Southwest

Cedar Breaks Sunrise

Cedar Breaks Sunrise

Cedar Breaks National Monument lies peacefully under the subtle but brilliant colors of a Utah sunrise

I had seen Cedar Breaks National Monument on maps before and had been tempted to visit on prior trips to Zion National Park. Cedar Breaks is tantalizingly close to Zion but I had always been on my way further east to visit another of Southern Utah’s constellation of incredible state and national parks. Fortunately, we had actually built a visit to Cedar Breaks into our schedule this time and had scouted our shooting location the night before. As it turned out, I was really happy we had done so. The next morning turned out to be pretty cold and it was nice to know exactly where we would be setting up shop.

It doesn’t happen often, but in this case the best shooting location at sunrise was right at the visitors center in the principal overlook. We had a 270 degree view of Cedar Breaks and could quickly move from one angle to another. At one point I had a camera pointed due east and another looking almost west. Having two camera bodies and two tripods was a great luxury since this turned out to be a pretty epic sunrise and there were lots of shooting opportunities. As the sun rose closer to the horizon and eventually over, the view further down canyon and over to the distant mountains just got better and better.

As I normally do at sunrise and sunset, I was shooting series of three bracketed exposures. I may even have had to go to five shots separated by two stops for the first few series. There was quite a wide latitude of exposures needed to bring out shadow detail and not blow out the highlights of the clouds overhead. Eventually there was enough reflected light to drop to three shots and ultimately one exposure. I’m just happy that good technique and modern equipment allow me to capture these types of scenes. The camera simply can’t always capture what the eye can see without a bit of an assist in post-processing.

Cedar Breaks isn’t one of those places where I would recommend staying for a weeklong visit, but it’s definitely a place you don’t want to miss. I think our overnight stay in Cedar City with a chance to take in a sunset and sunrise was a reasonable amount of time there. I drove away appreciating our time there and ready for another visit in the future.

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The Road to Cedar Breaks

The Road to Cedar Breaks

The view along UT 14 as it winds its way up from Cedar City to Cedar Breaks National Monument

Since I visit the western US to shoot mostly during the fall, I’ve had the opportunity to see the aspens at peak fall color on several occasions. It’s always a magnificent experience. While planning this trip to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, I hoped that our schedule, elevation, and an aspen forest would intersect at some point. While at Great Basin National Park, the aspen forest had already turned and shed its leaves. Even so, the park was fun to visit and beautiful.

But, as we headed southeast toward Cedar City, I hoped that a beautiful aspen forest at the peak of fall color would be visible along the way. About thirty minutes out from Cedar City I began to see the mountains rising in the distance. I *thought* I could see pops of yellow on the mountainsides but I convinced myself that it was simply the way the sun was hitting the mountains. As we got closer, though, it became obvious that the large patches of yellow and orange that we could see were actually huge aspen groves. Needless to say, I got pretty excited.

I became even more excited once we dropped off our bags and headed up the mountain from Cedar City to Cedar Breaks National Monument. While on prior trips to southern Utah I had heard of Cedar Breaks and its beauty but I had never visited. So, I was pretty stoked to pay it a visit. What I hadn’t anticipated was the amazing beauty of the road up the mountain. It was one of those drives where we were stopping at least once a mile, and sometimes more often, just to gape at the landscape. I had gone from no leaves on the aspen trees to grove after grove at the peak of their fall beauty. And, I hadn’t even made it to the main attraction yet!

This shot was taken during one of those stops. There was a county park where we parked the car and moved up and down the road for a while. I loved the way that he fence and the road led my eye into the mass of the aspen-covered mountain we had just driven past. The colors were amazing and there were even a few clouds in the sky to break up the otherwise perfect blue sky overhead. The scenery was so beautiful that we utterly enjoyed two or three trips up and down the mountain pass just so we could soak it all in. I hope this image conveys some sense of the beauty of the scene that we experienced.

Take the Long Way Home

Take the Long Way Home

A thirteen-mile long straight stretch of road in the Utah high desert

I’m showing my age a bit, but with apologies to 70s supergroup SuperTramp, I’ve titled this post after their famous song. I was actually in high school when it came out… It just seems appropriate given the length of the highway pictured stretching out seemingly to infinity.

As you might imagine the distance between population centers virtually anywhere in Nevada outside of Las Vegas is vast. It was not uncommon for us to drive stretches of highway where there was thirty, forty, or even fifty miles between towns. And, with few towns and relatively flat ground, the roads could be very, very straight. We finally started guessing how far it would be until we reached the next bend in the road and using the odometer to referee our guesses. As it turned out, parts of adjoining Utah were very similar.

This stretch of Utah state highway 21 was the longest stretch of straight road that we encountered. We started where the road disappears in the far distance and stopped just before a bend in the road immediately behind us in this image. That stretch of road was over thirteen miles long! While I was taking this series of shots, a car would appear and we would still literally have minutes to compose and shoot before the car came even remotely close to us. My only regret from this part of the trip was not having a supercar that we could have opened up to full throttle on these long, deserted stretches of road. Oh well. Maybe next time… Enjoy!

Great Basin National Park Sunset

Great Basin National Park Sunset

The late afternoon light filters through clouds hanging over Great Basin National Park at sunset

I’ve probably mentioned my friend Tom over the last few years. The way I describe our relationship is that he is a hiker who enjoys photography and I’m a photographer that reluctantly agrees to hike when necessary to get a great shot. Tom and I have been friends since I was in college at Georgia State and he was matriculating at Georgia Tech.

One of Tom’s bucket list items is to visit every national park in the United States. So, in the last few years we have fallen into a rhythm of taking trips that incorporate a national park that he (and in most cases, I) have not visited before. That was the case this past fall when we planned a trip to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona to visit Great Basin National Park followed by various other sites in those states. To be honest, I had no real desire to visit Great Basin, but after some research it certainly seemed worth a look.

I don’t know if GBNP is the least visited national park or not, but it is certainly on the low end of the list. I believe that it averages 100,000 visitors per year. It’s certainly in an out of the way location. GBNP is located almost exactly halfway between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Even more telling the road that runs to the east and north of the park is literally labeled The Loneliest Road in America on Google Maps. It’s the kind of place that you can go quite a while without seeing another person.

On our first night in the park, we set up hoping for an epic sunset looking west toward the horizon. Unfortunately, the spot we picked didn’t have a great view to the horizon. And, conditions weren’t shaping up for a blazing show in the west at sunset. However, as I looked back east, some low lying clouds caught the right amount of light and were briefly a fairly intense shade of pink. I captured this image looking out toward Utah over the Great Basin. It may be a desolate part of the world, but it is certainly beautiful in its own was as well. Enjoy.

Happy Birthday America

Flag and Fall Colors in Zion National Park

The American flag flies amidst gorgeous fall color in Zion National Park

Despite all of our focus on important current issues and regardless of our political affiliation, we all need to step back sometimes and reflect on the blessing it is to be an American. I have traveled a bit internationally and not once – never – have I visited another country and wanted to live there. I am always grateful to touch down back in the United States. That’s not to say that there aren’t things to appreciate in other parts of the world. There are. But this American is extremely grateful to live here.

So, take a few minutes today to reflect on all the blessings you have as Americans. There’s a reason that we have a very small handful of people renounce their citizenship each year (usually over paying less tax) and millions risk their lives or beg to be able to live here. I think that says it all about where we live.

Happy Birthday America. May our liberties linger, our citizens prosper, and we remain one nation under God.

Driving Into Sunset

Driving Into Sunset

The road from Page, AZ to Kanab, UT as the sunset paints the sky brilliant hues of red and orange

Our trip to Arizona and Utah had been very productive. As is usually the case for a trip like this one, many of the shots I had envisioned hadn’t turned out quite the way I had hoped, but we had encountered many other unexpected visual delights. Such was the case with this image. As we stood in the streets of Page contemplating shooting the balloon glow in the streets of Page that evening, the gathering clouds on the horizon suggested that the sunset could be worth shooting. We began to evaluate our options. Pretty quickly we decided that hitting the road early and taking our chances on the road from Page to Zion gave us the best chance of capturing a beautiful sunset.

So, we headed for our car and hit the road toward Kanab. It quickly became apparent that the sunset would be worth shooting. Now the dilemma common to photographers became paramount. We were in search of a foreground to use with the beautiful emerging sunset.

Having driven in the area for a couple of days we had some ideas about places that might work, but we were running out of time. The sunset was quickly peaking and we would have to get somewhere quickly. As it turned out, somewhere turned out to be a pullout offering views of the surrounding mesas and Page in the distance. After taking a few test shots, it occurred to me that the foreground could be the road we were just driving on. So, I set my tripod up in the middle of the road and began composing.

I had to move a few times for oncoming traffic, but that was pretty easy. I could see for at least a mile in either direction so I had plenty of warning if a car or truck was approaching. After taking a few shots this image resulted. The sunset is waning but there is still a glow on the surrounding cliffs. The road trails off nicely in the distance and its distinctive yellow and white stripes provides a nice contrast to the gray-black of the asphalt.

It’s a simple image but a fitting one for my last one from the trip. We were on the road home and it felt good to be going there. Enjoy.

Shadows and Light

Shadows and Light

Deep shadows contrast with walls lit by reflected light in this slot canyon in the desert Southwest

Here’s another image from the slot canyons of the desert Southwest. I could have named it any of a dozen titles, but the thing that is the most striking to me about this image is the beautiful contrast between shadow and light. What’s amazing is that the slot canyon was so dark that I had to use the in camera backlighting system in order to see the camera controls. Yet, the highlights here are nearly blown out. I would have thought there would have been much more light present than appears in this image.

This one was shot at ISO 100 at f/11 with a 1/2 second exposure. It took a while to figure out the right balance of exposure and aperture but I got it nailed down pretty well about halfway through. I used the Cloudy white balance control on site, but since I shoot RAW I can fine tune white balance after the fact in the computer. This is a pretty accurate rendition of the scene as I viewed it. I’ve got many, many more from this shoot, but I’ll only post a few more from there (unless you twist my arm really hard). Enjoy.

Into the Vortex

Into the Vortex

The view up and out of a slot canyon in northern Arizona

Once I knew we would be traveling to southern Utah and northern Arizona, I began making a location list of places I would like to shoot. High on that list was one or more of the numerous slot canyons in the region. Of course high on our list was the Virgin River Narrows which is basically a really big slot canyon with a river flowing through it. I had in mind slot canyons like Canyon X, Peekaboo, Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, and the others that are found throughout the area.

The challenge with photographing these canyons is the amount of light available. We were traveling in the fall when the angle of the sun was relatively low on the horizon. Therefore, the amount of direct light making it into the canyons was diminished. So, we were working with long exposures and fairly dim light. However, we were able to capture some pretty cool shots nonetheless.

I’m sure there are some super secret and unexplored slot canyons in the region. Perhaps there are even some untried angles in the more popular and accessible slot canyons. I wasn’t really focusing on that, though. I just wanted to capture for myself some images of these incredible works of nature. I certainly enjoyed my time in the slots. I hope you enjoy viewing them as well.

Floating

Floating

A balloon floats serenely over the desert landscape near Page, Arizona

One of my favorite things about travel photography is encountering the unexpected. Now that is a bit odd since I’m pretty regimented and definitely prefer order and structure. But, I also am a slave to new, better, and different. So, when I’m traveling I’m constantly on the lookout for a photo opportunity that wasn’t on my shot list. In fact, some of all-time favorite images have come totally unexpectedly.

When we pulled into the parking lot of the hotel in which we were staying while in Page, Arizona, we noticed a pickup truck and an RV with ballooning gear loaded into trailers they were pulling. I immediately wondered if they were just passing through or if there was a balloon event scheduled for the area. Fortunately, the latter was the case. We began to ask around to find out when and where the ascent would occur. It was to be on the Saturday morning of our trip. That was great news because we had a window of time before we were scheduled to visit Lower Antelope Canyon. The balloon ascent could fit into our schedule.

After asking around we found out that the ascent would be shortly after dawn on Saturday morning. The next question became from where we could best view the event. Page isn’t a very big town so it didn’t take very long to pick some locations that might work. When we woke up an hour or so before sunrise on Saturday morning we headed for one of those spots. Before we arrived, we realized that many people were heading up to the top of a plateau near the middle of town. We just tagged along hoping a local would lead us to the best spot. We weaved our way through a neighborhood until the car ahead of us pulled to the curb. When a mom, dad, and two young kids emerged from the car, I thought we might be in the right place.

It turned out to be not only the right place but perhaps the absolute best place to view the ascent. We walked between some houses, across the local golf course, and out onto a series of rock ledges overlooking the desert and Lake Powell. Balloons were inflating directly below us and would soon be in the air. We had picked the right place.

If my memory serves me correctly, there were between thirty and forty balloons launched that beautiful, cool, fall morning. Many of them either rose initially just in front of us or crossed at our altitude as the winds swirled around Page. I shot with a telephoto lens and a teleconverter in order to fill the frame with as much color as possible. I took hundreds of images, but a few stand out to me. This one isolates the balloon from the power lines, buildings, and other balloons in the air. I like the way the early morning light casts a beautiful soft, side light on the balloon and the landscape. It must have been incredibly serene to float soundlessly above the desert. I hope I have conveyed that sense of serenity in this image. Enjoy.

Alien Landscape

Alien Landscape

The area around the Wave is just as alien and exotic as the Wave itself

Each time I visit the southern Utah and northern Arizona area, I come away with the same impression. There are parts of the region where I think I could blindfold a person, convince them they were on a spacecraft capable of warp speed, drop them off in say, Bryce Canyon or the area around the Wave, and ask them to tell me where in the universe they were. I’m not sure that many people would guess Earth given the landscape they would be experiencing. Some places are just that different from anywhere else on Earth I know of.

I knew that the Wave would be incredible. I had seen pictures of it. But, nothing prepared me for the variety of rock formations I saw approaching and around the Wave. Our guide encouraged us to hike above the Wave to another similar formation. Along the way, we encountered a variety of amazing rock formations. One looked like a hamburger complete with bun. Another looked like a series of ice cream cones. Others looked like brains on stems. All of these formations had a wide latitude of colors present. We were told that the colors in the sandstone were determined by how much iron oxide was present in each formation. We saw coppery green, vibrant red, orange, brown, and even black sandstone during our trip. I really didn’t know that the rocks could have that much variation in color.

This particular image was captured during our hike out of the Wave. We took a slightly different route out that put us on the ridge parallel to the Wave on the hike out. So, the image you see are the formations we hiked past earlier in the day. The Wave is contained in the midst of the features that look somewhat like inverted cones. I don’t know when I’ll get back out that way, but if I do I certainly would like to visit the area again. Enjoy.