Reading Summer Streams

During the last four summers we vacationed in southern Utah, a place  more famous for massive canyon walls than trickling desert streams. But the two sometimes combine to make a hike in arid country far more refreshing than you might expect.

In Capitol Reef National Park we’ve followed stream beds for an entire day. In nearby Escalante,  Pine Creek is another place to do this. The creeks in canyon country are generally shallow and often flow across naked rock for miles. In some spots they pass through slickrock gorges that are so narrow that the trail essentially becomes the stream. Before venturing into any of these places, one needs to check the weather because sudden downpours can produce flash floods.

Surprisingly, even in mid summer the water in the streams is frigid. We’ve taken hikes in August where you’re either wet and shivering or baking in temperatures that approach 100 degrees. It all depends on whether or not you’re in the water. Get yourself wet and your teeth chatter. Hike back into the sun and you open the oven door.

Hiking Sulphur Creek in Capitol Reef involves so many stream crossings that you can’t keep track of them. After a half a mile or so, any hope of dry boots is squashed. The easiest thing to do is simply get in the stream and stay there. There are sandals designed for this.  There are also a number of waterfalls passing over rock chutes that require careful navigation. Because the canyon walls rise hundreds of feet in these places, you either find a way to climb through the pour-offs or turn around and go back. You have two choices for many of these hikes – either get wet or completely soaked.

Aside from enjoying the water, I always get out the camera. The images I’m looking for are in the cloistered places where the creek plunges into the shade of canyon walls. It’s here that I’ve found the most compelling reflections. When studying the way the water looks from a variety of angles, you sometimes find pockets of irresistible color. In the shade, reflections of rocks, leaves and sky become deeply saturated.

It’s been in these sequestered locations where I’ve found many of my favorite pictures.  It’s no coincidence that they’re also some of my favorite places.