Epic Photography Trip – Southern Utah

I recently went on a photography trip of a lifetime. I traveled over 2000 miles in 10 days. I drove from Albuquerque to Northern Arizona and then up into Southern Utah. I drove the entire circle around the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and saw several National Parks and took many beautiful hikes.

As I drove into Northern Arizona, I came across a gorgeous field of yellow flowers. It was so beautiful that I just had to stop for photos.

Field of gold near Window Rock, Arizona

My next stop was to let Scarlett stretch her legs. I stopped at the top of a sandstone mesa. There have been a lot of monsoon rains and they have filled up all the low spots on the mesa. Scarlett had a great time running through the pools.

Scarlett playing in the monsoon pools

I thought I saw some movement in one of the pools. When I looked more closely, I saw these creepy creatures swimming around. They were around 2 inches long and were very fast! I had to look them up to find out what they were. They are a unique creature that can lay eggs that can stay dormant for a long time until the rains fill their pools. Then they live for 90 days which is just enough to breed. It’s a fresh water crustacean with three eyes!

Triops

Coming down from the mesa, I came into the big valley near Monument Valley. The view is just so “Arizona”!

I eventually made it to Kanab, Utah. There I met up with Seth Hamel of Enlighten Photography Excursions. Seth was an awesome tour guide. I signed up for his Utah Milky Way Photography Workshop. I recently upgraded all of my camera equipment so I could start learning astrophotography.

Before meeting up with the tour group, I had time to do a couple of hikes. My first hike was in Zion National Park. I hiked the Canyon Overlook Trail. I started at sunrise. The trail was fun to hike. You climbed along the edge of the canyon with a long drop off.

Handrail to keep you safe from the deep canyon drop
Kelly and Scarlett enjoying the hike
Stone steps
Sketchy bridge – Scarlett wasn’t too sure of this bridge

At the end of the trail, the view of the deep canyon was spectacular! You hike up a steep rock incline and then you look down and say “wow”!

The view at the end of Canyon Overlook Trail

My second hike was Kannarra Creek Falls. I had wanted to do this hike for some time after seeing photos online. It didn’t disappoint! You actually hike in the creek through a slot canyon to several waterfalls.

You can see how deep the slot canyon is by how small Scarlett looks

The entire hike was so wonderful. Every bend was more beautiful than the last.

The light was wonderful
Great little waterfalls

I made it to the first waterfall. So beautiful!

First waterfall of the trail
Steep stairs

I wanted to climb the ladder and go further upstream, but Scarlett was too scared of the loud waterfall and open stairs. They were pretty steep and I was afraid that if she made it up the stairs, she wouldn’t be able to go back down. So we turned around at this point.

That evening I met up with the tour group. Our first stop was a sunset shoot on a mesa west of Zion. The geology of this area was very unique.

View of West Zion
The geology here was so unique and stunning

Once the sun set, we went into Zion and took some night photos. I was so pleased with how my new camera equipment performed. It did way better than my old setup.

I loved this bonsai pine tree
A path looking toward one of the main peaks of Zion

Seth had fun light painting “Zion” for us to photograph. He had to write backwards and had to do it within 20 seconds because that was our length of exposure. He did a great job!

Seth light painting for us

The next day I drove up to Bryce Canyon National Park. One of the highlights of the drive was through a cool tunnel in the red canyon area.

Red Canyon Tunnel

I’d never been to Bryce Canyon before so I was really excited to see it. It did not disappoint! I stayed at the lodge right inside Bryce Canyon. It was great to step outside my room and see the spectacular view!

We hiked down one of the many trails at Bryce. Then we stopped several times on our way back up the trail to take photos. My favorite location was at a pine tree with really cool roots.

I loved the toots of this pine tree

Seth was nice enough to take photos of each of us with our camera. It was fun getting a selfie of me.

Selfie at Bryce

I got up before sunrise to set up my camera for sunrise photos at Bryce Canyon. I went to Sunrise Point to take my photos. I thought it was strange that I didn’t see anyone else from my group or any other professional photographers setting up at this location. I found out later that everyone goes to Inspiration Point. I visited Inspiration Point later in the day and I didn’t care for the formations there. I am glad I messed up and went to Sunrise Point instead!

Blue hour at Bryce
Golden hour at Bryce. I love how the golden light highlighted the rock spires. Stunning!
Spectacular!

Our last outing with the tour was to White Pocket in Northern Arizona. This location has been top on my bucket list of places to visit for some time!

The drive to White Pocket is several hours long on a very rough 4WD road. But it was worth the bouncy ride! I wish we had had more time to explore there. I want to go back!

We got there about 2 hours before sunset. I had a blast walking around this unique landscape.

The iconic “Lone Pine” tree that everyone who visits must photograph
Such crazy geology!
Scarlett really enjoyed exploring this place
I loved this swirl formation
Just amazing!
The scale is hard to see in this photo. These boulders were the size of small cars!

After sunset, we set up a couple different places for our milky way photos. I loved photographing this location!

I love how the Milky Way looks like it’s erupting from this rock formation
Swirls of cinnamon

The next day I drove to Escalante, Utah. I stayed at a fantastic place! It’s called Yonder Escalante. You stay in your own private cabin. They have a common area with couches and firepits. I met so many wonderful people hanging out there. They also have a drive in theater and you sit in old classic cars. So cool! I also enjoyed their wonderful pool and hot tub!

My cabin at Yonder Escalante
Drive in theater
The fabulous common area. You can see it’s raining hard while I sat here.

They even come to your cabin to light your own personal firepit to make s’mores!

Yum!!!!!

While staying at Escalante I got to hike another trail on my bucket list: Lower Calf Creek Falls. It was a nice little hike along Calf Creek.

Calf creek

The falls were fabulous!

Lower Calf Creek Falls – 130 feet tall

On my last couple of days, I finished driving the loop. Part of the drive was through Capitol Reef National Park. What a beautiful place! I wish I had time to do a hike in this area, but my trip was coming to a close. Plus, it was just the wrong time of year to hike this area. It was really warm and there isn’t any shade on these trails.

Capitol Reef National Park

I did stop at a roadside trail that had a boardwalk along a tall rock wall with petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs

The last part of the drive was from Escalante to Bluff, Utah (right in the southeast corner of Utah). I had no idea that this drive was the prettiest scenery of the whole trip!

First you drive through some badlands with unique rock colors.

Badlands

Then you enter a deep canyon of gorgeous red walls, with a running creek next to the road and a very steep downhill grade of 14%. I loved it!

I loved these trees backed by the creek and canyon walls

You eventually come out at the eastern end of Lake Powell where the Colorado River feeds into it. An amazing drive!

Colorado River heading towards Lake Powell
Bridge over the Colorado River
Bridge over the Colorado River

After crossing this bridge, I came to an area of the river that had large goosenecks. Stunning!

Goosenecks of the Colorado River

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my epic photography tour of Southern Utah!

Southern Utah Photographic Trip – Part 2

After getting all rested up after hiking The Wave the day before, I was ready for my next tour. I hired a tour company to take me to a remote slot canyon that required true 4WD to get there. The road there must have had 2 feet of very soft sand that I would have definitely not felt comfortable to drive.

We finally arrived at Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyon. Right off the bat it was just beautiful!

Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyon

Scarlett loved it because it was shady and cool and she liked running up ahead and racing back through the narrow slot. I got her to slow down enough for a photo op.

Kelly and Scarlett

The tour guide was amazing. He was very patient and knowledgeable in photographing slot canyons. The best part was that he would help me frame up a shot and then help me with the manual settings to capture the moment with the best possible light.

Sometimes the canyon was very narrow and sometimes it would widen up. I loved how it changed with each curve.

One of my favorite spots of the canyon was photographing this big log. I loved having this focal point in the photo.

Here’s some other photos I took during the tour.

I loved the really narrow areas
The notches in the rock face were hundreds of years ago by Native Americans.

Too soon we reached the end of the slot canyon. A Western Whiptail had fallen into the canyon and was in deep shade. It was so cool in the shade that he was very still. This enabled me to take a few fun photos. Afterwards I picked him up and carried him to a sunny area. He woke up then!!!

Western Whiptail
Beautiful colors and markings

After the tour I realized I had plenty of time to drive to Zion National Park and do a hike for evening photos. I had picked out a hike that is not well known. I wanted to hike a trail that wasn’t crowded by loads of tourists. The trail is called Lower Pine Creek Waterfall Trail. It isn’t listed on any of the park maps so most tourists don’t know it exists.

To get there I had to drive the famous park highway. It’s a very scenic drive with lots of places that make you want to stop for photos.

Western end of the scenic drive with the Virgin River in the foreground.

At one stop there were loads of Big Horn Sheep grazing near the road. I didn’t have my zoom lens with me, but they were so close it didn’t matter!

Big Horn Sheep feeding right below me
I love how they walk a line along the sandstone face of the canyon
Mother and baby
One stopped to check me out

The trail was short but beautiful. It headed into a narrow canyon along Lower Pine Creek. I arrived at the trailhead just before sunset. I was hoping to get some nice golden hour/blue hour photos.

Scarlett was thrilled to have water to play in. We had to cross the creek several times. We also had to scramble over large boulders.

Our first creek crossing and it was so pretty.

There were several nice spots to take photos.

Something about this prickly pear cactus compelled me to take a photo 🙂
This is how rocky the trail was. I love how the sun was still shining on the mountains in the distance.
Beautiful golden hour colors

The trail was supposed to end with a beautiful waterfall. I had seen photos of this waterfall and was really looking forward to photographing it. However, this past winter was a very wet winter and all the creeks in the park were way up.

I got to this huge pond in the creek just before the waterfall. It was at least 6 feet deep. Too deep to cross and keep my camera gear dry! Sadly I had to turn around without seeing the waterfall (which was literally just around the corner from this pond).

End of the trail for me and Scarlett

As I was heading out I heard all of the Bighorn Sheep coming down to the creek for a drink. They were bleating loudly to each other. I looked and looked but never saw a one even though I could hear they were very close.

That hike was a great way to end a fun day!

Southern Utah Photographic Trip – Part 1

In early June I took a trip of a lifetime for a photographer. I have dreamed for years of hiking to and photographing “The Wave” formation in the desert of Utah/Arizona.

In order to hike to “The Wave” formation you have apply to a lottery and hope to win one of 20 tickets available for each day. Based on an average of how many people apply for each day, I calculated that I had a .001% chance of winning a ticket. AND I WON!!!

My hiking date was for Tuesday, June 4. I figured I was pushing it pretty close to the “too” warm weather to hike it comfortably. But based on average temperatures for the area, the high of the day was to be 84 degrees. Not too bad, but hiking on red sandstone was definitely going to be warm.

So I set out for southern Utah on Monday, June 3, and was going to stay for 5 days and see the sights around Kanab, Utah. This town is a cute, quaint town and central to so much desert beauty.

I try to see as many of our country’s National Parks as possible. I believe we should support the preservation of these sites that are so unique to our country. So I planned on stopping at the Hubbell Trading Post National Monument. This is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The trading post was built in 1878 by John Lorenzo Hubbell.

Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona

I couldn’t stay long but had a little time to see the store and the barn next door. The inside of the post had the original wood floors and glass cabinets. Sadly no one was available to show me the Hubbell home. This was a shame because it’s an 11,500 square foot home full of Hubbell Family heirlooms.

The plaque says “Sawyer, May 1901)
Inside the Hubbell Trading Post

I was quickly back on the road. My goal was to get to Kanab before sunset so I could visit the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park for sunset photos.

The sand of the dunes is a beautiful color and the texture is like powder. It was very difficult to walk in. Scarlett was so happy to finally get out of the car and stretch her legs.

One Happy Scarlett!!!

We hiked around for a while to find a good place for sunset photos. Tough climbing up the steep dunes.

Steep dunes to climb

We finally found us a good spot to wait for the sun to reach a nice level for photos. While sitting and enjoying the beautiful evening, Scarlett kept running around and exploring. Getting rid of the pent up energy after sleeping in the car all day.

Having fun in the sand!!!

Finally the sun started setting and the air began to cool. Once this happened all kinds of critters started coming out from the sand. I really liked this translucent grasshopper that popped up right beside me. He was only about 1/4 inch long.

Tiny little sand grasshopper

At last the lighting was perfect to start taking pictures. This one was my favorite.

The sunset set off the color of the sand beautifully

I had thought I could get nice blue hour photos, but the sand just turned dark and didn’t look nice. It would have been nice to stay for milky way photos but I was just too tired to stay up late for that. Plus! My big hike to the Wave was going to start early the next day.

Scarlett and Kelly enjoying the sunset

I decided to hire a tour guide to take me to The Wave. There is no formal trail to take you there which made me nervous to hike by myself. I’m glad I did because I know I would have made a few wrong turns adding a few miles to my overall hike. As it was, I hiked 7 miles that took 5 hours.

I knew it was going to be hot so I got Scarlett a vest that held water and cooled her as it dried. It worked great! I also had her carry a lot of water to keep hydrating it.

We started the hike at 7:30 am. First we followed along the bottom of an arroyo. There were birds singing everywhere but I never saw a one. This was to be the case for my entire trip!

We started our hike in this arroyo

We eventually left the arroyo and started walking along a sandy trail. This led to a large area of sandstone that we had to walk across. This is when the views got so pretty.

Scarlett walking with our guide Larry

The red sandstone was so beautiful. And the formations formed by the wind were stunning.

We had to climb this sandstone rock face

We climbed and skirted along the sandstone formations for a couple of miles.

Look at my Scarlett blazing the trail for us

I really enjoyed this part of the hike. Walking on sandstone is nice because of the firm footing. But eventually the sandstone really started to have an incline to it. It was tough hiking for a good mile.

Hiking along this steep section was tough!

Then we came to another arroyo. We had to climb down the steep sandstone and then back up another steep section. But at this point I could see we were only about 1/4 mile from the wave. That was enough to motivate me!

I loved these yellow flowers! The Wave is straight ahead just below that shady spot on the mountainside.
This was the arroyo I had to cross to get to the Wave
It was a very steep climb up this sandstone face. My guide had to lend a helping hand several times.

Finally I was at The Wave!!!!! You enter from the back of the Wave to the north and the Wave faces south. When I got to the back of the Wave I was happy to see a small puddle of water left from the recent rains in the area. Scarlett was happy too and wanted to jump in and cool off.

I made her wait until I took a few photos. She waited but you could tell she really wanted to play in that water.

Kelly and Scarlett

I finally let Scarlett get in the water. Happy girl!

Having fun!

At first I thought this was the Wave and was thinking, “it sure looked bigger in photos I saw on the Internet…”

My guide must have seen my expression because he laughed and said, ‘This is just the entrance to the Wave!” Yay!

So I walked through that opening to the left behind me. And all I can say is WOW!!! It was stunning! So worth the hike there.

We made it!!!

We stayed about an hour there at the Wave exploring all the nooks and crannies. I couldn’t believe no one else showed up while I was there. It was great having the place to myself for all that time.

There was a cool mini slot canyon next to it. The lighting was perfect when I got there.

Relaxing in the shade of the mini slot
Gorgeous lighting

I hiked above the Wave to get a bigger view. It was so beautiful. The swirling rock was just stunning!

Looking down on the Wave

The views from this area were so pretty. Even though my guide has been here many times, you can tell he still enjoys the views.

My guide Larry taking in the stunning views

I climbed even higher and found a very deep water pool. Scarlett was ecstatic to have so much water to play in.

A nice deep pool reflection
This pool was deep. It was great because it re-hydrated her hiking vest.
You can see the water trail left by Miss Scarlett

Sadly it was time to head back. The day was growing warmer by the minute. My guide offered to take me to another formation but that would have added another 2 hours to my hike. I felt Scarlett and I would do better to just head back now.

On the way back we finally started running into the other hikers that won permits. I couldn’t believe they were just starting their hike at the beginning of the hottest part of the day. I hope they all made it there ok.

Scarlett and I had a wonderful day hiking. We took a 2-hour nap when we got back to the hotel. Then I went out and had a fabulous steak dinner to celebrate. A wonderful way to end the day.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – slot canyons and a river hike in Zion.