Southern Utah Tourism | Kanab, Utah
Magically unspoiled was an understatement, From the first moment I walked into The Canyons hotel, I was told David Letterman was dining there that night and that Nicholas Cage stayed in my room recently. I knew something was special about this town
I've always had a love affair with the desert. The energy surrounding it combined with how delicate and desolate the landscape can be, yet it's home to so many different climate, what's not to love. When I was contacted to be part of a project for Southern Utah Tourism (@abra_kanabra), I knew I was in for something special. Leaving behind the snowy mountains for the sandy desert, I listened to about 20 podcasts on my 10.5 hour trek from Fort Collins.
Kane County is an underrated home-base for any adventure seeker. With people coming from all over the world to see nearby attractions like The Wave (someday #bucketlist), Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Page (Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon) and The Grand Canyon. All of these amazingly different locations are located within a few hours or Kanab. it's easy to see the draw to the area.
I was introduced to Elisabeth (@elisabethontheroad) at breakfast and we were quick to start bouncing ideas for locations and shots off of each other. It definitely helped having someone to shoot with on this project that was open to not getting a ton of sleep in exchange for the potential to come away with some pretty awesome photos. That determination to find new locations and be up before the sun rises ended up paying off for us in the end.
Shown: Belly of the Dragon, Toadstools, Mansard Trail
While I was doing research about Kanab and Kane County area, the one location I was really excited for was The Toadstools. Surrounded by a wall of white rock, it gave the feeling of being on another planet walking around and exploring with these structures. The soft and chalk color sand stone trail made this such an easy hike. This turned out to be a prime location for a night of astro photography as well. After driving an hour thorough what seemed like a constant replenishment of deer on the side of the road we pulled into the empty parking lot. Silence filled the air as stars filled the sky, I was even greeted to the dim haze of the Milky Way in the distance.
Another really interesting location to me was The Mansard Trail. It's a four mile out and back hike that had a decent amount of elevation gain. Being it was still snowing in Colorado the weekend before, I did not pack according for this trip at all. I for some reason thought it was still chilly in the desert and I was way off. I also forgot to pack sunscreen so my poor ginger skin was as becoming as red as the canyons surrounding us. Along the way I really noticed how different the coloring in the sandstone was. It looked like someone had taken a bucket of paint and dumped it on the cave walls, letting it drip dry. Once at the top, I noticed a natural shell like structure that must be home to what we were searching for. Hidden at the top was a set of petroglyphs. The intricate carvings in the sandstone definitely indicated there were aliens on earth at some point.
We ended up catching a sunset at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes in hopes of seeing some color. The surrounding landscape in this place was really cool and had a different feel than what I was used to with sand dunes. It jumped out to me how the sand here was really fine, like something you'd have to be at a Sandals Resort in the Caribbean to find. The most intricate feature that stood out to me were these pine trees that grew out of some of the dunes. This gave such an interesting texture to the area combined with the bright pink color of the sand that glows at sunset.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
The following day we took off early to find some slot canyons along what we thought was Buckskin Gulch Trail. Driving along the dusty canyon road admiring the red rocks everywhere, we finally pull up on the parking lot for Buckskin Gulch. The trailhead sign had a photo of the slot canyons with "Buckskin Gulch" underneath it on it so it should be easy to find right? Nope. One thing to keep in mind about this area is its considered a wilderness area, meaning there isn't really any signage or dedicated trails after you leave the parking lot. There is a wash (dried river bed) through the canyon with some interesting rock formations scattered about that is easy to follow. After trudging the soft sand river bed for what felt like forever, ignoring these criss cross areas we thought were game crossing areas, we checked the GPS and saw something on maps called Edmaiers Secret. A sense of relief came over, that's gotta be the slot canyons we were searching for. Honestly like 10 minutes of research could've solved this before hand, so I know I am totally at fault for this but I can still complain after the fact.
Again, I didn't pack sunscreen on this trip and there wasn't a cloud in the sky being it was around 12 in the afternoon. Continuing on our way through the soft sand with the sun on my shoulder, trying not to think about the hike back, we turned the corner and was welcomed to something unlike anything I've seen before. It was an area called Brown Pocket, that looks like lava flow everywhere with these giant mounds of rolling rock. The bright, flat, mid day light doesn't quite do this place justice so I'd love to return and explore around more.
After climbing around for a bit, I groaned at the idea of walking this soft river bed in the mid day sun. A few minutes of making our way back, it now hit me that these animal crossing we kept seeing was actually part of the stomped down trail. Being able to hike on a hard packed surface made the 3.5 mile jaunt much easier on my already sore legs. While I was chugging down water back in the parking lot, we overheard a group that had pulled up talking about slot canyons a short drive up the road. A few questions and it was quickly obvious we hiked the wrong trail. On the bright side, we discovered something that wasn't part of the itinerary. Yay bonus spots!
Shown : Buckskin Gulch, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Grand Escalante National Monument
A quick drive down the road revealed a much shorter, much easier hike to slot canyons. These were the first slot canyons I had ever been in and the soft, wavy sand stone walls act as a natural guide through the canyons . They also acted as a natural air conditioner, blasting cool air on my sunburnt face. Being that it was already late in the day we decided coming back during mid day would give us better light in the canyons and hopefully bring out the color in the red rocks. When we arrived the following day, not having done a 7 mile high before, the spirit was much higher. Going around the top side of the canyons gave us an entrance to the lower canyon. A soft orange glow from the sandstone created a really magical feeling throughout.
With the sun fading quickly on the day we high tailed it over to the painted desert area of Escalante National Monument. This place blew my mind. Picture driving down a dusty dirt road as this massive butte in front of you starts glowing different shades of Orange, Purple and Pink; showing off millions of years of progress. To your right is an open pocket with rolling hills of color, each layer more vibrant than the last. We quickly set up and took a few shots of the last light hitting the tall butte, colors glowing vibrant.
This was by far my favorite part of the Kane County area and will definitely be back to explore more or the painted desert.
Wire Pass Trail
By far the best thing about this trip was how helpful locals were about finding locations. While grabbing dinner in town one night, it was quickly known we were there for photography. From our tourism contact Camille to the owner of the cafe we had dinner at, everyone was quick to suggest these amazing off the map locations. There was a genuine sense of pride these locals had when talking about their region and within good reason.
Travel photography now days can feel like a checklist of spots that you have to get a photo of to be cool. Within towns like Kanab, there are so many hidden gems meant to be explored that most will never ask about. I loved hearing everyones movie star encounter (Kanab is a destination for a lot of Western Style Movies) and being able to order rattlesnake sausage with my breakfast. It gave me a real appreciation for this town.