Archive for the ‘Kolob Canyons’ Tag

Shooting the Stars at Zion National Park   5 comments

The dry desert air of southern Utah has some of the best stargazing in North America.  And if you get up into higher elevations, or in winter, it’s even better.  Why do the stars on colder winter nights often seem to have that extra pop?  I know in the northern hemisphere winter shows a significantly dimmer Milky Way than during summer.  So the stars, at least in the direction of the Milky Way, are certainly more numerous and brighter in summertime.  So I’m not too sure why the colder it is, the brighter the stars appear.  Perhaps it’s just perception.

On this night during my recent trip through the American desert Southwest, I wasn’t too sleepy.  So I went outside with my binoculars and took a look at the Orion Nebula.  That glance was enough to cause me to get my camera equipment set up for a timed exposure.  Besides, this was one of the reasons I came here to Kolob Canyons, a separate and not well-traveled section of Zion N.P.  Take a look at my previous post for daytime fun and photos here.

Kolob Canyons is the highest part of Zion, much higher than the main Zion Canyon.  I  was up at around 6000 feet (1830 meters) when I took this picture, but the sandstone mountains you see are well over 8000 feet (2440 meters).   This is a winter night sky, so you can see in the lower right the constellation of Orion the Hunter.  His belt is the three stars in a row, oriented almost vertically, and the Orion Nebula shows up brightly to the right of his belt.

Above Orion in top center you can see bright Jupiter.  Just to the right of Jupiter is the star cluster called The Hyades, which is part of Taurus the Bull’s face.  Above Jupiter and the Hyades you can see The Pleides, that famous star cluster also known as The Seven Sisters.  I recommend looking up the Greek myth surrounding all of these constellations.  It’s a great story.

The diagonal area of bright and dense stars is the winter Milky Way.  In winter, the northern hemisphere is pointed away from the center of our galaxy.  Since we are out in the “suburbs” of the galaxy, this view is much more dim than in summer, when we’re looking towards the galactic core.  Nevertheless, a long exposure can bring out the winter Milky Way and make it look slightly brighter than it looks to the naked eye.

Kolob Canyons, a part of Zion National Park in Utah, is well away from any city lights.   Here it shows off a glorious star-studded sky on a clear winter's evening.

Kolob Canyons, a part of Zion National Park in Utah, is well away from any city lights. Here it shows off a glorious star-studded sky on a clear winter’s evening.


I took an exposure for the mountains and foreground, where my camera was dead still and tripod-bound.  A half-moon (which is actually very bright) was illuminating parts of the landscape quite well, so I went with a low ISO (100) and an exposure time of a bit over 3 minutes.  This resulted in an appropriate exposure for the foreground landscape.  I say appropriate instead of correct exposure because if you expose as if this was a daytime photo, the foreground will come out looking much too bright for a starscape photo.  I think it looks a little strange next to the darker sky.

The exposure time was plenty long enough to give the stars time to form short trails.  But since I don’t really like this effect (I’d rather see the stars as they appear while stargazing), I exposed a second frame of the same scene with my tracking mount turned on.  A tracking mount will turn your camera slowly to keep up with the Earth’s rotation, so the camera follows the stars.  But if your exposure time is much longer than 30 seconds, the camera movement blurs the foreground landscape.  The solution?  Take the two images into Photoshop and merge them together so you have both the stars and the landscape sharp.

This was a long-winded way to say that this image is the result of two exposures of the same exact scene, merged together into one.  There is on my blog a more detailed explanation of how I do starscapes, in this post.  Stargazing and photographing the stars is a favorite of mine.  Look for similar posts in future.

One More Zion: Kolob Canyons   7 comments

The high and huge Kolob Arch in a remote part of Zion National Park is one of the world’s largest.


I was going to apologize for doing yet another post on Zion National Park.  But then I thought, why apologize?  It’s a park I finally have found the time to really check out, and that means that I have too many photos to keep to myself.  I thought I had spent my last day in Zion yesterday.  But at the I-15 junction, where there is the choice to head south to St. George (and eventually Vegas), or north to Cedar City and Salt Lake City, I decided to postpone civilization (and a shower) for a couple more days.  I headed north to the Kolob Canyons area of Zion.

The high cliffs of Kolob Canyons in Zion National Park, Utah, admit the early morning sun grudgingly.

There are really four distinct areas of this park.  The main one, Zion Canyon, is the reason this is a National Park.  The second most spectacular is the east side of the park, above the tunnels (see Slickrock Hiking).  There are two other areas accessed from different roadways.  Kolob Canyons, where I am now, is the most forested.  The Kolob Plateau, which includes the highest point in Zion, is reached by turning north at the town of Virgin.  It has its charms too, not least of which is the Subway.  But it suffers because of all the private land inholdings.  In fact, it’s the most chopped-up section of National Park I’ve ever encountered.  Reminds me of many checkerboard National Forest lands.

Dusk comes on in the Kolob Canyons area of Zion National Park, Utah, but the rocks continue to glow from the remnants of the sunset.


Reach Kolob Canyons by driving north on Interstate 15 toward Cedar City.  At exit 40, turn off the freeway and travel east past the visitor center (where you must pay entrance) and up into the park.  The road is relatively short at just over 5 miles long, and ends at an overlook.  But only a couple miles up the road is the Taylor Creek Canyon hike.  It’s worth coming here just for that.  But there is another hike, on the La Verkin Creek trail, which takes you about 7 miles one-way to Kolob Arch.  I did both Taylor Creek and Kolob Arch on successive days, so I feel pretty well hiked out.

In the Kolob Canyons of Zion National Park stands an old log cabin.

Arriving at Kolob Canyons in the late afternoon, I was my usual scrambling self, looking for good photo ops. as the sun made its rapid descent to the horizon.  I decided to cut a short-cut to the Taylor Creek trail, and regretted it almost immediately.  The  fact is that I have gotten used to being able to hike through this country with no trails.  But the Kolob Canyons area is higher and much wetter than most of the rest of Zion National Park.  And so it is more heavily forested (pines), with plenty of thick bush to whack.

The gold light from looming red-rock cliffs reflects in a pool on a small tributary of La Verkin Creek in the Zion backcountry.

There is a cabin a couple miles up Taylor Creek, built in 1930.  It is not too far from a falling-apart state, and the Park Circus has performed some triage (which of course takes away from photos).  I was lucky enough to encounter very late light at the same time I was photographing the cabin.

Shallow late autumn flows characterize the small tributary canyons in the Kolob area of Zion National Park in Utah.


I have found that, often enough in this region, the setting sun skims through the atmosphere and reflects off the reddish canyon walls.  This makes for a nice red-orange light that is evenly distributed on everything that is front-lit.  But this light, coming between sunset and blue hour, is precious short.

I pressed into blue hour, doing some shots of the subtly red-lit rock formations with Taylor Creek in the  foreground.  This left me to make it back on a headlamp with failing batteries.

A large cottonwood falling just right has made a natural bridge over Taylor Creek in the Kolob Canyons area of Zion National Park in Utah.


Next day it was the Kolob Arch, a 14-mile round-trip hike.  The arch stands above a tributary canyon to La Verkin Creek.  This canyon is quite beautiful, and I lost track of time (as usual) doing the photo thing.  The result was hiking most of the way back (about 6 miles) in the dark.  But there was a half-moon, and I had put fresh batteries in the headlamp.  The temperature was perfect for power hiking, so it felt good.  My reward was a glass of smooth warm golden liquid that burns a little going down.

A rock tower in Zion National Park and the half moon highlight the approaching dusk.


The late afternoon sun reflects off a shallow tributary creek flowing down from near Kolob Arch in Zion National Park, Utah.


Short winter days come to the Kolob Canyons of Zion National Park, Utah.



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