There is a psychological phenomenon that suppresses horrible events. This is sometimes called selective amnesia. What is truly odd is that this phenomenon occurred for both of us for the same event. Yellow Rock. There is no doubt we remembered going to Yellow Rock a few years ago. And, we remembered that is was a difficult hike. But we didn’t remember HOW BAD the hike was. We foolishly did it again just to improve our photographs. Why do photographers get stupid when there is a shot to be had? What is even more disturbing is we forgot we had written about Yellow Rock in a previous blog post. Kathryn dutifully wrote the following description only to find out it was nearly word for word what we wrote years ago. Selective amnesia indeed. (Link to earlier post, The Great Ascent, can be found at the end.)

I was thrilled that Jeff agreed to return to Yellow Rock.

The day after our 10 mile hike to the Wave (and beyond), we opted to do a return visit to Yellow Rock.  Yellow rock is exactly as it is named, a small mountain of entirely yellow rock. What makes it interesting for a photographer is the vastness of the yellow, sprinkled with other colors, white and red, all combined with ridges and patterns in the rock’s surface.  Imagine an infinite source of abstract patterns, lines and colors. I’m in heaven.

A huge yellow mountain of rock

We drove over 60 miles from the nearest town, with the last 15 miles being down Cottonwood Canyon road. It is one of the many Utah / Arizona dirt roads that can get sketchy after wet weather or a long season. But we were in luck, except for some wash-boarding and a few stray cows, the drive was uneventful.

There really isn’t a trail for Yellow Rock, just a small path that disappears in and out of a wash. It is unmarked except for an occasional rock cairn that appears a mile or so into the hike after conquering the ravine. The bottom line is that you need to know where you are going. A normal person in their right mind, would not see this as a trail (nor would they do the hike). We passed three normal people on our way in who had turned around. They were still shaking their heads as they headed back to their car.

Do you see the path to the top?

A 1/2 mile down the dry sandy stream bed we take a right up a short canyon which dead ends into a ravine. The path, if you can call it that, quickly turns steep as it climbs upward. Steep may be an understatement as I drop to my hands and knees and begin clawing my way up the loose gravel and rock slope.  I tenuously grope for the next rock that does not give way in order to hoist myself safely a few more feet upward. Jeff is behind me, a bit too close. My hands are sweating.  If I loose my grip, I’ll take him out as I tumble back down over the edge of the ravine. I turn back to him and offer, “Jeff, we can turn around”. I wait. There is no answer, just grunts.  I take this as, “Just keep moving.” Was this section of the trail this steep last time? It seems so much steeper. I think I see the top and it is not getting closer. Was this section of trail this long last time? 

After over 300 feet of what felt like a near vertical climb on the edge of the ravine, the trail levels off just enough for us to stand and breathe.

We continue another 3/4 of a mile upward across loose sand and rock. Our legs are burning from yesterday’s hike. What were we thinking when we planned this hike? Never again.

Once my feet touch yellow rock, the camera comes out and I begin shooting. All the pain and toil is forgotten. There are so many leading lines and colors to photograph.

The east side of Yellow Rock

Fading sunlight. It was odd that the yellow nearly disappeared during golden hour.

Alas, the sun is dropping. The colors are going flat instead of glowing with the golden hour. It’s time to head out. We dread the return hike down.

At the top of the ravine, I have a reality check. Any misstep or slip will require emergency help. Jeff is mumbling under his breath, “Never again”.  This is not a voice of confidence.

I start down slowly, Jeff is behind me. Using his tripod as a hiking stick he begins teetering down the slope. I can’t watch. I think to myself, “Never again.”

I turn around and try going down backwards to have more control over my sliding. Frantically searching for the next rock that will hold me until I can slide to another.  My brain is screaming, “never again”. Then we’re on our butts slipping and sliding down the rocky slope. We pause to catch our breath and look at each other, “Never again”. 

The good news is we made it safely out. The better news is that we agree, we will “never again” climb up to Yellow Rock.

Do you think it was worth it?

Remember, it’s all about the light.

Kathryn and Jeff smiling before the perilous return hike. [photo by Jeff]


Our post from our previous visit to Yellow Rock: The Great Ascent