammed interstate and gaudy billboards advertising for ModBod, the backroads of Utah are the best. This highway, west of Milford, UT near the Utah-Nevada state line, was especially desolate, which was great until one of the cars in our caravan broke down one hundred miles from the nearest tow truck. Luckily we got some cell phone service, eventually had the car towed, and made it back on the road the next day. But during the two hour wait for the truck to come, I took a walk away from the highway into the sagebrush hills. I ate a few Pinyon Pine Nuts picked from the nearby trees, found an ancient Bireley’s Soda bottle, and got very hot walking around in the dry heat. I probably walked just a half mile, but the desert sun was overpowering and I was glad that back in my car I had plenty of water. I love the big sky and austere landscape of Utah’s West Desert, but only if I’m well prepared to weather it. Though it is beautiful, it’s still an unforgiving landscape.