This post is titled "How I Spent My Summer Vacation"
"10 Days, 6 National Parks, 3,268 Miles and over 1900 Images."
Actually it was 4 National Parks, 1 State Park, and 1 National Monument. This was a trip long in planning and something I always wanted to do, but never seemingly getting around to do it. I got to visit and capture images of places I'd always wanted to visit, covering a lot of ground (by foot and automobile) and doing it all in very short time. The first half of my trip I was alone, driving and hiking in some of the most remote country in the western United States.
The solitude of being alone in such remote places was an exciting, unique and largely spiritual experience. At other times and places, like Yellowstone, it was a rare occasion to find oneself alone. With regards to photography, the only disappointment I had was that nearly the entire trip was under flat, overcast cloud cover. The first and last evenings were the only exceptions to completely flat lighting. I had been hoping for classic southwest monsoonal thunderhead cloud formations providing interesting compositions to the spectacular canyon and mountain scenery.
The first part of my trip took me from home in San Diego to Sedona & Cottonwood, Arizona over night for some unrelated business. The next morning I was headed north to Natural Bridges National Monument in southern Utah. Since time was short, I didn't bother stopping at any of the many wonderful places I had already photographed like Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, or Monument Valley. Arriving after 5pm I was fortunate to secure one of the last first-come-first-serve campsites left at the only campground. This was one of the only evenings there was color in the sky and I was able to get a nice shot of Owachomo Bridge.
The next morning I headed to the nearby south fork of Mule Canyon in Cedar Mesa to hike the relative easy 2.5 miles roundtrip to an Anasazi ruin commonly known as "House on Fire" because of the distinctive appearance of its rock overhang which resembles flame when sunlight striking nearby red rock is reflected back toward the ruins. This of course presumes it's mid morning (which it was for me) and clear skies (which there weren't). However, even in rather poor lighting the rock striations still provide enough variance to produce a nice image with some contrast adjustments in post processing.
Next stop was Moab, Utah for a late lunch and then onto Dead Horse Point State Park to make camp and then move on to a late afternoon hike to "False Kiva" in Canyonlands National Park. This was one of my priority destinations from the outset and I was a little apprehensive as it a somewhat strenuous and remote, but relatively short, 3.2 mile round trip hike. Some light scrambling is required and footing in places can be rather treacherous. False Kiva is a man-made stone circle of unknown origin and purpose, which is not an actual kiva--thus its name. It is also a Class II archeological site of semi-protected status, which is not listed on any of the park service maps. Park rangers will tell you how to locate the trail head and give directions if asked. However, for now they prefer it be kept something of a secrete to minimize traffic to the site. This is one of those very special, spiritual and eerily quite places. Several outstanding photographs have been made by exceptional photographers like Tom Till, Peter Lik, and Wally Pacholka. Late afternoon is the best time to photograph this site. Ideal skies would include clouds with some low angle specular light hitting the buttes and Candlestick Rock in the distance. I did what I could with filters and HDR processing. I also attempted to make a video introduction. However, not bringing a remote microphone I relied instead on the camera's built in mic. Unfortunately, and unknown to me at the time, an insect kept buzzing next to the camera rendering much of the audio useless.
The same evening after returning from False Kiva, I visited a few overlooks to grab some captures of the canyons and Dead Horse Point. Getting up the next morning around 4am, I made the mandatory visit to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands for Sunrise along with the usual dozen plus other photographers. Unfortunately, overcast monsoon clouds obscured the coveted sunrise through the arch. Still, Mesa Arch always seems to make for a great composition regardless of conditions. A quick trip back into Moab for breakfast and fuel, I stopped by Tom Till's gallery hoping to see some of his outstanding photography of the area. Unfortunately, the gallery was closed and waiting for it to open wouldn't fit in with my schedule, so on to nearby Arches National Park.
Arches was the first place in my trip where it got crowded--really crowded! It honestly reminded me of being at Disney World. Cars, buses, and pedestrians were everywhere. To get some breathing room, I headed to the furthest points in Arches and then worked my way back toward the park entrance. Since my schedule didn't allow for morning or evening golden hour photography, the overcast conditions actually provided reasonable mid-day shooting opportunities. I tried to hit the main sites and then by late afternoon, headed to Green River, Utah for dinner and a night in a motel, before heading onto Salt Lake City.
After an early afternoon pickup of my wife Karen at the airport, we headed on to Jackson, Wyoming. Apparently, Jackson is like the La Jolla or Malibu of Wyoming with prices for lodging to match. It makes a great entryway to the nearby national parks and other outstanding recreation. I'd like to have spent more time in Jackson and around the Jackson Hole area. However, keeping to schedule we get up around 4am to head to Morman Row about a dozen miles out of town hoping to photograph sunrise on the classic John Moulton's Barn with alpine glow on the Tetons in the background. Although the soft diffused light made for a nice image, the heavy clouds prevented the hoped for light on the mountains. After a trip back to Jackson for checkout and breakfast, we head out for Yellowstone via Teton National Park.
August is the most visited time of year to Yellowstone and this year was no exception. Most areas we visited were quite crowded, however, it was possible to carve out times and places where some solitude was possible. Best advice is to get up before dawn and head to sites of interest. Our first night we stayed at the Old Faithful Inn. Of all the lodging available in the park, this is the one place you really want to try to get into. We were able to get a reservation, with some persistence, just a couple a weeks before. Dinner reservations for the Inn's Dinning Room are also mandatory.
I had no real itinerary for Yellowstone other than a plan to see as much as we could in the short time we were there. In two days, we were able to circumnavigate the park visiting the typical highlight locations; including Old Faithful Geyser, Upper, Midway & Lower Geyser Basins, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, Haden Valley, Yellowstone River, Canyon and Waterfalls. Also Yellowstone Lake and the West Thumb Geyser Basin. We found lots of Bison to photograph, and although we were always on the look out for Wolves and Bear, we saw none. We did see some Elk, Pronghorn Antelope, Osprey, Hawk and other fowl, most of which were often too distant to photograph well. Bison on the other hand were very plentiful.
One early morning we headed north along, and then miles beyond, Yellowstone Lake traveling along the river to a place the day before we had noticed Bison grazing in an area off the road and across the river where few people seem to have noticed. We followed a small road down to a picnic area by the river. A lot of fog was steaming off of the river obscuring our view and providing a surreal backdrop to the place. We could hear the Bison grunting through the fog that was just beginning to lift. As the fog dissipated, we suddenly found ourselves nearly surrounded by Bison. At times a little too close for comfort and often no clear escape route. We kept our distance and slowly moved away, at times into the river to avoid close contact. Many more had started crossing the river from the other side in large numbers. It was an astonishing moment we got to enjoy in privacy for nearly two hours. Although well hidden from the the main road several hundred yards away, only one other photographer had joined us part way through this incredible event.
There is a lot more I could write about. Each location is a destination in and of itself, deserving much more time and consideration than I could possibly give it in such a single short visit. I hope someday to go back to each place and give it the full attention it deserves.
If you enjoyed these images and the video, be sure to Like it on Facebook and +1 it on Google+. Your comments are also much appreciated. I'll be uploading more images to the Utah and Wyoming Galleries so be sure to revisit occasionally to see what's new.