Photography by Kristin Piljay

Oasis In the Desert

The first time I visited Lower Calf Creek Falls, between Escalante and Boulder, Utah, was in April of 2014. I hiked the 3 miles one way through the sandy trails in the beating sun, stopping a few times to empty the sand out of my shoes and finally at the end, this amazing sight appeared before me. The creek itself is surrounded by greenery and trees and the stark canyon walls have a mixture of bright green, gold and orange, while the soft water cascades down into a serene pool below. I remember how much cooler it was at the falls and I needed two more layers over my t-shirt. It definitely wasn’t super hot that day, but it was a relief after the hot and sunny hike. I took photos of the falls from one side to the other, circling them with my tripod until I thought I was finished. But it had been cloudy at the falls and then the sun came out and lit everything up in such a glorious way that it looked so much better, so I did it all over again! Afterwards, I decided that this one of my most favorite waterfalls I’ve ever visited.

Fast forward to this year, 2023 in October….I was in the area again to photograph the annular solar eclipse and I just had to pay a visit to this beautiful place again. This time, it was much cooler, but also a sunny day. Again the falls at the end of the hike was vastly different from the rest of the hike. It was a green, lush oasis in the desert blowing mist in your face. It’s interesting to compare the falls and see how they have changed in the past 9 years. The canyon walls remain the same, but the falls are wider than they were in 2014 and have more green moss/plants, so I like them even better now. I used long exposures and a tripod (both times) to capture the movement of the water to make it dreamy and soft. The photos were also taken at different times of the day and in different seasons.

It’s spectacular to see the falls in full, but I have a slight preference for the cropped images that have an abstract impact and a painterly effect. I have a canvas of this waterfall hanging on my wall, but I think I’ll make a new print of the image at the bottom of this blog post which has become my new favorite! But regardless of which photo I have in my home, it’s wonderful to wake up and see this serene place as the first thing I see upon awakening.

I do have a penchant for comparing photographs of places from different times, so I will return to do this again and not wait as long as 9 years to do it!

The hike is 6 miles round trip and is not strenuous or steep, but it can get a little difficult because of deep sand in some areas (and the sand can fill up your shoes). Bring a jacket for the falls as it is significantly colder there than the rest of trail. The campground looks awesome too, if you want to stay overnight. Next time I think I’ll do that.