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.

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.

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.

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend at sunrise

Horseshoe Bend is one of those locations that I’ve always wished I could visit, but never have been close enough to warrant the extra miles during a trip. That changed this past fall when my friend, Tom, and I began to plan out a trip to Zion National Park and the Wave. As it turned out, we would stay in Page, Arizona for two nights as out base of operations for the hike to the Wave. When I looked to see what was nearby that we could shoot, Horseshoe Bend was two miles from our hotel! Naturally, I quickly dropped a pin in Google Maps on that location as a possible place to visit during our journey.

Interestingly, we would have driven directly by this spot if there hadn’t been a significant detour in our trip. We decided to take the southerly route from Zion to Page. In doing so we would drive past Lee’s Ferry, the put-in point for rafts heading down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. What I didn’t realize is that we would also drive past the entrance road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. As we passed there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground and the road would shut down in the next week or so. I had visions of snow on the rim of the Grand Canyon in my head. It would only be a detour of a few hours… But, that would have put us in Page very late and we had to get up pretty early for the hike to the Wave the next day. Maybe next time…

As it turned out it was a wise decision to bypass that side trip. When we were about thirty minutes out of Page, a significant obstacle emerged. There had been a landslide on US 89 and the road was shut down for an indefinite period. So, that meant a detour. And, if you’ve traveled in that part of the country you know that roads are few and far between. Based on previous experience that meant as much as a three or four-hour drive lay in front of us. But, the Arizona highway department was a step or two ahead of us. They had transformed a gravel ranch road to a beautiful paved road only twenty or thirty miles out of our way. We arrive late, but we certainly would have arrived much later if we had taken the Grand Canyon side trip.

So, back to the Horseshoe Bend image. On the morning of our hike to the Wave, we got up a bit early in order to make the short hike down to Horseshoe Bend. In case it isn’t obvious, the bend is named for a section of the Colorado River that passes through in this location. It’s not the only place where you can see a complete bend of the Colorado, but it’s the easiest one of the easiest places to access it. Another bend that’s visible but not quite as completely is in Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab, Utah.

I had hoped for a cloud-filled sky with dramatic sunrise light illuminating the clouds over Horseshoe Bend. This is the desert, though. Blue skies prevailed and I had to make do with those conditions. Because of the extreme contrast, I used a seven shot sequence separated by one stop each. I used Photomatix Pro to blend those all together creating a realistic looking image. I especially like the glow of the canyon walls visible in the reflection in the Colorado. If you look closely, you can see some rafts tied up on a sandy beach where rafters have camped overnight. It must be incredible to be on a relatively small, fragile raft looking up at the canyon walls above. It’s certainly incredible looking down to where they were. Enjoy.