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Neon-Canyon-Escalante-Utah

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken from a bluff overlooking the entrance to Neon Canyon near Escalante, Utah, on October 10, 2016.

In late 2016 my Hungarian friend Julia let me know she was planning another trip to the America Southwest. She’d lived in New York for six years and during her time there a yearly pilgrimage to Utah was a staple in her spiritual diet. And since I enjoy exploring southern Utah almost as much as my own beloved Sierra I leapt at the chance to head out there for 10 days of canyon goodness. Julia recommended we make a backpacking trip into one of the more famous canyons in the Escalante area, Neon Canyon, and having never been there I was happy to agree.

The hike in to the entrance of Neon canyon is fairly easy, if a little boring and exposed: five miles of trudging across sandy, rocky desert, followed by a startlingly quick descent down to the Escalante River. A thigh-deep ford of the river, followed by 50 feet of knee-deep, sucking mud, and you’re in the mouth of the canyon. Then the question becomes where to put your tent. After exploring a few bends up canyon we settled on a wonderful bluff a few hundred feet above the seasonal creek that has hollowed out the canyon.

From our campsite we could see a clear use trail leading to the top of the cliffs to the west so we wandered up that way and found a high perch with incredible views of the Escalante River to the west and Neon Canyon to the east. We spent the next day exploring Neon Canyon, which ends with a truly spectacular sandstone cathedral. As well as Ringtail Canyon, an extremely tight and narrow slot which at the time was chest-deep with frigid water. Brrrr.

On our final morning of the trip I woke up early and hustled up the use trail to the canyon rim. And although the day began with relatively few clouds in the sky they soon developed, and filled the heavens horizon to horizon with puffy, colorful goodness. I set up my camera low between two giant boulders and used a number of technical techniques (including focus stacking and exposure blending) to capture the beauty of the morning. All that was left to do was tear down camp and hike back out.

Check out these behind the scenes photos:



See more beautiful Escalante photos here.

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Archangel Cascades

Archangel Cascades

archangel-cascades-subway-zion

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken at the Archangel Cascades near The Subway, Zion National Park, on May 5th, 2017

See more beautiful Zion National Park photos here.

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Canyon Color

Fall Color in The Narrows, Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Southern Utah is pretty darn beautiful. The towering rock walls remind me of a red Yosemite. The first time I visited the park in January 2010, ice and snow blanketed the ground and many of the hikes were inaccessible or dangerous to do. But one of the most iconic hikes in the park, The Narrows, was open so I decided to give it a whirl. But I was unprepared for the nature of the hike and consquently spent 8 hours in 40° water without much protection. Brrrrr. An enjoyable day, but thoroughly freezing.

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Autumn Narrows

Fall color in the Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
Taken in The Narrows, Zion National Park on November 16th, 2011

Zion National Park in Southern Utah is pretty darn beautiful. The towering rock walls remind me of a red Yosemite. The first time I visited the park in January 2010, ice and snow blanketed the ground and many of the hikes were inaccessible or dangerous to do. But one of the most iconic hikes in the park, The Narrows, was open so I decided to give it a whirl. But I was unprepared for the nature of the hike and consquently spent 8 hours in 40 degree water. Brrrrr. An enjoyable day, but thoroughly freezing.

So when I had the chance to visit Zion again in 2011 ago I made sure everything would be different: first off, I planned my visit for the Fall, before much snow had a chance to accumulate and before the temperatures would get really cold. Secondly, I decided to rent a full-body suit to keep my warm and dry during my hike up the Narrows. And what a difference it made! Now I could stand in the chilly water all day without getting wet, enjoying the sights and wonder of the Narrows without worrying about hypothermia.

Which of course made it a lot easier to focus on photography. I found this beautiful tree about 30 minutes into the hike, perched on a hillside overlooking the Virgin River. The yellows of its leaves were positively glowing and the contrast they made with the soaring red rock walls was wonderful. I made many photos during that hike of the Narrows, but this quickly became one of my favorites.

 

Racing Stripes

Zebra Canyon near the town of Escalante, Utah, on May 31st, 2011

Taken in Zebra Canyon near the town of Escalante, Utah, on May 31st, 2011

The slot canyons of southern Utah come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and textures. It is amazing how each canyon can be so different from the next, despite being separated by fairly small distances. While on a camping trip near the town of Escalante, I had the opportunity to visit a number of these wondrous slot canyons, some of them wide and ambling and orange, others tight and technical and purple. But my favorite by far was Zebra canyon, a narrow and twisting slot so named because of the gorgeous stripes that line the canyon walls.

 

Hoodoo Maze

Inspiration Point Hoodoos, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Taken at Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon National Park on May 31st, 2011

Bryce Canyon is a beautiful and surreal place: 18 miles of orange hoodoo sentinels standing watch over the plateau below. And perhaps nowhere provides a better view of the park’s fascinating geology than Inspiration Point, where you can look out into the Bryce Amphitheatre and see mile upon mile of hoodoos forming never-ending ridges, walls, and spires, arranged in a stupendous geologic maze.

 

Coyote Falls, Coyote Gulch

Coyote Falls, Coyote Gulch

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken in Coyote Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on May 28th, 2011

Call me impulsive, but sometimes I plan trips based only on a single photo of a place. The first time I did this I visited L’ile de la Reunion in the middle of the Indian Ocean, all because of an amazing photo by Yann Arthus Bertrand. More recently I decided to backpack through Coyote Gulch, Utah, thanks to a spectacular shot by Michael Anderson. The Gulch did not disappoint: soaring walls, massive amphitheaters, gigantic rock arches, and even a waterfall or two. Truly a southwest paradise.

One of the more unique backpacking trips I’ve done, the hike into Coyote Gulch brings back many fond memories when I think about it. Since I most frequently backpack in the Sierra Nevada I’m used to carrying a big pack, heavily laden with cold-weather clothing and gear, and the ever-annoying bear-proof food canisters required throughout bear country. But for this trip, the temperatures were forecast to be in the 70’s and 80’s. Goodbye cold weather gear! And there aren’t many pesky bears roaming around the Escalante canyon lands, so goodbye bear canister! That left me with just a tent, some food, and some camera gear: maybe 25 pounds of weight for a 3-day, 27-mile hike.

And what a wonderful hike it was: though the trail started out roaming across a hot, dry mesa, it quickly dropped into a gravelly wash. As I walked father and father down the wash, the soil at my feet became wetter and wetter. After a few miles the trail had simply become a shallow stream running across the silty sand. And though I tried to avoid getting my feet wet at first eventually I gave up and kicked my shoes off, slinging them across the back of my pack. And for the next 23-odd miles I hiked barefoot in 3″ of 75-degree water up and down Coyote Gulch.

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Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun, Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Taken in Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef National Park on May 27th, 2011

An absolute undiscovered gem of a park, Captiol Reef in central Utah houses some of the most breathtaking and unique scenery of the Waterpocket Fold, a massive wrinkle in the Earth’s surface. Towering cathedrals, slot canyons, never-ending vistas, volcanic remnants: this park has enough to keep a photographer busy for ages. Here in Cathedral Valley, the Temple of the Sun lives up to its name.

The Watchman, Zion National Park, Utah

The Watchman at sunrise, Zion National Park, Utah

Taken from the Virgin River Bridge in Zion National Park, on January 31st, 2010

While visiting Zion National Park, I was avoiding taking a photo of The Watchman from this vantage point because it has simply been shot and re-shot, and I wanted to try to find something unique. However, on this particular morning, after a fruitless photography outing elsewhere in the park, I was heading back to my campsite when I drove across the Virgin River Bridge and saw The Watchman, with its dusting of snow, just beginning to light up. The orange of the rock, the clouds in the sky, and the river below made me realize why this is such a classic shot: because it’s simply the best view around.

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend in winter, Page, Arizona

Taken at Horseshoe Bend, near Page, Arizona on January 28th, 2010

Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River is one of THE classic southwest photo locations. And in my ignorance, I didn’t even know I was there until I practically fell into it. It wasn’t until I hit the outskirts of Page and saw the turnoff for the Horseshoe Bend trail that I realized what an opportunity I had on my hands. Due to snow storms, it took me two visits to the bend before I could even see into the canyon. When the vista finally did present itself, it was under a clearing winter storm which had left just a dusting of snow on the distant peaks – a perfect backdrop to this awe-inspiring natural feature.

 

Curving Toward the Light

Little Monument Valley in Upper Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona

Taken in Upper Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona on January 27th, 2010

While on a southwest roadtrip, I arrived in Page without any idea of what the town had to offer. Upon checking into a motel, I discovered to my surprise that Antelope Canyon was just outside of the city. The next morning I booked a trip to the canyon and had another pleasant surprise: Antelope Canyon is usually packed wall to wall with tourists, but because it was winter there was only one other person on the trip with me. Imagine my delight as I then spent two and a half hours in the gorgeously detailed and colored canyon in complete silence and peace, just letting the wonder of the place wash over me.