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Photographing the Red Rocks Country
Photograph Canyons, Mountains and Pines where Dinosaurs once roamed the Earth
By David L. Brown

No matter where you go around Moab you will encounter amazing landscape subjects for your camera. This time I’m taking you for a trip through a scenic valley and up to a mountain pass. We’ll encounter castle-like rock formations, views of mountain peaks, overlooks into vast valleys and even traces of dinosaurs that roamed the earth nearly 150 million years ago.

Start by driving up the river road Highway 128, passing the Granstaff trailhead, Big Bend and Red Cliffs Lodge. There are many photo opportunities along the way as the route follows the winding Colorado River with its high cliffs. Turn right on the road that leads to Castle Valley.

This is a vast bowl-like depression carved from ancient sandstone over millions of years and surrounded by high cliffs and castle-like formations that give it its name. Look to the left and a place to pull over for a chance to photograph the rock formations known as Castle Rock and Priest and Nuns Fig. 1

Castle Rock is a needle-like tower of natural sandstone that is a favorite challenge for advanced rock climbers. It has twice been the scene for Chevrolet advertisements, with a car posed on its top thanks to the lifting power of a helicopter. To the left your imagination can see a priest standing before a group of nuns. I have always enjoyed “seeing” figures in the stones, and this one is pretty easy to visualize.

Traveling along through the valley be sure to look back as the road begins to climb up along the shoulder of the La Sal Mountains. Just before where electric lines cross the road from left to right, it’s a good place to stop and look back into the valley and its monumental rock formations, as shown in Fig. 2.

Continue on and when you come to the La Sal Loop turnoff, keep going straight. Five miles further you will come to a paved parking lot on the left. This is a magical place so stop and prepare to spend some time.

First, you will enjoy a spectacular view down into Bull Canyon from atop a tall cliff. The canyon leads into Fisher Valley and far vistas across the distant Colorado River canyon.

There is much to see here, and the most exciting are traces of those who came before. On the bare rock surfaces you will find some of the best dinosaur tracks I have seen in the area. The three-toed tracks were made by Allosaurs, a carnivorous ancestor of T-Rex. There are tracks along the cliff edge, and a graveled path leads to further examples as seen in Fig. 3.

Walk through an open pine forest to explore further along the cliff edge, where sculpted boulder shapes are interspersed with trees and open views toward the La Sals, as seen in Fig. 4. You are at about 9,000 ft. elevation here and there are few visitors, so it’s easy to imagine yourself to be in a wilderness far away from the bustle of the world. When no one is around, I sometimes marvel at the silence, broken only by the whisper of wind in pine needles.

Continue on the road a bit further and you can find more distant views across miles of rugged cliffs and canyons, as shown in Fig. 5. The road is paved up to the dinosaur viewing point then continues as a well-graded gravel road that winds through pines and aspens to eventually end up in Gateway, Colorado. Who needs Interstate 70 when there is this amazing back-country route to the Centennial State?

Fig. 1 – The formations known as Castle Rock and Priest and Nuns are a striking feature in Castle Valley.
Fig. 2 – Castle Valley’s scenery is reminiscent of the buttes and cliffs of Monument Valley.
Fig. 3 – The footprints of a predatory dinosaur were made in primeval mud nearly 150 million years ago.
Fig. 4– A mix of pines and sculpted boulder shapes leads the eye to a view of the nearby La Sal Mountains.
Fig. 5– Continue on along the Gateway road to discover views of vast canyons and red rock cliffs.


David L. Brown is a photographer, journalist and novelist who lives in Moab, where he leads photo tours and workshops. He can be reached at 435-210-8158 and his web site is at

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