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  • Writer's pictureAlyce Bender

Monthly Review: April 2019

Sleeping Bee in a Cactus Blossom

Well this month seemed to fly by and drag on at the same time. The first couple weeks were spent in Vegas as Rusty got his staples out and resumed "normal" activities. I wanted to give him a week of getting use to things like walks and car rides before loading him in the RV for this trip. If you have been following me on Instagram since we did get on the road, you will have seen how he has adapted and that missing a leg has not kept him from adventure.

Once we did get on the road though, it has been non-stop. Seriously, non-stop. Every day has been a new location for the most part. One location I was in for two nights and one location for three. Other then that it has been a whirlwind loop around southern and mid-Utah.

Our first stop was to a small park kind of between Hurricane and Kanab, called Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. The Coral Pink Sand Dunes are just what their name suggests. Beautiful, salmon-ly colored sand dunes hidden on the outskirts of the Vermilion Cliffs. The also happen to be made of some of the softest sand I have had the pleasure of dipping my toes in.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes Abstract II

Predominantly an off-highway vehicle (OHV) playground (much to my dismay), this place has much potential if it weren't for all the OHV tracks everywhere along the dunes. I was lucky that, for a few hours, we had high winds which helped clear some of the dunes of the tire markings.

During this trip I found myself working more and more within creative imagery making than traditional landscape photography. Using intentional camera movement to bring out the play of light and shadow on various landscapes became very addictive and therapeutic.

Coral Pink Sand Dune Abstract

From the sand dunes, we made our way down to what is called Toadstool Trail Head. Its a spot on BLM land, just off the highway between Kanab, UT and Page, AZ. Popular as an easy trail (just under a mile one-way) to see the toadstool formations. These are formations that occur in certain areas in this region due to the erosion of certain layers in the bedrock faster than others. Because of this, there ends up being these pillars of softer sediments with a load-stone cap that create a toadstool looking natural sculpture.

Toadstools at Sunset

Dropping south into Arizona, I spent a few days at a place called Lee's Ferry. Had a great campground with canyon views and overlooking the Colorado River. This is a place I would love to come back to at some point.

Then it was time to meet up with a friend in Page, AZ, home to Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyons. Otherwise known as tourist central. It saddened me to see the impact that tourism has had on this town. Even when I visited only a handful of years ago, it had retained its small town uniqueness. Traffic wasn't dominated by rental RVs and tour buses. Horseshoe Bend was free and open 24/7. Now they have a huge paved parking lot that costs $10 per car that is run by the city even though the land is National Park land (meaning the National Park Pass does not get you "free" entrance). Unless my husband wants to see it at some point, I doubt I will ever visit that particular spot again. There are too many other places to see, many overlooking beautiful river bends, to bother fighting with such crowds.

On the other hand, Antelope Canyon after dark is awesome. I'm not much of an astrophotography shooter, but my friend wanted to do the night tour and I thought why not. It was amazing. Not only do you have just a small group of photographers there, but my favorite part was at the end of the tour, our guide, Roman, performed steel wool poi. This created one of my all time favorite human element images that I have taken.

Antelope Canyon Nighttime Fun

Safety Note: Please do not try steel wool poi without the proper guidance. Not only can it lead to personal burns and injuries, but there have been large fires and historical buildings burnt down due to negligence in trying to get images like this.

After Page, we drove northeast to Monument Valley. Last time I was there, a few years ago, I was car camping and woke to a late season snow. This year I was not wishing for snow but maybe some storms to come through. Unfortunately, upon arriving, it seemed like there had been some changes. I was not allowed to take the RV down on the auto drive, even though, on my last visit they had allowed small RVs and even a U-Haul on the route. So I got the requisite icon shot of the mittens and mesa, before grabbing dinner at the View restaurant. That had not changed and I love the Navajo fry bread and the traditional mutton stew. Really hit the spot after so many days of PB&J sandwiches.

My next stop was suppose to be an overnight in the Valley of the Gods, but upon reaching the turn off, it seemed spring melts and April showers had flooded the entry road. Not willing to play Oregon Trail with my modern wagon, I pushed on to a small town called Blanding, UT. Now, I didn't take any pictures here as there wasn't a park or anything like that, but it had a quiet RV camp ground, run by the local 7-11. It was also one of those quintessential American small towns that had a nostalgic feel to it: the main highway running through town; the corner drug store with a mom and pop name; and the burger joint with a parlor filled with young, blue collar families getting together for supper and the occasional adventurer, such as myself, or the other two guys who stopped on their way to Moab just grabbing the recommended local meal.

Also, the town had cell service so I was able to take my midterm on time. I passed.

Onward and upward to Moab the following day. Mecca of the West for outdoor enthusiast from all around the world. Bikers, hikers, rafters, campers, climbers, and off-roaders all pile into Moab for outdoor adventures. Even the RVers come as it is the gateway to two of the most popular national parks, (Arches and Canyonlands), a state park (Dead Horse Point State Park), several federal recreation areas, and a national forest. Never have I seen so many Jeeps in one place before as I did pulling into Moab, I'll say that much.

Due to this extreme abundance of natural beauty and those willing to visit it, lodging is at a premium in the area. Places that you can make reservations for book up months in advance in all but the hottest months. Then there are the BLM campgrounds and some of the national park campgrounds that are first come, first serve for sites. These are a very hot commodity. Most of the campgrounds hold only 10 to 25 spots in any one location. Those spots large enough for RVs, even small ones like mine, are even fewer and far between. Pulling into Moab before 11am I was able to claim a spot just outside Arches National Park on the Colorado River. By 1pm there were no spots left even as people kept driving by to check. Ended up having a fellow photographer stop by that evening asking if I wouldn't mind sticking his paid receipt on my post when I left in the morning so he could shoot before coming over. I didn't have a problem doing that so, when I left the next morning to try and get a space in Canyonlands, the spot I vacated was already taken.

Green River Overlook as Storms move in

Now, between that spot and the Canyonlands campground, it takes about an hour to drive. I wanted a spot in the coveted Willow Flatts, aka, Island in the Sky, campground. Only 12 spots, first come, first serve, a mile from Mesa Arch, a few hundred meters from the Green River Overlook, and an international dark sky location. An amazing location, IF you can get a spot. Well, my plan was to be there by 8am. Campers leaving have to be out no later than 10, but as with may outdoorsy folk, most are up before then. So I thought a spot might be open, if anyone was leaving that day (it was a Monday non-holiday). I got there a few minutes to 8am and took the first spot I saw was available. It ended up being one of three that opened up that morning. By 9am the other two were filled. That is how competitive getting a spot is in Moab.

But it was worth it! I had storms with lightning, rainbows, and an opening for the sun to set through all at once.

Green River Overlook with Storms at Sunset

Then after the sunset, the storms cleared off and the stars came out. I was able to try my hand again at astrophotography and a bit of light painting. Unfortunately, due to the moon phase and that the Milky Way and Moon would be up at the same time, I didn't get a chance to shoot the Milky Way. Guess that just means I have to go back, right?

After getting up before dawn to join with others to shoot the famed Mesa Arch, the pups and I headed west to Goblin Valley State Park. Another Dark Sky location, I had the same issue as I did at Canyonlands with both the Milky Way and Moon being up at the same time. So we hiked a bit, scouting the area for if I make a return trip.

Mesa Arch

Tired at this point of not having any cell service and no wifi (needed for school otherwise I wouldn't worry about it) we made our longest RV drive yet. At just over six hours, we made it to Spring Valley State Park, NV. Here we stayed for three nights, each one having storms in the evening which did not allow for good light. Its a beautiful place though and is one of the locations I will be teaching a workshop on basic birding photography during the Lincoln County Photo Festival in June.

After that I made one more night on the road at Cathedral Gorge State Park, location for the second workshop I will be teaching during the Photo Festival, before returning to Vegas a few days before the end of the month.

I needed the few days to get cloths washed, RV restocked, and drop the pups with my amazing Aunt and Uncle before setting out again the 1st of May for Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs, CA, for the Palm Springs Photo Festival. There I am a volunteer for the week in exchange for being able to attend some of the week's events and get my name and work in front of some highly influential people in photography. I will let you know in next month's review how it all goes. Fingers crossed!

I know this post was a bit light on images but the trip was enlightening in that it pointed out that the grand landscape is not biggest my strength when it comes to photography. Wildlife will always be my absolute favorite with intimate, minimalist, abstract landscapes being runner up.

Until next time, I hope with the weather warming across the northern hemisphere, you will get out and enjoy spring a bit yourself. Cheers!

Confluence Colors - part of a series

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