Zion’s Emerald Pools

After walking through Antelope Canyon on our southwest parks road trip, we drove to Zion National Park, where we crossed the Virgin River to hike to Emerald Pools. In early June, the Virgin River is quiet, so it’s hard to imagine that this river carved the Zion Canyon through the red rock. The peak in the photo is 1,400 feet above the river.

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Upper Antelope Canyon

We saw Horseshoe Bend our first evening in Page, but we stopped in Page to see Upper Antelope Canyon. Flash floods, especially during the monsoon season, carve slot canyons in the pink Navajo sandstone, and the colors are exquisite.

Antelope Canyon is on Navajo land; people who want to see it must go on a tour authorized by the Navajo Nation. Above, people look up to see the sun-lit rock. The tour guides in orange shirts do a great job of managing the flow of many people through the slot canyon so we can all get our photos.

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Horseshoe Bend

We drove most of the day from Mesa Verde, Colorado, to Page, Arizona, where we visited nearby Horseshoe Bend at sunset. We’ll see how the light changed during the golden hour.

At Horseshoe Bend, the Colorado River makes a 270° horseshoe-shaped bend in a 1000-foot-deep canyon carved from pink Navajo sandstone. From the park service, “Notice how the rock itself has diagonal striped layers. These are the remnants of the layers of the ancient massive sand dunes before they were petrified into stone.”

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Adventure at Balcony House

We purchased tickets for the tour of the Balcony House when we entered Mesa Verde National Park , but after seeing the Cliff Palace the evening before and waking at 2 am to photograph the Milky Way, I was tired and wondered if the Balcony House offered much beyond the Cliff Palace. As it turned out, I thoroughly enjoying the ranger-led tour of Balcony House for both the adventure and a closer look at a cliff dwelling.

The Park Service advises “The Balcony House tour requires visitors to descend a 100 foot staircase into the canyon; climb a 32 foot ladder; crawl through a 12 foot, 18 inches wide tunnel; and clamber up an additional 60 feet on ladders and stone steps.” And you’re at 7,000-foot elevation.

Above, we climbed a ladder and stone steps to exit Balcony House, with the canyon floor far below. Look down the steps and railing to the top of a ladder, and you’ll see a park ranger (wearing a hat) at the bottom of the ladder, 60 feet below.

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Milky Way at Mesa Verde

After clouds got in my way at Arches National Park, on each of our two nights at Mesa Verde National Park, I got up in the middle of the night to take pictures of the Milky Way.

Above, on our first night I photographed from the balcony of our south-facing room at the Far View Lodge. At 2:20 am, the Milky Way is more horizontal than vertical. With a 30-second exposure, the glow of distant lights is apparent.

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Cliff Palace

On our first evening in Mesa Verde National Park, we took the twilight photography tour of the Cliff Palace, one of the largest cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. “Recent studies reveal that the Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas and had a population of approximately 100 people.”

Shown above, a tour group is gathering on the upper left while another group prepares to exit to the right.

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Mesa Verde National Park

On our southwest parks road trip, we drove from Moab, Utah, to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado to see cliff dwellings and learn about the people who built them in the 1200s.

Above, the Spruce Tree House, the best preserved cliff dwelling in the park, was closed to the public in 2015 after a rock fall and subsequent investigation.

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