With a delayed start to the summer drum corps season and being fully vaccinated, I took the opportunity to do some traveling in June 2021 that would take me to 7 national parks along with 2 state parks and other locations. It took some planning to figure out a trip that made sense but it all came together really well.
Since photography was at the core of the trip, the first thing to figure out was what gear to bring. I hoped that my new Sony 14mm f/1.8 lens would arrive in time, but alas shipping was delayed. Here is what was in my camera backpack.
Cameras - Sony A1 and Sony A6600 converted to full spectrum. I used both cameras extensively, though the A1 did the bulk of the work. I used the A6600 when I wanted to shoot infrared or where I wanted to lighten the load. I also brought along an Akaso Brave 4 action camera which I used for one particular hike and as a dash cam.
Full Frame Lenses
ASP-C (crop) Lenses
I flew to Las Vegas on July 18. After a day there, I went to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Goblin Valley State Park, Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Horseshoe Bend, Grand Canyon (South Rim) National Park and back to Las Vegas with a stop at the Hoover Dam. I flew home on July 2. Most stays were one or two nights so the trip moved along rapidly.
I arrived at my Las Vegas hotel later than planned due to flight delays, baggage claim delays and a very long line for the rental car shuttle bus. Getting in about 11:30pm (2:30am as far as my body was concerned) was tough but I had a 4:45am plan with a friend for some early morning photography. My friend Warren Lee was wide awake and waiting for me as I came out of the hotel. I've known Warren for a few years as we've both participated in the Ricky Time Photo Critique Group but we had never met in person. He drove us to Cornerstone Park in nearby Henderson for sunrise and the opportunity to photograph hummingbirds among other critters. From there, we went to the 180-acre botanical garden Springs Preserve where we were focused on flowers since that was our photography challenge topic for the week.
Here is my very first attempt at photographing a hummingbird. Given that I only had a 300mm lens and the tiny size of these birds, I felt fortunate to have a few successful shots. It's only in the past year that I've even done much bird photography. I can see the appeal but it's tough work.
My settings were all wrong for this shot as my shutter was only 1/320. As the light improved, I increased my shutter to 1/4000 and got these shots.
Cornerstone Park had many other sights including the rising sun, birds and other animals. Here are a few of those images. Other photos from Cornerstone Park can be found here.
This beautiful garden presented a great (and only) opportunity to get a flower photo for the weekly challenge, particularly since I didn't have an opportunity earlier in the week and the photo was due the next day. I found the ants crawling over this one to be interesting, so this was my submission.
Here are a few more photos from our time at Springs Preserve. More photos from this Springs Preserve can be found here.
I planned to meet my Aunt Betty and Uncle Jerry at a restaurant in Henderson for an early dinner, so I drove over to the shopping center, parked the car, and started walking to the restaurant. I pass two young people and hear one of them talking about holding up his horn. I stop them and ask if they are drum corps. They were!
I quickly found out that they were going to march Pacific Crest and they were being picked up in Las Vegas by my very good friend and fellow drum corps photographer Russell Tanakaya. Turns out, Russ was there and they had just left the restaurant I was heading to. They give Russ a call and tell them they just met Chris Maher in the parking lot. We head over to the restaurant where I have a quick visit with Russ and meet his sister.
It also turns out that one of the drum corps performers is Luke Guthrie who I've photographed in the past with his high school and in the Raiders. He had taken the train from Maryland to Las Vegas.
I left Las Vegas early on Sunday morning, making a stop in St. George UT to buy food for the rest of the day and get gas.
I decided to start in the West side of Zion at Kolob Canyons. Located about 40 miles North of the main Zion Canyon, this area of the park includes a 5 mile scenic drive with stops along the way for viewpoints and hiking. After making a few stops for photos, I continued to the Timber Creek Overlook Trail. This one mile roundtrip hike offered some wonderful views of the area.
As I started the hike, there was a serious looking hiker behind me. I would move out of the way to take a photo and let him pass but generally he kept behind me. Eventually he passed by and was at the main outlook when I arrived. I noticed he was shooting Sony, so I struck up a conversation. He was a serious hiker, having already completed 7 miles today. He continued along and eventually I caught up to him. We talked photography more and then stayed together for the hike back to the parking lot.
A few times during the trip I set up my tripod to take a self-portrait. Here is the first of those.
I made one other stop for a hike at Taylor Creek Trail. The trail starts with a long flight of stairs and then a walk along a creek. I only did about a mile of the 5 mile route, knowing that I would have to walk back up those stairs.
I left Kolob Canyons and headed to Springdale to check into my hotel - the Driftwood Inn - which was right at a shuttle stop (which it turns out I never used) and just a couple of miles from the park's South entrance. I planned to tackle the Narrows Hike the next day, so I stopped at Zion Guru to rent shoes, socks and walking stick for the hike. The store was great in helping me get the right gear and learning how to use the stick in the water.
Zion Canyon is mostly closed to private vehicles. You have to take a shuttle from the visitor center along the 9 stops - about half of which were closed due to COVID or rock slides. I wanted to get a better sense of the park and the shuttles, so I drove to the visitor center after 5pm. I spoke with a park ranger who advised me that the line for the shuttle can be very long in the morning and that I'd be better off coming later to do the Narrows. I took that under advisement since my plan had been to get to the park early.
I spent the next couple of hours hiking the Pa'rus Trail and other areas close to the visitor center that did not require the shuttle. The landscape along the whole trip was very conducive to creating panoramas. My panorama technique is to shoot a series of shots left to right and then take a picture of the ground, so that when I'm reviewing images and I see a ground shot, I know that the preceding photos were intended to be a panorama.
Since my photography challenge for this week was Contrast, I made use of the shadows from the setting sun.
My big adventure in Zion was to do the Narrows hike. Ignoring the advice of the ranger, I arrived at parking lot way before sunrise and was in line for the shuttle by 5:30. The busses start running at 6 and run every 10 minutes. There were about 150 people ahead of me in line. It was going to a long wait, so I struck up a conversation with the couple behind me. They were from San Jose. They really helped me pass the time. We caught the fifth bus about 6:40am.
This hike starts at the last shuttle stop for the Temple of Sinawava. I was on the trail about 7:30. The first mile runs alongside the river on flat dry land. Before long, I reached the spot to enter the water.
I bought an inexpensive action camera for the trip. It came with an underwater housing case. I had the camera easily accessible in the pocket of my shorts. The camera performed amazingly well.
I had a dry bag with me where I kept my snacks, an extra bottle of water and my Sony A6600 with the 10-18mm lens. As conditions allowed, I would pull out the A6600 for some photo opportunities. The camera did a much better job with the dynamic range of the landscape of the Narrows as the action camera had a tendency to blow out the highlights.
Because I was there so early, there were not many people on the trail which made it easier to get photos without people in them. But there were enough people that I had others to watch for navigating the water as the hike involved moving in and out of the water.
I wasn't sure how deep the water would get. For the start of the hike it was ankle deep.
But it wasn't long before the water was up to my hips at times. It was shortly after this spot that I fell for the first time. The fall wasn't too bad, mostly a damaged ego but by that point I had seen a dozen falls.
My goal was to make it to the "Confluence" where the Wall Street begins and there is a branch off to the right to see Veiled Falls. I made it this far but fell again. An older woman near me also fell and we both made the same decision - to turn back. I stopped on the side for a while to grab a snack (pretzels) and then started the hike back. I had hiked three miles, two of them in the Virgin River.
I figured the hike back would be easier, since I wasn't going against the current but there were so many more people and I was going in the opposite direction of most of them. Plus there was sun, where the hike in was in the shade. I fell again in the water. Then, I fell on the dry land trying to navigate over a fallen tree. I sat on the tree, swung my legs over and then somehow I lost my footing on the slippery rocks. That was the fall that hurt. I came away with four scrapes - two on each leg.
The rest of the hike back was tough but I made it without further incident. I was concerned about the open wounds given that the water in the river contained toxin-producing cyanobacteria and there were signs warning not to swim or drink the water. I was able to get some first aid supplies when I got back to town.
After completing the hike, I returned to my car on the shuttle. I stopped at Zion Guru to return the gear and then took a long bath.
The rest of Monday I stayed in and worked on photos but I was up early for a wonderful sunrise walk in the town of Springdale. I was feeling better after a good night sleep.
The final leg of my Zion trip was driving through the park and going out the East exit on my way to Bryce. I hit the road about 9:30 on Tuesday morning. The drive through the Eastern part of the park was wonderful. I made a few stops at pullouts for photos. Close to the Eastern entrance, I stopped for this panorama that includes the Checkerboard Mesa.
More photos from Zion and Springdale are here
The drive to Bryce was pleasant and short. I first stopped at the visitor center and followed the advice of the park ranger to take the Scenic Drive to Rainbow Point and then work my way back North to Bryce Canyon Lodge where I was spending one night. The views were beautiful with interesting rock formations and colors. It was as very different visual experience from Zion. The route turned out to be a great strategy as I could find parking at each stop.
The Bryce Canyon Lodge was a great place to stay, particularly if you want to be disconnected from the world. With no cell coverage from my room and unable to connect to the Internet (which wasn't that good even if it had worked), I was a little off the grid. The location was great, right in the middle of the Amphitheater and easy access to the Rim Trail, Sunrise Point and Sunset Point. The General Store was a .3 mile walk and I hoped to get some first aid supplies. In addition to my wounds from falling, I was developing a blister on the bottom of my left foot. Unfortunately the store was lacking in any inventory, so I went into town to the store there. While in town, I grabbed dinner at the diner.
Earlier in the day, Bryce Point was full. I decided to go back there in the early evening and then drive to Sunset Point. Bryce Point is among the most popular view points in the park.
Even though the view point was close to my hotel room, I decided to drive since it would be dark heading back, plus it would make it easier to have more gear with me. I used my tripod but moved around to different vantage points. The sunset was not spectacular but it was a very pleasant place to spend the evening. I spoke with a number of other photographers trying to find someone who knew the best place to be but everyone else was there for the first time too.
I woke up early on Wednesday and easily made it to Sunrise Point for sunrise. However, it was very cloudy and even rained a little so there was not much opportunity for photos. I enjoyed chatting with the other viewers there as most were doing the same trip I was but in reverse, so they were coming from Capitol Reef, which is where I was heading.
My big hike at Bryce was the Queen's Garden trail. This 1.8 mile round trip hike offers the least difficult descent into the Amphitheater and a chance to see a rock that looks a bit like Queen Victoria.
More photos from Bryce Canyon can be found here.
Several of the people at Sunrise Point at Bryce mentioned a treacherous stretch of the Scenic Byway where there were drop offs on both sides of the road with no guardrails. This had me feeling a little nervous, so I did some more research watching some videos on YouTube. That put me a bit at ease and I gave it a go. It was not bad as scary drives are concerned.
Since I knew taking photos would be impossible in some of the most interesting spots, I decided to set up my Akaso Brave 4 as a dashboard camera. Here is some of that footage. The scary part happens about 10-12 miles South of Boulder UT. More photos from the Scenic Byway are here.
I arrived at Capitol Reef and found the visitor center lot full, so I started the 8 mile (one way) Scenic Drive. Unfortunately the light was not great as it was cloudy and raining part of the time. Still I was able to appreciate the beauty of the landscape.
After the drive, I stopped at the visitor center and got some advice from the park ranger.
The first recommendation from the ranger was to stop at the petroglyphs. This was an interesting exhibit but one which I found hard to follow. I asked a couple who seemed like they were getting it, and they pointed out some of the drawings that could be seen on the rocks. They could not only make out that there were drawings but seemed to know what they represented.
After the petroglyphs, I decided to go check into the hotel which was 12 miles west of the park. On the way exiting the park, I made a quick stop at Chimney Trail.
After I checked in, I decided to get some dinner but it was raining pretty hard now, so I ate at the restaurant on premises and left the rest of the Capitol Reef adventures for the next day.
The previous day when I went past this trailhead, the lot was packed with cars all over the road but when I pulled up a little before 7:30 in the morning there were just a couple of cars. There was a guide for the trail that led me through 17 points and explained what I was seeing. This helped with the senses of making progress. Capitol Reef National Park gets its name, in part, from the Capitol Dome which was easily viewable from the trail.
The first half of the 1.8 mile hike went along smoothly. I passed one couple coming out and they said there was no one ahead and I'd have the view of the 133 foot natural bridge all to myself. I got to the bridge and it was quite a sight.
After a bit, I realized I wasn't sure exactly how I got into this part of the trail nor was I sure how to get out. This was a lollipop design where most of the hike is the same out and back, but you are supposed to circle around. I started hearing some voices, so I decided to wait. Eventually a family from Bucks County PA arrived and I confessed I didn't know how to get out. They weren't sure either, so together we found out way back to the trail. In chatting with them, they were doing roughly the same trip as me only in less time, spending at most one day per park.
The next hike the ranger recommended was the Grand Wash. This was a dry riverbed (the Grand River) which in may ways resembled the Narrows, just without the water. The trail was mostly quiet and seemed to go on forever. Eventually I turned around having gone about 2 miles in and I was about half way through my water, so I figured it was time to return. When I got back to the parking, I met a couple from Lancaster. It seems everyone from Pennsylvania had the same idea this week.
My final stop in Capitol Reef was Goosenecks Point. This involved driving on an unpaved road for one mile and then a short hike up a hill to the view point.
More photos from Capitol Reef can be found here.
On the recommendation of my friend JoAnne Parente I stopped at Goblin Valley State Park. This park was about 15 miles off the main highway, so I figured since I was passing right by on my way to Moab, why not stop? I wasn't sure what to expect. The park features thousands of hoodoos which look a bit like goblins, which are formations of mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles. At first I thought you had to view the goblins from a distance but then I realized there were stairs leading down into Goblin Valley and I could go down there and walk among the goblins.
After I was there for a while, I decided the environment called for some infrared black and white photography, so I walked back up the stairs to change cameras.
More photos of the Goblins can be found here.
I planned to do the whole trip in one blog, but when I had everything together, I couldn't save it because it was too large, so please continue to Part 2.