This past week I had the opportunity to visit my best friend Ben in Phoenix and go on an 1800 mile road trip around northern Arizona and southern Utah to do landscape photography.
Day 1 – 12/14/12
Within an a couple hours of leaving the Phoenix airport, we were driving up through Flagstaff and hit a major blizzard. I didn’t come to Arizona for a blizzard but…here it was anyway. Although it did make for some beautiful snow covered trees and pretty photos.
We must have passed 6 or 7 cars spun out on the road including one car that was totally upside down. Thankfully the police were already handling it. We were grateful for 4 wheel drive on Ben’s truck.
Humphrey’s peak was totally enveloped in a storm and as soon as we crossed over to the other side, the sky cleared up and we were once again driving through dry desert with open skies and tumbleweeds. As we approached the Grand Canyon, another storm was blowing in. We were greeted by a full rainbow.
When we arrived at the first lookout point, the wind was whipping and it must have been a zero degree windchill. It hurt just to stand there.
The stormy skies over the Grand Canyon made for some really interesting photos. Thankfully we got there when we did because within about 20 minutes the storm had totally rolled over the canyon and you couldn’t see ANYTHING.
We then drove to Page, AZ where we spent the night.
Day 2 – 12/15/12
At 6:15am we headed out to the viewpoint at Horseshoe Bend just outside of town. It’s one of my favorite views that I’ve ever been to because you can literally walk right out to the edge of a 1000ft high cliff. It was raining when we pulled into the parking lot but stopped as soon as we started to walk out there. Although we never had cool light in the sky, we still got amazing soft light from the overcast morning which I actually prefer anyway.
Ben took a couple cool shots of me on the cliffs.
Looking back the other way we had a beautiful cloudy morning which is not what I expected in Arizona but I was grateful for it.
While we were out there we met a really cool guy name Mylo Fowler who does some amazing 4×5 photography work.
Next we met up with Brian from Hummer Adventures who took us on a private tour of Secret Canyon which is a slot Canyon resembling some of the more popular ones such as Antelope Canyon. From a photography perspective, a private tour is the way to go so you can setup your tripod and not have people in your way. The ride itself was pretty cool with some serious off-road driving.
The slot canyon was spectacular and equally impressive to the more widely known slot canyons in the area.
By the end of our walk through the canyon it started snowing like crazy!
After leaving Page, we drove up to the Wahweep overlook which provides a beautiful view of Lake Powell and some of the surrounding Mesas.
We had planned on driving north through Grand Staircase/Escalante National Park however due to the storm, we were told that the dirt roads were in terrible condition. They have some sort of soil that when it gets wet, it turns into a mucous-like consistency which is slippery and slimy making it very dangerous on some already precarious roads. Not being able to go straight north through the park led us on a long detour around. This took us first to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes area which was completely covered in snow and didn’t look like much. Since we were driving near Zion National Park and Bryce National Park, even though we both had been to them multiple times, we just had to stop in again. Zion was also very stormy which allowed for some really unique photos.
We spent the night in Springdale, UT just outside the park.
Day 3 – 12/16/12
We started the day really early again today in hopes of catching some beautiful morning light in the park. However, it was still completely overcast as the storms had not left the area. We decided to head out before sunrise and make our way to Bryce Canyon and still catch some morning light. About an hour outside of Zion, we came to the edge of the cloud line and were then greeted with sunny blue skies.
In this photo, the morning sun was back-lighting the mist coming off a nearby stream.
Bryce Canyon was spectacular as always. The snow covered orange hoodoos with the brilliant blue sky created a stunning combination of color.
Next we drove on highway 12 towards Capital Reef National Park. There is a stretch of highway between Escalante, UT and Torrey, UT that is spectacular with many beautiful vistas. We didn’t realize that the road was going to bring us up to nearly 10,000 ft. We got above the main evergreen tree line and were left with fields of aspen trees covered in glistening snow and ice with blue skies one way and dark moody clouds the other way. It was breathtaking and a perfect place to stop for some tailgating and lunch.
Shortly after passing Torrey, UT, we came to Capital Reef. We had planned on spending half a day exploring the park but due to our detour in Zion and Bryce which lead to a lot more driving, we were running behind and really wanted to make it out to Moab, UT for a sunset over the canyons. We ended up passing through Capital Reef and stopped for just a few pics.
We high tailed it to Moab and decided to go to Dead Horse Point State Park for the sunset. We arrived there right at 5:00pm and literally had about 5 minutes worth of sun before it dipped behind Canyonlands National Park in the distance. After the sun dipped the sky caught fire and left us with a breathtaking panoramic view.
After enjoying this dazzling display of color we went and stayed the night in Moab.
Day 4 – 12/17/12
One of the things that I was most excited about photographing the sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. I had seen photos of this before and it’s probably the thing I’ve wanted to see most in this whole region. Therefore, we started the day at 6:00am and drove the roughly 45 minute drive to get to the parking area, then walked the short trail out to the overlook. To be honest, I was pretty shocked at how small the arch is. I was expecting a massive arch and this was really small. There were already 4 other photographers there when we got there and two of them were nice enough to let me squeeze my tripod in between them. Shortly after, about 15 other people showed up and there was barely room for anyone to take photos from a good angle. Although the arch was smaller than I expected, it was still absolutely breathtaking!
This gives you a bit of perspective on the size:
Once the sun came up, it lit up the canyons. We went to most of the major overlooks to find our spot for sunset tonight. The winter sun comes in on such a low angle, all day it led to beautiful shadows in the canyons.
Not far from the visitor center is an overlook where you can see the Shafer trail which is a harrowing road that brings you down the side of the canyons and into the valley. The road was closed for construction but it’s pretty cool just to see it from the top.
We found a nice spot to relax for a bit with a beautiful view.
Next we drove roughly an hour into Arches National Park. Although they are practically connected, Arches and Canyonlands are VERY different. Arches is filled with beautiful rock formations that we could have easily spent days photographing.
Our first stop was into an area they call the Windows as there are stone archways that provide beautiful views as you look through them. We decided to stand in the South Window to give a size perspective.
Right near the window area is a short trail that leads to Double Arch which is a very unique rock formation.
Before leaving the park we checked out a few more of the main viewpoints including the view of Delicate Arch from the lower viewpoint.
We planned on hiking out to Delicate Arch in the morning and for now, it was time to head back to Canyonlands to photograph the sunset. It was a long extra drive for just shooting the sunset, but totally worth it. It was probably one of the most spectacular displays of color I’ve ever seen. The sky was on fire! The Green River Overlook has to be the best spot in the park for a sunset.
It was extremely cold and windy up on the ridge but been found a fairly sheltered spot with an old twisted juniper tree that made for an amazing foreground so we decided just to stay there and enjoy the incredible scene that was unfolding. Every few minutes the color changes into something even pretty than before. Ben got this nice shot of us sitting on the cliff.
When the show was over, we drove back to Moab for the night.
Day 5 – 12/18/12
The next morning we wanted to see the sunrise at Dead Horse Point so we ventured out early one more time. The morning sun should light up the cliffs. Unfortunately with another storm coming in, the clouds were too thick to get much sunlight through, however, it did lead to some amazing cloudscapes.
Next we headed for arches and did the 3 mile round trip hike to Delicate Arch which is a really unique rock formation because it is a MASSIVE free standing archway. We stood inside it to give a better perspective of size.
The winds were WHIPPING around and we were glad to head out of there and back to the car. Our next stop was a few hours drive. We were heading to the Valley of the Gods which is similar in landscape to the more popular Monument Valley right nearby. On our way, we were driving down highway 261 which goes over 7000 ft. With another storm coming in at the high elevations there was some snow but really heavy fog which made driving super slow. I shot this with my iphone through the car window while Ben was driving.
We were extremely confused at how the Valley of the Gods was only a few miles away, yet we were still at extremely high elevations. We were also confused by the amount of time the GPS was telling us it would take to get there. What was pretty insane is that highway 261 is a fairly street, fast driving, pave, rural highway. Then all of a sudden, it comes to the edge of what seemed like a 1500 ft. cliff and the road turns into a dirt road with steep, winding switchbacks as you traverse down the side of the cliff. Then at the bottom, it picks up into a highway again. It was so weird, I had to share the bing map:
Valley of the God’s is supposedly where the Mesa is located that was used in the 80s television show Airwolf. We let our nerdy side take over and decided to try to find the Mesa but unfortunately we did not. It was till beautiful. Here’s a pano shot with my iphone.
We passed some old gnarly trees which made for some dramatic elements with the deep blue stormy sky behind them.
After leaving the park and not finding the Mesa we were looking for, we found later that the Mesa airwolf flies out of was actually an artists composite of three different Mesa’s in the area so it doesn’t even exist…oh well!
Our last stop was nearby Monument Valley. We’ve been there a few times but never during stormy skies which provided the opportunity for some moody black and white photos. The highway heading into Monument Valley from the north provides an amazing view with the road leading to the Mesas.
When I got out of the car to shoot that last photo, my brand new Canon 5D Mark 3 fell out of the car and shattered the LCD screen….AAAARGH!!
Once inside the park, we were both exhausted and didn’t feel like driving the 17 mile extremely bumpy dirt road around the park so we stopped for a few of the nice views.
We then began the long 5.5 hour drive back to Phoenix and kept coherent by playing 80s TV theme music trivia thanks to youtube!
That night we stayed at Ben’s house.
Day 6 – 12/19/12
I had to fly home today but before going to the airport I wanted to get a few cactus pics as I’ve never been in an area with the big Saguaro cacti.
It was time to leave after a long but amazing trip. So glad to have a friend like Ben who I can do this stuff with!!