Terra Galleria Photography

The bowels of the earth: Zion’s Pine Creek Canyon

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Each of Zion’s canyons have an individual character. While Mystery Canyon was long, diverse, lush, and open, Pine Creek offered a hauntingly beautiful subterranean experience in a surprisingly cold slot canyon, with an incredibly lucky find.

In Zion National Park, the soft sandstone rock has been eroded by flash floods into narrow crevices which can look like caverns from the inside. Pine Creek Canyon let you travel the bowels of the earth in claustrophobic passageways and huge chambers that allow only a glitter of glowing light into their depth.

The twisting slot canyons trap pot holes of water which remain frigid because the sun never reaches them. I was surprised to find out that even when the temperatures in the desert soar in the 100Fs, the water in the subterranean canyons remains cold enough that without protection such as wetsuits, it would be very easy to get hypothermic.

Last year, I had planned to descend Pine Creek Canyon with my brother-in-law, but because I got injured while rafting the Grand Canyon, he went alone. He had found Pine Creek Canyon mostly dry. It turned out that because of a mid-May storm, Pine Creek Canyon had ten times more water than last year. Sections that were totally dry last year were so deep that the women in our group had to swim. I love how those changes remind us that our planet is living and unpredictable.

My inspiration for descending Pine Creek Canyon was Floris Van Breugel’s photographs of the “Cathedral” chamber. However, when we got there, the light wasn’t quite right. With the water in the pool below so deep that even my full-size tripod didn’t keep the camera above the water, I gave up on trying to wait.

In the subsequent dim corridor, the high water created a mesmerizing setting. I walked with water up to my shoulders, holding the tripod extended above my head to keep the attached camera out of the water. A waist deep section allowed me to set up the camera for a long exposure.

The highlight of our visit was to find a pair of juvenile owls perched on a sculptured log – perfectly still during the 1s exposure. Who said that a 24mm lens isn’t appropriate for bird photography ? As we moved across the glowing chamber, their body remained totally motionless, but their eyes tracked us intently.

The easy approach and exit combine with the canyon’s beauty to make it the Zion canyoneering classic. Not to forget the fun of swims and rappels! On the last one, you hang from the rope for 100 feet without touching the rock.

In the depth of Pine Creek Canyon, you may feel in the wilderness, but the canyon parallels the Zion tunnel and the Canyon Overlook Trail. It is remarkable to be able to explore a place so close to civilization, yet so different, truly a hidden wonder.

More photos of Pine Creek Canyon
More photos of Zion Canyoneering

Zion Canyons: Part 2 of 5. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

One Comment

  1. Andrew Thomas says:

    That owl picture is one of your most amazing captures….and needs to be shared everywhere. You must have been thrilled to come across those 2!

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