Snow on Sandstone

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Dave

Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
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The winter of 17/18 has not been kind to the Colorado Plateau. Snowpack is abysmal. Yet still, somehow, I've had the good fortune to make a couple of quick road trips to catch the aftermath of storms.

Both of these outings were photography-focused, with some hiking on the side or as a result of needing to reach photo locations.

The first came the weekend before Christmas. Arches NP made some noise on Twitter about having to close the entrance road because of winter conditions. That was my clue something interesting was happening.

I work a Monday-Friday schedule so catching interesting weather events is usually not going to happen unless they're kind enough to occur on a Saturday or Sunday. This time though, the road closure meant I might be able to find Arches covered with a foot of fresh snow, untrammeled.

My sole goal was to capture Delicate Arch with fresh snow. Delicate Arch is normally a place I'd avoid like skin flakes from a leper. In my mind's eye, I had an image of the orange rock blanketed by white powder.

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Game on.

Drove down from Salt Lake late... so much so I didn't pull into the trailhead lot until 1:30 a.m. Sunrise would come early so I settled down to grab a quick nap. No sooner had I fallen asleep than someone else pulled into the lot, drove around, got out, got in, moved the car, got out again and finally left.

At 5:30 I came awake to see another car in the lot and a photographer unpacking his gear. Time to go.

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There were three of us up there for sunrise. Unfortunately, the clouds didn't cooperate and sunlight was elusive.

When the daylight hikers started to arrive, I packed up and departed.

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After scarfing down breakfast I headed up the road a bit to see how conditions looked near Devil's Garden. The snow was deep and largely untrammeled, so I headed for Broken Arch.

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The tracks in the snow dead-ended not far beyond the arch. Still, it was pretty simple to make out the trail so I forged ahead toward the campground.

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The park service was trying to tell me something but I couldn't quite make out the sign.

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The campground was deserted. Probably about the only time I'd ever set foot here.

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Hawk and coyote food was abundant.

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Wrapping up the loop, I rolled back down to the Delicate Arch trailhead to find it absolutely mobbed. I took a nap and it didn't seem to be any better when I woke up, though there were plenty of people headed back down the trail.

A woman hiking down stopped me as I started ascending toward Delicate Arch around 4 p.m., carrying two cameras and a full-size tripod.

"You're going up there now?"

"Yes, for sunset."

"The trail is really slick."

"I know. I was up there this morning."

"Oh, well it's going to get icy when the sun goes down."

No kidding, lady.

The crowd at the arch probably came in around 60-80 people. Most were chilling, literally and figuratively. Several photographers were set up around the bowl. A few jerks were braving the icy path over to the arch, leaving tracks.

The light, again, was less than perfect. I framed the shot I wanted, then sat and waited. And waited.

And waited.

The disc of the sun slid down past a gap in the clouds and for the briefest moment, a window of only a few seconds, it shone directly on the arch.

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And then it was gone.

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The crowd dispersed and we all started making our way down the icy trail, some of us more quickly than others.

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I stopped partway down and gave my gloves to a Pakistani woman who had recently moved to Ogden. Her friends suggested they should all go down and see Arches with snow. She was wearing fashion boots with flat soles. She didn't have a flashlight. With a little butt-scooting and hand-holding, she made it down okay.

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Fast-forward a couple of dry, warm weeks. Another storm headed for Utah bringing the promise of desert snow. This time, the forecast called for 8-12 inches at Bryce Canyon.

Second verse, same as the first. I packed up the car, charged batteries and prepared to depart on a Saturday afternoon.

Driving conditions were terrible. Snow south of Scipio to about Beaver kept traffic on I-15 moving slowly. To make matters more interesting, Congress had failed to fund the government the night before, so the parks were in shutdown.

I finally made it to Bryce after dark. Instead of heavy, fresh snow the weather had brought 20-30 mile-per-hour winds. The wind chill drove temperatures well into negative territory. I hunkered down for the night, listening to the frigid air rushing through the pines.

Just like at Arches, cars started rolling up to the Sunrise Point trailhead before dawn. I dressed in layers (6 of them!) and went out into the cold.

The wind had not abated. The few people who'd shown up to watch sunrise scurried to the rim, then hurried back to their warm cars.

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The valley below was full of fog.

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And the wind kept whipping snow and ice into the air, causing it to catch sunlight and sparkle like millions of suspended diamonds.

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The fog started to clear as the sun climbed higher into the eastern sky. Daylight revealed what I had feared: the storm had fizzled. Most of the snow was dry, crusty and shallow.

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Still, it provided decent contrast on the scenery.

I vacillated for a time about whether or not to hike below the rim. After shooting some photos and videos related to the government shutdown for work, I packed a bag and headed for the Fairyland loop.

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It remained bitterly cold and windy but by the end of the hike, I'd shed three of my six layers and sweat through the remaining ones. The idea of waiting for sunset seemed foolhardy considering the risk of hypothermia and overcast skies.
 
Last edited:

Perry

Formerly Cuberant
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#3
There is something very special about Bryce and snow.
 
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#6
Fantastic. Excellent TR. We were at Arches just before Christmas and really enjoyed the snow, although there were decidedly more people about than what you saw.
 

Nick

Post 'em if you got 'em!
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#8
Now that's dedication. Awesome shots, Dave.
 
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#9
Wow, really nice stuff. Bryce with snow is spectacular and I love those shots of the fog at sunrise.
 

WasatchWill

Ready For More
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#11
Wow! Going off the Arches pictures, you'd never know we were having such an abysmal winter out west here. Gorgeous photos. Loved the commentary too! And hey, I learned a new word: vacillated. So thanks!
 
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#14
These are all amazing Dave. I love the two of the hare, especially the one where he’s munching on some vegetation.
 

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