Great American Road Trip

I still got it. Road trip fever. 1500 miles in 3 days. For what you might ask? How about an open-air classical music concert let by the Utah Symphony in Bluff, Utah that pay’s homage to Utah’s great landscape and our country’s Native American heritage?!

The tour was presented in collaboration with Utah’s National and State parks and is also part of the Utah Office of Tourism’s Road to Mighty campaign, which encourages visitors to explore not only the Parks, but other scenic locations around the state. Educational programming is provided in partnership with the Natural History Museum of Utah, and the post-concert “star parties” are held in collaboration with the University of Utah’s Consortium for Dark Sky Studies and the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative.

Cow Canyon Trading Post
Cow Canyon Trading Post

Mission accomplished.  I have visited many/most areas of Utah but I had never traveled to and around Bluff, Utah.  This particular concert was on Thursday, August 31st, 2017 so it really required me bailing out of the studio on Wednesday and pushing up I-15 and heading east on I-70 and then jetting down HWY 191 and traveling through marvelous Moab.  When I used to live in Salt Lake City, Moab was a regular, easy road trip but not so much coming from Las Vegas these days.  But, like an old friend, it was nice to drive through town,  and ponder great memories.  But my butt had been glued to my driver’s seat for 8 hours already and I had another hour to go before setting up my tent outside Monticello at the Devil’s Canyon campground.

This area is generally referred to as the “Four Corners” and from an anthropological standpoint, has been documented as being settled by first generations of Puebloans. In contemporary times, the people and their archaeological culture are referred to as Anasazi for historical purposes.   But, it seems this reference came from the competing tribe of Navajo which can be interpreted as “ancient enemies”, thus, contemporary Puebloans do not endorse the namesake of Anasazi for their ancestral Puebloans.

They lived in a range of structures that included small family pit houses, larger structures to house clans, grand pueblos, and cliff-sited dwellings for defense. The Ancestral Puebloans possessed a complex network that stretched across the Colorado Plateau linking hundreds of communities and population centers. They held a distinct knowledge of celestial sciences that found form in their architecture. The kiva, a congregational space that was used chiefly for ceremonial purposes, was an integral part of this ancient people’s community structure. Read more here….

If you sat in a local tavern long enough, the disappearance of the ancient Puebloans is a “mystery wrapped in a riddle”.  Some people even think space aliens were involved.


Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour. Walt Whitman

Goosenecks State Park Map
Goosenecks State Park Map

It is around 7pm and it is still very warm.  When you are looking into the sun waiting on sunset and the thermometer registers 105º, it feels much hotter.  After setting up my tent, I had opted to head south another 50 miles to Goosenecks State Park.  From a photographer’s standpoint, this is supposed to be the quick and easy alternative “shot” to Horseshoe Bend down around Lake Powell.  The turnoff from HWY 261 is about 12 miles and you ponder in that next 12 miles if the view and potential cost is worth it.

The entrance fee was $5 and worth it but it was disappointing from a photographer’s standpoint.   The “goosenecks” of the San Juan river butt up against the wall below and so it is very difficult (or, impossible) to get a comprehensive shot of the deep meander with reasonable composition. It turns out that drone photography IS ALLOWED in Autumn after certain birds migrate away from the area.  A drone shot is probably the only way to capture the haphazard composition of San Juan River carving it’s path of least resistance over millions of years.

I was really setup to make this my “sunset” photo but after about 10 minutes I opted to bail and head back up HWY 163 and exit the Valley of the Gods road and catch a sunset photo there.  This is a direct road, and as long as there is no flooding, any capable vehicle and make the drive.  This ended up being the best Plan B.  Thanks Walt Whitman for the quote!

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Natural Bridges National Monument was designated the world’s first international dark sky park in 2007.  Needless to say, this area has minimal nighttime light pollution making it a perfect place to expand your skills in astrophotography.   To be honest, I will get up before sunrise, and wait for the perfect shot at sunset, but, getting up in the middle of the night is not my favorite thing to do.  My collection of images of the aurora borealis during my residence in Alaska is limited just for that reason.   Who wants to get out of their bed at 2am, it is -20below and go out and maybe get the shot?  Anyway, it is guaranteed at least once or twice I will need to crawl out of my tent to pee, and my first night at Devil’s Canyon was perfect conditions to shoot.   After taking the proverbial pee, I quickly accessed the conditions and they were undeniably ripe.  Few residents in the camping area on this Wednesday night (light pollution), no wind but enough breeze to keep the gnats moving, and crystal clear skies.  After 15 minutes I was satisfied with my efforts and went back to bed. [make sure you click the dark thumbnail images to see the stars]

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Thursday was all about visiting as many points of interest before the upcoming evening concert in Bluff.  I was able to fill up with gas in Blanding (gas was only $2.75/gal) and then head west on HWY 95  for 35 miles to HWY 275 which leads you directly to the dead end of Natural Bridges National Monument.  There is a multi-year asphalt reconstruction project on HWY 95 so be prepared to stop.  The scenery is so nice that waiting for the escort vehicle was not unpleasant.

My strategy was to visit Natural Bridges National Monument first and then on my backtrack to Bluff, there were multiple places I had earmarked to visit like Mule Canyon Trailhead, Butler Wash Ruins and Edge of Cedars State Park & Museum. Of all the website results in Google, I found the Hiking & Walking website to be the best.

Edge of Cedars State Park & Museum

I prefer a natural, self-directed exploratory experience but the unpretentious Edge of Cedars State Park & Museum was worth the $5? entry fee and they offer a detailed history of the Puebloans that settled in the area.   I met a mother & son team visiting from the Netherlands.   Mom had visited Arches and the Southwest before but this time she brought her son.  As always, I like surprising people with an unexpected photoshoot.   Most people might spend less than 30 minutes touring the museum, but, our quick friendship ended up pushing the clock over an hour as we discussed many things including how to make the Netherlands GREAT AGAIN!  hahahahah

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Great American Road Trip Banner
Great branding for this concert series!

Pulling back into Bluff around 4:30pm, I knew I wanted to get a few shots in, eat dinner early and then head over to Camp Stickie-Ta-Tudy (wth? LOL) and scope out the shots available.   I had noticed the Cow Canyon Trading Post yesterday and pulled into grab a few shots. I asked the owner, Liza Doran if it was cool to grab some pics.   She appreciated my formal request and gave me the green light.  Liza found an old Buick over twenty years ago in the  Mesa Verde region and parked it in front.  As an artist, she knew the composition was perfect.   (see pics reference in gallery above) Read more here…

I had also noticed a full parking lot coming and going the previous day in front of the Comb Ridge Bistro.   That was my dinner of choice and I was especially hungry after having a dry peanut butter and honey sandwich out hiking during the day.  I arrived around 5:15pm which seemed early but the restaurant already had a buzz of excitement for tonight’s concert and I was seated and served quickly.  Grandma’s meatloaf was the house special and you just don’t say NO to meatloaf.   Which in turn was the gateway drug to some scrumptious peach cobbler ala mode. By the time I had finished my meal 45 minutes later, the wait-time for an inside table was 30 minutes.

Free ticket!
Free ticket!

Via Facebook, I had learned that acquiring a free ticket for the concert tonight could be done online back on May 31st and the process was successful.  About a week prior to my departure, my official ticket was mailed.  I had no idea “Camp Stickie-Ta-Tudy” was but roadtrips are meant to included random discoveries, right?

The concert venue namesake comes from the Hole-In-The-Rock Foundation.  The Hole-in-the-Rock trail narrative is more than men and women colonizing a new area. It is the “can do”, or as Jens Nielson would say “stickie-ta-tudy”, attitude of the American pioneer. Settlement of the San Juan country is a fitting epitaph to the determination and the perseverance of American colonists throughout America’s westward expansion. I dig it!  Who needs to make America great “again”?  America has been great for a long time!

The “big-city” folks of Salt Lake City brought their event delivery expertise to this remote spot with friendly professionalism.  Plenty of parking attendants and a solid strategy for exit.  The backdrop of the mesas were perfect and despite some gusty winds and a spat of rain, the concert was delivered with great success!  Thanks Utah Symphony for hard work and vision to make this happen!

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Love me some fresh cantaloupe!
Love me some fresh cantaloupe!

Green River is a good bathroom break and gas fill-up heading into Moab or heading back to I-15.   Located approximately 100 miles (160 km) in either direction from Richfield, Utah, and Grand Junction, Colorado, Green River’s local economy primarily caters to serving passers-by on Interstate 70, since there are no services on I-70 westbound between Green River and Salina, 107 miles (172 km) away. The economy relies heavily on hotels, fast food and a few other restaurants and gas stations. A large natural gas field has been discovered 3 miles (5 km) south of the city. The field is operated by Delta Petroleum headquartered in Denver, Colorado.

Green River is famous for its melons, sold during the growing season. It is also a popular freeride mountain biking spot.

It can be seen in films such as New World Disorder 7. Green River is the setting for the Bud Shumway mystery series by Chinle Miller, the first being The Ghost Rock Café, named for a landmark on the San Rafael Swell. A proposed nuclear power plant, the Blue Castle Project, is located about five miles west-northwest of the town.

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I have been shooting for $$ since 2000 opening my shop with a Nikon D1.  I am primarily interested in shooting adventure lifestyle and travel with a host of my  day-to-day clients being within the industrial sector.

Many of my editorial stock photos have been published in all major news outlets, with my primary focus is distributing my images on a client-by-client basis to ensure their branding is unique and compelling.

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