It had been several life changes since I'd made my one and only trip into Coyote Gulch with my good friend Ken. It wasn't the stunning beauty or the idyllic camping that kept me away, but the canyon's reputation as one of the most popular in all of southern Utah.
In Steve Allen's book, Canyoneering 3, he warns, "Spring brings an overwhelming number of people into the canyon". The Park Service hasn't set any limits on the number of people to enter the drainage, but has set strict regulations for camping in Coyote Gulch; including no fires, and the directive to pack out ALL solid waste!
Well, it was spring, and with the help of a dicey forecast to keep the hordes away, I decided to head down to Coyote Gulch to see what I'd been missing.
Serendipity smiled on me this late August evening. I had just returned to Lake Blanche after spending the evening avoiding the well worn Sundial Peak reflecting in Lake Blanche at sunset image.
It's not that there aren't slight twists, and not because it's not a slam dunk every time you get some decent light, it is. This isn't a promise to never shoot it again either, but that image doesn't help me grow as an artist.
So, in search of something more personal, I wandered down to the other two lakes, and ended up finding a cool little spot in the rock ribs north of Lake Lilian that avoided that sweet sunset light all together. Doh.
It did feel like artistic growth to go to this beautiful place I feel intimately familiar with, seek out something new and unique, and execute an image I deemed worthy of sharing. Using my artistic powers to isolate and arrange; using universal natural elements to express something entirely personal about the beauty of this place that isn't seen in a passing glance, felt good.
Sill, I couldn't help but feel a little melancholy as I climbed back up to Lake Blanche in the afterglow of sunset. I had made a few good images, but I didn't feel like I had made a slam dunk. Worse, I had missed out on some pretty great light.
When I got back to Lake Blanche, I immediately dropped down to lake level. Maybe I could still get a nice long exposure of the Sundial reflected in the lake, lit by the fading light of the western sky, I thought.
When I found the composition I wanted, I dropped my pack and pulled out my camera. Just then, two backpackers crested the ridge behind me and paused for a few seconds; just long enough for me to capture their silhouettes and my most evocative image of the evening.
The first week of July, I finally made it to Red Castle Lakes in Utah's High Uintas Wilderness. This place had been on my radar for at least a decade, but for whatever reason (maybe because the trailhead is two and a half to three hours from Salt Lake City) it wasn't a priority until a couple of weeks ago.
I decided to take the Bald Mountain route from the Cache trailhead. This is the most direct route into the upper Smiths Fork River drainage; only ten miles to Red Castle Lake. The Bald Mountain Trail boasts spectacular views as you skirt the east side of Bald Mountain and walk the broad ridge towards Squaw peak. The price: an immediate and steep climb and the knowledge that you'll have to climb back up to Bald Mountain after dropping into upper Smiths Fork.
The Cache trailhead start saves a mile of walking from the East Fork Blacks Fork trailhead, where there is a bridge, by fording the river. It was an inauspicious start to the trip when the first thing I did after missing the trail was fall in the river. On the bright side, I was passed the deep part when I slipped and was able to hold my shoes and socks mostly above the water as I fell.
I was impressed that my old Kelty backpack didn't let much water in and my new Kelty Ignite Dri Down bag stayed dry, as promised. Unbiased plug for Kelty brand outdoor gear. Kelty, if you're reading this, I'd be happy to review any gear you'd like to send me. ;-)
At first I didn't even realize I was off the trail. I just started following a dirt road towards the river, from the trail crossing sign on the East Fork Blacks Fork road. I didn't even see the nondescript trail cutting east just past a well used campsite maybe a hundred yards from the main road. I wasted a little bit of time and energy making my way over and around fallen timber as I cut across the mountainside, before intersecting the trail on a long steep switchback.
The rest of my hike was less eventful. Mostly just contending with jaw dropping views and infinite mosquitoes; and trying to create some images that could express some fraction of the beauty I was experiencing. Next time I backpack in to Red Castle Lakes, I'm going in September and/or I'm taking a mosquito head net. Seriously, the mosquitoes were relentless.