They say a picture is worth a thousand words. For me, a great image walks the immaculate line between revelation and mystery, letting the viewer read the beginning, and create the end, of stories spanning the full spectra of human emotion.

Not so much with straight landscape photography.

For me, the adventure analyst that I am, I end up with far more questions than answers. I don’t care about the technical data of aperture and shutter speed. I want to know where the photo was taken, how they discovered that spot and what the experience was like. Getting beautiful images of nature is, after all, about being out in nature, and who isn’t looking for one more ghost to chase across the globe?

So, with inspiration in mind, here’s the story of one of my all-time favorite images that I was indulgent enough to go after and lucky enough to capture.

Starscape. Fischer Towers, UT.

 

Google has changed the way we live. It’s a brand, it’s a verb and for many, it streams a near-constant spray of information from our digitalia to our information-hungry brains.

However, Google directions from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, UT and the answer you get is wrong. Dead wrong.

 

According to the omniscient Google you, and most uninitiated tourists, will leave Grand Junction, head west on I-70 and drop abruptly down US-191, to Moab, UT– gateway to the Canyonlands and bumper-to-bumper RV’s. That would be perfect, had you not been aware that 32 miles ago, you had passed a wholly different kind of gateway. This one is called Exit 214. Cisco.

No Services, no water, nothing; just the empty soul of a road heading west through the sun-bleached skeleton of Cisco, then south into a geologic time warp. One last sign from the good folks at the BLM warns you that you’re on your own for a good many miles to come, and off you ride. Down the road cuts, following an ancient grade that begins in the wide-open browns, grays and blues of arid sage country; the snow-capped La Sal Mountains forming a surreal backdrop. Eventually, the red rocks in the distance begin to bubble to the surface around you. Then suddenly, you’re descending into the red rock of the canyonlands on nature’s terms. An ancient wash appears on the right and it’s followed, the road naturally cutting its way through a few million years of geologic history. Deeper you go. Back in time.

Shortly, you’ll be greeted by the Colorado River itself. Downstream towards Moab you flow, slicing quietly through epochs. The rich ochre walls rise ever higher, and you continue to shrink, ever smaller, in significance.

I first drove into Moab this way on a motorcycle many springs ago while steeping myself in Edward Abbey. I was en route to San Diego in a rationalized effort to fan the coals of summer love. Thirty miles from Moab, I looked up and discovered the Fischer Towers. Love could wait.

Named for a local miner, these towers are slowly being extruded as they outlast the mesa from which they extend. Layton Kor and party scrapped their way up the tallest tower of the group–the 800-plus foot Titan–back in 1962. The route was subsequently etched into climbing history after Steck and Roper included it in their book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. Today, the towers attract more climbers than ever (some say too many) and endure a seemingly constant threat of development from both land owners, gas companies and Utah’s own Governor, Gary Herbert.

On this trip (‘98?), I arrived in the middle of January, under a full moon, with a truck full of skis, ice climbing gear,  a 16 oz. PBR (or two) and a camera. I was heading back to the Northwest from Ouray, CO and knew this would be one hell of a place to camp for the night.

I hiked in a bit and found a low nook with this amazing view of the formation. I shot this with the now-Paleozoic N90 stuffed with Fuji Provia. Should you care about such things, it was exposed at f5.6 for about 30 minutes. I think I might have pushed that roll a stop too. Not sure though. It was cold, and I ran out of beer.

P.S. If you’re a fan of the desert southwest and would like to see it protected, please consider stopping by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance website. Read about the significant threat these lands are currently under and, if you can, become a member to help them in their work.

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