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.

Mesa Arch
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

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.

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Delicate Arch

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.

Thor's Hammer
Thor’s Hammer

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.

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Bryce at night

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.

Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park

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.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

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.

Afternoon Light
Afternoon Light

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
Broken Arch

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.

Spikes
Spikes

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.

Turret Arch

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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Frank

Shrewsbury, MA

Puffs of smoke and the screech of tires from touchdown dissipated into the darkness as my late night Jetblue flight taxied to the gate. “Welcome to Las Vegas. Your checked bags will be at carousel five” announced our flight attendant. After gathering my camera bag I shuffled off the plane with my fellow passengers and went to carousel five to get my luggage. It arrived quickly and I moved outside to get a taxi

The taxi line at McCarron Field is very organized. You get in the taxi line  which is monitored and managed by several efficient folks who move you to a location where a taxi and you arrive simultaneaously. The line took a few minutes to clear everyone and I took the opportunity to once again congratulate myself for getting a great room at Circus Circus for $27.

My fortiesh driver popped out of his taxi sporting a bright yellow mohawk bisecting his shaved skull and accessorizing tats over most of his body, including his skull. And of course he wore the appropriate Megadeath teeshirt with chains that could have been used as snow chains in Minneapolis in January. As we drove to Circus Circus, I initiated a little small talk and asked what brought him to Las Vegas. “About ten years ago I lived in Indiana when my ex-wife and her boyfriend kidnapped my daughter and moved her to Michigan”, he said. He proceeded to narrate a personal saga of retribution that included breaking and entering, car chases, weapons, heavy police presence across the midwest, incarceration and finally refuge in Las Vegas. Jeez! I’ve been picked up by Travis Bickel.

We stopped at a traffic light and he rolled down his window next to a car of fully decked out young women and sought their friendship by asking several personal intimate questions. The girls rolled their eyes and windows and moved on down the road. He did this several more times at other traffic lights using pick up lines that, according to him, almost always land him a girlfriend or two for the evening. It didn’t appear to be working. My head was on a desperate swivel looking for Circus Circus.

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Valley of Fire State Park

Fifty miles northeast of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park is Nevada’s oldest state park. After being in the park for a while, one gets the feeling that in some past time an ancient artistic God was challenged to decorate this land with the wildest possible array of sandstone sculptures and that he took his work seriously.

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Sandstone Bumps

The park derives its name from the red sandstone formations created during the dinosaur age by uplifting of the land and refined over millions of years by constant wind and water erosion. It’s formations are unlike many other southwest sandstone formations which have a weathered smooth appearance from all the years of wind and water. These formations have a jagged look as if they were sandstone lava that just popped out of the earth’s crust and recently cooled.

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On the Road

 Summer temperatures in the park can approach 120 degrees so the other three seasons are great times to visit the park.

Spheres
Spheres

This is an area called the Fire Wave. It’s one of the really cool locations in the park but confoundingly, it’s not on any of the park provided maps.

Atlatl Petroglyphs
Atlatl Petroglyphs

The Atlatl, the predecessor to the bow and arrow, was a notched stick used by ancient peoples to throw spears. You can see a depiction of it in the bottom center of this petroglyph image. It’s thought that this wall art was created about 3,000 years ago. Some of the images on the wall are obvious but others are still mysteries to the university experts. Sadly, the parts of this wall art that are reachable have now been protected with a hard plastic shell because some visitors to the park have seen fit to scratch graffiti among the figures.

Afternoon Light
Afternoon Light

This is the situation that photographers look for; shafts of light shooting across a grand landscape. In this case the main shaft of light illuminates formations in the center of the image, but there is also some light on the background formations in the upper third of the image.

Fire in the Sky
Fire in the Sky

I like the look of the fire raging in the clouds in this image. I wish I had found a better foreground that might have had a line of these bushes leading to the distant cloud fire.

Lines in the Sand
Lines in the Sand

This image and the next image are from a different state park, Coral Dunes State Park in Utah. They were both taken late in the afternoon with dramatic sidelighting.

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Coral Dunes

There are special challenges involved in photographing sand dunes. Protecting equipment from the blowing sand is very important. On this day the wind was blowing a modest 10-15 mph but it carried this fine dust which will get into every part of your camera if it’s not protected. I used a plastic cover which was not 100% effective.

Thank you for reading my latest blog entry. If you thought it was worthy of your time and you hadn’t already done so, please take the opportunity to subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button on the right side of the page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Also, you can share this blog entry on your Facebook page by clicking the share button below or you can email it to folks by clicking on the “Email” button.

Shrewsbury, MA

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