Fantasy Canyon is a few acres of unique sandstone formations located in the middle of a major working oil field. You’ll probably have the place to yourself. The sandstone here is off-white in color. Watch your exposures during any midday shooting when the contrast range is extreme. Early morning and late afternoon to sunset when low-angled light turns the formations bronze and reddish brown are better for photography.
You’re never far from your vehicle so take all your lenses; you’ll have an opportunity to use every one. There are vistas, medium-range scenics, intimate views of the formations and every other possibility you can think of. Look for opportunities to frame one formation with other formations. This brings an interesting vision to your images. If you try this, watch your depth of field and keep your important elements sharply focused and complementary to each other. Summers in this part of Utah can bring monsoon rain, lightning, spectacular clouds, rainbows and dramatic light along storm edges. The oilfield road is hazardous when wet, so temper your desire to photograph summer storms with caution.
Devil’s Garden, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah Nikon D3X, AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 12-24mm ƒ/4G IF-ED, Gitzo tripod, Arca-Swiss ballhead
Fantasy Canyon To Cathedral Gorge
Vernal is the eastern terminus of your trip. Return via Highway 191/40/6 to Interstate 70, head west to Interstate 15 and south to Cedar City. From Cedar City, take Highway 56/319 west to Panaca, Nevada. At Panaca, you can head north a few miles on Highway 93 to the marked turnoff for the overlook for Cathedral Gorge State Park. Or, head south a few miles to the main entrance/visitor’s center for the park. The sandstone formations here are similar in color to Fantasy Canyon, but shaped like Bryce hoodoos. Photograph from the overlook, hike down into the canyon or hike the main trail from the parking lot near the visitor’s center. Again, you’ll probably have the area mostly to yourself.
The northern section of Cathedral Gorge is in a narrow canyon and light doesn’t strike the lower areas until mid-morning, creating harsh contrast. Take multiple images of the same scene using different exposure settings and combine them using HDR from your image-processing software. Consider it a challenge and see what you can create.
Head south on Highway 93 to Interstate 15, then southwest to Las Vegas, the end of your journey.
Road Trip Necessities
Getting to an unseen, unspoiled vista is the ultimate goal for many of us. Where the paved road ends is where the adventure begins, but for safety’s sake you need to have some gear with you. There’s no substitute for a good GPS. It’s much more reliable than a cell phone for navigation when you get into areas where cell coverage is spotty at best. We like the DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-60 with Topo North America 9.0 because it has a bright screen, it’s intuitive with an icon-based interface, and it has Topo 9.0 included, which lets you preplan routes with detailed topographic maps ($399 estimated street price, www.delorme.com). The Magellan eXplorist 610 United States also gives you topographic mapping capability, with 1:24,000 Summit Series USA maps ($449 estimated street price, www.magellangps.com). If you’re a regular OP reader, you know that we’re big believers in the SPOT products. The SPOT Connect pairs to your cell phone to let you use the phone as a satellite communicator. You can send short emails, text messages and updates to Facebook and Twitter, or send an SOS message with your coordinates, but no voice communication or phone calls ($169 estimated street price, www.findmespot.com). In the fading light, after you’ve photographed the perfect sunset, a headlamp is indispensable for packing up your gear and safely walking back to your car. Petzl makes a variety of compact, bright models that weigh next to nothing and are easily kept ready in your camera bag (www.petzl.com).