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The Escalante Canyons Workshop - Part 3 - Choprock Canyon

A mile or so upstream from our camp in Fence Canyon lies Choprock Canyon. Another east-side canyon, Choprock is a narrow defile formed by the junction of three main branches originating in the Circle Cliffs to the east. In the workshop, we photographed in canyon's lower couple of miles. For details on our annual photography workshops in the Escalante Canyons, please click here.

Only two river crossings are required to get to Choprock Canyon from Fence. The first crossing is almost immediately upon leaving camp. The river is narrow in that spot, so the crossing is short, but there is a potentially avoidable waist-deep spot just before reaching the far river bank. When the water is a cloudy brown (which is often the case) a pole or hiking stick is helpful to probe the ever-changing sand on the riverbed and find the shallower spots.

AGES OF COTTONWOODS. Several cottonwood trees, in various states of health, crowd the sandstone wall of the Escalante River Canyon. Cell phone "scouting" photo.

AGES OF COTTONWOODS. "Final" photo. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

Once across the river, it is easy going for about a mile. A sandy trail traverses the river terrace and follows the east canyon wall before intersecting the river again about one hundred yards downstream from Choprock. The flat river terrace is home to many large cottonwood trees that managed to survive the intermittent flooding of the un-dammed Escalante River.

At trail's end, you slide down the river bank and into the river—now wider and shallow than earlier, and with a gravelly bed. Once in the river, it is a short wade to Choprock.

RIVER NEAR CHOPROCK. Photo from another, earlier workshop, looking downriver and showing the short wade to Choprock Canyon which is about 30 yards behind the photographer.

Choprock Canyon, like others in the Escalante region, is subject to flooding in the late summer monsoon season. In a canyon carved in a lithic sea, there is no vegetation to slow running water, so short bursts of intense rainfall cause flash floods that fill parts of the narrow canyon and pass as quickly as they form.

After a mile or so of walking in broad, sandy bottom, the canyon divides. The right fork ends in a cul-de-sac with a pool and pour off. The left fork continues and soon becomes very narrow. Pools of water linger in the rocky narrows long after a rain, so depending on the weather, Choprock can either be a fun, twisting hike that negotiates interesting but dry narrows or it can be a challenging series of knee-deep, muddy, chilly, rock-filled pools. Usually, it is somewhere in between.

NARROWS OF CHOPROCK. The narrows are lengthy, often contain water, and sometimes have a level floor—as here—but their forms and reflected light can be beautiful. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

RIGHT FORK. The right fork of lower Choprock is lushly vegetated and ends in a pool and pour off. These grasses are growing in front of a pool of water that is reflecting the blue of the sky which, in turn, is reflecting off a canyon wall heavily coated with desert varnish. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.

Several years ago, the pool in a narrow turn of this canyon was chest-deep for about twenty yards. After a "trial run" to gauge the depth, I waded in, holding my camera pack above my head to bypass the pool.

Fortunately, this year's workshop encountered dry conditions in the canyon. Apart from the need to step over large stones in the narrow canyon bottom, it was an easy walk up canyon. In some sections of the narrows, the vertical sandstone walls were only as far apart as my outstretched arms. But with a dry canyon floor, it was not difficult to set up a tripod for the longer exposures required in the dark narrows.

IN THE NARROWS. The pools were shallow in this section, but the cloudy water makes it difficult to gauge their depth and to know what their bottom is like. Usually, the bottom of the pool has softball-sized stones and very slick mud that can make it difficult to get out—even a relatively shallow pool. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

LOOKING UP. Deep in the (thankfully) dry narrows, there are sections where you can't see the sky and all light is reflected off the surface of colorful sandstone. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.

After a couple of miles, we turned back towards camp. There were fewer photos made on the return and we were tired on arrival, but once again the sculpted forms of colorful sandstone in buttery reflected light made for another great day in the canyons.

OVERHANG AND PINON. Down canyon from the narrows, the canyon's intermittent stream has deeply undercut the sandstone and formed a tight bend and salt-encrusted overhang. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.


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