This article begins what I hope will be one per month during 2020, the goal Of which is to focus on a specific destination and trip. The idea is to treat it more like a journal than a formally written periodical, letting go of propriety and allowing content to wander where it might. Thanks for baring with me as I work out the creative kinks… we’ll see how this goes…

Frozen Utah Juniper, Dead Horse Point, Utah. The name, Dead Horse Point, conjures up imagery somehow invoking a sense of intrigue or mystery; perhaps even a bit of romance from the “old, wild west.” However, I find the legend of Dead Horse Point disturbing, threatening disenchantment with such a beautiful place. The legend has it,

“the point was once used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa. Cowboys rounded up these horses and herded them across the narrow neck of land onto the point. The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush, creating a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs. The cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and, for reasons unknown, left the other horses corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.”

Not our finest moment as humans, nor stewards of life. At first this story (if true… remember, it is a legend) bothered me. But over time I found it offered a stark reality to the supernatural beauty of the area. The two, it seems, are often inextricably woven – these contrasts creating the tension we seem to seek. [Fuji PRO 400H]
frame 02 – Utah Juniper, Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah (2020). If there’s a most picturesque tree at Dead Horse Point, this surely qualifies. Unfortunately many have it captioned a Bristlecone Pine, which it’s not. This tree is one of the pervasive Utah Junipers, taking nothing away from its beauty or fortitude. [Fuji Pro 400H]

Since returning from Canyonlands in early January a few things have been swirling around my mind while sifting through frames and its been a challenge to organize them into a cohesive Structure. So for the moment I’ve put that on pause and am just going with what’s top of mind…

Utah Juniper, Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah.
Utah Juniper, Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah. Juniperus osteosperma. Native Americans such as the Havasupai used the bark for a variety of purposes, including beds, and ate the cones both fresh and in cakes. The Havasupai used the gum to make a protective covering over wounds. Additionally, the Yavapai gave their women a tea made from the leaves to calm their contractions after giving birth, and fumigated them with smoke from the leaves placed over hot coals. The Navajo sweep their tracks with boughs from the trees so death will not follow them. I just find them beautiful… [Fuji PRO 400H]
Arches National Park entrance station, looking down from the initial climb once entering the park. Highway 191 coming down from Crescent Junction may be seen towards the top left of the frame.
frame 01-Arches N.P. Entrance, Moab, Utah [Kodak Portra 400]

Expectations: one morning I was working just of the road in Arches National Park and a rental sedan pulled up, the driver rolling down her window and asking, “what are you finding to photograph? Everything’s grayed out!”

Bristlecone Pine, Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah
Utah Juniper, Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah. [Fuji PRO 400H]

This led to a 5 -10 minute conversation, me struggling a bit to answer the question as politely as possible while keeping watch for what I was hoping would emerge through the icy fog of Arches’ Garden of Eden. And to be honest, I’d been hoping for blue sky too.

Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah
frame 07 – Garden of Eden Viewpoint, Arches National Park, Utah [Ilford Delta 100 + Nikon F6]

I’ve been traveling to Canyonlands for over 30 years, the first trip one Spring in the late 80’s. The reason that first trip is memorable was the weather. Colorado had a significant snow storm the day of departure and driving I-70 through the mountains was white knuckle. It wasn’t until west of Grand Junction the roads began to clear and the grip on the Subaru’s steering wheel relaxed.

Highway 128, Utah
Highway 128, Utah [Kodak Portra 400]

By the time night fell along Utah Highway 128, a route I’d been told held spectacular scenery along the Colorado River, the shores of the river were damp and cold beneath my down bag but clearing skies above revealed stars and I was hopeful. The next morning I awoke to indescribable beauty, obscured by dark the night before.

frame 04-Highway 128 along the Colorado River, Canyonlands, Utah [Portra 400]
Cache Valley and La Salle Mountains, Arches National Park, Utah
Cache Valley and La Salle Mountains, Arches National Park, Utah

Later that day – and the most prominent memory of the trip – was seeing Arches National Park for the first time, with snow on the ground for the drive into the park, and sunny blue skies with bare, red ground half a day later on the drive out. It remains one of the most beautiful memories I have exploring Utah.

The lesser traveled Tower Arch trail is well worth the little bit of extra driving required to reach.
Tower Arch Trail, Arches National Park
Mormon Tea, Arches National Park, Utah
Ephedra viridis, or Mormon Tea, Garden of Eden/Windows Area, Arches. One of the many reasons I continue to use color slide film is the color – there’s nothing quite like it. [Fuji Provia 100F]

Fast forward a few years, returning from a college Bowl game in Arizona and spending the night in Moab. Early the next morning my wife and I grabbed coffee and jumped in the car for a quick lap through Arches. It was New Years Eve day and again, the snow on the ground provided a supernatural beauty. I marked this as a time to return and spend more dedicated time shooting. That time finally came this January.

Garden of Eden Triptych
Garden of Eden Triptych [r0478-DEL100-f14, 16, 11]
Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah
[roll 478, frame 09] Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah. A wonderful thing about photographing in the fog – neutralizing the background. On a clear, hot sunny day there’s so much visible distraction beyond the subject. This day presented unique opportunities to explore isolation – in isolation. [Ilford Delta100]

Focus or Stubbornness? I could be categorized as ’goal oriented’ and shifting gears quickly isn’t something I’ve been historically good at. Used to be, I could become somewhat locked into a plan and struggle to deviate. This can be a positive attribute, sometimes benevolently labeled focusing – and believe it’s one of my greatest strengths. On the other side though, there’s a point where focusing turns into stubbornly refusing to adjust to variables not aligning with your goals.

Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah. Cropping the white sky from this photograph helped eliminate a distracting component. [Ilford Delta 100]

This is wear shifting gears and learning to roll with what ever happens becomes a real asset. I get a little better each time – but it doesn’t come easy and takes work.

frame 07 – Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah (Fuji Pro 400H)
From Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah
From Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah [Ilford Delta 100]

Return to the roadside in Arches, January 4, 2020 talking with someone who’d all but given up on photography for the day. “This is the day to be out shooting! The anomaly, the outlier; the rare and unusually beautiful time.” Yes, initially I’d hoped for something else too – but when I saw this, everything changed.

Windows Area, Arches. A frozen Cottonwood against sandstone with Double Arch looming above.
Windows Area, Arches. A frozen Cottonwood against sandstone with Double Arch looming above. [Fuji Provia 100F]

You Can’t be Everywhere at Once: FOMO isn’t a helpful condition when photographing the land. Learning to slow down and look intently where ever you are is a skill that develops over time. This icy cottonwood against the sandstone was spotted while heading towards the Windows Area, where so many of the landmark arches reside. Abandoning those to stop and peruse this scene felt like the right thing to do.

Frozen Cottonwood Tree near Windows area, Arches National Park, Utah
frame 26 – Frozen cottonwood tree near Windows Area, Arches National Park, Utah. Arches average annual precipitation is 8.7”, 221mm. Not much. So when it happens, it’s a pretty cool thing to see. [Ilford Delta 100]

Something else noteworthy about this image is that it was made with a plain, old 50mm lens. Nothing fancy or exotic – just a normal focal length lens you can pick up very inexpensively. In fact, this 50mm lens is perhaps the most used lens in my bag. It’s small and sharp – easy to have on the camera most of the time. Further proof you don’t need to spend a fortune on exotic camera gear to enjoy photography. OK, the F6 is pretty exotic, but still…

Nikon F6 35mm film camera with Nikkor 50mm ƒ1.4D normal lens. Sometimes simple is the best approach, further proof you don’t need to spend a fortune on exotic lenses to enjoy photography.
Trusty Nikon F6 with the simple 50mm ƒ1.4D lens.
Warming up @ quitin’ time. I thought about camping this trip but when I saw night time lows hovering around 15° – and room prices around $60/night, well… [Fuji Provia 100F], another shot with the F5 and 50mm lens.
Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah
frame 14 – Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah [Ilford Delta 100 + Nikon F6]

Garden of Eden: in my many visits to Arches over the years the Garden of Eden has remained largely unexplored – until this trip. From the moment I saw it in the dense fog I was intrigued. Often times during the 4 days I’d revisit to see what the light and fog were doing. Often times the sandstone pillars were completely obscured and invisible. Other times they emerged as ghosts hovering above icy, snow covered bushes. Their looming presence adding a unique and dramatic touch to the black and white frames and I’m looking forward to printing these in the darkroom.

Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah
[roll 478, frame 07] – Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah [Ilford Delta 100 + Nikon F6]
Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah
Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah [Ilford Delta 100]
Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah
Garden of Eden, Arches National Park, Utah. One of the lesser frequented parts of the Park, Garden of Eden assumed a special mystique in the fog. [Ilford Delta 100 + Nikon F6]
LaSalle Mountains from Island in the Sky [Fuji Velvia]

Island in the Sky: The temptation all weekend was to think I could get above the cloud ceiling by going higher. The highest point in the area is Island in the Sky, where Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park reside. Not many travelers to the Island area this weekend and I enjoyed the relative solitude of such a lovely – all be it cold – place.

En route to Island in the Sky
En route to Island in the Sky [Kodak Portra 400]
Herzog, Moab, Utah
On the way to Island in the Sky, Moab, Utah [Kodak Portra 400] It’s difficult to imagine wanting anything more from a color film than Kodak Porta 400 delivers. It represents just about the perfect film as far as I’m concerned. Color saturation and vividness are beautiful. Its ability to render a clear, sharp image is superb. It offers wonderful latitude to the film photographer wishing to not use a tripod and instead shoot off the hand. It’s grain in minimal and it scans superbly. Kodak Portra 400 is truly the perfect film for many photographic situations, especially in medium format (120).
Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
Dead Horse Point State Park [Fuji PRO 400H] Sometimes you want something a little different and that’s where Fuji Pro 400H enters the equation. Its cooler, more neutral color bias tends to favor a slightly different color palette for a completely different interpretation of a scene. In a perfect world you’d have both films on hand to record the same scene with, then decide which you prefer in editing.

Doubling Up: Sometimes it’s hard to know if a scene is going to work better in black and white or color. If you’re shooting a digital camera you can of course switch easily back and forth between the modes to see. But with film it’s different. Yes, you can make a color scan black and white in Photoshop. But it’s just not the same. So I often bring both color and black and white film in both formats, 35mm and 120. Maybe crazy to some, but when it comes to film, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” (“used to express someone’s intention to complete an enterprise once it has been undertaken, however much time, effort, or money this entails.”)

frame 03 – Winter, Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah [Fuji Pro 400H]
frame 28 – Near Windows Area, Arches National Park, Utah [Ilford Delta 100 + Nikon F6]
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands. Usually there are 50 photographers lined up before dawn to photograph the sun appearing on the horizon through this iconic land mark. Today I had it all to myself. For half an hour. [Fuji PRO 400H]
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
frame 05 – Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah (2020) [Fuji Pro 400H]

Heading for home: Alas, all good things come to an end and it’s time to leave. The good news is, there’s a spectacular route home so the trip’s not really over… not until you hit I-70. Gas up, grab some coffee and head back out Highway 128.

Castle Valley, Utah
Castle Valley, Utah [Kodak Portra 400]
Onion Creek, Castle Valley, Utah
frame 12-Highway 128 along the Colorado River, Canyonlands, Utah [Kodak Portra 400]
Howard Burnett Memorial Post Office, Cisco, Utah 84515
“ATTN: TOURISTS Please! Photograph from the ROAD!” Howard Burnett Memorial Post Office, Cisco, Utah 8 4 5 1 5 [Kodak Portra 400]
The more things change, the more they stay the same. My trusty Subaru, 245K miles and running strong.
The more things change, the more they stay the same: today’s trusty Subaru, 245K miles and running strong. Nothing like driving a car that’s been paid for for 10 years; saving money every time you fire him up. Everything saved not buying a new car fuels another trip. Plus, I’m kinda attached to him. #lovemysubaru
[Kodak Portra 400]

I don’t think the solemnity of Dead Horse Point hit me until this last visit. We prefer celebrating the beauty and grandeur of things. Who wants to focus on our failings? Though that was far from mind when I set out for the trip to Canyonlands early January, it’s one of the most pervasive and lingering thoughts from the trip.

frame 15 – Self Portrait, Dead Horse Point, Utah (January, 2020)

Photography

This trip I brought 4 cameras, each with a specific use in mind: 2 x 35mm Nikons (F5 & F6), and 2 x 645 Mamiyas (1000S and ProTL). The F6 ran mostly black & white Ilford Delta 100, with a little FP4. The F5 ran mostly E6; some new Ektachrome 100 paired with Provia 100F. The Mamiya’s were relegated to C-41 films and I was really excited to try a fresh box of Fuji Pro 400H, and of course favored and familiar Portra 400. I always have Delta 100 loaded in one of the ProTL backs and will often double up shooting color and black & white if I really like a scene and think it will print well wet.

This was my first experience shooting Fuji Pro400H and I’m impressed. Anyone familiar with Portra knows its warm bias, which is pleasing and beautiful in the right circumstances. Fuji Pro 400H has a much cooler, blueish bias I imagined would be excellent to convey the cooler palettes of Winter. Turns out having both on hand was a great way to better interpret different scenes.

The C-41 films were rated at ISO400 and shot at ISO200, then processed normally (at ISO400). This produced the lighter look I was after and prevented worrying about the bright fog fooling the camera’s meter. I still employed over exposure on some shots knowing full well how much latitude both films have. Slide films and Delta were exposed at rated speed ISO100.

I like the faster ISO400 films in the Mamiya because I can shoot hand held more easily. But since films have such tight grain, especially in 120 size, I know anything I shoot will enlarge beautifully. I had chrome films with me too but decided to save them. The fear was with such a featureless sky, chrome films with their inferior exposure latitude would render the skies pure white and not pick up subtle tones as the C-41 films successfully did.