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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Southwest Road Trip

A pro’s guide to the lesser-known vantage points in the dramatic landscapes of Arizona, Nevada and Utah

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Panorama red rock formations, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah
Nikon D3X, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G ED, Gitzo tripod, Arca-Swiss ballhead, stitched panorama using three images and Adobe Photoshop CS4

Click for panorama view.
Watching a spectacular Bryce lightning storm through my camera viewfinder, I looked around to check the light behind me and found I was sharing the viewpoint with 65 of my "closest friends." That’s when I knew I needed to find other, lesser-known locations for my Southwestern landscape photography. You can create amazing images in our national parks, but I find it more productive off the beaten track where my images reflect different perspectives from better-known locations and fresh subjects from lesser-known areas. Here’s my preferred route, starting out from Las Vegas through magnificent southern Utah, northern Arizona and southern Nevada hoodoo and red rock locations.

Panaca formations, Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada
Nikon F5, AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm ƒ/2.8D IF-ED, Fujichrome Velvia 50, Gitzo tripod, Arca-Swiss ballhead
Las Vegas To Zion
From Las Vegas, head north on Interstate 15 toward Zion National Park in Utah, but avoid the auto restrictions and crowds in Zion. Instead, take Highway 59 east from Hurricane 11 miles to Smithsonian Butte Road to photograph Zion’s Temple formations from a different perspective with no one around. In two days, I saw five cars and no hikers along the BLM improved road. It’s an excellent graded dirt road drivable in any weather except severe summer thunderstorms or heavy winter snow. The road takes you through high desert from a point east of Hurricane to the main access road through Springdale and Zion National Park. Stay in Hurricane and watch for clearing thunderstorm activity in summer to get spectacular light and the possibility of rainbows and lightning. You can find great compositions along this backcountry road.

The Zion formations are some distance away so opt for medium telephotos, although if you find a great foreground element like a juniper tree, a wide-angle lens lets you capture the complete scene with enough depth of field to keep foreground and distant formations in sharp focus.

The North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Nikon D3X, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G ED, Gitzo tripod, Arca-Swiss ballhead
Hurricane To The North Rim Of The Grand Canyon
From Hurricane travel east on Utah Highway 59/389 to Fredonia, Arizona. In Fredonia, take Highway 89 south to Highway 67 south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s not a “lesser-known area,” but the North Rim has one hotel and campsite area, can’t support large crowds and seldom gets daytrippers. Stay a night or two during the summer and head for Point Imperial or Cape Royal for sunrise and sunset, especially if summer lightning storms are present.

Medium telephoto lenses work well in both locations to isolate formations and sections of the canyon, but take a wide-angle lens, too. Foreground elements in both locations provide different perspectives. You won’t have the solitude of Smithsonian Butte Road, but you won’t have the crowds and auto restrictions of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon either. The road to Cape Royal has numerous pullouts where you can capture fresh images of this wonder of nature.

The North Rim Of The Grand Canyon To Devil’s Garden
Leaving the North Rim, head north on Highway 89 to Highway 12 in Utah. Go east on 12 past Bryce Canyon through Tropic to Escalante, the gateway to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Devil’s Garden. There are motels, restaurants and a major national park office in Escalante that can provide directions and road conditions for Devil’s Garden.


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