The Wilderness Hunter

exploring colorado in all seasons

Mountains and Desert

So after a long sabbatical from photography (due mostly to lack of inspiration, work, and other silly excuses), I was able to go for a long needed road trip. Myself and long time best friend Kevin went out to the eastern Utah desert for a couple days of chasing trains and photography. Since the first trip we made there more than thirteen years ago, I was enchanted with the desolate beauty of the desert. While this trip was less about landscapes and more about trains, the two subjects are intertwined. The trip truly began when we made our way down to the north rim of Ruby Canyon where we would wait for the westbound Amtrak California Zephyr to pass by below us. We exited I-70 at Rabbit Valley, two miles from the Colorado state line where there is an OHV recreation area on the south side. One of the funnest parts of these trips is the frequent four wheeling required to get to our photo spots, and this area is no exception. The views are awesome and it’s really easy to sit there for long periods of time watching time pass. Our train came and went, and we made our own rough tracks back to the highway to continue westward. One problem with chasing trains between Grand Junction and Price, Utah is that there are only four trains a day. With our only train for the day passed, we made for Price. I passed the time watching the landscape go by, taking the occasional shot out the window. Since this was first road trip in years that I wasn’t driving, I was taking plenty of shots of the Book Cliffs in the evening light. While a moving vehicle doesn’t make for the most stable shooting platform, I was able to get some nice images, most of which I turned into panoramas. My camera has enough resolution I was able turn out some good size prints from the panos.

The next day saw a lot more rail action, as we headed westward toward Soldier Summit. The near 2% grade on the trackage from Helper to the summit, and the fact that loaded coal trains have to go up that grade makes for some exciting train chasing. We caught Amtrak #6 heading east at Castle Gate, which was still in the shadows at 6:30 am. From there we worked west listening to the radio chatter, looking for either a westbound to chase toward Provo, or an eastbound to chase back east to the desert. We were in luck as we encountered an eastbound Utah Railway coal train headed east toward that railway’s branch line, which serves a very productive coal mining operation. The rising sun was perfect for eastbounds, and the resulting shots were great. We kept with this train all the way to the Wildcat coal load out, and were able to kill some time while it was loaded. Once loaded, the train headed west once again toward Salt Lake City, where it would interchange with the Union Pacific, and ultimately the coal was destined for China as export coal. We left the coal load a way up Price River Canyon and headed back east to catch Amtrak #5 westbound out in the desert, since we planned to camp in the desert the second night. Our sources told us that there would be a special surprise in today’s California Zephyr; ex- Rio Grande business car, and ex- Ski Train private car Kansas. Since the discontinuation of the Ski Train several years ago, the cars were sold here and there to special charter rail lines. Our beloved Kansas was headed to a west coast luxury charter from the American Railway Explorer charter line. After a shot at Thompson Springs, we bid it farewell at Green River, and returned east to the desert siding at Sagers. Knowing we were essentially out of trains for the rest of the evening, we set camp and waited for darkness so we could do some star gazing and astrophotography. When darkness comes to the desert, it is the most spectacular kind of dark. The moon hadn’t risen yet, and you could literally see by starlight. I had done plenty of star trail shots with long exposures, but what I really wanted was to capture the galactic core in a shot. After a bit of experimentation, I  found the formula (which I will keep to myself for now). And to add to the night shooting fun, we had two trains pass by in the dark as well.

After about two hours sleep, we woke with the dawn, took some sunrise photos and headed off. Once again we found our selves chasing Amtrak #6 east at Thompson Springs. We decided to chase it as far east as we could without losing it. Or it losing us, as the case ended up being. We were only able to stop occasionally as passenger trains make 75+ mph through the desert almost all the way to Glenwood Springs. Fortunately the California Zephyr makes a station stop at Glenwood Springs, which allowed us to catch up and stay with it along the Colorado River from Glenwood Springs to Gore Canyon. For probably the first time, I was able to try to get some photos of Glenwood Canyon from the car. Let me tell you, it is not as easy as it sounds to get a decent shot without a convertible! Nonetheless, I tried and actually ended up with a couple good ones. We left Amtrak at Inspiration Point at the mouth of Gore Canyon near Radium and headed back home a bit sooner than we would have liked. However, the trip was still good for the soul, and I had once again found my photographic inspiration in the Utah desert; always the last place you look!

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