Canyonlands National Park’s Salt Creek Canyon was a quiet place during our four day backpacking trip. In fact, we didn’t see anyone for 2 1/2 days during the hike, making it the perfect wilderness experience.  It is a place suffused with remnants of the past, as well as spectacular slickrock formations and evidence of wildlife.

All American Man Pictograph in Canyonlands National Park's Salt
All American Man, a pictograph created some 700 years ago, with a shield design incorporating red, white, and blue (or black) pigments, and made by an Ancestral Puebloan or Fremont artist, Salt Creek Canyon in The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

Salt Creek Canyon, located in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, is where my wife and I chose to backpack in October of 2017. Our last backpack in Canyonlands occurred in October of 1976: 41 years ago! It was wonderful to return to this land of red slickrock, golden cottonwoods, and starry, starry nights. This time, we were enchanted by the evidence of the Ancestral Puebloan People of the region. Their houses, granaries, potsherds, and pictographs provided a spiritual presence and brought the canyon alive in our imagination. 

There are trail guidebooks and blogs that provide detailed descriptions of the hike, so I decided instead to simply provide a visual look at the canyon through my photography and to use a few word impressions to give a sense of the experience.

Backpacker in Canyonlands National Park's Salt Creek Canyon
Karen Rentz climbing a route through a sandstone fin within Salt Creek Canyon

10,000 years ago, a Raven chuckles to its mate and young as they play in the air currents along the canyon walls. A Camel glances upward at the sound, then resumes munching a mouthful of Sagebrush, vaguely wondering why it hasn’t seen any other Camels for years. Wind quietly flutters the Cottonwood leaves as a Coyote howls in the distance.

800 years ago, Ancestral Puebloan women chatter and giggle along the creek while filling clay pots with water. Children play hide-and-seek among the sagebrush and rocks, shouting suddenly upon spotting a companion. Turkeys gobble at the irritation of being packed together in the village’s pen. Men chip arrowheads from chunks of chalcedony, creating sharp percussive sounds. Then a sudden shout to ascend to the cliff fortress, as strangers are spotted creeping along Salt Creek!

700 years on, the sound of cattle lowing and spurs-a-jangling occasionally brings the canyon alive, as ranchers run cows in the sagebrush. Picture the clouds of dust during the roundup as cowboys herd the cattle along ancient trails. Listen to the crackle of pinyon logs in the evening campfire while cowboys scrape their tin plates; a Great Horned Owl hoots in the distance.

60 years ago, a jeep engine roars as a uranium prospecter shifts into low gear while descending steep red slickrock. He gets out and tests the sandstone with his rock pick, then tosses the rocks aside with a clatter. He camps tonight near the stream, the soft gurgling reassuring him. Then a wildcat screams from the cliffs above.

In October of 2017, we set up camp as the last warm sun glows on the cliffs. I use a rock to pound the tentstakes into clay, while the gas stove hisses as water starts to boil for our evening meal. After dinner, all is quiet as we snuggle in a warm sleeping bag. Two Coyotes howl back and forth in the canyon. There are no human sounds in the distance under the vast panorama of stars.

Dead Tree in Canyonlands National Park's Salt Creek Canyon
Dead tree among the colorful sandstone formations within Salt Creek Canyon

Here is a selection of other photographs from the trip. Double Click on one to see them larger and with captions.

Canyonlands National Park’s Salt Creek Canyon was a quiet place during our four day backpacking trip. In fact, we didn’t see anyone for 2 1/2 days during the hike, making it the perfect wilderness experience.  It is a place suffused with remnants of the past, as well as spectacular slickrock formations and evidence of wildlife.

When we visited in October, we started out at the Cathedral Butte Trailhead and hiked in about as far as there was potable water. It is named Salt Creek for a reason: there are alkali salts suspended in the water that quickly clogged our filter, so we had to depend upon iodine tablets and boiling water in order to get drinkable water. No problem if you are prepared.

October was colder than we expected, with the three clear nights reaching down to 16°F, 13°F, and the last night at 11°F. Our down sleeping bags were perfect; don’t expect to be warm with summer-weight bags. The Milky Way and moonlight were wonderful in the canyon, and it was great to climb into the fluffy sleeping bag after our stargazing sessions.

Black Bears are frequently sighted in the canyon, so the National Park Service now requires that hikers carry bearproof canisters. What would the wilderness be without a few predators to make us wary?

Salt Creek Canyon is filled with evidence of prior inhabitants. Please, leave everything untouched so that our descendents can enjoy the magic of this spiritual place.

The National Park Service requires backpacking permits for Salt Creek Canyon, and there are four campsites that are assigned when hikers get their permits. Go to the Canyonlands National Park website for more information about the park and backpacking permits.

For more information about my photography go to Lee Rentz Photography.

The Great (Gum) Wall of Seattle

The Great Gum Wall of Seattle, located in Post Alley near the Pike Place Market, is as gross a place as you can expect to find anywhere in the world!

A typically colorful detail of Seattle’s Great Gum Wall

“Abby and Ethan, do you know what’s on that wall?”

Stepping closer, the kids say in unison:  “It’s gum!”  And they run up to it.

Mommy, panicked, shouts “Don’t touch that, it’s germy!”

This conversation and countless variations on it are repeated daily in grungy Post Alley, just below Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market.  The market has a huge sign over it that proclaims “Sanitary Market,” but the details of life around it are anything but sanitary, as the Great Gum Wall illustrates.

I first learned about the Great Gum Wall in a recent issue of National Geographic, where a two page photo spread showed the wall in all its 26 megapixel detail and glory. As a regional resident, I should have known about the wall earlier, but I’m usually out of the loop on Seattle pop culture, having just learned to appreciate Nirvana and Kurt Cobain nearly 20 years too late. Now I dress daily in Seattle grunge style which, come to think of it, also puts me nearly 20 years behind the times. But I’ll catch up; I’m considering a big nose ring, except during allergy season, and a fierce tatoo of a chickadee on the back of my shaved head!

Anyway, it seems that in the early 1990s, patrons of the Market Theatre in Post Alley started to stick their gum on the old brick wall while waiting in line to enter. The theatre first tried to clean it off, but gave up and the tradition stuck.  To the wall.  One gob led to another, and pretty soon tens of thousands of gum wads were deposited on the wall, spotting and dripping and smelling and reeking in all their wondrous glory.  I mean, what more can you say about a wall of pre-chewed gum?

Actually, TripAdvisor recently named the Great Gum Wall as one of the world’s five top germiest attractions–second behind the Blarney Stone.  For that reason alone it is worth jetting halfway around the world to see it; I recommend a stay at the nearby Four Seasons Seattle. Or, if you are on a budget, you can carry your sleeping bag over your shoulder and ask a photographer–as one young man, homeless in Seattle, recently asked me–”where can I take a nap?”

To answer the question starting to form in your mind, “Is Seattle still a yuppie Mecca?” Yup! The great gum wall is plastered with only the finest gum from the tooth-whitened mouths of sterling and sophisticated young men and women. Nothing but the best in this town, I say!

Box office for the theatre

Personally, I have never chewed gum, so I don’t have a reason to visit the Great Gum Wall again, since I can’t add to the “art.” Aside from that, the sight and stench made me gag.  But if you’ve got a strong stomach and are looking for something creative to do with the kids this weekend, they would love a visit to Seattle’s Great Gum Wall. Bring your antibacterial wipes …

If the city provided a ladder, the gum line could be much higher

Up the alley, there is a wall of grungy and torn posters; I think this photograph belongs in an art museum

The lower alley entrance can be a dark and lonely place at night

A gummer, writing the name of his love, Sarah, shows a strong work ethic and persistence–just the kind of guy employers are dying to hire

An ongoing art project: the Gum Mona Lisa

At least the gum smell overwhelms the other stenches in the alley

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.

THE BLACK ANGELS: Ravens Practicing Aerial Maneuvers

Perfect synchronization of Common Ravens in flight

Six of them blazed by, wingtip to wingtip, making constant loud noise as they practiced intricate aerial acrobatics. Climbing rapidly, then hurtling into steep dives, coming within feet of the ground, only to pull up into the heavens again. This air show went on for about five minutes, at which point the fliers were running low on fuel and sped off to replenish themselves.

We were hiking on Whiskey Dick Mountain in central Washington State, when we came upon this spectacle. Given the time of year (mid-May), it seemed too late for Common Raven pair bonding and too early for this year’s young with their parents. So the reason for the spectacular flight will remain a mystery, unless a knowledgeable reader can help.

Flying wingtip to wingtip in an aerial ballet

We have seen Common Ravens in the mountains and the deserts over much of North America, and it is always amazing to see them–even when they are scavenging in a national park parking lot. But this is the first time I have been so thrilled to observe these incredible birds in flight. I saw a stick being dropped by one of the birds, but it happened so fast and so close to the ground that I can’t provide an accurate description. Other naturalists have observed these incredible flights, and one person described a raven flying upside-down for half a mile! These bulky black birds are truly masters of flight.

Unexpectedly graceful in flight together

Masters of precision flight

For more information about Common Ravens, go to the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology’s excellent website: All About Birds.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.

BRIDAL VEIL FALLS: Peace and Thunder

A blog entry discussing the emotional impact of different exposures upon pictures of waterfalls.

Spring runoff rages over Bridal Veil Falls

Waterfalls are often portrayed by photographers as peaceful places; we use long exposures that smooth out the rough water, lending a serene look that is entirely appropriate to a contemplative subject. That is what I expected to do when I approached Bridal Veil Falls (located on a side trail about a half mile long) along the trail to Lake Serene in Washington’s Cascade Range. But the thundering, drenching, roaring waterfall that greeted me and my companions was anything but serene. I quickly decided to embrace the nature of the subject rather than fight it, and worked my mind and camera quickly to capture the tumultuous nature of the falls. Using a high ISO of 400 enabled me to use extremely fast shutter speeds with the polarizing filter that I used to darken the blue sky. The sky was scattered with fast-moving clouds, and I urged my companions to “wait for the light” with me. It worked. The last pictures were the best, showing the waterfall above me, as if emerging from the tattered clouds in the sky above.

Then, satisfied, we hiked farther along the trail, soon coming upon a lower part of Bridal Vell Falls. The lower falls were better served by the contemplative approach, since much of the area was in the shade and quite dark. I used exposures of up to half a second, which rendered the water as smooth and soft. In this area we also enjoyed watching an American Dipper carrying food to its hidden young, and listened to the impossibly melodious and endless song of the utterly tiny and inconspicuous Winter Wren.

After that, we trudged up the rest of the 2,000 vertical feet we needed to climb to reach Lake Serene. The lake, located in a beautiful cirque below Mount Index, was a glacial blue-green color and was dramatic in its own right. We ate lunch and photographed the lake, sharing this early summer hike with perhaps 150 other hikers out for the first mountain hike of the year. Lake Serene is a dramatic mountain lake at a low elevation, making it a popular hike with Seattlites. For me, the highlight was the waterfall, with its Yin-Yang of moods, but it felt good to be out on the trail–despite the weak ankle I sprained (again) on the way down. As I photographed the peaceful lower falls in late afternoon light, I commiserated with a young man who had also sprained his ankle and was soaking it in the frigid meltwaters of the waterfall’s plunge pool. Rough trail, satisfying day.

The sun illuminated the tumbling water from behind

The more peaceful drop of the lower falls, with a long exposure

An extremely short exposure “freezes” the water drops

A longer exposure shows streaks of water

I had to frequently wipe the spray off my camera and lens

A small flow in the deep shade required a long exposure

A chaos of fast-falling water, with ferns & other leaves clinging to cliff

A detail of the lower falls, where I saw an American Dipper

After the falls, we visited Lake Serene, in its cirque below Mount Index

Grace of an old tree at the outlet to Lake Serene

The hike to Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene is described by the Washington Trails Association.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

4th of July in an Eskimo Village

America has a wondrous array of interesting places and cultures, including the Yup’ik Eskimo village of Togiak, located on the remote shores of Bristol Bay in Alaska.


Piper airplane cockpitPilot at the Piper’s controls during the short hop across taiga and tundra from Dillingham to Togiak, in which Karen and I were the only passengers

A bumpy 70 mile plane ride from Dillingham to Togiak, Alaska, took us over Black Spruce taiga, which soon gave way to pond-splattered tundra and rugged hills.  Karen Rentz on PiperWe were the only two passengers on the long-in-service PenAir Piper; when Karen asked if we could take pictures in the air, the pilot joked “as long as I’m not doing anything illegal!”

From the air we photographed the meandering rivers and beautiful green tundra landscapes, with ponds speckled by lily pads.  Looking down, I saw a Brown Bear digging in the earth, going after Arctic Ground Squirrels or favorite roots.  As we approached the coast, we sailed over the village

of Twin Hills and took in the view over Bristol Bay and out to the Bering Sea.  The village of Togiak, huddled along the coast below, was our destination.

Togiak River delta

Aerial view of the Togiak River Delta where it enters Bristol Bay

Togiak, Alaska, aerial view

The Yup’ik Eskimo village of Togiak is strung along Bristol Bay

Togiak was to be the staging area for our trip to Round Island, a Pacific Walrus sanctuary in Bristol Bay off the Alaskan coast, which is accessible only by a chartered boat.  Many Round Island visitors spend numerous days in Togiak, because frequent high winds make the journey impossible in a small craft.  In fact, a couple of men from Manhattan, who shared the island experience with us, had an extra wind day added to both the beginning and end of their trip.

After landing in a cloud of dust on the gravel airstrip, we climbed down the wing to the ground, then dumped our duffels into the open back of a late-model red Dodge pickup.  The native driver asked where we were going; when we said Esther’s B and B, he knew exactly where to take us, which was only a few blocks away.

Actually, there were a few other cars and trucks in this village, which stretches for maybe a mile along Bristol Bay, and we counted three school buses.  But mostly people got around town by four-wheel ATVs, ATV in Togiak, Alaskaand by snow machines during the long winter.  This town, like most along the coast, is isolated, with no roads connecting it to other Alaskan settlements.  Supplies are brought in by air and by ocean-going barges.

Over 90% of residents are Eskimos; their lives are a blend of traditional subsistence and modern conveniences.  There were brilliant red Sockeye Salmon drying on racks in the warm sunshine, with delicious belly strips of salmon curing in a smokehouse, while satellite dishes beamed in Nickelodeon and the daily soaps to appreciative young and old audiences.  Walrus and seals are shot for food each autumn, but there is also a well-lit supermarket Air-drying Sockeye Salmonwith fresh produce and plenty of junk food.  By the way, when we asked Esther what Walrus tastes like, she said it looked like dark beef but tasted like clams!

This Yup’ik Eskimo village has been in the general location for at least 2,000 years; the earliest dwellings were long ago replaced with an assortment of several hundred weathered houses, stores, and service buildings.  According to the 2000 census, 809 people live in the village.  Based on the number of young Eskimo children and pregnant women we saw, the next census will see a substantial jump.  The median age in town is a very young 23.

Bristol Bay and the Togiak River are famous for their fisheries.  Paul Markoff, our charter boat operator ( out the cannery across the bay from the village.  During our visit, many of the village’s men and boys were out in the bay fishing; some of the catch is for themselves; most is wholesaled to Togiak Fisheries, the local fish processor.  Paul pointed out that much of this is sold in Costco stores around America. The Togiak River sports runs of Sockeye, Chinook, Silver, Pink, and Chum Salmon, and is the destination of sport fishermen who fly in to several fishing resorts.

Since we were visiting on Independence Day, there were special celebrations going on.  We went to the beach bonfire, which was hosted by the cannery and attended by scores of local children, who toasted marshmallows over the flames and smushed them into a graham cracker sandwich with a chocolate bar.  Mmmmm.  Actually, we’re a bit old to enjoy s’mores, but we enjoyed watching the cute Eskimo kids havingEskimo woman and child on ATV a good time.  Several little girls were piling gravel into the bottom of their shirts, folding the cloth over, and pretending they were pregnant.  One girl asked us why we were wearing our down jackets; after all, it was a warm summer evening.  I guess Eskimos have a different tolerance toward cold!


Yup'ik Eskimo women and children in Togiak, AlaskaYup’ik Eskimo women and children enjoying a 4th of July bonfire on the beach

Speaking of cold, Paul Markoff said that the winters get to be really long.  The bay in front of town freezes completely, and even part of Bristol Bay freezes over, as temperatures sometimes drop to -40°F.  The dusk of winter daytime last four or five Homes in Togiak, Alaskahours, and this is a time to hunker down and dream of spring.  But, since the people have snow machines, they can also take long trips in the winter.  Paul spoke of people who made the overland trek to Dillingham on their machines.  Togiak, like many native villages, is a dry town, with no alcohol to be in the possession of anyone at any time.  Marijuana is another matter, with weed being the drug of choice by some of the village folk (as it is throughout much of Alaska).

Later on the 4th, there were to be traditional fireworks over the town, but we were too tired to partake.  Besides, fireworks at midnight during the perpetual light twilight of an Alaska summer night is not quite the same as seeing them against a dark sky.  Eskimos are patriotic Americans, with a tradition of proud service in wartime.  Interestingly, Yup’ik Eskimos also live across the Bering Sea–in Russian Siberia.  The old tribal roots don’t fit so neatly into the politics and allegiances of the modern world.

Upon our return from Round Island, Paul Markoff took us on an ATV tour of town.  We visited his family’s salmon drying and smoking racks, and went into the house of an elder craftsman, Willie Wassillie,who made art objects from Walrus tusk Willie Wassillie, Ivory Carverivory.  We looked at his wonderful carvings, and selected a miniature Walrus to purchase.  He spoke little or no English, so his wife interpreted for us.  Meanwhile, we were interrupting her watching of Days of Our Lives, which was showing on the living room TV.  Traditional and contemporary America side by side in the home of a Yup’ik Eskimo.




Willie Wassillie, a Togiak Eskimo and master craftsman in the medium of Walrus ivory.  Upon returning home, we were able to view several additional pieces of his work at  This Walrus ivory is taken from animals hunted sustainably and for subsistence.








Laundry on the line, Togiak, AlaskaFishing boat shares the beach with laundry sustainably drying



Bike in TogiakA bicycle in Togiak gets less use than the modern ATVs that are used everywhere in this small village as the preferred way to get around



No alcohol in Togiak, AlaskaTogiak is a dry village, with no alcohol allowed anywhere



Paul Markoff ATV tour of Togiak, AlaskaKaren Rentz taking an ATV tour of Togiak with Captain Paul Markoff.


To view three other weblog stories of our Round Island trip, go to:


I am the Walrus


Puffins and Auklets and Murres, Oh My!


Experiencing the Walruses of Round Island, Alaska