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The Escalante Canyons Workshop - Part 2 - Neon Canyon

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

Neon Canyon is a colorful canyon in the Wingate sandstone, known for a complex overhang and pour off called the Golden Cathedral. Here is a sample of "scouting" and final photos from the canyon made during our 2022 annual Escalante Photography Workshop. The next workshop (visiting different canyons) will be in April 2023. For information, click here.

GOLDEN CATHEDRAL. Marking the end of the lower section of Neon Canyon is a pour off pool of variable depth and an overhang that has been perforated in several places by running water from the hanging canyon above. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

My first visit to Neon Canyon was in 1986. That summer, I entered the small trailer serving as the BLM office in the town of Escalante and asked for hiking recommendations. The BLM Ranger pulled out a wrinkled USGS Quad of the area and, with his index finger, tapped a graphite dot in one of the many unnamed long tributary canyons on the east side of the Escalante River Canyon. Next to the dot was a label—Golden Cathedral.

The canyon itself was officially unnamed at the time, but locals called it by different names. One of them—Neon—eventually stuck, because the name suggested the sort of vibrant, shimmering color people often experience in the canyon. The brick-red Wingate sandstone walls of Neon are striped with numerous vertical streaks of desert varnish that have accumulated over time. The heavy patina of black desert varnish is reflective and often glows a cobalt blue color under a cloudless sky, The reds, blues, and blacks of the canyon walls contrast with fresh green leaves of cottonwoods and box elder trees to make the canyon a very colorful place.

POOL IN NEON. Cell phone photo of a portion of Neon Canyon showing reflective pools, intensely green leaves, and red walls.

EVAPORATING POOL AND MUD. "Final" photo. Stepped ledges of mud surrounding a small pool mark the passage of time as the water level drops incrementally with evaporation. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.

The canyon was not often visited before Grand Staircase - Escalante became a National Monument in 1996. Although Neon is in the neighboring Glen Canyon National Recreational Area, the most commonly used trailhead to Neon is in the Monument—at a place referred to as Egypt. The canyon has become popular with "canyoneers" who like to repel into the pool from above through the alcove's perforations.

As described in the previous post, the mouth of Neon Canyon was about 1.5 miles from our camp in Fence, and required several crossings of the knee-deep water of the Escalante River to reach. The canyon floor of colorful Neon Canyon is relatively flat, with few obstacles, making it comfortable and safe to enjoy the scenery without having to constantly watch your step. A mile and a half up canyon from the river, the lower section of Neon ends at the pour off pool of the Golden Cathedral. Out of sight, above the alcove's overhang, the hanging valley of the "upper canyon" continues for miles.

WALL PATTERNS. Wingate sandstone, desert varnish, and lichen collaborate to make a desert abstract. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

The lower canyon is somewhat serpentine and relatively narrow—perhaps 100 feet in width. Consequently, its walls are high and near-vertical. Reddish walls in full sun bounce sunlight into the shadows, giving the canyon a warm and luminous aspect.

LOOKING UP IN NEON. The near wall on the left is in full shade while the far wall is indirectly illuminated by bounce light from another, unseen wall in full sun. The mixing of sunlight reflecting off red sandstone with the blues of shade makes for complex and interesting colors. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

POUROFF POOL AT GOLDEN CATHEDRAL. This cell phone photo shows the end of the lower section of Neon Canyon. This spot can be bypassed by a trail starting near the mouth of Neon that eventually joins the upper canyon just above the perforations shown here. Seeps in the sandstone liberate minerals that create colored stripes on the wall and enable the growth of ferns and monkey flowers. This cell phone photo includes a coupe of people for scale.

GLYPHS AT THE POOL. Cell phone "scouting" photo of mineral streaks, exfoliating sandstone, and maidenhair ferns near the pour off pool.

GLYPHS AT THE POOL. "Final" photo of the same area. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

MINERAL STREAKS. Patterns made by water seeping out of the sandstone. Monkey flowers will grow from the greenery in summer. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

Next post - Upstream from camp to Choprock Canyon.


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