Sunday, September 11, 2011

2011 - April 27th - Hanging Lake, Spouting Rock & Dead Horse Creek, White River National Forest

"You have to go to Hanging Lake!"  That's what people would often say when I told them I was moving to the Western Slope.  I'd seen pictures and was honestly fascinated with the geology of the area:  a stream which built itself a lake perched in the side of a mountain.  How did that happen?  The high mineral content (calcium carbonate) of the water basically deposited itself in a large bowl-shaped form.  It's known as "travertine".  Plus, there are waterfalls.  I love waterfalls.

I had been wanting to go for quite a while, but the distance precluded me from actually visiting.  I have been trying to save money and gas for the ol'Schploder is expensive.  I had been talking a lot of "photography" with my coworker Megan, however, and she also wanted to check out the area.  She usually anchors our evening newscasts but was filling in on mornings that week and thus had the afternoon off. One of the tough things about having Tuesdays and Wednesdays off every week is that no one else does!  So, it was nice to have someone to go out and explore with.

We were on the road and headed eastbound on I-70 by late morning.  We stopped in Glenwood Springs to pick up lunch and I also bought the National Geographic Trails Illustrated map of the area.  Finally, in the early afternoon, we entered Glenwood Canyon and found ourselves at the improved trail head and rest area.

The highway is a viaduct through the canyon and is often stacked almost on top of itself.  In the "Hanging Lake" area, it leaves the riverside and passes through the rock of the canyon wall via tunnel.  An exit before the entrance to the tunnel (eastbound) leads to the rest area, which sits along a sleepy stretch of the Colorado River.  A dam a distance down stream backs the water up so that it moves slow, which is a stark contrast to other areas in the canyon.

During the summer months, this hike is extremely popular and sometimes causes backups on the highway.  The lot is often filled and the trail crowded.  On this particular April afternoon, however, there were only a few cars in the lot.  Temperatures were in the 40s and convective snow showers were about. As I finished off half of my Subway sandwich, light snow would occasionally fall.

The trail itself requires a relatively steep ascent up the canyon carved by Dead Horse Creek.  It is not a long hike, coming in at just over one mile (one-way), but the elevation gain is about one thousand feet over that mile.  We found that the best way to combat the slope was to go slow and take a lot of pictures!

At the very bottom of the trail, the area is maintained quite well and is almost park-like with manicured lawns and wooden bridges.  We milled around this area for a while before finding the rocky and steep path that begins the ascent up-canyon.

The bottom of Dead Horse Creek.
Not far from the trail head, Dead Horse Creek seems to emerge from a mossy hillside.  Above this area (at least for a while), the stream bed was dry.

Rivulets emerge from the mossy earth.
We also found a natural arch made of limestone near the area where the creek flows out of the ground.

Dead Horse Arch
Above this area, we became fascinated with a mossy rock wall that was dripping with moisture.  There were icicles hanging from it as well.  Where the water splashed at the bottom, intricate ice patterns had formed.

Icy close-up.

Weeping cliffside.

Light snow continued to fall occasionally and it was misty at times, deep in the tall pine forest.  While the stream bed was mostly dry, areas of ice could often be found.

Higher up in the canyon, we noticed that there was a tiny bit of water flowing in the creek.  Just a few paces later and that amount increased.  Soon, it seemed to be running full-steam once again.  At this point, the trail crosses over to the east side of the creek and switches back up the canyonside. 

As we continued, I spotted an area where water was falling off to my right and a small trail leading back to the creek.  Upon a closer look, the area was quite beautiful.  We stopped for about ten minutes, taking pictures of various angles.  I even got out my SLR film camera and tried a couple of shots (not shown).  It was just dark enough to take some longer exposures.

Unnamed "falls".

Higher up in the canyon, the snow really got going again.  The wind, in combination with moist clothing thanks to perspiration from the hike, make things a bit chilly.  None the less, the area was quite aesthetic and certainly kept my camera warm.

Eventually, the creek leaves the actual canyon bottom... and quite spectacularly...

The trail continues up-canyon, however, leaving the stream.  This area actually had a lot of winter's snow left in it as it is quite shaded with a steep canyon wall directly to the west.  The trail then switches back up the east side of the canyon back toward the creek.  It climbs along the canyon wall, the path hewn into the stone.  This area has seen extensive improvement from perhaps the forest service with railings that have been installed along the path. 

Looking down the canyon of Dead Horse Creek toward Glenwood Canyon.

The final stretch of the trail is comprised basically of stone stairs which are exposed (were it not for the railing) along the canyon wall.  Eventually, you come to a junction with a sign pointing farther uphill to Spouting Rock or directly forward to Hanging Lake.  We went to the lake first...

Hanging Lake

... where we found a pair of mallards hanging out. 


Over-exposed, but one of my favorite compositions.  I'll try it again sometime with different light.

We took some time to take photos before walking the boardwalk to the back of the southeast-most falls.  I climbed up a debris pile to get a few shots as well.

Behind the falls.

From atop the debris-pile.

Then, we walked back around the boardwalk and hiked up to Spouting Rock, which is basically a waterfall that comes out of a rock wall.  I found the area to be particularly photogenic, thanks to the fact that it was a bit darker, allowing me to do some longer exposures.

Spouting Rock (Falls), Megan for scale.

Hand-held longer exposure.

After walking behind the fall, we crossed back in front of it and went downstream somewhat.  I immersed my feet in the cold water for a good position to capture several more images, all of which I was pleased with.  Megan joined me after some prompting.  I find that it's best to get one's feet wet early in the hike... then you have no problems doing it again as needed.

Falls spout from the rock.

Another of my favorites.

Eventually, we returned to Hanging Lake and I finished the second half of my sandwich.  It clouded up, making the area much darker and allowed for some longer exposures, so I busied myself with doing just that.

Then, I decided to go back behind the falls again and see what I could accomplish.  Again, I was quite satisfied with the results.

Falls through the falls!  Definitely one of my favorite images. 

We were preparing to head back down with it started to snow once again.  At first, the sun came out allowing for a deep look into the fantastic colors inside of the lake.  This also revealed that there were fish in the lake; trout of some type.

But then the sun then went away, leaving us in a blustery snowfall once again.

The ducks didn't seem to mind...

It was getting late, so we got going back down the trail. We were about half-way down the rock stairs before I realized I had left my tripod on the boardwalk, so I retraced my steps and retrieved it.  On the way down the stairs the second time, I rolled the ever-loving-mother-brother-hot-dog out of my ankle.  Megan thought it was funny... but I would have my revenge. 

Somehow, though it seemed extremely dramatic, it didn't really hurt after a few minutes and I found myself descending the stairs unimpeded, once again. 

Back down at the canyon bottom and in the snow, Megan totally ate it on an icy slope.  I did a fair amount of laughing. 

With less light in the canyon, I was able to take some nice, long-exposures of the creek and I took advantage of every opportunity I could.

The high mineral content of the water seems to build formations that the water tumbles over.

Another of my favorites.  It almost seems as though it is painted.

An example of portions of the trail that are well-maintained.

Little tree, little fall.

The hike down was easy and though we did stop a lot for pictures, it went rather quickly.  The sun was getting low in the sky, which added extra color to the canyon bottom, though it was darker.  This all added up to the capturing of desirable frames all the way back down to the bottom of the trail.

Reflection from the canyon wall.

Stopped at my favorite little glade.

Light, just about to leave the tall canyon rim.

 A little waterfall and a little snow.

Spring easing into the higher canyon.

Finally, back at the bottom, I again took advantage of the lower light.

Dead Horse Creek before its confluence with the Colorado River.  Megan for scale.

It was about dinner-time when we arrived back at her jeep and we made our way back to Grand Junction with haste.  There were still a few convective showers in the area which made for a nice sunset.

A showery sunset over the Roan Plateau near Rifle.  

I can understand why so many people visit this place every year.  I'm glad we decided to do it out of season. We probably ran into less than a dozen people on the trail, which is unheard of.  Water levels are much higher in the late spring and early summer with runoff.  I understand that water actually falls over the cliff edge at Spouting Rock and also flows freely through the area in the canyon where we found the stream bed to be dry.  As far as my amateur photography is concerned,  I was extremely pleased with the results.  Though some of the longer exposures are over-exposed, I found that I was able to accomplish what I was aiming for most of, if not all of the time.  That can be difficult at times with a camera that has a limited aperture and sensor.  

I would like to go back some time, perhaps at a different time of year.  Maybe even by moonlight...


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