Views of the ancients: a hike to False Kiva

Once you’ve seen a photo of the False Kiva site in Canyonlands National Park, you’ll probably want to pay it a visit.

Shadowfall, False Kiva

Two problems for the adventurous photographer: 1) the location isn’t marked on maps of the region, because it enjoys a semi-protected status; and 2) arduous hiking over steep, rocky terrain is required to get there.

Ledge trail, Green River bottoms in background

If you’re determined, however — and in decent physical condition — you’ll have no trouble reaching the “kiva” (whose origins and purpose remain uncertain). Given that it’s mostly downhill on the way there, however, getting back to where you’ve left your vehicle will prove more difficult and time-consuming.

(Those planning to stick around for sunset  photos will want to keep this front of mind. My suggestion: take a flashlight, in case you linger over-long to capture fantastic images. You’ll need it to stand any chance of staying on the cairned trail.)

A visit to Island in the Sky park headquarters is all that’s needed for one to obtain directions. The ranger I spoke with drew a crude diagram for me on a handout park map, and even told me where the best place would be to park my car. He then pulled out a notebook and entered information about how I’d heard about the site, and advised me not to cross the chain marking off a part of the locality that is still under study (a granary at the back of the overhanging rock enclosure).

View of the approach. The site will be found beneath the cave-like overhang at far right center of picture.

Since it was early afternoon, and thus the worst possible time for lighting purposes, Anne and I decided to do a reconnoiter of the trail with the intent of coming back another day (and at a later time) to complete the hike. Those without the luxury of being able to spending several days in the area should experience no difficulties getting to the site on first recognizance; nevertheless, I’m glad we did it the way we did, because I was able to prepare for the rigors of the decent from the mesa rim, and plan for just the sort of gear I’d need to take along.

(I opted for a tripod and a wide angle zoom lens. Not to mention plenty of water for the return trip, which, as mentioned, will be mostly uphill over steep, rocky terrain.)

The notch

In spite of being limited of access, we encountered numerous other parties in the course of both our visits: Don’t expect to find the place unoccupied, though the number of people on this trail will certainly be far fewer than on marked footpaths in the park.

When I arrived late afternoon to set up my tripod, one other couple were there already. I set up next to them, and we maintained an easy and companionable respect for personal space, adjusting settings and camera angles, waiting for the sun’s fiery orb to drop below the rim of the canyon wall to our west.

By mutual consent, there wasn’t a lot of conversation. Something about the place instills a sense of reverence, and I don’t mean entirely as a result of the mysterious nature of its origins and constructors, but also by virtue of the fact that this is such a fantastically spectacular setting from a purely aesthetic point of view. Having spent a good deal of effort to get here, it’s an experience to be savored and reflected upon. The prospect of chatter seemed both irrelevant and irreverent.


I packed up and began the hike back to the mesa rim well before sunset, because I didn’t want to have to depend upon the flashlight to follow the trail. The couple who shared the space with me remained behind, and I trust their late-evening photos proved to be worth the risk of lingering.

Photographers and tripods: inseparable. That’s mine on the left. (Clever observers will note that my Canon 5DII is already mounted on it, implying the presence of another camera in my greasy paw at this very moment. Hurrah for the Sony RX100 pocket camera!)

Another grabshot taken with the Sony pocketcam

While I was on vacation in Utah, the good folks at Adobe finally saw fit to release Lightroom support for the RX100, allowing me to obtain the best possible results from the RAW images I captured in tandem with .jpgs. Excellent timing!

House on the edge of forever

I took a lot of images while there (because, why not?), so experimented with various cropping and processing techniques.

An antique sepia-toned view

And finally, a vertical


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