Stormy Days around Kanab

At the end of March I drove down to southern Utah to visit a couple of clients that I had not seen in person since COVID. While I really wanted to visit my clients, I also was needing a break from the long, wet winter we’ve had here in Utah along the Wasatch front. Spring fever had hit me really hard. So, I scheduled extra days for some hiking and exploring.

Alas, Mother Nature did not have spring fever yet – she was still in winter mode. My intent was to do some exploring in the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument. On my way to the Grand Canyon in February, I passed an interesting area east of Kanab, Utah known as Paria Canyon. I got into Kanab early enough that first day to go over to the local Monument field office and inquire about conditions.

The ranger I spoke with joked with me after I told her where I wanted to go and said, “Did you bring a boat?” I laughed, and asked if things were really that bad. She just said yes, just about every canyon is too wet or under water. I was also interested in a place called the “Toadstools”. Yes, you can get in there was the answer, but “you’ll be hiking in mud up to your knees – literally.”

Looking northwest across Johnson Canyon Road with the morning storms moving.

I ended up taking a paved road a few miles east of Kanab known as Johnson Canyon. The road goes north from US 89, and eventually enters the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument after passing through quite a few miles of private ranch land.

It has snowed lightly in Kanab the night before, but it was warm enough that nothing was sticking to the roads. However, the clouds were still quite low and thick near the bluffs and peaks. The good news is that the stormy skies made for some cool shots and wonderful lighting.

The morning sun was just peaking through a few of these heavy clouds to the east of Johnson Canyon Road.

The photos above were taken just outside the Monument’s boundary here. It was so wet that I could only pull the truck off of the road shoulder in a gravelly area, and even then just barely off the pavement. The sun was really trying to come out past the low, heavy clouds, and light was changing quite rapidly. Every few minutes was presenting new lighting conditions.

This is only a few hundred yards north of where I took the above photos, but as you can see the light had already changed quite a bit.

Even a few minutes later those bluffs off to the east became more visible. I don’t think I have ever gotten to photograph in such dynamic lighting conditions. Even though hiking around per se was out (way too sloppy), this was quite exciting. Most of these photos I actually shot from the bed of my truck using my tripod – less mud.

You can see that this storm had left a bit of fresh snow on these mesas as well as the canyon floor in places.
This mesa was in the distance in one of the previous photos, but now you can see how much the light has changed in just minutes.

As the morning wore on towards noon, the skies began to clear. And now that I was inside the Escalante Monument boundaries, the scenery became even more unique. One thing that is quite impressive about Escalante-Grand Staircase Monument is that the geography and terrain is ever changing and that the Monument encompasses so many different geographic and geologic environments.

I took this one just as the sun was really beginning to burn through those morning storm clouds.
I call this little feature “Layer Cake” as the sandstone layers are so clearly defined from the intense weathering.

As the road progressed northward into the Monument, the elevation was was gradually increasing as well. The skiff of snow that was on the canyon floor just a few miles miles back has now become a few inches – even in the sun. But then, the rocky areas that were constantly exposed to the more intense afternoon sunlight were completely clear of snow except in a few shadowy spots.

This was quite an interesting scene as the pine trees were so much in contrast to that reddish sandstone.

The more time I spent in Johnson Canyon, the more I decided that I needed to come back here near sunset. The eastern side of the canyon was almost perfectly aligned to really capture that intense evening light. So, after a diner in Kanab I decided to make another drive out here to see of I could get the “perfect light” near sundown.

Now Johnson Canyon has quite a history in addition the ranching. Back in the 1940s, 1950s and even into the 1960s and 1970s, the areas around Kanab were rich in movie history. One place in the canyon that I drove past earlier in the day was an old movie set that was used in several of the old Gunsmoke TV episodes from the early 1960s. My Dad was a huge Gunsmoke fan, and we had to watch that every week. Marshall Dillon, Festus, Miss Kitty and the Longbranch Saloon are forever burned into my brain.

One of the old set buildings that is still standing.

The sad thing is that this whole set area is now on private land and has fallen into total disrepair. Most of it is not even recognizable as a TV/movie set anymore.

Believe it or not, that larger building in the background was the “Longbranch Saloon” in Gunsmoke. And it was also used in the Clint Eastwood film – The Outlaw Josey Wells in 1976.

Time has not been kind to these old structures. It is really sad because the set out here was used in numerous popular westerns such as Wagon Train, Have Gun – Will Travel, Death Valley Days, and so many more. The funny thing is that in Gunsmoke the set was supposed to be in Dodge City, Kansas, and yet it sits out here in the southwestern red rock desert.

In fact, Kanab was such a huge western movie filming location that it owes much of its early prosperity to Hollywood. Right downtown on Main Street is the old Parry Lodge that housed many a movie star from John Wayne to Clint Eastwood to Maureen O’Hara to Gregory Peck to Anne Bancroft and Barbara Stanwick. The old hotel has been completely refurbished and is still a “luxury spot” in Kanab today.

The old Parry Lodge after an evening rain.

Well now that we’ve had our Hollywood history lesson, here are some more photos I took in Johnson Canyon as the sun was setting that Friday.

The light was getting good. Compare this shot of these bluffs to the ones I took earlier in the day through the clouds.
This is looking a bit more northeast up into the Escalante Monument. The last light was quite pleasing that evening.
This was perhaps my favorite of those sunset photos. What nice view!

Well, that’s about it for my Johnson Canyon tour near Kanab, Utah. Even though the terrain was just about as wet as it could possibly be, and hiking was a total no go, I think I did end up with some pretty decent images of this beautiful area. Hopefully, I’ll have time to come back to the Escalante-Grand Staircase area soon when it’s a bit more hikable.

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my blog. Hope these early spring photos of this area bring you pleasure. It’s a harsh but totally beautiful and ever changing land.

Have fun out there!

4 thoughts on “Stormy Days around Kanab

    1. Hopefully when things dry out a bit, I can check out those slot canyons. The Escalante Monument folks were very adamant in their advice about staying out for awhile. Thanks Ben!


    1. Thank you, M.B. You know it’s funny; I was very bummed out about not being able to hit the trails, but then the weather was so weird and yes, “moody”. So it all turned out, and I think I got some decent photos. Mother Nature is pretty cool if we just go with it.

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