Day 1 – Zion National Park

[This post is part of The Accidental Photo Adventure]

Our trek started at 7:00am in Phoenix, Arizona. Having already been to the Grand Canyon and the slot canyons in Page, AZ, our first destination was Zion National Park in southern Utah.

The weather was fantastic for the drive, and this section of the country has an amazing variety of colorful terrain. Along the way was the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, on the northern edge of Arizona just West of Page, AZ.


On our first trip to Antelope Canyon, we stayed in a motel at the foot of these cliffs in Lee’s Ferry, AZ – not exactly a fancy room, but man what a view! (Our motel room was half of a single-wide trailer home, but that’s a story for a different post.)

We only made one stop along the way at a vista just inside the Arizona border with Utah. As much as anything, it was an opportunity to give our new 150mm (6-inch!) graduated neutral-density (GND) filters their first run. We’d each bought a set of these jumbo filters and the associated holder for Nikon’s 14-24 lens – because of its shape and field of view, a special filter holder is needed for this lens, along with 150mm x 170mm (6″ x 7″) GND filters. We figured out quickly that it was going to be tough to tote these giant filters, and handling them without smudging or scratching would take patience.


While I liked the vista, it doesn’t really make for a great photo – the cliffs are too small in the distance, with humidity muting the colors and contrast. I’d also used a mild “0.3” (1-stop) soft-edge GND filter on the sky, so the effects were more subtle than I like. As the trip progressed, I’d swing to the opposite end of the spectrum and use much darker filters – up to a 1.5 (5-stop) GND, which worked fabulously on storm clouds.

Between Kanab, UT and Zion were some very scenic landscapes. If only these clouds had followed us into Zion! Later, we would gain a strong appreciation for having clouds in the shot – they make a huge difference in the impact of an image.


It pains me to say this fantastic shot was taken with an iPhone4, and not my DSLR. (It’s actually 2 stitched photos, taken while we were driving 65mph.) Not that I’m biased against my phone camera – it’s very handy – but this photo is too grainy for more than web use. I’d been taking snapshots with my iPhone as we drove, to capture interesting scenes for a photo map we could build from the GPS data captured by the phone. This is one case I wish I’d pulled out my DSLR instead.

We arrived at Zion around 4:30pm local time, about 8.5 hours after we began. Being late in the day, our priority was to get setup and scout for the following day’s shots. We bought an annual US Parks pass at the entrance and took a drive through the park, taking snapshots from the car along the way – noting what looked interesting, and what time of day would give the best light/shadows.

Something that struck me was the contrast in landscapes; it’s like the park has two personalities. At the northeastern entrance, the stone is mostly white with sparse brush; suddenly, it transitions to a dark reddish-brown stone with evergreen trees. And the strata in the stone isn’t horizontal – it points in all different directions; geologists believe this is because it originated as giant sand dunes that became compressed and infused with minerals.



Also impressive is a mile-long tunnel cut through the mountain, allowing the main road to pass through the park. Clearance in the tunnel is so narrow at points that traffic must become one-way anytime an RV-sized vehicle needs to pass (which is pretty frequent).


On the far side of Zion is the small town of Springdale, Utah, which is literally outside the park’s Southern gate. We booked the trip late and during Zion’s high season, so we were lucky to get a budget motel there. Mind you, a “budget” hotel in Springdale is $90/night, and La Quinta and Quality Inn are the only major chains in town. But the view at sunset was pretty awesome…



Intro | Day 1: Getting Started, Zion | Day 2: Zion
Day 3: Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon | Day 4: Capitol Reef, Canyonlands
Day 5: Dead Horse Point | Day 6: Monument ValleyDay 7: Grand Mesa
Day 8: McClure Pass, Aspen, Garden of the Gods | Day 9: Wolf Creek Pass
Day 10: Durango & Silverton Railroad, Albuquerque Balloon Festival
Day 11: Pre-dawn Balloon Launch, The End | Trip Prep | The Gear
FotoMomenti – My Comrade’s Portfolio



3 Responses to “Day 1 – Zion National Park”

  1. This nature is so beautiful.. makes me want to grab my backpack and go hiking 🙂

    • Yep! We expected to do a mild bit of hiking on this trip to get to photo spots, and we managed a few 1-mile in-and-out treks the first few days in the parks. When plans changed, our shooting became much more opportunistic, which meant shooting next to the car. Still great photographically, but not the amount of exertion we had planned.

  2. gabbie20132013 Says:

    Reblogged this on Gabbie Blog.

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