Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76072or

Coyote Gulch Backpacking Photography

Coyote Gulch Backpacking Photography

Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76072orCoyote Gulch  #76072or  Purchase

Southwest Utah has some of the finest desert backpacking opportunities in North America. The area boasts 5 national parks, 8 national monuments, and 7 state parks. In addition, it has the largest concentration of natural arches, bridges, and slot canyons in the world. If that’s not enough for you many of these features also spill over into Northern Arizona.

So, where to start? Well, that depends of course not only on your interests, but also on your fitness, experience level, and time available. Some of the best trips are into the mazes of canyons. These trips usually offer more shade and dependable sources of water, two very important considerations in the desert. At the top of the list for many is a trip into Coyote Gulch in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Waterfall in Coyote Gulch Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76147aCoyote Gulch Waterfall  #76147a  Purchase

A Coyote Gulch backpacking trip has all of the best features of the Southwest packed into one trip. High canyon walls, arches, natural bridges, lush riparian areas, and waterfalls, are a desert rarity. In addition, a trip into Coyote Gulch is doable by most backpackers and requires no canyoneering experience.

In addition to Coyote Gulch being an outstanding backpacking trip, it can be a trip of a lifetime for photographers. All of the features mentioned above are also prime subject matter for landscape and nature photographers. And as I mentioned in my previous post, Southern Utah Photography Tips, the quality of reflected light in Coyote Gulch is outstanding.

For this post I’ll be giving tips for the average backpacker and photographer. Depending on the source, entry point, and length of trip, a multi-day Coyote Gulch Backpacking trip is rated moderate to difficult.

Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #7599Jacob Hamblin Arch #75998  Purchase

Highlights of Coyote Gulch

One of the best, if not the best, attractions of a Coyote Gulch visit is Jacob Hamblin Arch.  This large arch is located in a horseshoe bend amidst high sandstone walls. While not the largest arch in the Southwest its setting makes it one of the most impressive, and a must-see for any visitor. Adjacent to the arch is an enormous alcove with some pretty impressive acoustics.

Further downstream Coyote Natural Bridge is another interesting attraction. And a mile or two further is Cliff Arch,  a spectacular area which includes some beautiful waterfalls. If you venture to the end of Coyote Gulch the final coup de grâce is the confluence with the Escalante River and a view of Stevens Arch, high above the canyon floor. Aside from these attractions are the wonderfully sculpted sandstone canyon walls painted with streaks of desert varnish.

With these features alone Coyote Gulch would be worth a visit. But it’s the lush vegetation that adds a finishing touch to the masterpiece. In fall the cottonwood trees blaze yellow, making a trip into Coyote Gulch a near-mystical experience.

Steam flowing through giant alcove adjacent to Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76338Coyote Gulch #76338  Purchase

Photographing during a Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trip

All of the highlights in the above section are great subject matter for photographers. For a photographically successful trip, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind.

First, reflected, or bounced light, is one of the hallmarks of canyon country photography. This is when the sun hits one side of the canyon then reflects on the opposite side, giving a beautiful warm natural glow to sandstone rock. Without it the walls of slot canyons and many other formations would appear dull and lifeless.

In most instances, a sunny cloudless sky is usually not favorable for landscape photography. But when you’re working in a canyon with high walls it’s just the thing you need.

Sand and mud patterns resembling a horshoe crab in Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76326Mud patterns in Coyote Gulch  #76326  Purchase

Another element to be aware of when photographing in Coyote Gulch are its wonderful shapes and patterns. The curving walls and ceilings of alcoves, streaks of desert varnish on sandstone walls, and ripple marks in mud and sand all make for unique and interesting compositions. Add to this trees blazing in fall color and you have all the elements of great landscape and nature photography.

Essential Tip:

Always be observant and look around for interesting photo opportunities. Slow down, give yourself plenty of time, and be willing to stop to take photos.

Essential Gear Tips:

Towards the end of this post, I’ll suggest some camera gear to bring along. But one of the most important items you’ll need is a good wide or ultra-wide angle lens. If you want to make some great photos of Jacob Hamblin Arch and the nearby alcove you’ll need an ultra-wide lens to fit it all in.

Secondly, you’ll need to bring along a good tripod. Alcoves and other areas in deep shade will require long exposures which are difficult to achieve handheld. Similarly, achieving the silky texture of waterfalls will require a tripod for long exposures.

Cottonwood tree in Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76078Cottonwood tree in fall color Coyote Gulch #76078  Purchase

Best Seasons for Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trips

Spring and Fall are the two best seasons for a Coyote Gulch backpacking trip. The temperatures are mild and the dangers of flash flooding are minimal. Mosquitoes and flies can be irksome in summer but are at their minimum during spring and fall. In spring the vibrant greens of trees and bushes are an outstanding contrast to the warm hues of the sandstone canyon walls. Of course, the reason is similar in fall, when the yellow leaves of cottonwood trees are providing the drama.

Summer isn’t the best season for a Coyote Gulch Backpacking trip. The two biggest reasons are heat and flash floods. With temperatures regularly in the triple digits, even shade in the canyons can provide little relief from the heat. Late June to early September is also the monsoon season in the Southwest. During monsoon season flash floods can be frequent, and deadly when traveling in canyons. Sunny days are no guarantee of safety. Storms and heavy rain can occur many miles from a canyon. But eventually all that water will come rushing down into the canyons. Never forget that canyons, especially slots, were formed by these floods.

Cliff Arch in Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76201Cliff Arch Coyote Gulch  #76201  Purchase

Winter is also not the best season to visit Coyote Gulch. Temperatures can be cold to freezing, although doable. However, access roads can present a major problem. Nearly all unpaved roads in Southern Utah are impassable when wet. Even 4×4 vehicles can easily get stuck. The main access road to Coyote Gulch is Hole in the Rock Road. This gravel road is well maintained, although often covered with miles of bone-jarring washboards. However, side roads branching from it generally are not. If you do go in winter it is necessary to check with the local visitor center for road condition updates.

Routes into Coyote Gulch

There are four different entry and exit routes in Coyote Gulch. All four have their advantages and disadvantages. I’ll briefly describe them from north to south.

Dry Wash in Upper Coyote Gulch Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument UtahUpper Coyote Gulch #75937

Red Well:

This entry will take you down the entire length of Coyote Gulch. To date, this is the route I took on my only Coyote Gulch backpacking trip. A round trip would be about 28 miles. I think this entry is interesting in that the gulch starts in a wide shallow dry wash with low walls and little vegetation. Over the miles it gradually transforms into a deep canyon with high walls, a running creek, and lush vegetation. The upper reaches are less traveled and the vegetation can easily turn into a fatiguing bushwhacking trek.

The trailhead is 30 miles south on Hole in the Rock Road, then 1.5 miles down BLM 254. Parking is at the end of the road.

Hurricane Wash:

The entry point will bring you into the scenic heart of Coyote Gulch.  At around 27 miles roundtrip it is only slightly shorter than Red Wells. The advantage is that the less scenic upper parts are bypassed. The big disadvantage is that for the first several miles the route crosses over uninteresting open terrain with deep sand. On a hot sunny day this section can be difficult.

The trailhead is 33 miles south on Hole in the Rock Road.

Red Well Trailhead into Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area UtahRed Well Trailhead Sign  #76354

The Sneak Route, or Jacob Hamblin Arch Water Tank Route:

This route provides the shortest access directly into and out of the most scenic area of the gulch. It has gained much popularity over the years, and some will say it is the best route. However, it is definitely not the easiest route for the inexperienced! The last short section is over a 200′ descent on a 45º Slickrock slope with significant exposure. And for all but the most experienced, or foolhardy, a climbing rope is necessary for a safe ascent or descent, especially with a heavy pack. Do your research and know your limitations before choosing this potentially dangerous route.

Go 36.25 miles south on Hole in the Rock Road. Turn left on Fortymile Ridge Road BLM 270, follow 4.5 miles and park at the corral and water tanks.

Crack in the Wall:

This may be the most popular route into Coyote Gulch, and probably will be the entry point for my next visit. It enters the gulch at its lower reaches, not far from the confluence with the Escalante River.  From here you can hike the entire length of the gulch and exit at Red Well. This entry also involves the longest drive to the trailhead, with the last four or five miles on rough Fortymile Ridge Road. After hiking about two miles the route descends into the gulch via a tight crack in a cliff. You’ll most likely need a rope to lower your pack separately down this section. There is a larger sand dune below the crack which may be strenuous to climb on the way out.

Go 36.25 miles south on Hole in the Rock Road. Turn left on Fortymile Ridge Road BLM 270, follow 6.8 miles. The last two miles can be sandy.

Navigating in Coyote Gulch

While at its most basic navigating through the gulch is simply following the stream up or down through the canyon. However, in some sections like in the mid to upper reaches navigation can be more difficult. Less traveled parts have few obvious trails and can be a tangle of brush. And sometimes there are too many trails that try to follow the path of least resistance. While other areas can be confusing with side canyons that can lead to dead ends. A GPS may or may not be helpful if the signal is lost among the tall canyon walls. Topographic maps are helpful but some do not have enough detail to pick out the correct route. Coyote Gulch is one of the few areas where I was mostly relying on my route-finding instinct.

Giant sandstone alcove adjacent to Jacob Hamblin Arch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area UtahGroup Camp in Coyote Gulch  #75969

Camping and Regulations in Coyote Gulch

The best places for camping in Coyote Gulch area in the vicinity of Jacob Hamblin Arch, Coyote Natural Bridge, and near the Crack in the Wall. All of them are at or near the most scenic spots and have access to water in the creek or seeps from walls.

The most important thing to keep in mind when selecting a campsite is the potential for flooding. Look for established sites that are at least fifteen feet above the canyon floor. In addition, search the site for obvious signs of previous floodings, like debris wrapped around the base of trees.

    • Fires are not permitted anywhere in Coyote Gulch.
    • All human waste must be bagged and carried out. Restop2 bags are recommended
    • Food Storage. Small rodents are the problem here, they can peck through bags, packs, and tents. Hang food or better year use a bear canister.
    • Water is available from the stream but can be very silty. There are two natural springs, one near Jacob Hamblin Arch. Regardless if you use the spring or stream, treat or boil all water.
    • Permits are required for all overnight visits. They can be obtained at the trailhead or in the visitor center in the town of Escalante.
    • Pets are not permitted in Coyote Gulch, nor are any form of a pack animal.
    • Rangers regularly patrol the gulch so make sure you have your permit ready and are following all the rules.
    • Stop by the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center for current conditions, permits, maps, and waste disposal bags

Essential Tip:  Every year visitation is increasing dramatically, rules and regulations can change every year or even season. Always check in advance for changes in regulations, permits, and road and trail conditions.

Backcountry camp with red tent in Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area UtahCoyote Gulch campsite  #76082

Safety during a Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trip

As mentioned earlier, flash flooding and heat are the main, but not the only, safety concerns while in Coyote Gulch. If you go in spring or fall these concerns will be at a minimum.

    • Flash Floods and rain. If you do get caught in heavy rain or flash flood situations, immediately move to higher ground. Be prepared to wait it out until water levels have dropped to a safe level.
    • Always check multiple weather forecasts before heading out to the trailhead. If conditions aren’t optimal choose another destination.
    • Quicksand. Yes, it does exist, but in my experience, it’s not like what you see in old western tv shows and movies. You will encounter it mainly along streams in canyons, especially after a heavy rain, or flood. If you’re walking on a bank along a creek that suddenly quivers like jello and liquifies under your foot that’s quicksand. It’s easy enough to extract your foot if you’re alert and don’t proceed any further. If you get both feet in it you’ll have more trouble extracting yourself and you may lose a shoe. But you won’t slowly sink to your death like in the movies.
    • Make sure you have a full tank of gas and plenty of extra water before heading out to the trailhead.

Coyote Natural Bridge Coyote Gulch Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76235Coyote Natural Bridge  #76235  Purchase

Backpacking Gear Suggestions

Backpacking gear for Coyote Gulch is pretty similar to that for most other backpacking locations. The main difference would be footwear.

    • Footwear: You most definitely be walking in and out of the water all day long in Coyote Gulch. Trail runners, hiking shoes, neoprene river shoes, or cheap sneakers work best. Between the constant wetting and abrasive sand and mud, whatever you wear will take a serious beating. Leather hiking boots are not a good choice.
    • Tent: Lightweight three-season tent or bivy. I use a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2
    • Tent Liner: This will protect the bottom of your tent from abrasive sand. Don’t buy an expensive liner to match your tent. A thick plastic sheet costs pennies and will do the trick. I bought a large sheet from a hardware store, and cut it to size. I’ve been using it for nearly 20 years!
    • Backpack: Well-fitting and large enough for all your gear. My preference is Osprey packs, they’re well designed and well made.
    • Sleeping bag: Unless it’s a mid-winter trip a bag rated to 30º or 40º is sufficient. My preference is Western Mountaineering down bags.
    • Sleeping Pad: I prefer a Therma-Rest inflatable pad. They are more comfortable, offer better insulation, and pack small than currently closed-cell foam pads.
    • Stove:  Fires are not permitted in Coyote Gulch, so a camp stove is essential. Bring whatever you have as long as it’s reliable. I recently switched over to an MSR Reactor Stove System and am extremely happy with its performance.
    • Water Purification: I boil all my water, the weight of extra fuel required to boil water with my Reactor stove is incredibly negligible. I’ve estimated the weight is less than that of a filtration pump. Online reviews report that UV Pens can be unreliable. I’ve also used filtration pumps and found them a pain to use and maintain, especially with very silty canyon water.
    • Headlamp: and batteries
    • Food: Whatever floats your boat. But make sure to bring some trail snacks or energy bars, also pack a drink mix to replenish electrolytes. I think most powders sold in outdoor stores are way overpriced and taste horrible, so I stick with good old Gatorade.
    • Clothes: Lightweight quick-drying pants and t-shirts are best. Avoid cotton, it has little insulation when wet and dries slowly. My preference for baselayers and a pullover sweater is Merino wool. It’s very warm, lightweight, quick-drying, and also doesn’t smell as bad as synthetics after a few days. I also bring a light down jacket, and a rain shell if the weather is uncertain.
    • First aid kit
    • Maps and compass
    • Parachute cord 50′ length, for hanging food or lowering packs
    • Hat
    • Bandana
    • Multi-tool

Essential Tip:  Whenever possible please support local outdoor recreation stores over big online retailers. For Coyote Gulch Escalante Outfitters is a good source for gear, current conditions, and dining.

Giant sandstone alcove adjacent to Jacob Hamblin Arch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76264Coyote Gulch Alcove #76264  Purchase

Photography Gear for a Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trip

What type of camera gear you bring depends of course on your goals. For small prints, blogs, and social media posts a smartphone or pocket camera may be sufficient.

Listed below is my standard kit while on a multi-day backpacking trip. It has been sufficient for all my needs in nearly every situation. The camera body and lenses in my kit are a little heavy, but the resulting image quality is what I require.

    • Nikon D850 with 3 extra fully charged batteries
    • Nikkor Lens:
      14-24mm 2.8G ED
      24-70mm 2.8E ED
      70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
    • Gitzo 1532 Tripod
    • Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
    • B+H Polarizing Filter
    • Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release
    • Microfiber cleaning cloth
    • Lowe Pro 75 Toploader  camera case*

*I always carry my camera in a top-loading case with a chest harness. That way I don’t have to remove my backpack for a quick photo. In addition, this case has extra compartments and room for things like a map, snack, sunglasses, etc.

Steam flowing through canyon walls of Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76250Coyote Gulch  #76250  Purchase

Leave No Trace

Please Please Please!  Don’t plan a trip to this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). Coyote Gulch and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

    • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
    • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
    • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
    • Leave what you find.                                            
    • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
    • Respect wildlife.  
    • Be considerate of other visitors.

Giant sandstone alcove adjacent to Jacob Hamblin Arch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #75967Coyote Gulch Alcove #75967  Purchase

For more tips on Backpacking Photography check out these posts:
Backpacking Photography Tips
Backpacking Photography Gear Tips

Thanks for reading, and feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Coyote Gulch Backpacking and Photography are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Steam flowing through giant alcove adjacent to Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah

Southern Utah Photography Tips

Southern Utah Photography Tips

Steam flowing through giant alcove adjacent to Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah Southern Utah Photography TipsGlen Canyon National  Recreation Area #76338  Purchase

The quality of light and subject matter in Southwest Utah has been attracting photographers since the earliest days of photography. Photographers from all over the world come to photograph its deserts, canyons, hoodoos, wildflowers, and open vistas. In this follow-up to my recent post, Southern Utah Travel Tips, I hope to offer some practical advice for a safe and successful Southern Utah Photography tour. Much of the information in this post can be applied to many other areas of the Southwest as well.

Leprechaun Canyon, one of a group of canyons called the Irish Canyons near Hanksville Utah Southern Utah Photography TipsReflected light in Leprechaun Canyon #74983  Purchase

Make Use of Reflected Light

Canyons

Reflected, or bounced light, is one of the hallmarks of Southern Utah Photography. This is the light that gives such a beautiful warm natural glow to sandstone rock. Without it, the walls of slot canyons and many other formations would appear dull and lifeless.

In most instances, a sunny cloudless sky is usually not favorable for landscape photography. But when you’re working in a canyon with high walls it’s just the thing you need. When the sun hits one side of the canyon it’s reflected on the opposite side.  Since the rock of Southern Utah is mainly sandstone with various tones ranging from cream to red it is that light that gives it a warm glow.

Twilight afterglow view from Panorama Point Capitol Reef National Park Utah Southern Utah Photography TipsPost-sunset glow over Capitol Reef National Park #75454   Purchase

Clouds

Clouds in the morning and evening also offer another opportunity to photograph this glow. Under the right conditions during the golden hour, the sun can reflect its rays off the bottom layer of clouds, giving them a warm tone. The light from the clouds then bathes the landscape below in that glow.

If you are lucky enough to be there sometimes the sun briefly breaks through heavy clouds just minutes before sunset. In these instances, it is imperative to have your composition ready and exposure calculations ready. These special instances can last only minutes before they are over.

Clearing storm at sunset over Cedar Mesa Bears Ears National Monument UtahCedar Mesa #74750  Purchase

Then there are times when the light continues to intensify on clouds even after sunset. Just when you think it’s time to pack it in it starts getting better and better. These instances are fairly rare and it takes a bit of experience to gauge when they may occur. So always wait until it’s obvious the light show is over.

Essential Tip:  When photographing in narrow canyons check out the lighting conditions throughout the day. One side may look great and offer good compositions in the morning, and the other side may look even better later in the day. Also, don’t overlook midday light, it all depends on the height of the walls and their orientation of them to the sun.

Scout Relentlessly

I can’t overemphasize the importance of scouting. Good location scouting makes the difference between coming away with great photographs and missing out on golden opportunities. There’s not much worse than being in a location during excellent lighting conditions and not knowing where the good compositions are.

Wild Horse Window, a natural arch inside a snadstone alcove. San Rafael Reef UtahSan Rafael Reef #75102  Purchase

Good location scouting begins long before you even head out. There are many sources available today to help ensure that you’re successful in the field. Some of the best and most obvious are websites of National Parks and Monuments, Google Earth, Google Image Search, adventure websites, and blogs, to name a few.

Good topographical maps are essential for not only route-finding but also for identifying landforms and angles of light. Whether you prefer actual physical maps or their digital counterparts they can help guide you to and pinpoint a location you first came across on Google Earth or elsewhere.

As soon as I settle in at a location I like to head out to explore the most obvious possible areas for compositions. I’ll walk around the subject matter and make mental notes of angles of interest and how and where light may strike it at different times of the day. After that, I’ll move on to the next subject or slowly expand in a circle from the first.

Checkerboard Mesa Zion National ParkZion National Park #76996  Purchase

After feeling I’ve covered all the possibilities available I’ll then assign priorities. Then, returning when the light is good I’ll work my way down the list. Often during the hectic period of golden hour priorities can and will shift. Sometimes a mundane or unnoticed composition from early scouting may turn out to look quite different and interesting under the right conditions.

Essential Tips:

    • Always research before you head out.
    • Thoroughly walk through your location in advance.
    • Seek out compositional elements, leading lines, foreground subject matter, unusual rock formations, plants, etc.
    • Always be observant, look up, down, low to the ground, and behind you.
    • Previsualize your subject, think of how it may look in a different light and how you want the final image to appear.
    • Prioritize subject matter and compositions.
    • Don’t make the mistake of thinking that good photos can be made only during golden or blue hours. Under the right conditions, you can make great images any time of the day!

Petrified Dunes slickrock formations, Snow Canyon State Park UtahSnow Canyon State Park #77042 Purchase

Start Early and Stay Late

Most serious photographers know that a key to success is being at the right place at the right time. The previous tips helped you to identify the right place. Now you need to be there at the right time. Get used to setting your alarm early, very early. If you’re not an early riser by nature it helps to start getting into the habit before you actually start your trip.

How early you need to rise depends on how far you are from your subject matter. A disadvantage of staying in motels or lodges is that you may have a long drive ahead of you to get to your subject in time. Part of your research and scouting should have been to identify a base camp in close proximity to your subject.

Ideally, you should arrive and be in place at least an hour before sunrise. Longer still if you plan on photographing morning blue hour. Some sunrise locations are notoriously popular with photographers. For those places arriving even earlier is essential.  For example, at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park photographers will vie for a prime spot hours before it even gets light out. Some may even camp out the entire night to ensure an optimum spot.

Moki Dugway Bears Ears National MonumentCedar Mesa Afterglow #74762  Purchase

In the evening be prepared to keep working past sunset. And don’t give up if clouds moved in before sunset canceling out any good light. All you need is a last-minute break in the clouds to bring the drama back. Often in the Southwest clouds tend to dissipate around sunset. This can set up the elements for some spectacular afterglow or alpenglow lighting conditions.

Essential Tips:

    • Always have a good headlamp, preferably an LED one with multiple settings and a red light option.
    • Autofocus on your camera may not be accurate in low light. Always switch to manual focus, make test exposures and check focus on your camera’s monitor.
    • Make sure your headlamp has fresh batteries
    • Scout your location well beforehand, so finding it in the dark will be easier.
    • Use extra caution around hazardous areas when it’s dark, straying from the path can lead to cliffs.
    • Be Patient and persistent
    • Don’t pack it in at sunset, excellent light can be had after sunset during the Blue Hour, see next segment.

Factory Butte UtahFactory Butte during Blue Hour #75293  Purchase

Utilize Blue Hour Light

Although blue hour photography has gained in popularity in recent years it is still overlooked by some. Blue hour is simply the period of twilight both before sunrise and after sunset. The length of the blue “hour” varies throughout the year and with atmospheric conditions.

Why photograph during the blue hour? There are a few reasons, one of which is the beautiful soft glow and tones the light has. In the morning it starts out with deep blues then changes to purples, pinks, reds, and oranges. In the evening of course the sequence reverses, with purples and blues to be the last in the show.

Another reason the blue hour is so special is the soft contrast present due to the diffused light. It’s very easy to bring both highlights and shadows into the range of one exposure. There also is a lovely amount of color saturation spread out over the scene. In most instances, you won’t need to add any additional saturation in post-processing.

Virgin River at Court of the Patriarchs Zion National Park UtahMorning Blue Hour in Zion National Park #76937b  Purchase 

Finally, during the blue hour, the long exposures necessary will give a silky feel to moving water and clouds. Although it’s all down to personal taste this effect can accentuate the mood of your images.

Essential Tips:

    • You will definitely need to use a good sturdy tripod
    • Autofocus on your camera may not be accurate in low light. Always switch to manual focus, make test exposures and check focus on your camera’s monitor.
    • Some means of remote shutter release will definitely help reduce vibration
    • For very long exposures use a stopwatch, or use this feature on your smartphone.
    • As mentioned in the previous section be prepared to arrive early and stay late
    • Always have a good headlamp, preferably an LED one with multiple settings and a red light option.
    • Make sure your headlamp has fresh batteries

Eroded sandstone walls and overhangs resembling Swiss Cheese in the"subway" slot portion of Crack Canyon San Rafael Reef Southern Utah Photography TipsSan Rafael Reef #75122  Purchase

Be Creative See Differently

Don’t be a copycat! Be yourself and utilize your own creative instincts. You will have undoubtedly seen some great images online during your research stage. While I encourage you to be inspired by them don’t simply try and mimic their style.

There are some well-known photographers with a dramatic, moody, painterly style. Every photographer on earth seems to be clamoring to copy every pixel of their technique. Ughh! The result is a homogenous sea of look-a-like knock-offs. One thing is for sure, chasing likes on social media definitely will stifle your creativity!

Sandstone canyon wall patterns resembling an archaeopteryx fossil in Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area UtahEroded sandstone resembling Archaeopteryx fossil #76313  Purchase

Southern Utah photography has many different elements which can be used to expand your creativity. One of my favorite subjects is the abstract quality that eroded sandstone takes on. A key to creating your own personal vision is to know your subject matter intimately. Learn to love and appreciate its moods and what makes it tick. This kind of understanding doesn’t come to fruition in one quick visit. It can take years of return visits to learn to appreciate all its subtle nuances.

I mentioned this earlier and it’s worth repeating. Don’t make the mistake of thinking good photos can be made only during golden or blue hours. Under the right conditions, you can make great images any time of the day!

Southern Utah Photography Safety

Southern Utah photography demands some extra safety and preparation considerations. My previous blog post addressed some of these concerns, but I will repeat some of them. I’ll also add a few photography-specific ones.

The tips offered below are fairly basic starting points to get you thinking. They are not all-inclusive of hazards you need to be aware of on a trip to the desert.

Halfway Hollow trailhead to Harris Wash and Zebra Slot Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument UtahA trailhead sign to be taken seriously #75933

Water:

Always, always carry water, everywhere you go. It’s frightening how easy it is to get quickly dehydrated in the desert. I carry a hard-sided 7-gallon water in my vehicle and top it off every chance I get. On hikes, I carry a 3-liter hydration reservoir in my pack filled with a sports drink.

Weather:

To ensure a safe and enjoyable trip carefully monitoring the weather is essential. This is especially true when hiking in any slot canyon or dry wash. Flash floods can occur from storms many miles away. Just like filling up on water and gas before you head out to a remote spot you should load up on several weather forecasts.

Sun: 

Even on a mild spring or fall day, the sun can feel burning hot. Unless you’re hiking in a deep canyon with tall walls it can be difficult to find shade. Always carry and use plenty of good sunscreen. Heat and sunstroke are serious issues that can come on very quickly in the desert. Know the warning signs and immediately get in the shade and drink plenty of fluids if you or your companions are in danger.

Quicksand:

Yes, it does exist, but in my experience, it’s not like what you see in old western tv shows and movies. You will encounter it mainly along streams in canyons, especially after heavy rain. If you’re walking on a bank along a creek that suddenly quivers like jello and liquifies under your foot that’s quicksand. It’s easy enough to extract your foot if you’re alert and don’t proceed any further. If you get both feet in it you’ll have more trouble extracting yourself and you may lose a shoe. But you won’t slowly sink to your death like in the movies.

Steam flowing through canyon walls of Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area UtahThis sandbar most likely hides quicksand #76253  Purchase

Be Alert and Use Common Sense: 

When you’re out photographing it’s very easy to be so focused on your work that you lose track of your surroundings. This is especially true during the fast-changing golden hours.

    • One easy way to get in trouble is falling into the “just one more photo” or “there’s probably a great photo just around the bend” mentality. For example, the Escalante River is a labyrinth of canyons and washes. If you’re not paying attention you can very easily get lost here, where much of the terrain looks very similar.
    • Don’t get in over your head for that one special photo. This can literally be true in some slot canyons filled with water. I’ve been wanting to photograph Zebra slot canyon for years. Last fall I finally had a chance when I was in the area. There was a pool of water at the entrance, and reportedly several more pools further on where the best photos were. I didn’t know when or if I would return for another chance so it was tempting to give it a shot. Fortunately, two hikers appeared and cautiously tested the water. Before reaching the end of the first pool the water was chest-deep. At the very least I would have risked ruining my camera gear. With a camera pack on my back, I could have drowned if it got too deep.
    • Pour-offs in canyons can be a trap. That great photo may be reached by an easy slide down a short section of slickrock at a canyon pour-off. But will you be able to get back up? If you’re on your own maybe not, and there might not be someone around to help.
    • Crumbly sandstone cliff edges are another quick way to say goodbye forever. There are many different types of sandstone in Southern Utah and some are much stronger than others. Check carefully before you lean over the edge!
    • Possibly the biggest danger is ignoring the weather to get that trophy photo. Again, you may have only this one opportunity to photograph a slot canyon. However, the weather forecast calls for severe thunderstorms miles away in the mountains. Slot canyons were created by flash floods. Think carefully if that one single photo is worth your life. It is a fact that people have lost their lives in canyons ignoring flash flood warnings.

Mesa Arch Canyonlands National Park Washer Woman Arch, Monster and Airport Towers are in the distance. Southern Utah Photography TipsMesa Arch Canyonlands National Park #74554  Purchase

Camera and Travel Gear for Southern Utah Photography

In a nutshell, my advice is to take whatever you have. Obviously, if you’re strictly a landscape photographer you’ll probably not need long telephoto lenses. My kit is pretty basic and has been quite sufficient for all my needs for many years. It consists of three lenses, a DSLR body, a tripod, and a few accessories.

Here is a partial list of some of what I personally consider essential.

    • Ultra-wide to short telephoto zoom or prime lenses. 14mm-200mm on a full-frame sensor camera is generally sufficient.
    • DSLR or Mirrorless body, and a backup body if you have one
    • Several extra batteries and charger
    • A good sturdy tripod with a ball head and quick release plate
    • Remote shutter release
    • *Polarizer filters to fit all lenses  *You’ll probably use this filter less in the Southwest than in other regions.
    • Lens cleaner and microfiber cloth
    • Memory card reader
    • Laptop or some sort of hard drive to download and store files on
    • Method to recharge camera batteries, laptop, etc. Solar panels are ideal and reduce the risk of draining your vehicle battery.
    • Dedicated camera pack for short distances
    • Backpack for all-day excursions. One that is big enough to hold all your camera gear, a 3-liter hydration reservoir, snacks, and the ten essentials. It also must be well-fitting and comfortable. Most camera backpacks currently available are way overpriced and lacking in essential features. I prefer Osprey packs, they are well designed, comfortable, durable, and reasonably affordable.
    • Hydration system. Again I use an Osprey reservoir. I’ve tried several others and this one works best for me. And no, they aren’t paying me to endorse them.
    • Hiking or trail running shoes. Heavy leather hiking boots aren’t really suitable. Consider neoprene water shoes if you’ll be crossing canyon streams often.
    • Large cotton bandana and hat

Southern Utah Photography in Conclusion

Hopefully, this along with my tips in my previous post should be enough basic information to get you excited about planning your own trip, and safely come back with some excellent images.

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Coyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah Southern Utah Photography TipsCoyote Gulch #76073  Purchase

Also check out: Southern Utah Travel Tips for more practical advice for your next trip!

Coming Up Next:  Backpacking and Photography in Coyote Gulch

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Southern Utah Photography are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Southern Utah Photography

Sunrise from Panorama Point, Capitol Reef National Park Utah

Southern Utah Travel Tips

Southern Utah Travel Tips

Sunrise from Panorama Point, Capitol Reef National Park UtahCapitol Reef National Park #75488  Purchase

*This post is a fairly long read

Have all my recent  Southwest Utah image additions inspired you to visit some of these locations? Are you thinking of just a leisurely vacation, or maybe a full-blown photography expedition? Well, read on, in this post I have some practical advice on how to make your trip more enjoyable and less stressful! And just as importantly how to responsibly visit these special places.

*Most of the tips in this post are for camping and adventure-oriented trips. Since I rarely stay at motels or lodges on my excursions I can’t offer reliable advice on them.

There are two things you must keep in mind when visiting Utah’s national parks and monuments.  The first is, THEY WILL BE CROWDED! Secondly, all those people are putting incredible stress on every aspect of the environment. From litter, vehicle air pollution, traffic jams, crowded trails, souvenir hunting, and even unsightly graffiti and vandalism, all our parks are under extreme pressure.

Zion Shuttle Bus at Court of the Patriarchs Zion National Park UtahZion National Park Shuttle Bus 

To meet these challenges the National Park Service, Forest Service, and many state parks now employ reservation systems, entrance quotas, and even lotteries to enter, camp, and hike in popular areas. Also, many parks are now on a shuttle bus-only system for getting around. Gone, perhaps forever, are the days when you can just arrive at a national park have your pick of a campsite, and drive your car to an uncrowded scenic vista at leisure.

Of course, there are still plenty of spectacular areas that are wide open for random camping and exploration and are also free from entry fees and reservations. Just keep in mind that many of those off the beaten path destinations can be more difficult to get into, and out of. For these areas advanced research and planning are essential. Know your limitations before you head out!

Autumn sunset on The Watchman Zion National ParkZion National Park #76741  Purchase

Limit Your Southern Utah Destinations

Yes, the Golden or Grand Circle tour of national parks is a spectacular must-do trip for many. While on the road I’ve often overheard people talking about how they are doing the entire tour in five days, or less. To me that’s insane! With an itinerary like that you’re pretty much spending all your time driving from park to park every day with little time left to stop and actually enjoy the parks.

Limit your destinations to within the time you have available. Southern Utah has so much natural beauty to explore that it would be a crime to try and cram everything into one trip. Pick one or two destinations and set aside enough time to really enjoy them. You can always come back on another trip for new experiences.

Recreation.gov Love it or Hate it

There is no way around it, you will need to use Recreation.gov for reserving just about everything on your trip. It covers campsites, trail and climbing permits, lotteries, museum entrance fees, and lots more. Recreation.gov can make your trip less stressful, or incredibly stressful.

Many people including me see Recreation.gov as a monopoly akin to Ticketmaster for outdoor recreation. For one there mostly are no alternatives to you can use for making reservations. Secondly, they charge service fees for all transactions which are often more than the actual fee for the activity. So planning a visit to Arches or Zion is now comparable to getting tickets for a popular concert.

Emerald green pools in The Subway, Left Fork North Creek, Zion National Park UtahA Lottery/Permit system is in place for the Subway hike in Zion #76842  Purchase

Recreation.gov is great if you plan every detail and day of your trip far in advance. With reservations in hand, you just show up at the park or campsite worry-free. But if you’re like me and you require flexibility in your itinerary then you’re in for a bit of a challenge. This is not only due to limited availability but also to accessing the Recreation.gov app. while on the road. Even with an excellent cell signal, the app can be excruciatingly slow. Of course, you can also call Recreation.gov directly but the waits can be frustratingly long to speak to an actual human. Also when you’re on the road there are often huge dead zones where you’ll be out of luck.

Essential Tip:   Always check out in advance the websites of the parks or monuments you plan to visit. Entrance fees and reservations policies are changing nearly every year. For example, in January 2020 Zion National Park implemented a lottery system for hiking the popular Angel’s Landing trail. Park websites will also prominently post any alerts to road and trail closures.

Sunrise view of Thor's Hammer and colorful hoodoos seen from below the canyon rim at Sunrise Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, UtahBryce Canyon National Park #76510 Purchase

BLM Options in Southern Utah

If your trip relies on camping and you’re out of luck in the reservation system don’t despair! The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) manages huge tracks of the desert southwest. Most BLM land offers free campgrounds and random camping. In fact, some of my favorite camping spots are on BLM land and are often my first choice. With good maps and instinct, you can often find a free campsite all to yourself in spectacular surroundings.

But just remember these spots are almost always primitive, with no water, restrooms or outhouses, picnic tables, or garbage receptacles. Always be prepared, and make sure you have plenty of water and a full tank of gas.

And don’t forget, if you can pack it in full you can pack it out empty!

Learn the Rules & Beat the Crowds in National Parks

You’ve made your reservations, arrived at the park, paid your entry fees, set up camp. Now you are ready to have fun and explore. Great, but here are a few tips before you head out.

The first thing I do after arriving at a national park is to read the park newspaper and pay a visit to the visitors center. As I’ve mentioned many times already, all National Parks are in a constant state of change to keep up with the ever-increasing amount of visitors. You’ll need to get all the current information available regarding trail and road status, shuttle bus schedules, COVID policies, and more. It’s also a good idea to visit any interpretive exhibits to gain a better understanding of the park’s natural environment. You may also need further permits and reservations for certain trails and areas only available at the visitor center.

Sunrise at Towers of the Virgin Zion National Park UtahSunrise Zion National Park #76619  Purchase

The Early Bird and Late Bird Beats the Crowds!

To beat the crowds it’s a good idea to adopt the methods of professional photographers, get up early, really early.  You will definitely not regret this tip. The busiest times in any national park are between 10:a.m. and 5:00 p.m., give or take. Those hours are also the worst times of day to view wildlife.

If you want to enjoy that amazing scenic vista or trail and have it all to yourself then you need to be up and about before sunrise. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a crowded park and enjoyed a gorgeous sunrise with hardly anyone else around. Several hours later the light will be all washed out. Plus you’ll be in a mosh pit of other gawking visitors.

This also, for the most part, goes for sunset. Most people are back in camp or town having dinner while the light warms up again for the evening show. My standard schedule is to be at my desired location at least an hour before sunrise or sunset. I’ll spend the middle part of the day scouting or relaxing before heading out again for sunset.

Essential Tip: If you’re planning on visiting several national Parks or Monuments over the course of a year then an annual America the Beautiful pass is a good investment. Most park entrance fees are in the $35 range, so you can save quite a bit on a Utah parks tour.

Best Times to Visit Southern Utah

This of course depends on the nature of your trip. I plan my trips for photographing seasonal events like fall color or peak wildflower blooms. I need to be in specific areas within a specific time frame and have a flexible schedule. Others may simply want a leisurely sightseeing vacation. However, the parks will be very busy in whatever season you choose.

Devils Garden, Arches National Park, UtahLa Sal Mountains from Arches National Park #57917  Purchase

Spring in Southern Utah

This is one of the best seasons for visiting Utah’s Parks. In spring the temperatures are relatively mild and comfortable. Desert wildflowers are out and new green leaves on trees are a brilliant contrast to the red rock of the region. Also, in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, the snow-covered La Sal Mountains provide a stunning backdrop. For these reasons, spring may also be eclipsing summer as the busiest time of year.

Spring comes early in the Southwest and I personally think March to mid-April are the best months to visit in the spring. February can still be pretty chilly, especially in the high altitudes of Bryce Canyon. And by the end of April, it’s already beginning to get uncomfortably hot.

Cottonwood trees in fall color Zion National Park UtahFall color Zion National Park #76599  Purchase

Fall in Southern Utah

My favorite time to visit Southern Utah is in the fall. Like spring the temperatures are mostly mild and the fall colors are spectacular. Fall is also one of the best seasons for canyoneering. The weather is much more settled, reducing the threat of flash flooding.

Fall comes late in the Southwest. Early to mid-October can still be quite warm, and color doesn’t reliably arrive until mid-to-late October. In fact, the best time to see fall color in Zion National Park is during the first weeks of November. Of course, elevation plays a key role here. At higher elevations groves of aspens can be at their peak color in late September.

Sunset Arch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument UtahGrand Staircase-Escalante National Monument  #76373  Purchase

Summer in Southern Utah

Personally, I would avoid a trip anywhere in the Southwest during summer. The heat is nearly always oppressive, and it can be deadly if your trip involves hiking or backpacking. Despite the heat, summer may be the only option for some, especially those with families. For this reason, this summer is usually the most crowded season in the Southwest.

Summer is also the monsoon season in the Southwest. Summer monsoon season is not recommended for those planning canyoneering trips. Slot canyons in particular are extremely hazardous this time of year. A calm sunny day is no guarantee of safe travel. Storms can form many miles away and dump huge quantities of rain in minutes. All that water creates deadly flash flooding in canyons, which of course is how they were formed in the first place.

Fresh dusting of snow on Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest UtahFresh snow in Red Canyon #32093  Purchase

Winter in Southern Utah 

This is rapidly becoming the new popular season among those desperate to escape the crowds. Some locations like Bryce Canyon, which sits at around 8000′, can be magical with a fresh dusting of snow on the red and orange hoodoos. Lower elevation areas can still be chilly but not uncomfortably cold.

Road conditions can be the biggest concern for a winter visitor. Main roads and highways are generally well maintained. However, it’s the unpaved gravel, dirt, and sand roads that are a problem. All of those roads turn into an inescapable quagmire after heavy rains. While the winter rains and snow are more moderate than the summer monsoons, there is not enough solar energy to dry them out enough for safe travel.

Halfway Hollow trailhead to Harris Wash and Zebra Slot Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument UtahTrailhead Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument #75933  

Safely Visiting Southern Utah

Any trip to the desert Southwest can easily turn into a disaster. As the legendary polar explorer Roald Amundsen once wisely said:

“Adventure is just bad planning*”

*Unlike today back then the definition of adventure was not synonymous with fun, e.g. the Donner Party had an epic adventure.

Although you’re unlikely to fall into a glacial crevasse or die in a blizzard, there are some serious life-threatening conditions to be aware of. The tips offered below are fairly basic starting points to get you thinking. They are not all-inclusive of hazards you need to be aware of on a trip to the desert.

Water: Always, always carry water, everywhere you go. It’s frightening how easy it is to get quickly dehydrated in the desert. I carry a hard-sided 7-gallon water in my vehicle and top it off every chance I get. On hikes, I carry a 3-liter hydration reservoir in my pack filled with a sports drink.

Buckskin Gulch Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness ArizonaFlash flood debris high in a slot canyon #37342 

Weather: To ensure a safe and enjoyable trip careful weather monitoring is essential. This is especially true when hiking in any slot canyon or dry wash. Flash floods can occur from storms many miles away. Just like filling up on water and gas before you head out to a remote spot you should load up on several weather forecasts.

Sun:  Even on a mild spring or fall day the sun can feel burning hot. Unless you’re hiking in a deep canyon with tall walls it can be difficult to find shade. Always carry and use plenty of good sunscreen. Heat and sunstroke are serious issues that can come on very quickly in the desert. Know the warning signs and immediately get in the shade and drink plenty of fluids if you or your companions are in danger.

Coyote Gulch BackpackerThe author after a tussle with mud and quicksand in Coyote Gulch #76355

Quicksand: Yes it does exist, but in my experience, it’s not like what you see in old western tv shows and movies. You will encounter it mainly along streams in canyons, especially after heavy rain. If you’re walking on a bank along a creek that suddenly quivers like jello and liquifies under your foot that’s quicksand. It’s easy enough to extract your foot if you’re alert and don’t proceed any further. If you get both feet in it you’ll have more trouble extracting yourself and may lose a shoe. But you won’t slowly sink to your death like in the movies.

Essential Tip:  Always know your limits, do your research, and don’t get in over your head. Online trip reports can easily mislead you, The experience level of whoever wrote the report can be very different from your own. I’ve read some trip reports promoting the Sneak Route into Coyote Gulch as an easy alternate entry point. In reality, it is close to a technical canyoneering route with a great deal of exposure, and it usually needs ropes for a safe entry and exit.

Utah State Route 95 in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area UtahUtah State Highway 95  #74968  Purchase

Cell Signals in Southern Utah:

It should be obvious, but don’t depend on being able to get a good cell phone signal in Southern Utah. There are huge dead zone areas, especially in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon Recreation Area. Mountains, buttes, and canyon walls can easily cut you off from a signal. Even in some small towns and national parks the signal can be spotty.

Unpaved Roads in Southern Utah

As I mentioned above unpaved roads can easily become a trap for you and your vehicle. Nearly all dirt roads are completely impassable after rain and during winter. When wet these roads become a gooey mess of mud that even a monster 4×4 would have difficulty getting out of. Even a small puddle in an otherwise dry dirt road can get you stuck.

Some roads cross deep sand which can trap all but 4x4s and some cross very rough sections of slickrock. Even some of the best-maintained gravel roads can be challenging. Hole in the Rock Road, a wide heavily traveled road south of Escalante, is routinely covered in bone-jarring washboards. After I drove over 20 miles of washboard on this road I thought my truck would fall to pieces when I stopped.

Moki Dugway Bears Ears National MonumentMoki Dugway, some roads have steep unguarded drop-offs #74769

Essential Tip:  This should be common sense but if there is a road sign that states “4×4 vehicles only” it means it! Getting a tow truck out to a remote area can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, assuming you can find a ride back into town to get one!

Hiking in Southern Utah with Maps and GPS

I’m not a big fan of GPS devices, I don’t use them and have always relied on physical maps on hikes. When hiking in some complex canyons such as those in the Escalante drainage it is extremely important to not completely rely on maps or GPS. While both can be important navigation aids you will definitely be using your own navigation skills and common sense to find the correct route.

Cairn on trail in The Needles, Canyonlands National Park UtahCairn marking route on trail Canyonlands National Park  #74696

Many of these areas can be a maze of side canyons obscured by thick vegetation, losing the correct route is much easier than you may think. Even the most detailed maps and GPS may not contain the info needed to make a wise choice in navigating them. The tall narrow walls of some canyons can also block out a good signal for your GPS. Also, trails in canyons marked on a map or in a guidebook can be nonexistent by the time of your visit. A well-marked easy-to-follow trail can disappear overnight in a flood.

Essential Tip:   In some areas, small rock cairns are necessary to mark the correct route. Do not remove them. And don’t add additional decorative cairns.

Essential Tip:  Before heading out to a remote area pay a visit to the nearest ranger station for the latest weather report and current info on road and trail conditions. You can also check in with the local outdoor store or guide service for a second opinion. These folks live work and play in the area and could offer valuable info not available elsewhere.
* However it’s been my experience that the young clerk at the local gas station doesn’t have a clue to offer.

Leave No Trace, Physical  Digital & Archeological

I’ve been adding this topic to the end of many of my posts. However, in light of my recent firsthand experience, I’m bumping it up and expanding it. In addition to traditional LNT I want to talk about Digital LNT and Archeological LNT here.

If you’ve never come across this term you definitely will on your next SW trip. Its most basic definition means to take only pictures, leave only footprints. Sounds like common sense and common courtesy to the environment and future visitors right? In the Desert Southwest, the leave only footprints part has an important twist to it.

Cryptobiotic SoilCryptobiotic Soil  #74929 

Cryptobiotic Soil:

If you haven’t heard of LNT then you probably haven’t heard of Cryptobiotic Soil. In the desert, this crusty popcorn-like soil is everywhere. It is the key to preventing the desert from being blown away into oblivion by wind and washed away by rain. The term relates to the thin crust of soil held together by fungi, lichens, cyanobacteria, and more. Undisturbed on its own it prevents the loose soil and sand beneath it from being eroded away. It’s this soil that also gives plants a foothold in a tough environment.

This soil is incredibly fragile and can be destroyed by the slightest footprint. Regeneration can take decades under optimum conditions. So stay on the trail and don’t be a Crust Buster. If you absolutely must leave the trail where this soil is present then walk on durable surfaces like stones or slickrock.

To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

    • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
    • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
    • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
    • Leave what you find.                                            
    • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
    • Respect wildlife.  
    • Be considerate of other visitors.

House on Fire Ruins Mule Canyon Cedar Mesa Bears Ears National Mounument UtahRuins in Bears Ears National Monument #74879  Purchase 

LNT for Archeological Sites:

The Southwest is home to many fascinating archeological sites that are both historically important and culturally sacred. It is awe-inspiring to see these sites in person, and it’s extremely important to make sure they remain intact for future generations. Learn more about them at the Bears Ears Education Center

    • Leave All Artifacts in Their Place
    • Don’t Disturb Fossils or Bones
    • Don’t Touch Rock Art or Add Your Own
    • Stay Off Walls and Structures
    • Dogs and Archeology Don’t Mix
    • Camp & eat Away From Archeology
    • Avoid Building Cairns
    • Don’t Reveal GPS Info

Giant sandstone alcove adjacent to Jacob Hamblin Arch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Utah #76264Glen Canyon National Recreation Area #76264 Purchase

Digital Leave No Trace

While the principles of LNT are pretty easy to understand and practice, DLNT is more difficult to implement for some. The basic idea is in response to the onslaught of crowds, resulting from everyone posting pictures on social media of locations from their latest trip. DLNT offers some guidelines to help moderate this trend, or at least make people a bit more aware of their actions.

For me, this is a tough one to deal with. I am painfully aware that I’m definitely part of the problem. I have been wrestling with my response for quite some time. Since my livelihood is landscape and nature photography it’s just not that simple for me to stop posting pictures and writing posts like this. If I stop marketing my photography then eventually my family and I are living on the street.

So what to do? At the very least I will be vaguer when applying captions and titles to social media posts. For example, the above photo was captioned Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which is a huge area of complex canyons. Using just this caption info you’ll probably never be able to identify the location where the photo was made. However, a determined reader would probably find a few clues as to where it is both from this post and elsewhere online.

Below are some digital leave no trace guidelines offered by the folks at Leave No Trace. I encourage you to click the link to learn more about the guidelines below.

    • Think Before You Geotag
    • Be Mindful of What Your Image Portrays
    • Encourage and Inspire Leave No Trace on Social Media Posts
    • Give Back to Places You Love
    • Shaming is Not the Answer

Owachomo Bridge Natural Bridges National Monument UtahNatural Bridges National Monument #74920 Purchase

Next Up: Southern Utah Photography Tips

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Southern Utah Travel Tips are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Southern Utah Travel Tips

Oxbow Bend Grand Teton National Park

New Additions Fall 2021

New Additions Fall 2021

Oxbow Bend Grand Teton National Park New AdditionsGrand Teton National Park  #74160  Purchase

After nearly three weeks of editing and processing files from my recent SW trip the first group of new additions is ready to view. It is always fun to relive the trip by processing new images.  Since returning home it has rained nearly every day, with some newsworthy storms causing flooding. So working on photos from the warm dry Southwest provides a nice respite from the soggy weather outside.

This first group of new releases contains images from the following locations.

Red Canyon Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area New AdditionsFlaming Gorge National Monument  #74267  Purchase

New Additions from New Locations

Flaming Gorge was an interesting location in that it was on the very edge of the Colorado Plateau. Since the Red Canyon area was nearly deserted it was also a welcome relief from the crowds of Grand Teton National Park. Crowds are an ever present issue when visiting national parks, especially in the Southwest. Even in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall there is no escape.

Steamboat Rock Dinosaur National Monument New AdditionsSteamboat Rock Dinosaur National Monument  #74439  Purchase

Dinosaur National Monument was another first time visit location for me. It’s always exciting to explore and photograph new territory.  In Dinosaur I was like a kid in a candy store! This was especially true on the thrilling ride to the remote camp at Echo Park. A sometimes rough 13 mile dirt road ends at a beautiful primitive camp alongside the Green River. Along the way are historic ranches and Fremont Petroglyphs. At Echo Park the scene is dominated by the imposing monolith of Steamboat Rock. Overall this was one of the most enjoyable and memorable locations on the entire trip.

Mesa Arch Canyonlands National ParkMesa Arch Canyonlands National Park  #74540  Purchase

More New Images Coming Soon

In several weeks I should have another group of new additions ready for viewing from the following locations.  Also among this group are some new locations as well as with some I’ve photographed in several time before.

  • Bears Ears National Monument Utah
  • Natural Bridges National Monument Utah
  • San Rafael Swell, Crack Canyon
  • Goblin Valley State Park Utah
  • Factory Butte Utah
  • Capitol Reef National Park Utah
  • Coyote Gulch Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Utah

Aspens in fall color Grand Teton National ParkAspens Grand Teton National Park  #74050  Purchase

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in New Additions Fall 2021 are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Coyote Gulch Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Southern Utah Photography Trip 2021

Coyote Gulch Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Southern Utah Photography TripCoyote Gulch, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area #76072or Purchase

My Southern Utah Photography trip is now complete. After 47 days and over 4800 miles on the road and trail I’m back home in the office catching up on business. This trip was an outstanding success with lots of new images from both classic and little known locations. But now the real work begins. Since I have so many new images it will be quite a project to edit and process them all.

Instead of waiting to finish editing and processing photos from the entire trip I will be breaking them down and publishing a New Image Gallery by each location. Below is a list of all the locations from this trip. Meanwhile be sure to check back often to see the new updates. And of course I’ll be sending out email announcements to all of you who are on my mailing list.

Locations:

  • Craters of the Moon National Monument
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
  • Dinosaur National Monument
  • Canyonlands National Park; Island in the Sky, Needles Districts
  • Cedar Mesa/Bears Ears Wilderness; Grand Gulch, Ancestral Pueblo Ruins
  • Natural Bridges National Monument
  • San Rafael Reef; Goblin Valley, Crack Canyon
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; Coyote Gulch
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Zion National Park; Zion Narrows, The Subway, Kolob Canyons
  • Snow Canyon State Park

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Southern Utah Photography Trip 2021 are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Southern Utah Photography Trip 2021

Weathered and twisted Juniper tree (Juniperus osteosperma) at dawn on rim Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park Utah

Fall Southwest Photography Tour 2021

Autumn along the Virgin River, The Watchman in the distance, Zion National Park Utah Fall Southwest Photography TourVirgin River Zion National Park #09187   Purchase

Fall is here and the air is finally free of wildfire smoke! So after delaying several summer photo trips we’re excited to get back on the road for a lengthy photo tour. This year the bulk of the trip will be to locations in Red Rock Canyon Country and the National Parks of Southern Utah. Listed below are some of the locations on the itinerary, generally in order from beginning to end.

If you have any locations or subject matter which interests you in, and we can include them in our itinerary, let us know. Also let us know if you will be in any of these areas in October, it would be great to meet up with you!

  • Craters of the Moon National Monument
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Flaming Gorge
  • Dinosaur National Monument
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Cedar Mesa/Bears Ears Wilderness, Anasazi Ruins
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, slot canyons, and arches
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Great Basin National Park

*This is an ambitious trip so some locations may be omitted due to time and weather considerations.

Buckhorn Wash barrier style pictographs, San Rafael Swell Utah Fall Southwest Photography TourBuckhorn Wash Pictographs, San Rafael Swell Utah #42086  Purchase

Sandstone Monoliths of the Upper Cathedral Valley in evening light, Capitol Reef National Park UtahCapitol Reef National Park #2901  Purchase

Weathered and twisted Juniper tree (Juniperus osteosperma) at dawn on rim Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park UtahCanyonlands National Park  #27457  Purchase

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Fall Southwest Photography Tour 2021 are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

Bisti Badlands New Mexico

Bisti Badlands New Mexico

Egg Factory Bisti Badlands, New MexicoThe Egg Factory, Bisti Badlands New Mexico  #57385  Purchase

Bisti Badlands New Mexico is one of those places that has an otherworldly beauty and mystique to it. Situated in the Four Corners area of Northwestern New Mexico, the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a land of layered sandstone, silt, shale, mudstone, and coal. Years of erosion by water and wind  have turned these layers into strange and whimsical rock formations, hoodoos, wings, fins, and mushroom shaped spires, seemingly straight out of a fantasy or science fiction story.

Desert Beauty

Always on the search for new locations offering dramatic landscapes, and being a big fan of geologic oddities, I was drawn to Bisti’s beauty many years ago after seeing some photos of it in a magazine. However, it wasn’t until this spring that I had my first opportunity to visit and photograph this wonderful wilderness. I had put off visiting this and other sites in New Mexico to photograph other more famous Southwest icons, such as Zion, Arches, Joshua Tree, and the beautiful Sonoran Desert, to name a few. So it was with great excitement that on this trip I was finally going to see one of the greatest concentrations of badlands in the Southwest.

Bisti Badlands, New MexicoEvening storm over Bisti Badlands #57421  Purchase

Bisti Badlands doesn’t flaunt it’s beauty like many of the well known and sought after locations in the SW. It’s one of those places where you’ll drive for miles on empty roads in a seemingly desolate landscape. Only to arrive and wonder what the big deal is and where is all the scenery? It’s true that the Bisti Wilderness is in an arid, dusty, nearly flat and featureless high plain. Arriving at the main parking area you are greeted by not much more than a wide dry wash framed by a few interesting hillsides. But there is much more to see.

Like many hidden wilderness gems you have to get out and do some legwork. It’s easy to spend the day exploring hidden canyons buttes and washes. This is where doing your homework and researching literature maps and photos comes into play. There are several key areas of interest to discover. However, without some clues as to where they are you can spend many hours wandering about. These days many people rely on GPS technology to guide them quickly to the best spots. However, I feel this really takes away from that satisfying experience of discovering something on your own.

Desert Light

Another way in which Bisti Badlands keeps it secrets is the light. You can wander about for days checking out all the best the Bisti has to see. Although if all your time is spent during the middle of the day, you’ll miss out on the real magic. I was incredibly fortunate on my first trip to encounter some truly spectacular lighting conditions which made the badlands come alive with just about every adjective in the book. On my second day the weather was very cold and windy, with a solid grey sky that made even the most interesting hoodoos look dull and lifeless. Like a good photographer, I stuck it out and spent the time exploring and lining up compositions for when and if conditions were more favorable.

Bisti Badlands, New MexicoSandstone Wing, Bisti Badlands #57500  Purchase

To my surprise, the clouds began to break up in the west about an hour before sunset. The time many photographers refer to as the “magic hour”.  In the eastern sky was the remnants of a passing storm. Sheets of rain and snow flurries stood out against a dark grey background. As the setting sun broke through the clouds the eastern sky lit up like on fire. Truly an experience that I will always remember. Of course in the midst of all this drama I was working in high gear to find and compose as many photographs as I could reach before it all ended. The next evening was more tame. Waiting around until dusk brought some interesting light on the badlands as alpenglow softly illuminated the formations.

Bisti Badlands, New MexicoBisti Badlands #57505  Purchase

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument New Mexico Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument #57013 Purchase

On my recent photo trip to the Southwest I made a point of including, among my subjects, sites of Ancestral Puebloans. Several years ago I began visiting and photographing ruins, pictographs, and petroglyphs in the Cedar Mesa region of southern Utah. Finding these sites to be very intriguing and educational I wanted to explore more of them on future trips. On this latest excursion, my first stop was Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in western New Mexico.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National MonumentGila Cliff Dwellings National Monument #57023 Purchase

A Home in the Cliffs

Gila Cliff Dwellings, near the Gila River, was home to the Mogollon people around 1200 AD. It was thought to be inhabited until the early 1300’s. Like most of the ancestral ruins on and near the Colorado Plateau, the inhabitants mysteriously to abandon their homes and villages near the end of the thirteenth century. Within the boundary of the monument there are many preserved sites. The main dwellings consist of around 46 rooms among five cliff caves. You can visit in around an hour. Although it would be a shame to drive this far without making it a leisurely visit. At the main cliff caves a very knowledgeable ranger is stationed to answer all your questions and explain in detail the history of the Mogollon people.

If you decide to visit the monument be aware that it is a long drive. Silver City New Mexico is the nearest town. The distance is only 44 miles but the road follows a winding route through the mountains. Making the time traveled from Silver City around two hours. The monument has some primitive camping available. There are also a few national forest sites nearby along, with some natural hot springs.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National MonumentGila Cliff Dwellings National Monument #57009  Purchase

Gila Cliff Dwellings National MonumentGila Cliff Dwellings National Monument #57008  Purchase

White Sands National Monument New Mexico

New Southwest Images

New Southwest Images

White Sands National Monument New MexicoWhite Sands National Monument New Mexico #57137b  Purchase

All of the new images from my recent Southwest trip are now online and ready for viewing and downloading. A selection of 100 images from a total of over 1000 have been added to my New Images Portfolio. To view even more  from any of the locations listed below you can use our Search feature or contact us for a custom portfolio.

  • States:  California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Utah
  • National Parks and Monuments: Carrizo Plains National Monument CA, Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument NM, White Sands National Monument NM, Carlsbad Caverns National Park NM, Guadalupe National Park TX, Chaco Culture National Historical Park NM, Aztec Ruins National Monument NM, Canyon de Chelly National Monument AZ, Hovenweep National Monument UT, Mesa Verde National Park CO, Canyonlands National Park UT, Arches National Park UT
  • State Parks, Recreation Areas, Wilderness Areas: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park CA, Kofa Mountains Wildlife Refuge AZ, Lost Dutchman State Park/Superstition Mountains AZ, Angel Peak Scenic Area NM, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness NM, Valley Of The Gods Utah

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park wildflowersWildflowers, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California #56856  Purchase

Borrego Badlands, California

Southwest Photography Trip

Southwest Photography Trip

Borrego BadlandsBorrego Badlands from Fonts Point #56810   Purchase

Well, I’m finally back home and catching up on business after six long weeks on the road, photographing throughout the Southwest. It’s good to be back home. Althought the mountain of work facing me won’t give me any rest for quite some time. Not to mention the fact that being a photographer I’m also faced with the fact that now that we’re well into Spring I need to somehow get back out on the road and trails ASAP!

This trip started out with a goal to photograph spring desert wildflowers. However it gradually turned into an epic adventure.  Visiting and photographing as many locations as I could fit in. In the end, I visited lots of new locations. Three new states were added to my photo library, New Mexico Colorado and Texas. I also greatly expanded my coverage of Ancient American ruins and culture. I also added depth to my coverage of some classic Southwest National Parks, Canyonlands, and Arches in particular.

Accompanying this post are two new photos from the trip, one from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California and the other from Kofa Mountains Arizona. That’s about all I can find time to add right now. Below are some of the totals from this trip. Check out a selection of images from any of the listed locations.

The Details

  • Days out: 38
  • Miles traveled: 6402
  • Total photos: (before editing) 4200
  • States where I photographed:  California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Utah
  • National Parks and Monuments: Carrizo Plains National Monument CA, Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument NM, White Sands National Monument NM, Carlsbad Caverns National Park NM, Guadalupe National Park TX, Chaco Culture National Historical Park NM, Aztec Ruins National Monument NM, Canyon de Chelly National Monument AZ, Hovenweep National Monument UT, Mesa Verde National Park CO, Canyonlands National Park UT, Arches National Park UT
  • State Parks, Recreation Areas, Wilderness Areas: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park CA, Kofa Mountains Wildlife Refuge AZ, Lost Dutchman State Park/Superstition Mountains AZ, Angel Peak Scenic Area NM, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness NM, Valley Of The Gods Utah

Stay tuned as I will be posting images and more info on this trip as soon as I can!

Kofa Mountains sunsetKofa Mountains Sunset, AZ  #56864  Purchase