Escalante Trip - Slot Canyons, Dance Hall Rock, and Sunset Arch at night - BeckmannImages

This is the beginning of the trail down to Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons

Note: This is part 2 of my posts on my May 2015 photography trip to Grand Escalante in Southern Utah. To see part 1, click here.

After spending the previous night out late photographing the Milky Way, Day 2 of our workshop got off to a late start so we could sleep in. David, our awesome photo guide (action photo tours), had a full day planned, starting with a hike to see Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons. There is an abundance of slot canyons in the Escalante area, which vary in difficulty from easy flat bottom walks to more difficult narrow ones where scrambling is necessary, to technical ones where ropes are required. We stopped at Peekaboo first, and immediately realized that while it was not a technical canyon, entering and making our way through with all our camera gear was not going to be as easy as walking right in.

Our guide David at the entrance to Peekaboo slot canyon

All the slot canyons we went to were not really high risk for flash floods, unlike others such as Antelope Canyon, but they were formed by water erosion and it was something to keep in mind. Recent rains had made Peekaboo, normally dry, wet in spots with several deep pools just above the entrance that we had to navigate past. Eventually we made our way past the pools and had some time to shoot.

Peekaboo Slot Canyon, which really narrows at the halfway point shown here

One of the winding bends in Peekaboo Canyon

I never grow tired of photographing the lines and colors in the slot canyons

This fun rock formation stood guard over the second half of Peekaboo Canyon

After spending time in Peekaboo Canyon, we stashed our gear behind a bush, just taking our cameras and tripods with us. We had a mile hike to get to Spooky Canyon, which if you can believe it is even more narrow than Peekaboo, or so we were told. You see, we didn't actually get to go in Spooky Canyon. Just as we arrived at the entrance, a strong rainstorm arrived at the same time. In just a few minutes, water was flowing down the rocks and into the entrance, which was enough to make us think better than to risk going in.

The entrance to Spooky Canyon, just as it began to rain

The rain quit after about 20 minutes, while we were hiking back to pick up our gear near the exit of Peekaboo. Truthfully, I wasn't that excited about the slot canyon portion of this trip. I've been to both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona, which are fantastic btw, numerous times, and I felt that there is only so much shooting you can do in the slot canyons before all the images start to look the same. But, after the week was over, I have to say I was dead wrong. The variety in the formations and the lines and features on the walls are extremely varied from canyon to canyon, and besides that, it is just fun to be in them! Once we got our gear, we decided to head back through Peekaboo and get some more shots inside. 

One of several small arches in Peekaboo Canyon

Here I am taking a break in the canyon. Thanks to David Swindler for the shot.

By the time we got back to the cars, it was 7pm and golden hour and sunset were fast approaching. We headed further down Hole in the Rock Road to Dance Hall Rock. This area of sandstone slick rock was used by pioneers in the 19th century as a base camp while they worked on blasting a path through the rocks to the Colorado River. It is called Dance Hall Rock because they would hold social gatherings in the natural amphitheater and dance the night away. We spent some time shooting here before the sun set.

The mounds of slick rock at Dance Hall Rock

I love this self portrait at Dance Hall Rock, with the clouds reflecting in the small pool of water and the sun burst created by the small aperture I set

A reflection of David and Tom discussing technique

The view of fifty mile mountain from atop Dance Hall Rock. This ridge stretches Southeast of Escalante for, wait for it, 50 miles towards Lake Powell.

Once on top of Dance Hall Rock, there are several deep holes like this one that have formed from erosion over time and have sandy bottoms that can support  plant life

It had been a long day, with roughly 6 miles of hiking so far, but we were not done by any means once the sun set. Roughly an hour after sunset is what is known to photographers as blue hour. This is when the sun has set enough that the sky turns a rich, deep blue which makes for some amazing photographs. We found a similar hole to the one above that had a living tree inside of it  with nice green leaves and set up for our shots. We used a fixed LED light panel to light the hole and tree, and did dynamic light painting on the foreground slick rock to bring out the leading lines. I love the composition of this shot, and the contrasting rich colors. It is an image that really leads the viewers eye through the image, and I think it works equally well as a horizontal or vertical shot.

During blue hour, you can get a nice mix of colorful sky with a few stars showing up as well, like here

We even got some passing clouds in a few of the shots, which add so much  to the composition. Note the difference between the two shots in the upper slick rock light painting, each time is a bit different since you are literally painting the light on with a floodlight.

After blue hour, we finally had some time to catch our breaths and take a break. David made a fantastic dinner of soup and mashed potatoes on his camping stove back at the car. It was midnight at this point, and we had a decision to make. We had scheduled to go shoot Sunset Arch under the milky way, which meant another long night. Bob, one of the other attendees, decided he was going to skip this, but the other three of us were up for it. The Milky Way wouldn't start appearing until about 1:30AM, so we had time to drive to the parking lot for Sunset Arch and make the 1 mile hike out to it in the dark, with our gear and headlamps. We got out to the arch about 12:45AM, and all took a little siesta waiting for the Milky Way. After our naps, we started setting up for our shot, but a pesky group of clouds had moved in right over the central bulge of the Milky Way. All ready for the shot, we waited, and waited, and waited. As one set of clouds moved out of the way, a new set seemed to keep forming in the same spot. Finally, around 3:45, I said aloud to the group, "I'm giving it 5 more minutes and then I'm packing up." Apparently the ultimatum was all that was needed, as almost immediately the clouds moved away and clear skies revealed the full Milky Way right above the arch. We spent 15 minutes getting our shots, and then headed back on the hike to the car, extremely satisfied with a trip well worth it.

Night Awakening - Sunset Arch under the Milky Way. This is a two shot composition, one higher ISO shot for the sky and a lower ISO, longer exposure for the foreground to capture better detail.

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