Layered Geology–Mesa Arch and Canyonlands

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

We’ve just returned from another amazing adventure exploring areas of the American Southwest. This time our adventure compass led us to southeastern Utah, a place that piqued our interest when we bypassed the area on our trip to the southwestern part of the state a couple of years ago.

Here is one of Utah’s most famous natural arches, but (perhaps surprisingly) it is not located in Arches National Park. It is located instead in another nearby national park: Canyonlands. What makes it so special isn’t its size so much as the natural frame it provides for the geologically layered canyon below.

Most people flock to Mesa Arch in the pre-dawn dark to capture it as the sun peaks above the horizon and through the arch. I decided to flip custom on its head and photograph it at sunset instead; I wasn’t disappointed. A few broken clouds nearby did mute the scene a little, but there was enough sun to fire up the tops of the tallest structures in the canyon. Next time I return to Canyonlands, I will hopefully be floating on a raft, looking up at Mesa Arch from the canyon below.

Stormy Sunset

Thought I’d share a couple of photographs of tonight’s amazing sunset.

Panorama stitched from a series of photographs taken at the lake near our house. The colors faded within seconds after I took the photos--in fact, you can see the color a little better on the left than the right, as it was already fading as I was setting up my shots.

Panorama stitched from a series of photographs taken at the lake near our house. The colors faded within seconds after I took the photos–in fact, you can see the color a little better on the left than the right, as it was already fading as I was setting up my shots.

Mammatus clouds from a passing thunderstorm moving eastward at sunset.

Mammatus clouds from a passing thunderstorm moving eastward at sunset.

It’s been far too long since I’ve seen the beauty of thunderstorms as I saw today. We are in the midst of severe weather season here, but it seems like we’re getting a bit of a late start this year. I forgot how giddy I can get when in the presence of a mature thunderstorm; I am reminded at these moments why I decided to study meteorology, yearning to climb inside these storms and figure out what makes them tick.

These spectacular formations are mammatus clouds, the “upside down” undulating clouds that are most easily recognized at sunset, when the low sun angle creates the shadows necessary to clearly define the edge of the protuberances. They usually appear on the underside of the anvil cloud associated with a mature thunderstorm.

Hiking the Big Bend in Early Spring–Click on Image to View Gallery

Last weekend we visited Big Bend National Park. This was our fourth visit in five years. Here is a sample of some of the landscapes we encountered, most of land but a few of sky. We saw both winter and spring on our short trip, from snow to freezing fog to ceaseless sun to cirrus and alto cumulus clouds.

Most of these photos were taken with my trusty Canon DSLR that has served me well now through hundreds of journeys to many natural landscapes over the past few years. A few were taken with a new high-end non-DSLR Lumix that I got as a present for Christmas.

This is my first post in a long time, but our travels have been limited this winter and I’ve had other projects that have distracted me for much of the past few months. Now that spring is here, you will probably see more posts in the coming months!

Grand Teton Sampler–Click on image to view gallery!

Ready for another installment from our latest trip? Here are a few from the Grand Tetons. I think this was my favorite park that we visited on the trip, mostly for the sheer amazement at seeing these rugged, pointed, glacier-carved peaks. When I spent some time in Europe in college, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Switzerland. The Alps have remained one of my favorite places I’ve been, and the Grand Tetons are the closest approximation to them I have encountered in North America. Such majesty! If you ever plan to visit the wonderful Yellowstone National Park, you must take an extra day to visit the Grand Tetons just south of the park. You won’t be disappointed!

Lewis and Clark Caverns–Click on image to view gallery!

Here is another gallery from our recent western wanderings. This gallery comes courtesy of Lewis and Clark Caverns in  southern Montana. I live not far from its more-famous cousin, Carlsbad Caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns is an amazing place, and I’ve visited numerous times, including last fall. But I was pleasantly surprised by this little gem, not far from Yellowstone National Park. It was one of the few places we stopped that is neither a national park nor a national monument (though it was once federal land before being sold to the state of Montana), so it doesn’t get the same amount of press. But boy am I glad we stopped and took the tour through the cavern! If you’re ever in the area to visit the other “big-name” national parks, you should spare a day to visit these limestone beauties!

Cascades and Waterfalls Gallery–Click on an image to view gallery!

Here’s the first gallery from our recent Western trip. This is a (teeny tiny) sample of all the tumbling waterfalls and cascades we observed as we explored the spine of the Rocky Mountains. It would be an understatement to say we saw “a lot” of waterfalls. I must admit that I was growing weary of setting up my tripod in precarious canyons to try to get that perfect waterfall shot; I was certain I was going to lose at least my tripod on these little excursions, if not my camera as well. Fortunately, we all returned intact!

I have plenty more and will perhaps post another waterfall gallery once I finish all my edits. Whew!

Going to the Sun Road Panorama–Click on image for more detail!

Glacier Going to the Sun Road Panorama 3B-a-small

Here is yet another panorama from our recent journeys. Perhaps you already recognize it? It’s one of the many wondrous views found along the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. It’s less than fifty miles long from end to end, and yet it took us an entire day (probably 14 hours) to drive from one end to the other and back to our campsite. Of course, we stopped for a picnic and even got some pizza during that time, in addition to hiking a few trails and stopping at the many way points to take photos like this. There is a lot to see and do along that relatively short stretch of road! (And lots of construction to avoid as well.)

Glacier National Park is phenomenal, but it wasn’t my favorite park that we visited. I think that honor has to go to the Grand Tetons. (I love my jagged, pointy mountain peaks!) We also visited Zion on a previous trip, and I still think that of all the parks I’ve been to, Zion ranks as the single park you have to visit if you can only visit one. It is a fantastic combination of unique and breathtaking. The spectral coloring and the unusual geological formations, along with the steep canyons and amazing aerial views, make it nearly impossible to beat.

That being said, this panorama takes my own breath away more than any photo I’ve edited so far. The rugged peaks, the endless waterfalls, the glacier-carved cirques, and the snow still lingering into July despite the lush grasses combine to give this panorama a sense of the fantastic. It looks surreal to me, and I probably wouldn’t believe it’s a real place if I hadn’t been there myself. I don’t even have a particular memory of stopping at this point. I’m sure I recognized it as yet another spot of beauty along a stretch of land which, after a while, makes you feel like you’ve become a glutton of beauty. With some photography fatigue, I probably reluctantly set up my tripod and leveled it out and did all the tedious preparations needed for a great panorama. There is just too much to see, too many photo opportunities, to appreciate each stop along the way. But now that I have returned and can finally examine the photos and start to reconstruct a sample of that gluttonous meal of beauty I consumed on this trip, I recognize this as being among some of the best I’ve reconstructed so far.

I still have thousands more photos to get through, so I may yet find another one that surpasses this one. But for right now, I’m skeptical that this won’t be the best of the bunch. I think this is one you have to savor to really appreciate, zoom in and examine all the details–the dozens of cascades and waterfalls, the individual carvings in the rock faces of the mountains, the texture of the grasses, and even the other vehicles stopped along the road, their occupants standing in awe of this amazing scenery. So I hope you’ll wander through this landscape for just a little while. If you click on the image to open it in its own page, you’ll be able to step inside for just a little longer.

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