The Eye of the (Desert Rat) Beholder

I love trees. They are essential, peaceful, green. They allow the planet to breathe and act as home to many creatures, great and small. They provide shelter in a storm, cover for prey, and on rare occasions, fuel for the chilled. They also get in the bloody way.

Don’t get me wrong: I do love hiking through deep forests, the mistier the better. Crowded trees, conifers or deciduous, dripping with moss or tendrils of vine, shadows and light playing a perpetual game of tag, equal parts fear and fearsome…it’s all evocative of something terribly primeval. But at some point, I need out. A sunny wide meadow, a high tarn of pale-blue water surrounded by exposed scree, an even higher summit or ridge, rocky and resolute, and most importantly, high above the trees. Eventually I need the view, the sense of openness that one can only get, free from the trees.

In retrospect, the signs of this desire, this need were announced early. On my first backpacking trip along 100 miles of the John Muir Trail (oh so very many years ago) I was at my happiest when I could establish camp above treeline, not nestled in amongst the fragrant pines. Yes, gathering wood for fires on those cold nights was a bit problematic, but the views more than compensated. Fast forward a few short years and you would find me trekking around Anza-Borrego, Joshua Tree, the Mojave, Death Valley, the goal always to hike the ridges/summits and camp with a view. Many years ago I discovered the Great Basin: a more wide-open space in the lower 48 is hard to imagine.

Fast forward another 20 years: how unbelievably lucky is it that I am a landscape photographer based in Salt Lake City? The high alpine openness of the Wasatch is a mere 45+ minutes away. Multiply that time by two and the austere lake-and-rock country of the High Uintas Wilderness unfolds before you. Anywhere from 3 to 6 hours away brings one to the glorious, seemingly never ending vistas of the Colorado Plateau, with its jewels of the national park and national monument system. West of home, and well within a 2-4 hour drive time is Utah’s slice of the Great Basin: the West Desert.

When I need a dose of openness, a breathe of fresh juniper and sage air, a vista of empty wide valleys bounded by sparsely strewn juniper mountains, I head west. Natives or transplants, many don’t get it. That’s okay: as long as incinerators, waste dumps, polluting mineral operations, and rampaging ATVs are not allowed to further proliferate, I like the traffic patterns as they are. After all, where else can nature put on a display like this?

Drama over Dugway

Drama over Dugway

Colourful Drama over Dugway

Colourful Drama over Dugway

White Rock Vista

White Rock Vista

Cedar Mountains View of Skull Valley, Stansbury and Onaqui Mountains

Cedar Mountains Panorama of Skull Valley, Stansbury and Onaqui Mountains

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