July 14th, 2016
I recently spent 2 days photographing Zion National Park as part of a 10 day whirlwind tour of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona with my photographer friends Sarah and Luis. Zion Canyon blew me away with it’s natural beauty, although capturing that beauty in photographs was quite challenging. You see, Zion Canyon is not that wide, and it’s monoliths rise up at what seem like 90 degree angles on both sides. That’s what makes it so impressive to look at. To capture the peaks from the canyon floor, you need a wide-angle lens, which tends to make them seem smaller and less impressive in photographs. And to get up above the canyon floor, you’ve got to hike, and hike, and hike some more on some pretty intense trails. Despite the at-times challenging photography, visiting Zion Canyon was an incredible experience, and I managed to walk away with a handful of successful photographs. Here’s how we spent our 2 days:
After seeing miles and miles of desolate desert while driving in from Las Vegas, we arrived at our first detour, the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Highway. The 4-wheel drive only dirt road took us up and over a ridge with several impressive views of Smithsonian Butte and Gooseberry Mesa. We got out of the car with our real cameras and after hiking up a small knoll, we had our first views of the side of Zion!
After our little detour, we continued on to Springdale and checked into the Quality Inn and Suites. The hotel was just a few miles from the park entrance.
That evening we headed into the park to shoot sunset at The Watchman. There is a small bridge over the Virgin River with views toward a peak that is called The Watchman. This is one of the “Classic” views of zion. We shot from the bridge, and then walked down along the river to check out The Watchman Trail. Sunset that evening was a bit lackluster, so we returned the next morning to shoot from the bridge at dawn.
After shooting dawn from the bridge, we drove back to the Zion Human History Museum. Directly behind the museum is a viewing area with an up close and personal view of The Towers Of The Virgin. Just as the sun rises over the horizon, the towers glow an intense orange color. I shot this scene with my 24-70mm lens fully racked out at 70mm. I took 5 vertical shots and stitched them into a panorama.
After sunrise, we hopped on the Zion shuttle right in front of the museum and headed up into the canyon. We got off at the stop for the Court of the Patriarchs. We crossed the street and walked down by the river, where there was a waterfall and a nice view of the three peaks that make up the court. The peaks are so close, the only way to get them all in the frame was with a ultra-wide lens. The sun hadn’t quite made it far enough up to illuminate the peak on the right so we waited and froze our butts off before getting the shot. The mid-morning scene was so contrasty, I thought it worked better as a black and white.
After a little rest and lunch, we geared up and headed back into the park to attempt the famous Angel’s Landing hike. The hike started with a cautionary sign telling us how many people have died there. Then it meandered along the Virgin River, slowly increasing in altitude before reaching a steep set of switchbacks. About halfway up the switchbacks was a stone wall with a gorgeous view over the canyon where we stopped to take selfies. Pressing on from there, we passed into a deep ravine and then up another steep set of switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles before finally reaching Scout’s Landing.
From Scout’s Lookout, we continued up the next ridge using chains to hang on! We reached the base of the Angel’s Landing “spine” where we stopped to do a little photo shoot and take in the beautiful view.
After the strenuous hike up Angel’s Landing, we went out for Margarita’s and slept in the next morning. After checking out of our hotel we moved on to our next destination taking the scenic Rt. 9 through the Eastern portion of the park.