March is a wonderful and unpredictable time to be in the Desert Southwest. I shared this expedition with my good friend and fellow professional photographer, Jess Lee. We had some very specific targets in mind and the very good news is that we were successful with them.
We flew into Las Vegas and headed for our first stop, Moab, Utah. We spent our first afternoon searching for the combination of dirt roads that would get us to a remote canyon overlook that is not on the maps. After going the wrong way, crawling over fences and being generally lost, we found it but learned that we had to hike the last half mile. It’s sunrise shot, so we returned the next morning in the dark and waited for the sun to rise. I named the photo “Middle of Nowhere” as that’s where it was.
That afternoon we headed up to Canyonlands National Park to photograph the sunset from the Green River Overlook. I have attempted this photo before on previous trips, but the conditions were never right. This time it all came together and I am thrilled with the result.
The next day we headed up to Dead Horse State Park for a sunrise shot before leaving town. The sun rises from behind you and lights up the red rock canyon walls. I’ve shot it before and this was a different approach, but I am very happy with it.
We left Moab for the tiny town of Hanksville, Utah, where we spent four days. In this area are these amazing buttes with lower ridges from many years of erosion. These ridges can be fifty feet tall or more. The most famous of these buttes is Factory Butte. It sits alone, where the others are long and continuous, not making for good photographic subject. There are so many ways to shoot Factory Butte and we had some fun with it.
The dirt roads will not get you very close to Factory Butte. To get close enough to make the ridges prominent, I had to use a drone. This was my first trip using a drone and I was nervous I would lose it every time I flew. For this shot at Factory Butte it was about three-quarters of a mile away. I took a few shots, it began to lose its connection to my controller and went into the automatically return home mode. I was glad it made it back.
There was one other butte nearby, where the dirt road actually got pretty close to the butte. Shortly after one of the sunrises, I was able to capture this image. It was amazing how the sun would bring out the colors in the rocks and dirt.
Another one of our targets for this trip was a remote spire in the desert near Hanksville. Once again, there are no marked roads to get there, but there is an unmarked dirt road that gets you within 2 miles of it. You can’t see it from where the road ends, so I used the drone to do a reconnaissance trip to verify it was there. I had to fly out and around a large view to get a glimpse. Once again, the drone started to lose its connection to the controller and flew home. It was okay, as we knew we had found the spire.
I’ve wanted to shoot this for some time. To get to an upper vantage point, I had to crawl on all fours up a steep dune with loose rocks. I would crawl up some and slide back down some, but finally made it up. The sunset and clouds were fantastic and, once again, I am thrilled with the result.
I also photographed the spire from a lower position and I like this composition very much as well.
It was time to leave Hanksville and head back to Las Vegas. On the way back south, the weather changed and it was snowing heavily. It was not really out of the way so we called an audible and stopped by Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s hard to go wrong there on a morning after a snowstorm.
We had decided to spend our last two nights in Las Vegas to get an opportunity at sunrise at Red Rock Canyon. As we headed there from Bryce Canyon, we could see from the weather radar that it was going to be snowing there all afternoon and through the night. Snow there is a rare event.
The next morning we arrive at Red Rock Canyon at 6am and were both stunned and excited by what appeared to be six inches of fresh snowfall. We went to a high vantage point and I captured this beautiful, and very rare, image of Red Rock Canyon covered in snow.
We returned in the afternoon and the snow was mostly gone, except for some that was still on the mountains. It was still beautiful and I captured this panoramic scene, my last image of the trip.
Jess and I have done quite a few trips together, but this may have been the most successful one yet, having been able to capture beautiful images at our high priority target locations. We’ll be meeting up again soon for an expedition to Yosemite National Park and the Big Sur coast.
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