Southern Utah, Part 1

The area around southern Utah is pretty incredible, with a string of five National Parks (from west to east:  Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches) and countless other cool places, including the Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Monument Valley.

Northern Arizona isn’t too shabby either.  You have the Grand Canyon, of course, along with a bunch of other spots that are very popular with photographers, like the Wave, the Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River, and Antelope Canyon.

I spent almost a week wandering around that area – not nearly enough time to visit all those places, but enough to see some of the highlights.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I started by camping at Zion, one of my favorite National Parks.  On my first day there I hiked the Narrows, walking directly in the Virgin River on and off for about seven hours.

Orange Glow in the Narrows
Orange Glow in the Narrows
Narrows Overhang
Back at my tent I saw some nice clouds forming as the sun set, but by the time I got to a decent vantage point I’d missed the most intense color.


Zion Sunset
On my second day in Zion I hiked up to Angel’s Landing, a sandstone rock formation that juts out into the canyon and offers amazing views in all directions.  The hike is relatively short – about 5 miles roundtrip – but there’s a lot of elevation gain and the last half-mile takes you out on a narrow path with steep drops on both sides.  There are chains to hold as you pass through the more dangerous spots, but it would be a tough haul for someone who isn’t comfortable with heights.  Photos don’t do justice to Angel’s Landing, but the shot below gives a sense of the final stretch of the trail.


Path to Angel’s Landing
The Angel’s Landing hike is so popular that it gets clogged with swarms of people during the summer.  Big crowds ruin a hike for me, so I decided to get there while the masses were still asleep.  Years ago Zion closed most of the valley to personal cars in an attempt to cut down on traffic, forcing everyone to take a shuttle bus to the key points.  I took the first bus of the day, the 5:45am “Express Bus” – not to be confused with the 6:30am “First Bus” (which is really the second bus).  The terminology might not be intuitive, but the Express Bus did the job – only four other people got off at the stop for the Angel’s Landing trailhead, and they hiked at a different pace so I basically had the whole place to myself.  For almost a half hour I was the only person at the final viewpoint, early enough that I saw the first light of the day hitting the valley.  On my way back down I passed over 200 people heading up and felt really good about my decision to resist the snooze button on my alarm and get there early.


Sunrise from Angel’s Landing
On the way out of Zion I paid a visit to one of my favorite trees.  It’s a little pine tree growing directly out of a sandstone rock formation, clearly visible from the main road and – as a result – frequently photographed.  I took this shot when I first saw it years ago, and I took the shot below on my most recent visit.


Lone Tree in Zion
From Zion I drove directly to Monument Valley, a classic western landscape right on Utah’s border with Arizona, and I made it there right in time for sunset.  I’d seen lots of photos of Monument Valley but this was my first visit.  I assumed the Mittens, the most famous rock formations in the valley, were visible from the highway, but it turns out they’re on Navajo land and you have to pay a $5 fee for access to the area.  If the place has to be commercialized, I wish they’d go a little further and pave the miserable dirt road that starts at the visitor center and weaves deeper into the valley.  A few of the potholes almost swallowed my entire car and I only drove about a mile before my roughed-up tires insisted that we turn around.


Sunset on Monument Valley
There were no clouds at sunset to make the Mittens more interesting, so I went back to shoot the sunrise the next morning – but once again I had a boring clear blue sky.


Sunrise Behind the Mittens
I just need to figure out how to make clouds appear and disappear.  Is total control over the weather too much to ask?  I would promise to use my powers only for the forces of good.

3 thoughts on “Southern Utah, Part 1

  1. Hey Rob!
    Good luck with asking the clouds to change for you on command….
    The photos are absolutely goregous! And I'm incredibly jealous that you get to go to all these national parks, but I'm defenitely not jealous that you have to wake up at all hours! That would be brutal.
    O! By the way, the family is passing around my comments along with your blog so I need to come up with some new name…. They are constantly laughing about them which is fine and all, but I think it would be somewhat entertaining to change names… That would be good 🙂
    Tell Marie “hi” for me and tell her we want to meet her!! Maybe she can fly in and meet you while you're here… Speaking of which, WHEN ARE YOU COMING?!?!? Lol we all are trying to figure out so we can stock up on Diet Coke…


  2. Hi Elizabeth – Waking up for sunrise photos is definitely exhausting – especially with near freezing temperatures. (Yellowstone dropped down to 38 degrees in July?!?) I made it 4 days before giving up and sleeping in.
    I would have been able to say “hi” in person next week, but Rob convinced me to meet him in Denver instead.


  3. Hey Marie! I can't believe him. He woke you up! Jerk. O well. I will chew him out later… He is also being chewed out for convincing you to go to Denver instead of KC… Maybe I can get him to let me come to Denver with him…. I might have some seriious convincing work to do…
    I can't believe it was 38 degrees! That's a bit cold… Especially for July!!
    Talk to you soon,
    Elizabeth 🙂


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