False Kiva, Canyonlands
A Classic Photographic Location – False Kiva
Hard to find
I was left in no doubt that she didn’t approve of me visiting the False Kiva site, especially when I mentioned photography!
A Stroke of Luck
The following day I made an early morning trip to Mesa Arch to photograph the sunrise and had the good fortune to meet two fellow photographers, Jim and Tom. After the glorious red glow beneath the arch had faded our conversation turned to other locations and photography in general. I brought up the subject of False Kiva. Lucky for me (and Jim too), Tom turned out to be a Canyonlands regular and had visited the False Kiva site on several occasions. Jim and I were keen to go, and Tom kindly agreed to take us. We agreed to meet at 5pm later that day and hike out to try and catch the late afternoon sun.
You may be wondering why this location is called False Kiva. A kiva is a room used by Puebloan Indians, thought to be used for spiritual ceremonies and communal purposes. Many kivas comprise circular rooms which are often sunken into the ground, bearing a thatch roofs with a central opening and ladder for entry. The ruin at False Kiva simply comprises a low circular wall, so it is not know whether this was a true kiva or not.
Trek to False Kiva
The path to False Kiva commences just before the trail head to Aztec Butte on the road to Upheaval Dome and we all met up near the parking spot by the side of the road. The trail heads out across the mesa top and gradually descends over a dry waterfall and down a boulder and scree section which takes you well down below the mesa top where eventually it levels out and crosses directly below False Kiva, before ascending into the alcove from the far side. It’s a bit of a scramble and you need to watch your footing, especially when loaded with photographic gear, but it’s not as difficult as some web sites make out. Just take care and plenty of water if you go when it’s hot. It probably took us the best part of an hour from the road.
When you arrive in the alcove the view (to coin an American phrase) is truly awesome. False Kiva is set in a huge half dome shape alcove set back into the mesa cliff face with stupendous views over the green river canyon and candlestick butte in the distance. You can see for over 50 miles. The stone circle is set in central position toward the front and there’s plenty of room for tripods behind. There’s an eerie cathedral like silence and presence within the alcove and you can see why the Pueploans thought this a spiritual place. It is indeed a very special place.
The afternoon storms had arrived during our hike and now the skies were dull, grey and full of cloud, and the canyon below overcast and devoid of contrast. Still, one could help shooting off several frames no matter what the weather. We chatted and waited and hoped for break in the weather, but still the clouds persisted. The company was good, lots of banter, both photographic and other topics, and time past. False Kiva is a truly awesome place and it felt good to be there. Then just when we were beginning to discuss leaving, the clouds abated to the north and shafts of olden sunlight lit the canyon floor and walls and our camera shutters snapped to and fro. Dramatic stormy skies, and sun, all we could have hope for.
Don’t be put off visiting False Kiva by other parties, it’s well worth the effort, but do respect the nature of the site, don’t disturb anything and leave only footprints.
Eventually the sun light faded and soon it would be getting dark. Time to pack up and head back. By now we could hear voices approaching as a party of 4 made their way across the scree. And guess who it was, no other than the young female ranger who had been so discouraging to me, and yet here she was bringing a party of her friends to the False Kiva site. Just a tad hypocritical don’t you think? We left leaving them in the alcove. The best light had long gone. After about 15 minutes walking, we observed the other party set off back too and to our surprise a couple of their members decided to try a short cut from the wrong side of the alcove down the steep boulders. Very ill advised. We turned out of sight as they struggled with their poor decision.
False Kiva is a fabulous photographic location and for me was the highlight of my US trip without doubt. Don’t be put off visiting False Kiva by other parties, it’s well worth the effort, but do respect the nature of the site, don’t disturb anything and leave only footprints.
- Photographer Stephen Oachs ‘The Tribunal’
- Photographer Tom Till
- Steve Kossack’s F8 And Be There
- Nation Parks Canyonlands Site
- PDF Map of Canyonlands
Photographic Locations Near False Kiva
False Kiva Postscript
And last but not least, a big thanks to Jim and Tom for such good company on what was an extremely enjoyable late afternoon.