To quote Ken Burns…..National Parks are the country’s best idea. The breadth of the country’s national park experience varies from the flat swampy bird filled Everglades NP to the ice fields of Glacier NP to the spectacular cliffs and spires of Grand Canyon NP and everything in between.
If you’re into canyons and rock formations, southern Utah contains five national parks with some of the best hiking and photography anywhere on the planet.
Canyonlands NP contains one of the most famous arches in the country; Mesa Arch which has been photographed millions of times. The shot above is not particularly original but it’s on most landscape photographers bucket list since the light from the sunrise reflects off of the bottom surface of the arch and brilliantly lights up the underside of the arch. The brilliant red/orange glow on the underside of the arch lasts 15 minutes before it melts away for the rest of the day.
Obviously one needs to get here before sunrise to get in position to take the shot and capture the sun star in the image. I got there an hour before sunrise ( I needed a headlamp to walk the trail) and was greeted by 20 other tripod equipped photographers when I arrived. The arch is less than 20 ft. across and getting positioned in such a crowd takes some patience and a sharing attitude as you will undoubtedly be crossing tripod legs and bumping each other frequently.
As the most popular arch in Arches NP, Delicate Arch draws tens of thousands of visitors each year….and rightly so! There were probably 50 people viewing and taking photos of the arch the afternoon I was there. As you can see in the image, the setting sun casts beautiful light on the arch in the last hour of the day and gives the arch the rich red glow that makes the image. Of course having the snow-capped La Sal Mountain range in the background helps.
Among a host of natural formations, Thor’s hammer is likely the most iconic image of Bryce Canyon NP. Belying the name, Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon. It has no river running through it carving the formations over millions of years (like the Grand Canyon or Zion Canyon). The hoodoos in the park stand on cliff sides and have been formed over millions of years by water seeping into the rock with the resulting ice expansions causing disruptions in the rock.
The Milky Way was in the wrong place this night ( I guess it’s never really in the wrong place….it just wasn’t where I wanted it to be to place it in this image!). This tree shape is perfect for this shot…..it leans into the frame and has the right balance of branches.
The legend is that early cowboys would run wild mustangs into a natural narrow ledge on a cliff overlooking a 2,000 ft. drop and close a fence on the ledge when they gathered the horses. At one point, apparently, the horses were not released and subsequently died of thirst….hence the name.
Unlike Bryce Canyon or the Grand Canyon, visitors to Zion enter the park at the bottom of the famous canyon carved over the millennia by the Virgin River. Many of the most famous hikes in the park rise dramatically as you wind your way up to the top of the 2,500 ft. cliffs. The Angels Landing trail leads an intrepid hiker to the small mesa (Angels Landing) which is only accessible by climbing across steep ledges with rock cliffs on one side and a 2,000 ft. fall off on the immediate other side. Helpfully, park rangers have installed chains on the cliff side to hang on to.
Sometimes serendipity happens and you have to be ready to see it and capture it. By itself this tree isn’t particularly scenic or dramatic, but the afternoon the sun lit up the tree and it was possible to isolate the tree away from the background and make a very nice image.
Broken Arch is in Arches NP and gets its name from the split in the top of the arch which looks like it’s about to break.
Another serendipitous moment…..seeing these and imagining the image is part of the photographers skill. This spiky tree in the shadows shows off well against the red Cliffs and blue sky in the background.
Another of the iconic images in Arches NP. You have to be a little adventurous to get this image because the correct photographic spot is up on a small ledge with an access trail that requires quite a bit of agility to navigate. But of course….no problem for me!!
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