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Adventures Of The Boondocking Photographer: Jailhouse and Moon House Ruins

I recently became an empty nester and was looking for a change in my life that would maximize my time left on this great planet. So I sold my house, bought a Ford F-350, an Arctic Fox 990 truck camper, and hit the road. This is the story of my adventures with travel, photography, and RV tips designed around living the boondocker lifestyle.

Jailhouse and Moon House Ruins

The focus of this boondocking adventure is Jailhouse and Moon House Ruins both found in southern Utah. The ruins and the surrounding scenery are off the charts. Plan on spending a day hiking to and enjoying the surrounding area for each ruin.

Moon House Ruin is located west of Blanding, Utah. From Blanding take US 191 S for four miles. Turn right or west on UT-95 N for 28.4 miles. Turn left or south on UT-261 S for 10.1 miles. Turn left or southeast on Snow Flat Road or County Road 27 for 8.2 miles until you find a two-wheel drive parking lot and sign in box. Four-wheel drive vehicles can turn left here and drive for another 1.2 miles to the four-wheel drive parking lot.


Jailhouse Ruin is also located west of Blanding, Utah. Follow the driving directions for Moon House Ruin stated above except travel south on UT-261 for eleven miles before turning right on County Road 251. Follow 251 west for 1.2 miles to the Bullet Canyon Trailhead.


Travel Tips

Moon House Ruin

Snow Flat Road to the two-wheel drive parking area is a decent road and in dry conditions is easily accessible for two-wheel drive cars with low clearance. If you continue on down Snow Flat Road the road gets very rocky and rough. I was able to make it down the road, which is about 28 miles and connects to the Combs Wash Road, but I had to go very slow. When you reach the Combs Wash Road you are very close to Comb Ridge, which is filled with many ruins and topic of a past Adventures of the Boondocking Photographer article. Check out Comb Ridge.

The entire length of the Snow Flat Road offers amazing views and a lot of pull off areas that are perfect for the boondocker. You could easily spend months exploring this area.

I would highly recommend parking all vehicles in the two-wheel drive parking area. I decided to drive to the 1.2 miles up the narrow road to the four-wheel drive parking area and scrapped the hell out of my Arctic Fox and caught a dead, Juniper branch between the camper tie down and pickup box and created a huge dent in the box of my pickup.

The hike to Moon House Ruin is 5.6 miles, round trip, from the two-wheel drive parking lot. The hike follows a two-lane road for most of the 5.6 miles. When you get to the canyon that Moon House Ruin sits in you will have to descend into the canyon and climb back up the other side to explore the ruin. When you reach the canyon Moon House Ruin sits in you can see the ruin across the canyon. The scene is breathtaking.

Moon House Ruin is one of the most preserved ruins in Utah. The main ruin has 49 rooms and still has white paint and designs on the walls in the back rooms. Be sure to explore the rim on both sides of Moon House Ruin because there are smaller ruins.

I have now been to over 50 ruins in Utah and Moon House Ruin is by far the most preserved and spectacular ruin I have visited. I visited Moon House Ruin in February and basically had the ruin all to myself. At certain times of the year a permit is required and visitor numbers are reduced, so be sure to check out all the information you can about Moon House Ruin before visiting.

For more information about Moon House Ruin check out:

Jailhouse Ruin

The 1.2 miles drive on County Road 251 is a good road accessible by all vehicles in dry conditions. The trailhead to Bullet Canyon offers a large parking area with pit toilets and a nice spot to camp.

The hike into Bullet Canyon immediately descends down the canyon rim and into the wash below. The hiking trail down Bullet Canyon is in the wash and offers amazing views of the towering canyon walls. Of all the hikes I have done in my lifetime this hike is probably the coolest. The fact that there are ruins on this hike is just icing on the cake.

Perfect Kiva Ruin

At 5.3 miles down Bullet Canyon look for Perfect Kiva on the north canyon wall. Perfect Kiva Ruin offers decent rock art plus as the name implies, a perfect kiva. You can actually decent via a wooden ladder into the kiva. There is still smoke on the walls and old ashes on the floor.

Jailhouse Ruin

Another mile down Bullet Canyon and you will arrive at Jailhouse Ruin. The entire hike is 11.5 miles round trip. The first thing you will notice about Jailhouse Ruin is the ominous white skull and white ball painted above the ruin. I am guessing these paintings served as a warning sign to stay away.

Jailhouse Ruin offers decent pictographs and petroglyphs. It is easy to understand why this ruin is called Jailhouse from the wooden stick window that is perfectly preserved. Be sure to explore around the west side of the ruin for more rock art.

If you have more energy continue on down Bullet Canyon to Grand Gulch, which is a 15.8 mile round trip hike. You will not be disappointed.

For more information about Jailhouse Ruin check out:


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Photography Tips

In this edition of photography tips I will share with you what software I use to edit my photos. I believe that editing photos is a skill comparable to actually taking the photos. Part one is taking the photos and part two is editing the photos. Both parts are essential to achieving great end results.

The first step in editing your photos is looking through your photos on your camera and deleting the obviously, bad shots that are blurry or the exposure is totally off in either direction. Getting rid of the bad photos will reduce the clutter when you download your photos into your initial editing software.

Lightroom 5

I download all the photos from my camera to Lightroom 5. Lightroom 6 is the most current edition of this amazing software, so I am a bit behind the times, however version 5 is still working great for me.

Lightroom offers a great way to store and organize your photos, create slideshows and other exporting options, and editing. Most professional photographers use Lightroom as their initial editing and storing software.

I do 95% of my editing in Lightroom. If your photo is taken correctly you should be able to achieve any touchup editing like cropping, color tweaks, and exposure changes in Lightroom.

If you are new to Lightroom there is a steep, learning curve. I bought a manual for Lightroom that is a couple inches thick and read through the entire manual before attempting any editing. There are also a lot of videos on YouTube on how to use Lightroom features. Plan on spending a good 20 hours of instruction before you will be able to navigate Lightroom with ease. After using Lightroom for the last three years I feel pretty comfortable using the software and can quickly make edits.

Lightroom Plugins

There are bunch of plugins available for Lightroom that will enhance your editing options. I highly recommend the Google Nik Collection plugin for Lightroom. The Nik plugin works seamlessly with Lightroom and really adds some great tools to enhance your editing options.

Inside the Nik Collection are seven different categories of editing. I use the Analog, Silver, and Color Efex Pro options the most.

Analog Efex Pro

The Analog Efex Pro software offers unique filters to simulate classic cameras, lenses, and films. I find these filters can really create unique looks and help the photographer keep from editing every photo the same way.

Silver Efex Pro

The Silver Efex Pro software easily changes color photos into black and white photos with a variety of filters. I really like the ability to simulate different types of film to create a unique look. Adding slight coloration like a sepia feel to black and photos is very easy in Silver Efex Pro.

Color Efex Pro

Of the different categories included in the Nik Collection I probably use the Color Efex Pro software the most. Included in this software package is a multitude of adjustable filters that will really add a punch to your editing arsenal.

Occasionally I will use several different Nik Collection categories on the same photo. For example I will often convert a color photo into a black and white using Silver Efex Pro and then run that photo through Color Efex Pro to add contrast for an HDR effect.

Using Lightroom with a few additional plugins should cover 95% of your editing needs and provide countless editing options. I recommend starting your editing process with Lightroom and proceed from there if more editing is needed.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 18

I do not use the full version of Photoshop, but rather a stripped down version of Photoshop called Photoshop Elements. I started with Photoshop Elements 13 and recently upgraded to Photoshop Elements 18. I will normally use Elements to make changes that require more than Lightroom can offer like changing a sky from a boring, overcast gray to bright blue that contrasts nicely with desert, red rocks.

I use Elements to fix minor problems with a photo that require a painting or cloning tool. Lightroom has cloning and painting tools, but Elements has more advanced options.

I will also use Elements to erase or eliminate parts of a photo I do not like. For example if the background is boring I can easily remove the background and add a more exciting background to enhance the focus of the photo’s subject.

Between Lightroom and Elements a photographer should be able to do 99.9% of the editing that is necessary for most editing jobs. If more editing is required perhaps the photo was shot poorly or a photographer needs to upgrade to the full Photoshop program.


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RV Tips

Slide Out Inspection And Repair

It seems that after every boondocking trip there are items that need to be repaired on my Arctic Fox 990. Considering the fact that the camper, over a two-week boodocking expedition, can endure rough, dirt roads and speeds of 80 m.p.h. plus on the interstate, constant repairs are to be expected.

After arriving back in Denver I noticed a roller had fallen on the floor under the slide out. A close inspection of the slide out revealed five, lose bolts in addition to the roller that had lost a nut. Luckily the roller is located close to the center walkway and is the easiest to repair. If the roller closest to the camper wall had become loose I would have had a heck of a time getting the roller back in it’s track and a nut on it.

I learned two things from this experience. The first thing I learned is to inspect the slide out system ever month for loose nuts. It is a lot easier to tighten a loose nut than have a nut completely fall off the bolt and have to get the nut back on the bolt in a very tight space.

The second thing I learned from the loose roller experience, is always keep a set of long wrenches with ratcheting ends on board your boondocking vehicle. The long wrenches allowed me to reach loose nuts in hard to reach, tight spaces. The ratcheting ends allowed me to tighten the nuts without having to take the wrench off the bolt for every turn.

After getting all of the nuts nice and tight on the bottom of my slide out, I read the manufacturer’s information on slide out inspection and repairs. I recommend you read your manufacturer’s information as well.

Most slide outs can be manually retracted. However, if the track system is inoperative because of missing parts it may become impossible to retract the slide out in the boondocks. That would leave a boondocker no choice, but to take the camper off the truck and leave it on the site of the slide out failure. If your boondocking rig is one unit, a boondocker may be forced to hike for help.

Lost Or Broken Screws

As a camper is going down the road and swaying back and forth it is reasonable have some screws to break or completely back out of their holes. I have lost screws on the metal, floor trim at the base of the door and around a window.

Half of the screws have completely backed out and gone missing, while half of the screws have broken in half losing the top half of the screw. In this case the remaining half of the screw must be drilled out to allow room for a new screw.

If a screw is missing a boondocker has a couple of options. Replace the screw with the same size screw or replace the screw with the next bigger size if possible.

I have a box of screws that match the most common, screw size used by the manufacturer on hand. As an added precaution I apply just a dab of J-B Weld to the screw to help it stay in place.

The more I boondock the more it becomes clear that I need a good tool set and as many replacement parts as practical on board at all times. A boondocker does not want to become stranded out in the boondocks if at all possible.


Moon House and Jailhouse Ruins are a couple reasons Utah is such a wonderful state for boondocking adventures. Both ruins are amazing and offer scenic views of the surrounding landscape. These areas provide almost limitless, camping spots and off trail adventures. Be sure to plan a boondocking adventure to the Moon House and Jailhouse Ruins area as soon as possible. You will not be disappointed.

Please remember to always boondock without a trace! 

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