I had a crazy nine days in Utah exploring areas I had not been to before, while trying to capture some fall color. The Weather Gods gave me clouds only on one day so most of the time was spent searching for more intimate scenes that would not have sky in them.
After flying into Las Vegas, I made it up to Snow Canyon State Park for sunset. I hiked out to an area called Petrified Dunes, which seemed like a perfect name, as the mounds of rock looked as though they might have been sand at one point. I was even allowed a few clouds, although that would be the last I would see of that for days.
The following was a long day to get up to Hanksville to explore the canyons south of there to Hite, Utah and the area around Lake Powell. On a previous trip there in August, I did not get the chance to photograph the east side of Factory Butte before sunrise during what is known as “blue hour” for the bluish cast that you get before the sun comes up.
With that accomplished, it was down to the area of red rock canyons around Hite. This was the one day that I actually had clouds! I did my best to make the most of it. The Cottonwood trees turn yellow that time of year and the ones there did not disappoint.
Capitol Reef National Park is west of Hanksville, and while a small national park, it has some neat rock formations and some really nice Cottonwood trees, some very old.
After three days there, it was time to head back down to Zion National Park to see what fall color scenes I could get there. On the way there, I wanted to stop at the colorful Paria Canyon, a place that had simply escaped my attention before. I arrived at the perfect time, late in the afternoon. This was just an unexpected bonus and exceeded my expectations.
I finished up with three days in Zion National Park. Photographing the towering rock formations was just not an option as there was not one wisp of a cloud. Plain blue skies just don’t cut it. So, the challenge was on. I have been to Zion before, but always had nice clouds. I was now going to have to work for it, finding good scenes without clouds.
I managed two expeditions to the American Southwest this summer in July and August. There are so many photographic subjects there, and with unpredictable weather, it simply takes a lot of time to cover it all.
East of Phoenix are the Superstition Mountains. I was targeting some mountains to the north, but the clouds and lights really weren’t happening there. Fortunately, there was this wonderful scene to the south and the setting sun lit up the mountains and clouds perfectly.
Heading north from Phoenix, it is hard not stop in Sedona, Arizona. These were just a couple of the great images we captured of the beautiful red rocks there.
Continuing north from Sedona, there is the Grand Canyon. The clouds didn’t show up for sunset, so I got some nice images of the shadows deep in the canyon from the South Rim. Moving on to the North Rim of the canyon, I was there for the moon setting over the canyon as the sun rose to the left lighting up the canyon walls. The moon beams were just spectacular.
East of the Grand Canyon in New Mexico is a very striking mountain known as Ship Rock. I’ve wanted to photograph this for years, but never had good clouds in the forecast. On this trip, there was a thunderstorm forecast to be there on only one afternoon, so the schedule was changed to be there for it. This is exactly the image I was hoping to capture.
Heading back to the west and north up into Utah brought us to Monument Valley. I had been there before, but just never had good clouds at sunrise. It’s one of those places you could shoot every day as it’s always going to be different.
Continuing even further north took us to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. I was able to climb all the way up into the top of Double Arch and get a great shot looking south and was rewarded with a rainbow over the mountains. In Canyonlands, I had been after a good image at Dead Horse State Park for years, and finally got the sky that was going to make it work.
Utah has such a diverse landscape from deserts to mountains, but I may be most impressed by some of the desert landscapes. Once again, there wasn’t much weather in the forecast, but we had high hopes for one of the mornings we were in the area near Factory Butte. It’s a bunch of miles out some dirt roads, but this view of the desert at sunrise was just surreal with the mountains and storm in the background. I am going to remember this experience for a very long time.
Back down into northern Arizona, is an area known as White Pocket. It’s about 2.5 hours on dirt roads from the closest town so you have to camp overnight there. It’s been a long time since I have slept on the ground, but it was worth it. These are just a few of the possible compositions that are possible in White Pocket. I can easily see a return trip there.
This post is a little long, but covers about 18 days out there shooting during July and August. Stay tuned for more!
August is definitely the time to be in the Southwest with the high likelihood of great clouds and storms. The goal was to capture some great images and I was thrilled with my success.
After flying in to Phoenix, the plan was to spend one night in Sedona and capture one sunset and one sunrise image. For sunset, I headed south to Oak Creek to get a different view of the iconic Cathedral Rocks. At the end of a road that seemed to be going nowhere, I came across this scene with the old wooden fence with Cathedral Rocks in the background. It may have been photographed before, but I had not seen it and decided this was where I would plant myself and wait for the soft, warm light of the setting sun behind me. The billowing cloud behind the Rocks made it all come together.
For sunrise, I took a chance. Cathedral Rocks have been photographed from the Slickrock Trail many times at the end of the day, but based on where the sun was going to rise to the left of them, I thought sunrise might work pretty well. I hiked out pre-dawn, was the only one there and got the camera down low in position for the reflection in the water that was in the depression in the rock. Many images were taken, but this was the one that had the best clouds and sky. I hiked back to the car knowing it was going to be good.
From Sedona, it was on to the Grand Canyon. The forecast did not look good for storms, but I know that can always change. I spent the first couple of days going to every overlook and learning how they would work at different times of the day. I wanted to be able to make the right decision as to where to go for sunrise or sunset based on the clouds and what I could see on the radar images. The storms finally came and I somehow managed to be in the right place and not be struck by lightning.
The Grand Canyon is one of the most difficult places I have ever had the pleasure to photograph. This trip allowed me to learn a great deal about it. I’m already thinking about going back next August.
Next up will be Southwest Colorado for fall color scenes. It is an area that I truly love going to and have learned so much about. I’m crossing my fingers for healthy fall color and some snow on the mountains!
Summertime brings rain and thunderstorms to the Southwest allowing you an opportunity to get in the right place for rainbows and lightning strikes. This was the main reason we headed to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah in the heat of July.
Mornings were cloudless limiting any decent opportunities but that was made up for by the afternoon storms. When lightning was striking, we either stayed right next to an open car door or shot from inside the car itself. With an SUV, you can actually set up a tripod just inside the window. This might not work from all locations, but at Arches, it worked pretty well.
I usually try to capture sunrise and sunset colors, but there is something about the way the blue skies contrast with the red rock formations that is colorful and pleasing to the eye.
We took a couple of days to go down to Canyon de Chelly to photograph Spider Rock (see the last photo), and it may be a location I will go back to again. The lush greenery in the bottom of the canyons is different from anywhere else I have been. I would have stayed there longer, but I got a virus from something I ate or drank that resulted in us driving back to Moab, going to the ER and losing two days to photography time. I guess that’s just going happen occasionally
It was fun, lack of sleep and virus aside, and I’ll be going back in November when the sun rises and sets at a much different angle resulting in different opportunities. Next up is Mount Rainer in Washington State in early August for the wildflowers. Snow-capped mountains and flowers will certainly be the opposite from the Utah desert.
Kelly and I arrived at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on July 18th. It is only open in the summer because the road closes due to snow for the rest of the year. I had not been there before and looking forward to this trip. As we left Phoenix with 105 degree temperatures, I was thinking I was nuts. It turns out that the temperatures on the North Rim are about 30 degrees less, due to it being at an elevation of 8,000 feet. It is much more of a forest type environment, compared to the more desert like nature of the South Rim.
In the summer, the sun rises and sets behind you as you face the canyon from the North Rim. Photographically, this can be helpful. Normally, July is the monsoon season with nice big thunderstorms and clouds over the canyon. My frustration with weather for 2014 continued as we had nothing but clear blue skies for the four days we were on the North Rim. To make lemonade out of lemons, we did some Milky Way photography.
Our last evening, Kelly captured a nice wide angle photograph of the clouds as the sun was setting behind us. The morning we were leaving and heading for the South Rim, there were just enough clouds to grant us the one photograph we were able to come away with. It was good not to be totally skunked. We were only going to be on the South Rim for two days but the weather forecast was a little better.
The only way to get to the western viewpoints on the South Rim is on a shuttle bus, which we met at 4:15am to get out to Mojave Point for sunrise. Heavy clouds totally blocked any chance for a sunrise photo so we continued on the shuttle out to Pima Point and managed a photo showing a glimpse of the Colorado River. It seemed like a good area to shoot from in the winter, with the sun rising behind you.
We didn’t get the big, dramatic thunderstorms we were hoping for. Kelly’s photo, Canyon Storm, captured a small rainstorm crossing the canyon. I managed a nice sunset photo and that was about it for the South Rim.
The Grand Canyon is not an easy place to capture a quality photograph. It is, however, an amazing experience, and everyone should try to go there at least once. I will probably return someday as I feel as I have unfinished business there.