Last week I did one of my landscape photography trips. I flew to Phoenix and met up with my friend Ben. We usually do some pretty ambitious trips where we try to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. This trip was no different. We did about 2000 miles in 5 days. It was amazing to say the least. Going to northern Arizona and southern Utah, you pretty much expect clear blue skies which is not great for landscape photos. However, every day we were blessed with some amazing clouds which was awesome for our photos.
Day 1 – 4/29/15
Ben picked me up from the airport and we immediately started the 4.5 hour drive to Horseshoe Bend near Page, AZ. Horseshoe Bend is one of my favorite places in the world. It is unspoiled nature at it’s finest. When you walk up to the cliff edge, you get a 180 degree panoramic view of this incredible stretch of river cutting through Marble Canyon. There’s been a lot of changes here, it looks like the parking lot is 5X bigger than it used to be. Lots more people than we were used to seeing there but that didn’t take away from the spectacular view. We stayed until sunset to capture the evening light.
After the sun went down, we walked back to the car and started the 2.5 hour drive to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. When we arrived at the Grand Canyon, it was well after dark. Rather than going to the hotel, we stopped in at a few of the viewpoints (Navajo Point and Moran point) on the east rim to photograph the canyon by moonlight. It was very peaceful there.
That night we stayed at Red Feather Lodge in Tusayan which is just outside the park.
Day 2 – 4/30/15
After a 4:30 am alarm, it was only about a 15 minute drive to the Yavapai viewpoint to catch the sunrise. It was a very peaceful morning with no wind which made it very enjoyable to just sit and soak in the view.
We then took the canyon rim shuttle to explore some of the other parts of the south rim. Our main stop was at Hopi point which gave some amazing views east and west.
Next, we did a 3 hour drive over to Monument Valley where we met up with a tour guide from Monument Valley Safari.
Our tour guide was Toney who was a soft-spoken hard-working Navajo man.
He took us on a 3 hour drive up to the vista on Hunts Mesa which overlooks Monument Valley from the back side.
I asked him to stop to get a picture of the beautiful skies over El Capitan.
It was a long and slow drive that was very bumpy which rattled your brain around. The trusty Suburban that we were driving in got stuck a few times but Toney managed to keep us on our way.
When we arrived at the top, the viewpoint took my breath away. It was incredible.
Toney went to set up camp and left Ben and I to explore for a few hours and photograph the sunset.
The clouds started to come in pretty thick but they broke here and there to give us some beautiful evening light.
After the sun went down, Toney came and picked us up and drove us to the campsite. He already had our tent prepared, a fire going, and dinner started.
He cooked us a T-bone steak, ribs, corn, and potatoes over the fire. It was AMAZING!!
After dinner was done, we just sat out and enjoyed a peaceful evening. It was so quiet out there…no breeze, no crickets, just silence.
Toney treated us to the full Navajo experience when he got his drum out and started to sing a Navajo song.
Day 3 – 5/1/15
The next morning we woke up at 5:00 am to photograph the stars. We were out there during a mostly full moon which washed out most of the night sky but just after 5:00, the moon set just before the first light of day. We were able to see the beautiful night sky with a quick view of the Milky Way.
After we were done photographing the sky, Toney drove us a few miles away to another beautiful overlook which served as a perfect spot to watch the sunrise from behind Monument Valley.
We went back to the campsite where Toney cooked up spam, potatoes, eggs, fruit, etc. It’s probably been 20 years since I’ve eaten any spam.
As we were cleaning up, I loved watching the morning light start to light up the brush and trees.
We started the drive down back down into the valley. There was one stretch trying to get up a sand dune where we got stuck for a while. Thankfully we had some wood planks that helped get some traction. These suburbans definitely take a beating!!
Overall, it was an amazing trip and I highly recommend doing a trip with Toney from Monument Valley Safari.
When we got back to Ben’s truck in the late morning, we started the drive out of Monument Valley. Along highway 163 there is a beautiful look back towards the tribal lands.
We spent the rest of the day driving towards Moab. We stopped at Goosenecks State Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, and the Needles District which is part of Canyonlands National Park. Unfortunately the mid-day light was flat and boring and none of these areas photographed well.
Sometimes it’s just the simple scenes that make the most interesting pictures.
From there it was on to Moab. After checking in to our hotel we drove to the main part of Canyonlands National Park which is also known as the Island in the Sky.
There was a big storm coming through as we were driving into the park which made for some dramatic skies!
We chased the evening light but we lost. Everywhere we went, we were at the wrong angle and just couldn’t get a good view of the sunset. There were lots of clouds so the sun was mostly hidden anyway. I was able to get a few pictures that I liked but we were running from one place to another trying to get the perfect spot and nothing was just right. Last time we were here was winter and the sun set much farther south than it did today so we just found ourselves in the wrong spots.
After the sun went down, we stopped for the evening with a clifftop view and setup for dinner. We had brought along some backpacker meals for just such an occasion. It made us realize that we hadn’t been backpacking together in 10 years.
Day 4 – 5/2/15
This morning we got up at 4:00am and headed to Arches National Park to photograph the stars over the rock formations. We headed to the Windows area where there are a number of very accessible arches. It was a another peaceful morning. The moonlight washed out most of the sky but there were still enough stars for some interesting photos. The moonlight was bright enough to light up the rocks at the North Window
From the North Window we had a nice view of Turret arch.
We walked over to Turret Arch for a few images as well.
While waiting for the light to change, we took a few goofy portraits of ourselves. Ben mentioned that we’ve been friends for 21 years and it’s pretty cool that we can still goof around like we did when we were a lot younger.
As the morning sky started to get brighter, we went back over to the North Window and shared a beautiful sunrise through the arch with a number of other tourists/photographers.
We had already been out photographing for 3 hours and it was only 7:30am. As the light started to get less interesting, we started driving towards the exit of the park but stopped at Balanced Rock for a nice far away view of the Turret Arch along with a quick stop at “The Courthouse” for a few images of the stunning cliffs.
Around 7:30am we headed back to the hotel for breakfast and a nap. We had originally planned to spend the entire day photographing Canyonlands National Park and then leave after sunset. However, we would have had nearly 12 hours to photograph the park with boring light. Instead, we decided to head out early and change our route. We decided to head west and go to Zion National Park which is one of our favorites. There were a few stops along the way. First, in Capital Reef National Park and then over the mountain pass towards Grand Staircase National Monument. The deep blue sky and white puffy clouds mixed with the red rocks was spectacular.
We didn’t have time to stop at Bryce National Park on this trip so we passed it by but we did stop at a few turnouts just west of the park in an area called Red Canyon.
We continued on to Zion National Park and upon arrival, we parked the car and did the 20 minute hike to the overlook trail which provides a spectacular view from up high.
Then we headed to the canyon junction bridge overlooking the Virgin River and the Watchman for a beautiful spot to watch the light change over the stunning rock formations.
After sunset we headed to Springdale right outside the park to get dinner and a hotel.
All I can say, is don’t try to eat dinner at the Pioneer Restaurant and don’t stay at the Terrace Brook Lodge! We had heard bad reviews about the hotel so we booked in at the Pioneer instead. When we arrived at the Pioneer, there was a note on the door telling us that they gave our room away and booked us at the Terrace Brook instead. The Terrace Book deserves every bit of it’s one star rating.
Day 4 – 5/2/15
We woke up at 5:30 am to do sunrise in the canyon but it wasn’t great. Zion is not known for it’s sunrises. We were hoping to get some morning light to hit the cliffs and get a reflection in the water so we set up early, found a spot with a reflection, but it was mostly dried up. Here is a quick behind the scenes photo and the resulting pic.
Once the shuttle buses that go deeper into the park started to run, we rode one of those to the back of Zion Canyon and did a few photos at some of the stops along the way back.
Here’s a photo from Big Bend where the river/road wraps around this towering cliff. Photos do NOT do this place justice. It’s amazing to stand there and look nearly straight up at these towering red cliffs.
We also had a nice stop at Court of the Patriarchs. The three towering rocks were named after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A storm with a little rain was blowing through which made for some beautiful cloud formations.
We then headed out of the park and drove to the Coral Pink sand dunes park. It was a neat park to see but the light was flat while we were there and footprints and tire tracks from 4-wheelers had spoiled the landscape for any professional photos so I just have a quick shot of Ben and I.
We continued on towards the Vermillion Cliffs. There was a huge storm on the way which made a very dramatic photo.
We stopped at the overlook for the Vermillion Cliffs and also at Lee’s Ferry overlooking Marble Canyon but the light wasn’t right for professional photos so we just took a fun pic of us.
We then continued on back to the Grand Canyon. After checking in to our hotel and having a little rest, we headed to Yavapai point for sunset. The location was VERY crowded with lots of loud and obnoxious people that ruined the atmosphere. It was definitely not a peaceful spot to watch the sunset. However, thankfully the photos do not convey that and only capture the visual beauty of the location. Here is a sequence of images as we watched the light change.
For a more peaceful experience, I would recommend taking the shuttle to Pima point and then taking a short walk along the rim trim to get away from people.
Day 5 – 5/3/15
This morning we were up at 4:15am to head out for one last sunrise in the Grand Canyon. We were at the shuttle bus stop around 4:40am and there were already a LOT of people waiting for the bus. We rode the bus over to Hopi point which provides a great view looking East. This was an absolutely spectacular sunrise! Clouds above you are key to having a good sunrise and with the storms coming today, there were lots of layers of clouds. The light changed in dramatic fashions.
After the sunrise we continued on the shuttle to Pima point which we had all to ourselves.
It was very stormy and rainy all day today which really made for a good day to drive down Route 66 to photography some old cars and such.
As we drove south out of the Grand Canyon there was a gas station that had a number of unique things to photograph.
We were expecting to see a lot more of that along Route 66 between Kingman and Seligman. Unfortunately we didn’t find nearly as much as we had hoped.
There ultimately were two spots that led to a lot of cool photos. The first was the general store in Hackberry.
I loved all the textures on the old rusted cars.
The next worthwhile stop where there were lots of fun things to photograph was in Seligman. There were lots of neat old buildings and cars to look at and photograph.
I found the front ends of some of these old cars to be fascinating.
We then had a very rainy drive back to Sedona. Within minutes of getting to an overlook of Red Rock, we got to see a double rainbow. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
We started with a beautiful sunrise, had mostly gloomy weather when it didn’t matter, and then perfect timing to catch this rainbow. God was really at work today! It was one of the brightest rainbows I’ve ever seen.
With the storm clouds blowing in and out of the scene we stayed here for about an hour just watching the light change.
The light on the rocks with the deep background sky was incredible. What a way to finish the trip!!