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Photography locations – Utah




  • Photography locations - Utah

    Yellow Rock on Cottonwood Road, Utah

    09.15.13 | Permalink | 1 Comment
    Yellow Rock, Utah

    Yellow Rock, Utah. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    In the spring of 2013 I spent four months in my camper traveling and photographing in Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, and Montana. While in Utah, I was following the guidebook by Laurent Martres titled “Photographing the Southwest,” specifically volume 1 of the three-volume series and covering southern Utah. One chapter in Martres’ book describes the Cockscomb, a 50-mile long fault in the Grand Staircase National Monument. He describes it as one of the most remarkable geologic formations of the Colorado Plateau, and that alone had me spending about a week there during the last half of May.

    Yellow Rock is an area about 10-15 acres in size (this is a very rough estimate based on my younger days of fighting forest fires and having to estimate the size of a burn) of fabulous slickrock at the top of a small mountain that varies in beautiful colors and textures. Somehow someone found a way to make a trail up the very rugged upheaval slope originating from the geologic fault. The trail is narrow, steep, full of short switchbacks and loose rocks, but it is not a long trail. While Martres describes it as a 20-minute hike, I needed about 45 minutes — I’m walking on artificial hips, and they just don’t seem to move as fast.

    I followed Cottonwood Road (LINK) north from US 89 beginning about two miles east of the Paria Contact Station. To reach Yellow Rock, I parked in a wide open area where the Brigham Plains Road meets the Cottonwood Canyon Road. Directly across the road is Hackberry Canyon. The trail to Yellow Rock is in the next canyon to the south, only about 300 meters away. After crossing Cottonwood Canyon Road, following some cow trails through the vegetation, and crossing the dry Paria River (remember, I was there in late May, and there were some muddy spots), a fairly well-defined trail begins the ascent. The trail is well-defined simply because there is no other way up this exceptionally rugged landscape. That means there is no other way down as well, something I would soon discover.

    The trail soon reaches a saddle that turns south. After a few more minutes of climbing, the trail passes the last of the big rock outcrops, and this should be used as a landmark for finding the trail again on the way back. While the trail continues, it becomes more faint and several alternate routes head off to different parts of Yellow Rock. At this point small rock cairns become more important, especially for finding the way back.

    Yellow Rock from this initial vantage point is stunning; never have I seen such a large area of colorful and sculpted slickrock. The photograph above shows one of the initial views. NOTE: all photographs in this article were done with a Canon 1DsMkIII camera body.

    The sandstone has a variety of “surface finishes,” from shallow to moderate grooves, cobblestone blocks of varying sizes, some rock outcrops, and just a few areas of smooth rock. Colors include yellow (no surprise there) to red, orange, brown, and ivory.

    Slickrock Colors and Patterns, a closer view.  Canon 1DsIII, Canon 70-200 f/4 IS lens.

    Slickrock Colors and Patterns, a closer view. Canon 70-200 f/4 IS lens.

    Slickrock, closer still.  Note the cobblestone texture in the foreground and terraces in the background.  Canon 1DsIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Slickrock, closer still. Note the cobblestone texture in the foreground and terraces in the background. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    On the first day I visited Yellow Rock, a storm was coming in from the west. This was an opportunity to include some skies with more interest than uniform blue, but I also found that uniform gray was equally challenging. I looked for areas in the sky that had variation; they also did not seem as threatening regarding rain or lightning. One does not want to be standing as the tallest point around when lightning appears imminent.

    Slickrock Under Storm Clouds.  Canon 1DsIII, Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Slickrock Under Storm Clouds. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    During this hike, there were also two adults and a child on Yellow Rock, and I took one photograph to try to show the relative scale of the surface area and textures.

    Scale of the Patterns.  Canon 1DsIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Scale of the Patterns. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    While the other hikers proceeded to the top, I became increasingly worried about the changing weather, and so I decided to head down. I walked back to where I first stepped onto the slickrock, and from there I looked for my landmark rock outcrop. Unfortunately, from this angle everything had changed, and I couldn’t tell which of three ridges in front of me was the proper way down. I headed down in the direction I thought I had come up, but after a short distance I couldn’t find any rock cairns. Knowing that the trail was absolutely the only safe way down, I walked across the saddle to the next ridge to the north, which I found is much easier said/written than actually done because of the soft soil, cactus patches, and sandstone ledges that seemed to pop up everywhere. Having reached the second ridge, again I found no rock cairns that would indicate a route down. However, I did find some footprints which told me one thing: I wasn’t the only person to have gotten “a bit confused” trying to find my way down. Again I traversed another saddle, complimenting myself that at least I had enough sense to head down early, and I finally found some rock cairns that eventually led me to the trail. Where it had taken me about 45 minutes to hike to the top, I spent twice that long getting down. When walking toward the slickrock, it’s important to turn around from time to time to get a good look at the changing perspective; this will help in getting off the mountain.

    I went back the next afternoon, a day of blue sky and white clouds. As is typical for most landscapes, Yellow Rock is best photographed with a low angle of light to get some shadows on the surface texture. Most of the slickrock is on the east side, but it curves around to include substantial areas on both the north and south sides. After hiking to the very top (“because it was there”), I learned there is relatively little slickrock on the west side. Therefore, It may be best to begin afternoon shooting on the north side, and then explore across the east side toward the south as the afternoon progresses. Martres suggests that the best light might be close to sunset, and he includes a photo with shadows and highlights across the small grooves to make his point. However, unless I were extremely familiar with the area, and/or had a GPS to help guide me to the trail at the top, and had a fellow hiker along, I think it would be foolish to tackle this area with a flashlight after sunset. There are many loose rocks on a narrow and twisting trail down; it’s just not a good trail to hike in the dark.

    How does one capture a sense of this vast, open area with a camera? I chose to shoot close to the ground in most areas to concentrate on the rock textures, and over long distances this is bound to create depth-of-field problems in keeping everything in relatively sharp focus. Therefore, I used focus stacking techniques extensively for the first time, even with a 17mm lens, but especially with the longer focal length lenses.

    I spent an afternoon and early evening happily exploring slickrock, looking for interesting compositions of surface texture and colors, hopefully complemented by some good sky. The following are my attempt to capture the spirit and beauty of this area.

    Slickrock Terraces #1.  Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Slickrock Terraces. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Cobblestone Patterns.  Pieces of wood were sometimes found, obviously brought by other photographers to make the composition more interesting.  This was located right at the boundary of the slickrock, so it might have occurred naturally.  Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Cobblestone Patterns with Wood. Pieces of wood were sometimes found, obviously brought by other photographers to make the composition more interesting. This was located right at the boundary of the slickrock, so it might have occurred naturally. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Cobblestone Patterns.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Cobblestone Patterns. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Yellow and Red Grooves in Slickrock.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Yellow and Red Grooves in Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Ephemeral Water.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Ephemeral Water. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Slickrock and Cloud.  This heavily layered area on the east side was a favorite spot.  Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Slickrock and Cloud. This heavily layered area on the east side was a favorite spot. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Slickrock Orphans.  Canon 17mm TS-E lens.

    Slickrock Orphans. Canon 17mm TS-E lens.

    Stone Fish on a Sea of Stone.  Note how little the clouds have changed from the last shot; one doesn't have to walk very far to find compositions.  Canon 17mm f/4 TS-E lens.

    Stone Fish on a Sea of Stone. Note how little the clouds have changed from the previous shot; one doesn’t have to walk very far to find compositions. Canon 17mm f/4 TS-E lens.

    Slickrock Ledges on a Stormy Afternoon.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Slickrock Ledges on a Stormy Afternoon. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Inhospitality.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Inhospitality. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Red Runs Through It.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Red Runs Through It. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Cobblestone, Looking SE Across the Paria River.  Canon 17mm TS-E lens.

    Cobblestone, Looking SE Across the Paria River. Canon 17mm TS-E lens.

    Sandstone Hills NNE from Yellow Rock.  Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Sandstone Hills NNE from Yellow Rock. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Multi-Colored Slickrock.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Multi-Colored Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Yellow Grooves in Slickrock.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Yellow Grooves in Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Orange and Ivory Grooves in Slickrock.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Orange and Ivory Grooves in Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Yellow Slickrock with Tinges of Red.  Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Yellow Slickrock with Tinges of Red. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Slickrock Amoeba Trying to Move Uphill.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Slickrock Amoeba Trying to Move Uphill. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Contrasting Patterns and Colors of Slickrock.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Contrasting Patterns and Colors of Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Small Remnants of a Small Cascade.  Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Small Remnants of a Small Cascade. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Slickrock Waves Moving Against Gravity.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Slickrock Waves Moving Against Gravity. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Slickrock Ledges Moving With Gravity.  Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Slickrock Ledges Moving With Gravity. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Multi-Colored and Multi-Patterned Cobblestone.  Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Multi-Colored and Multi-Patterned Cobblestone. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Wider View of Previous Photograph.  Looking SE across the Paria River drainage.  Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Wider View of Previous Photograph. Looking SE across the Paria River drainage. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Slickrock Being Surveyed by a Raven.  Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Slickrock Being Surveyed by a Raven. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    A Ribbon Runs Through It.  Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    A Ribbon Runs Through It. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    An Uncommon Occurrence of Wood and Sand on Slickrock.  Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    An Uncommon Occurrence of Wood and Sand on Slickrock. Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Zen on the Yellow Rock Trail.  An ephemeral cloud and a solid rock share viewfinder space, while a tree has died trying to figure out what it all means.  Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Zen on the Yellow Rock Trail. An ephemeral cloud and a solid rock share viewfinder space, while a tree has died trying to figure out what it all means. Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

  • Photography locations - Utah

    Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

    08.20.13 | Permalink | 1 Comment

    I recently spent four months in my camper traveling through the southwest, Wyoming, and Montana. While in Utah, I was following the guidance of Laurent Martres in his wonderful, three-volume series titled “Photographing the Southwest.” Utah is covered in volume 1, with Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado addressed in volumes 2 and 3. I find it to be a remarkably good series with a lot of detailed locational information that can be of great use to anyone looking for good places to photograph in the American Southwest.

    Cottonwood Canyon in Utah is part of the Cockscomb, a 50-mile fault crossing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the north and on through the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument to the south. Cottonwood Canyon runs north-south between Scenic Byway 12 and US 89. I started at the southern end, with the road intersecting US 89 a couple of miles east of the Paria Contact Station. Cottonwood Canyon is administered by the BLM, and its liberal camping policies were much appreciated. While this section of road could be easily driven in a day, I spent five full days exploring the area during the last part of May.

    Two notes of caution. Much of the area and the road consist of clay, and you absolutely don’t want to try to drive on a clay road when it is wet. I was once stranded for three days on a clay road in eastern Montana during an unusual October rain, and again when visiting Freezeout Lake in north-central Montana when photographing snow geese in March (see my first blog post). Wet clay is a remarkable substance — as slick as ice and as sticky as glue. Even a four-wheel drive jeep with chains will have a very difficult time, and it will damage the road with deep ruts as it tries to negotiate a wet road. These ruts will be as hard as rock when the clay dries. I found the Cottonwood Canyon road to be remarkably smooth, and it could easily be driven in a passenger car. However, according to the BLM staff, the road is not always in the good shape that I encountered.

    Desert "Highway" of Clay.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS.

    Desert “Highway” of Clay. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    A second note of caution relates more to photography, and that is the disappointing fact that two sets of power lines run the length of the Cottonwood Canyon road. Sometimes it is a challenge to photograph a great composition while trying to omit the power lines. I was successful most of the time, but a couple of photographs simply could not avoid these lines, and some tedious processing was required to remove them. In other cases, the lines were sufficiently minor that I just left them in the photo.

    Intrusive Power Lines.  Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 210mm f/4 lens.

    Intrusive Power Lines. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 210mm f/4 lens.

    I spent three nights camped at the Box of the Paria in the southern portion of Cottonwood Canyon. Evidently the side road to the Box allowed 4WD vehicles to cross the Paria River and on to the Old Paria (Pahreah) Town Site. This informal route is now closed, so the road to the Box of the Paria is a secluded dead-end a couple of hundred yards off the main Cottonwood Canyon road; it makes for a good campsite. I didn’t hike to the old town site, but I would certainly try to do so on my next visit.

    The main attraction in this area has to be Yellow Rock, an immense area of colorful slickrock at the top of a steep climb. This area is so unique that I’m going to post a separate blog devoted just to this incredible area.

    The geological activity has produced some remarkable rock formations and a formidable wall to the west of the road for any hiker. For photographers like me with limited hiking abilities (in my case it’s due to artificial hip joints), the many views that can be photographed from the road is welcomed.

    Rugged Wall #1.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mk II lens.

    Rock Wall #1. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Rock Wall #2.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Rock Wall #2. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Rock Wall #3.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Rock Wall #3. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    In addition to the colorful and extremely rugged wall that parallels the road for much of its distance, especially in the southern portion, individual rock formations can be found on both sides of the road.

    Pointed Peak.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Pointed Peak. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Sandstone Spires.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II.

    Sandstone Spires. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II.

    Rock Formation and Cirrus Clouds.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Rock Formation and Cirrus Clouds. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Red Rocks and Cirrus Clouds.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Red Rocks and Cirrus Clouds. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Rock Fins.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Rock Fins. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Occasionally the clay formations take over and dominate the landscape.

    Clay Hill.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Clay Hill. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    One especially striking combination of rocks and clay stood out along the road. A large, smooth, purple clay hill contrasted dramatically from the sharp, rugged rocks around it. The clay hill looked like a huge, purple balloon among the rocks:

    Purple Clay Hill Amid Rocks.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Purple Clay Hill Amid Rocks. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Purple Clay (lower left) in Rocky Context.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Purple Clay (lower left) in Rocky Context. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Further to the north, the road passes along a series of serrated ridges. From a higher viewpoint to the north, the ridges look like the fins on the spines of a Stegosaurus dinosaur. These are formed as a result of earth movement along the fault line, but I want to know more detail about how these come to appear like this:

    "Stegosaurus" Hills.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

    “Stegosaurus” Hills. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

    "Stegosaurus" Hills, a Wider View.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    “Stegosaurus” Hills, a Wider View. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Close-up View, Looking North.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Close-up View, Looking North. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Still further to the north, the Cottonwood Canyon road passes through an area of rocks of fantastic colors and shapes. Appropriately, the area is called Candyland.

    Candyland #1.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Candyland #1. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Candyland #2.  Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2 lens.

    Candyland #2. Hasselblad H4D-40, Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2 lens.

    Toward the norther end of Cottonwood Canyon is Grosvenor Arch. The area has been developed somewhat with a restroom and short, paved trail from the parking area to the base of the arch. I camped here one night in a wide spot in the road very near the parking area. I was somewhat surprised at the number of people who arrived to view the arch. They probably came from Kodachrome Basin State Park and the towns of Henrieville and Cannonville, all of which are not too far distant to the north.

    Grosvenor Arch #1 (p.m.).  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Grosvenor Arch #1 (p.m.). Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 17mm TS-E f/4 lens.

    Grosvenor Arch #2 (a.m.).  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

    Grosvenor Arch #2 (a.m.). Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    Grosvenor Arch #3 (a.m.).  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

    Grosvenor Arch #3 (a.m.). Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens.

    While I spent five days in the area, two of those days were devoted to Yellow Rock, so I photographed for only three days along the length of the road. There is so much more to see and explore that a return visit is in order.

  • Photography locations - Utah

    Bryce Canyon National Park — A Special Trail

    05.26.13 | Permalink | 1 Comment

    Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah is a place that, like the Grand Canyon, draws people from all over the world.  The multi-colored hoodoos covering such a wide area are a fascinating sight.

    Just as at the Grand Canyon, a significant number of park visitors who are camping or staying in the lodge like to welcome the sun each day.  About an hour before sunrise, engines of RVs, campers, trucks, and automobiles begin to stir and traffic begins to flow toward the numerous viewpoints along the rim of the canyon:  Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, Bryce, and others.

    I drive a Dodge Ram diesel truck, and I really do mutter apologies to my fellow campers as the engine very loudly pulls me up a short hill at about 4:45 a.m. (end of May, DST), and then I breathe a sigh of relief as the truck coasts much more quietly downhill and out of the campground.

    Most of these early risers are photographers, and most are going just for the sunrise.  Once the sun has cleared the horizon and lit up the canyon, most leave the viewpoint and either head out on a trail or head back to get some more sleep.  A couple of days ago, prior to sunrise, I had trouble finding an open spot along the railing of Bryce Point , but 10 minutes after the sun had risen, I was the only person left, and I stayed for about an hour.  There were compositions everywhere, small snippets of the entire canyon that had a combination of light and hoodoos that I thought were especially appealing.  I simply enjoy the search, and the captures are added to my disk drive.

    I have found a very special spot in Bryce Canyon.  The rocks there at sunrise are like no others that I’ve seen elsewhere.  I found it yesterday.  I’ll share the “secret” with you.

    The trail begins at Sunset Point.  It’s the NE portion of the Navajo Loop trail, the portion that passes Thors Hammer on the downhill run.  Shortly after passing Thors Hammer and just before the trail enters a canyon, look at the hoodoos at the bottom of the slope on which you’re standing.  They simply glow.

    This happens right at sunrise and for about an hour afterward, assuming the horizon is clear and no clouds are blocking the sun.

    From the position you’re standing, Thors Hammer is to the left and looking about like this:

    Thors Hammer.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Thors Hammer. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

     

    The hoodoos and rocks below are reflecting light onto each other, and as a fellow photographer said, they look translucent.  Some are white, some have a hint of color to them, but the sunlight just seems to pass clear through them.  Here’s what I mean:

     

    Glowing Rocks.  Remember, the sun is on the opposite side of these rocks.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 lens.

    Glowing rocks. Remember, the sun is on the opposite side of these rocks. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 lens.

     

    Glowing Rocks.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 lens.

    Glowing rocks II. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 lens.

     

    Glowing Wall.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Glowing wall. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

     

    From higher up on the trail, these same rocks:

    Same rock wall, a different angle (and camera/lens).  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

    Same rock wall, a different angle (and camera/lens). Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

     

    Further in the distance:

    Distant Rock Walls/Columns.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens.

    Distant rock walls/columns. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 400mm f/5.6 lens.

     

    More to the north, the hoodoos stay shaded longer, but when the sun is finally high enough to strike them, they reflect a similar light.  Here’s one particular set of hoodoos seen with progressively longer lenses (these hoodoos are also published in the park’s guide):

    Distant Glowing Hoodoos.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Distant glowing hoodoos. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

     

    A bit closer (this is very similar to the photo in the park's brochure).  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    A bit closer (this is very similar to the photo in the park’s brochure). Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

     

    And closer still.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

    And closer still. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

     

    Others in that same area (these two photos have three hoodoos in common):

    Striking light-colored hoodoos. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

     

    Hoodoos in the same area.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

    Hoodoos in the same area. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

     

    Other rocks and columns in the area reflect their inherent golden copper color, just like Thors Hammer, and they really stand out against a distant background that is a different color and still shaded:

     

    Gold columns against a distant, shaded background.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Gold columns against a distant, shaded background. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

     

    Hoodoos in the making.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

    Hoodoos in the making. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS lens.

     

    I like to photograph solitary trees, and this one is doing well standing between three different walls of rock; perhaps it’s a natural tanning booth:

    Ponderosa getting a golden tan.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Ponderosa getting a golden tan. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

     

    Finally, far to the south, just below Bryce Point that by this time of morning has largely emptied of photographers, light-colored hoodoos reflect the morning sun, and the right combination of rock and light can make for a keeper photograph.  This is what I like to hunt for:

     

    Distant columns reflecting the sun.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Distant columns reflecting the sun. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

     

    I consider this portion of the Navajo Loop Trail to be a special place in a special park, well worth spending more than the first 10 minutes of sunrise.

  • Photography locations - Utah

    My Visit to Zion National Park, Utah

    My first impression of Zion National Park in Utah was made in January, 2011 (described in an early posting here), and I concluded the place was an icicle. It was beautiful, but the trees were bare and ice was everywhere. I didn’t stay long, but I knew I wanted to come back.

    After I sold my house in Walla Walla (after three years on the market) and moved into my camper for the duration, I made my way to Zion after a slow trip down the Oregon coast in April. I arrived on April 12, 2013, about a week or so after most of the trees had leafed out — very good timing on my part.

    Zion has two campgrounds, one that usually requires reservations (Watchman Campground) and another (South Campground) that is first-come. Here’s a tip for getting a campsite at South Campground without having to wait for the current occupants to actually leave: Very early in the morning, the campground hosts pull the paper stub from the clip posted at each campsite. If the post clip has no paper stub, it means those people are leaving sometime before 11:00. Anyone wanting a campsite could fill out the small envelope available at the campground entrance, tear off the stub and place it in the empty clip on their desired site (if the current occupant are up and around, it would be best to talk with them first), and then simply wait in a nearby place (picnic area, overflow parking area) for the site to become vacant. That beats driving around hoping to be in the right place when someone leaves, especially when other would-be campers are doing the same thing.

    For those not wanting to camp, there are a variety of places to stay in the adjacent town of Springdale, within walking or biking distance from the campgrounds.

    Between the end of March and the first part of November, travel on the scenic drive that goes to the heart of the park is restricted to shuttle busses — private vehicles are not allowed. However, private vehicles can drive as far as the bridge over the North Fork of the Virgin River (this section includes the Human History Museum and a wonderful morning view of the Towers of the Virgin sandstone cliffs), and private vehicles can continue on Highway 9 through the tunnel to the east side of the park. Large vehicles, including my camper, must pay a $15 fee to go through the tunnel, because the tunnel has to be closed to traffic from the other direction to allow a large vehicle to drive down the middle of this relatively small tunnel. Those who are staying at the Zion Lodge get a special pass that allows them to continue on the scenic drive only as far as the lodge. Accommodations can be made for people with handicaps to travel the entire length of the scenic drive in their own vehicle, but from my experience at Zion such permits are very limited. [Side note: I’m handicapped and have a handicap parking decal, but I’m able to get about on my own most of the time, and that’s true of a vast majority of holders of handicap parking decals, in my opinion. The use of such decals greatly exceeds the true need, again in my opinion and experience.]

    Good news: the shuttle system works marvelously, and it’s a wonderful alternative to a roadway jammed with cars and RVs. The hub of the shuttle system is a very short walk from both campgrounds, and the system also connects with downtown Springdale so those staying there can just leave their vehicles parked during their entire stay at Zion if they wish.

    The busses leave every 10-15 minutes, and they are never crowded (based on my April experience) as they are in the Grand Canyon (based on my subsequent April experience). The busses stop at a number of established locations and trailheads on their way to the north end of the scenic drive. Passengers can embark or disembark at any of these stops, and the ride is free. I think the shuttle system has greatly enhanced the experience at Zion.

    Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 17mm T/S lens

    Shuttle bus on the scenic drive.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 17mm T/S lens.

    The sandstone peaks and cliffs are some of the tallest in the world. The beauty of sandstone is simply incredible: such a diversity of colors, textures, angles, and shapes! Some of my favorite photos are these:

    Zion sandstone, somewhere along the scenic drive.  Hasselblad H4D-40, HC100mm lens.

    Zion sandstone, somewhere along the scenic drive. The trees provide a scale perspective.  Hasselblad H4D-40, HC100mm lens.

    Abraham, one of the three patriarchs.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Abraham, one of the three patriarchs. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Contrasting cliffs, near the Big Bend on the scenic drive.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Contrasting cliffs, near the Big Bend on the scenic drive. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Bad weather often makes for good photography. On a warm spring day that started out with blue skies, Zion had a small snow squall followed by shifting fog in the afternoon. It was a wonderful time to have a camera, and the rest of the day was a lot of fun.

    Fog and sun in Zion.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Fog and sun in Zion. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Small peak shrouded in fog.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Small peak shrouded in fog. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Fog and formations.  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Fog and formations. Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    I got up early on several mornings to photograph stars. At the end of the campground, I found a clear area that allowed a view of The Watchman towering above. Light from the town of Springdale made the mountain more visible. I also found that the dense portion of the Milky Way galaxy came up from the horizon about 5:00 a.m. at this time of year, just before the first light of the sun started to dim the stars. I don’t do many shots like this, and it was much fun despite the early hour (or maybe even because of being active while everyone else slept).

    Watchman at night (i.e., Night Watchman).  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 50mm f/1.2 @ f/1.6 for 20 seconds.

    Watchman at night (i.e., Night Watchman). Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 50mm f/1.2 @ f/1.6 for 20 seconds.

    Another diversion in Zion National Park is rock climbing, and rock climbers could be seen on walls all around the park. Shuttle drivers would often slow down to point them out to passengers. I am content to stay on the ground looking up through a viewfinder.

    Rock climber (below and to the left of center).  Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    Rock climber (below and to the left of center). Canon 1DMkIV, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    The most memorable and unique hike I’ve ever taken was done on this trip to Zion when I climbed to the top of Angels Landing, one of the best-known hikes in the park. Because of my inability to walk long distances or carry heavy loads, I left my big cameras in the camper and took only a cell phone camera. The iPhone 5 camera did remarkably well, and I’ll save that for another post. Below is a photograph of Angels Landing (tall peak in the center) with the Virgin River in the foreground.

    Angels Landing and the North Fork of the Virgin River.  Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens.

    Angels Landing and the North Fork of the Virgin River. Canon 1DsMkIII, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens.

    This description centers on the main scenic drive in Zion National Park; it’s where the majority of park visitors experience Zion. The northwest portion of the park, reached by traveling I-15 north to Exit 40, is called the Kolob Canyons. I visited there one afternoon but didn’t do any hiking. When I return to Zion, I will spend more time here, as I’ve read of some relatively easy and beautiful hikes (especially the Taylor Creek trail).

    Another long road through the park leaves from the town of Virgin and is called the Kolob Terrace Road. It’s an unpaved road that is impassible when wet, and I didn’t want to travel a road like that while carrying a heavy camper. Next time I’ll unload the camper and take a look at that part of the park. There is a primitive campground toward the end of the road.

    Finally, many people enjoy walking up the North Fork of the Virgin River, beginning about a mile (on a paved path) past the last shuttle stop on the scenic drive. I don’t do well on uneven, slippery surfaces, especially with camera equipment that doesn’t like to get wet, so I’ve never had this experience at Zion. Still, I’ve seen some families with youngsters returning from a hike in the river, and they were in great spirits from the outing.

    The east side of Zion, past the tunnel on Highway 9, offers a very different feel and look from the scenic drive. There is less vegetation, and the sandstone formations are beautifully different than those in Zion Canyon. I want to get more photos of that area before I try to describe it in pictures — yet another visit and another blog post.

    Let me know if you have any questions about Zion, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

  • Photography locations - Utah

    Southwest Utah in Winter: Bryce and Zion in January, 2011

    Sunrise in Bryce Canyon, January 10, 2011. Temperature was -6 degrees F.
    Canon 1DsMkIII, 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    I traveled to southwest Utah (and points beyond) during a 6-week trip in January/February of 2011 to seek new landscapes and warmer temperatures. Wow, minus 6 degrees on my first morning at Bryce! I haven’t experienced cold like that since growing up in Glasgow in eastern Montana. As a kid, temperatures below minus 20 degrees were common every winter. Since moving to Washington (and especially western Washington with the marine influence), I haven’t come close to feeling those kinds of temperatures.

    I was traveling in my camper with all the comforts of home, minus the space. I felt so fortunate, though; camping next to me were two young guys in a tent. Sorry, but I’m way past that stage of my life.

    I had long wanted to photograph Bryce Canyon with snow. I’ve been to Bryce on several occasions, and the red spires are always, well, inspiring. The multiple spires form a very rugged and beautiful landscape, and I’ve followed the trails throughout these formations. But the combination of red rocks, white snow, and blue skies has always been intriguing, and I was wanting to experience this myself.

    I arrived at Bryce mid-afternoon and quickly found a campsite. Only one campground is kept open at that time of year, but there were only a handful of campers. It’s too bad that so many people miss the beauty that challenging weather often brings. I went to Sunset Point as the sun was setting, and then returned to the campsite for the long winter night.

    I like to be at a location to begin photographing well before sunrise, and a flashlight is a standard part of my equipment. So it was at Bryce, and I arrived an Sunrise Point in the dark. Unfortunately, I got mixed up with Sunset Point, and I was looking for the landmarks that I had seen the previous evening. I walked around in the dark for about 30 minutes looking for the trailhead, drove around some more, and finally set out on the only trailhead I could find.

    When I got to the rim a short distance away, I turned left, confident that I would find the overlook along this trail. I was dressed warmly around my torso, but my feet, legs, hands, and head were not adequately protected from these cold temperatures for long periods of time. I walked along the rim for about 30 minutes, realized I was going in the wrong direction, so I retraced my steps back to where I had turned and continued along the rim in the other direction. By this time I had been walking for about 90 minutes, and light was beginning to creep over the horizon.

    Within a short distance I came to Sunrise Point. If I had initially turned right instead of left, I would have easily found the vantage point much sooner. I set up and took some photos of the rock towers prior to sunrise when the light was softer and more evenly distributed across the landscape.

    Bryce Canyon Prior to Sunrise. Canon 1DsMkIII, 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    As soon as the sun crests the horizon, the light becomes directional and intense, shadows form, and the contrast is much greater. The resulting image at this moment is shown at the top of this page.

    During the winter months, the sun rises much further to the south. As a result, the entire canyon doesn’t fill with light, and the southern part of the canyon remains in shade for quite some time. In the spring when the sun moves northward, the entire basin will catch the first rays of the sun, and this will be repeated again in the fall as the sunrises retreat to the south. While the entire basin filled with light is certainly dramatic, it doesn’t (usually!) have snow, and snow was my goal.

    I was amply rewarded for my efforts. The light was beautiful. The red rocks were beautiful. The snow was beautiful. The blue sky with cloud patterns was beautiful. And I was freezing. I took as many pictures as I could, switched to film in the Pentax 645 for some additional photos, and then thought about hiking down the trails for some additional photos. By now I had been out in the cold weather for nearly 3 hours. I realized it was getting difficult to walk and to talk. Any thought of hiking into the canyon was quickly dismissed.

    I tried to warm up by the fire at Ruby’s Inn, but finally paid $3 for one of the best showers I’ve had in my life. Even after the shower, I didn’t feel too well for several hours. This was a warning to me, and it should be to others as well, that cold temperatures are nothing to fool with, especially in areas where few people are to be found. I’ve since purchased pac boots, lined pants, warmer gloves, and headgear that will cover my ears, neck, and much of my face. Next time I’ll be more prepared for the cold.

    Columns Close-up. Canon 1DsMkIII, 70-200mm f/4 IS lens.

    ZION

    I had driven past the entrance to Zion on my previous trips to Bryce, but I had never turned right to visit this national park.  Wow, what I had been missing.

    Zion is a relatively small national park.  It is surrounded by tall peaks and buttes, but most of the human activity is concentrated on the valley floor.  An extensive trail system covers portions of the park, and this is the best way to get away from the crowds and have a more intimate experience with the park.

    I entered on the east entrance on Highway 9.  Once past the entrance station, there are several pullouts that offer the first good views of what Zion has to offer.

    Zion Butte. Canon 1DsMkIII, Zeiss 50mm Makro, two shots stitched.

    The rock formations and surfaces in the area past the entrance station were exceptionally interesting, but relatively few trails can be found in this area. The east rim trail heads north from the entrance station. It is a relatively long trail and eventually connects with other trails on the valley floor. A much shorter and popular trail begins at the east entrance to the tunnel and leads to a dramatic overlook of the Zion valley below. I was anxious to experience the valley in the few hours that remained in the afternoon, so I postponed the overlook trail to the next day.

    The 1.1 mile tunnel that takes park visitors to the valley below was completed in 1930. However, it is a relatively narrow tunnel, and large vehicles must travel down the center. For this reason, traffic coming from the other direction is stopped while a large vehicle is in the tunnel, and a $15 fee (as of 2011) is charged to the driver of that monster; I was one such driver. Driving through such a long tunnel is an experience in itself, as the road is anything but straight.

    Once I was safely through the tunnel, I continued the numerous switchbacks to the valley floor. Now the sandstone cliffs and rocky peaks towered above me, and I could understand why the park was so popular with visitors.

    Zion Craig. Canon 1DsMkIII, 24-70mm f2.8 lens.

    I continued north on the main valley road and looked for a trail that I might take into some areas removed from the roadway. But I quickly discovered one of the difficulties of winter in the park: icy trails. The many hikers had turned snow-covered trails to ice, and it was treacherous footing in many sections. With my artificial hips, the thought of slipping and falling on hard ice did not appeal to me, and that greatly limited the trails I was able to attempt.

    Despite warning signs that the trail was closed a short distance ahead, I did head out on the Emerald Pools trail. By walking on the edge of the trail, I was able to avoid much of the ice created by previous hikers. The trail eventually came to an overhang, and a small stream above sprayed water across the trail to the slope below. Of course, water and sub-freezing temperatures had created huge amounts of ice here, and this is where the trail had prudently been closed. Not only was the ice several inches thick on the trail and short section of railing that keeps hikers from falling, but I could hear large chunks of ice breaking and falling above. Still, I wanted a better angle for a photo, so I inched around the barricade to a location where I could look back up the trail at the icy conditions.

    Icy Trail to Emerald Pools. Canon 1DsMkIII, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

    Icicles hung down from the overhang. The small ones were photogenic; the large one were dangerous. After getting a few photographs, I quickly retraced my careful steps and left the area.


    Icicles Along the Emerald Pools Trail. Canon 1DsMkIII, 70-200mm f/4 lens.

    The next day found a completely overcast sky, and that precluded any more photos of the towering cliffs. I drove back up the valley road, imagining what all of the trees lining the North Fork of the Virgin River must look like in the spring, summer, and autumn. I came to the end of the road where, during warmer weather, many hikers continue on up the river through narrow canyons. I was content to explore the area and look for interesting ice patterns in the small pools at the edge of the river.

    Ice and Rock Patterns. Canon 1DsMkIII, Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro lens.

    Because of the overcast skies and my desire to get to Bosque del Apache, I left Zion after only a day and a half, an area in which a person could easily spend a week or more exploring. At least I left knowing what a beautiful place this little valley is and that I would be returning during a spring or fall season.

    Red Sandstone Walls of Zion. Canon 1DsMkIII, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.