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In 1996, 1.7 million acres of southern Utah between Zion National Park and Capitol Reef National Park were designated as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a sprawling area encompassing some of the most spectacular landscape in Utah. About five miles east of the town of Escalante, Hole-in-the-Rock Road begins its journey south toward Lake Powell. Along this graded, dirt road is a variety of dramatic photo ops, including one of my favorite places to explore and photograph—Devils Garden. This compact area of incredibly colorful petrified sand dunes, sensuous arches, whimsical hoodoos and weirdly shaped monoliths is located 12 miles south of Route 12; its parking area brings you within an easy stroll of its diverse offerings and has picnic tables and toilet facilities available.
My favorite season for photography in this area is autumn. Crowds are nonexistent, and lodging is plentiful with reduced prices. The aspen groves in higher elevations along Route 12 can be stunning to pass through—the cottonwood trees can add wonderful splashes of bright yellow to your scenic compositions. Summers are dry and hot, with midday temperatures often topping 100 degrees. Pack sunscreen and plenty of water. Winters, in contrast, can be quite bitter here, but if you like red rocks capped by fresh snow and are willing to put up with the obvious inconveniences and discomfort, you’re apt to capture some stunning images. Spring can bring dramatic and stormy skies, along with milder temperatures—a plus for photographers; however, heavy rains can wash out or make impassable many of the area’s clay roads.
In order to capture the scale of this area, my lens of choice is a wide-angle zoom, the Nikkor 17-35mm ƒ/2.8D. A tripod is essential for shooting at ƒ/16 or ƒ/32. Everything remains sharply focused, and my Gitzo Reporter carbon-fiber tripod and Gitzo G-1377M ballhead are lightweight, yet sturdy so that I don’t shy away from carrying them along every trail and, most importantly, using them for every shot. Regular and warming polarizers and graduated neutral-density filters provide me with more control over blown-out skies. Throw in some of Utah’s warm light, and you’re sure to bring home images worth displaying.
My most satisfying photos always seem to be taken shortly after sunrise or shortly before or after sunset. These times work well with the diversity of Devils Garden. There are likely to be few, if any, other people around you at sunrise, whereas you’ll likely have lots of other visitors spoiling your compositions at sunset. The light shines most golden for just a few minutes after sunrise, and you might find yourself rushing around to grab as much of that golden light in as many different spots as possible before it fades. Cloud formations can be spectacular here at both ends of the day. For the best results, avoid overcast days; the light flattens out the rock formations.Contact: Bureau of Land Management, (801) 539-4001, www.blm.gov/ut/.
Circular polarizing filters rotate on the front of the lens to provide reduced haze and glare in the atmosphere while enhancing color saturation in a scene by suppressing reflections off of surfaces. Skies are bluer, and landscapes have better contrast. The Heliopan Circular Polarizing Multi-Coated SH-PMC Glass Filter offers fully calibrated monitoring for adjusting strength. Available in standard and slim rims, the standard model has front threads for stacking of other filters. Price varies by filter size. Contact: Heliopan (HP Marketing Corp.),
(800) 735-4373, www.hpmarketingcorp.com