I was seated at a booth in Escobar’s Mexican Restaurant in Kanab, Utah, when Camille approached me with her name tag and pad and pencil in hand. “What’ll you have?”, she asked. She didn’t approach me with the ingenuous greeting of so many servers….”Hi, my name is Camille and I’ll be your server today”. Nope, Camille didn’t play that. I immediately knew this was my kind of place. But it was more than the lack of the faux friendly greeting. It was the fellow diners who were all local blue-collar folks, the decor which was decidedly not high fashion, the smell from the kitchen which screamed serious chile, and the unpretentious look and attitude of the restaurant and employees. If the place ever had pretense, it had taken the train to Santa Fe long ago. The weathered look, the scarred and well used wooden tables and chairs, and the slightly tacky wall art all communicated substance and authenticity. Yep, this was my kind of place. I ordered the special; Flautas.
Settled by ten Mormon families in 1870, Kanab is a small and amiable town of about 3,000 folks in southern Utah just a few miles north of the Arizona border. It’s surrounded by the red cliffs and canyons of Escalante National Monument and is a very popular setting for Hollywood movies. It gained traction as a movie location in the 1950s when many of the Hollywood westerns made in that era were filmed in and around Kanab. Since then over two hundred movies have been filmed in the area and the town has become known as “Little Hollywood”.The town’s main drag is populated with placards and photos commemorating many of the movies and movie stars who have appeared in the town.
But for tourists, photographers and adventurers, Kanab is the gateway to some of our country’s most exciting and spectacular locales. It sits centrally among what many would argue are our country’s most beautiful national protected lands; Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon (north rim) National Parks, Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area, and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
Hidden in the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Wilderness area, about forty miles east of Kanab, you will find North Coyote Buttes. North Coyote Buttes is an amazing explosion of swirling eroding and sometimes grotesque looking Navajo Jurassic Sandstone with dinosaur tracks traversing many of the formations. Among all of the wonderful formations in the area, the unrivaled rock star of rock formations is an area of roughly 5,000 sq ft called “The Wave”. The story goes that Europeans discovered the wave 20-30 years ago and made it famous. Of course, they didn’t really discover it, but the formation gained enormous notoriety in Europe and landed on the bucket list of most Europeans who visited the American southwest. Eventually the formation became so popular that the Bureau of Land Management instituted a permit system in which only twenty people a day can visit the area. Ten are awarded using an on-line system months prior to the visit day and ten are awarded by lottery the day before the intended visit. In the Spring and Summer months, the BLM office in Kanab regularly gets over 100 people entering the lottery and most days half of all lottery hopefuls are from outside the U.S.
Because of the positioning of the wave, it only gets full sunlight in the summer months. The opportune time to photograph it is either in full sunlight or on an overcast day, which doesn’t happen that often in a place that gets over 300 days of sunlight a year. So on a sunny November day a photographer needs to pick out smaller pieces of the formation that are either in full sun or full shade.
North Coyote Buttes contains an incredible diversity of colors and formations, but amazingly many visitors hike to the wave, check it off their photographic bucket list by taking a few photos and then turn around and hike out. Those folks are missing a lot. Look at the above photo; all of the muffin top formations lie in front of sweeping horizontal and diagonal lines some of which swirl around the cone-shaped formation in the center right portion of the image. It’s a great juxtaposition of lines and texture!
This is the same area as the above photo but with a vertical view. Most photographers don’t take enough vertical images.
“The Wave” is just behind these round popover like formations.
Clear blue skies are normally desirable, but not so much for photographers. We prefer some clouds..dramatic weather borne clouds if possible. On clear blue sky days, I prefer to find images without the sky. The other option is to use a polarizer filter and turn the sky a deep blue and use it to frame the main image.
There’s an old adage that if a million monkeys typed for a million years that one of them would eventually correctly type the entire Gettysburg Address, complete with punctuation! There must be a geologic corollary which states that over the course of a million years with wind, water and climatic changes occurring regularly, somewhere on earth a perfect sandstone hamburger will form. How did McDonalds miss this?
This section of North Coyote Buttes is Fatali’s Boneyard named after photographer Michael Fatali who made some striking images of the area and popularized them through his gallery in Springdale, UT.
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