Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Odds and ends in Blue Pools and Boulderfest Canyons

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona, Utah by canyoneering on January 25, 2017

Seth on the pack raft across Canyon Lake to do Boulderfest Canyon.

Canyoneering can be intense, multi-day and on occasion can quickly become epic. Other times it just is a way to relax and spend a portion of the day with a litter of water and some rope and relaxing in some narrow places. These types of adventures don’t leave behind much to say about them but they still enrich your soul. With 2016 faded into history and the arrival of 2017 I thought it would be a good time to dust off some odds and ends of two half day adventures of the past year, where not much happened. That was what was so nice about them.

Blue Pool Canyon

Blue Pool Canyon 3AI
Lake Powell area
June 2016


After an intense all day adventure descending Checkerboard Canyon in Zion National Park the day before all I had in store for this day was the seven hour drive back to Phoenix. To break up the drive I decided for a quick solo descent down Blue Pool Canyon. I had spotted this slot while driving over it on U.S. Route 89 en route to other canyoneering adventures in southern Utah. It had always looked enticing at 60mph so for the first time instead of driving over it I pull off into a sandy parking area, gear up and head under the bridge. A few easy drops, a few photos and a little bit of walking and the slot opens up. I navigate my way out of the canyon into the sandstone world above and back to the highway, enjoying the quiet, solitude and exercise before the remainder of my drive home.  

Seth silhouetted after a rappel.

Boulderfest Canyon 3AII
Superstition Wilderness Area


When one of my closest childhood friends was in town visiting, as the host I was charged with the task of filling our days with activities; being the camp director so to speak. Like Blue Pool Canyon, Boulderfest Canyon, had always been on my mind from the dozens of times I would look at it while driving past Canyon Lake en route to other adventures. I knew a descent would take no more than 2/3 of a day with driving, the weather was agreeable and I thought Seth would get a kick out of the packraft across the lake, assuming we did get killed by a powerboat driving over us. The packraft was unremarkable under a hot Autumn Arizona sun. It did requires some muscle to make it across but we got there. Even more challenging was deflating out boats with no flat shoreline. Up and over a saddle and down the other side and we were in Boulderfest. You could see the lake for the entire descent. Seth faced his fear, managed the rappels and down climbs and rather quickly we were re-inflating our boats for the float home, or at least back to our vehicles. Seth and I were back home, showered and in time for a 7pm dinner reservation.


Virtual Reality in Punchbowl Canyon

Posted in Southern & Central Arizona by canyoneering on January 16, 2017
David holds the two GoPro Virtual Reality rig while planning out a shot in Punchbowl Canyon.

David holds the two GoPro Virtual Reality rig while planning out a shot in Punchbowl Canyon.



Punchbowl Canyon, 3BIV
Tonto National Forest – Superstition Wilderness Area


“This fuc*ing camera!,” I mutter to myself as  I’m fumbling with two modified GoPro cameras on a rig so their backs are butted against each other and the lenses face 180 degrees apart. Once I get the shot I want laid out and get both cameras recording, I begin floundering with my two sets of lavalier microphones connected to an audio recorder via a wireless receiver. I am deep in a cold, wet slot canyon in the Superstition Mountains of central Arizona. I clap my hands several times loudly to sync the two GoPro cameras and audio recordings. I then yell “Action!” at the top of my lungs. Moments later Eric comes down a 120- foot rappel into a narrow hallway above me, as down canyon, Mike, Laura and Susan make their way across a frigid slimy pool of water. I stand somewhere in the middle watching all the action. The cameras record it all between narrow walls. This my first foray into 360 degree Virtual Reality video. A few months earlier several USA Today video producers asked if I could shoot a Virtual Reality video for them on canyoneering. Always eager to play and learn new technology and even more so, to get paid to go canyoneering, I jumped on the opportunity. After assembling a crew and picking a date we are out on the trailhead on a cold December morning. It was a canyon that our group of six had all done and were familiar with. In the past a descent of this canyon had taken as little as six hours. I knew today would take much longer.

A frame grab from the 360 degree Virtual Reality video in Punchbowl Canyon.

A frame grab from the 360 degree Virtual Reality video in Punchbowl Canyon.

As the day progresses and shots are produced it becomes clear that battery life becomes my most precious commodity. As I push blinking battery bar indicators to their fullest I do my best to dot every “i” and cross every “t” while trying to record compelling 360 degree footage of this stunning, rugged and challenging desert slot. The hardest part of shooting VR is 360 degrees means everything around, above and below you is part of the footage. Making choices of what to include and what not to include becomes much more challenging than with traditional videography and photography. Combine this with the aforementioned clunky operation of the equipment in this hostile environment and let’s just say it wasn’t that typical day of canyoneering. Four hours past when we would have been to our vehicles on a normal descent  and night is not far around the corner, but the last rappel is still at least an hour away. In the end we make that final rappel and much needed closing shot just before dusk. My crew was extremely patient despite the seemingly excessive production and time in these raw conditions. Kudos and much thanks to them. So without further chronicling let me present to you the finished video piece below. Since virtual reality video is a relatively new medium I have included a list of tips to help you better enjoy the experience.


  • The canyoneering segment starts at the 1 minute 38 second mark.
  • It doesn’t work on the Safari web browser on either desktop or mobile. I suggest Chrome on desktop or the YouTube app on your phone.
  • You need good bandwidth or the resolution will not be good and will make for a nauseating viewing experience.
  • The best way to view is with your phone and a Virtual Reality headset but since most people don’t have headsets I still think with your phone is better than desktop so you can move the phone around and see full 360 degrees. On desktop use your mouse to navigate around 360 degrees.
  • You really have to navigate around to see everything that is going on. You may have to watch the video more than once to do that. Try using a swivel office chair.
  • I didn’t have anything to do with the title which I think is a little misleading and happens to be the same as Todd Martin’s book on canyoneering in the Grand Canyon.

Check out USA Today’s VR Youtube channel VRtually There.