Quick Trip Report: Bumpy Roads in the Southwest

Picture: Sunrise light over Lake Powell and Navajo Mountain, Glen Canyon NRA, Utah

Image: Sunrise light over Lake Powell and Navajo Mountain, Glen Canyon NRA, Utah

Have you ever had one of those trips where you felt like for one reason or another, your head just wasn’t quite screwed on correctly. Well, I felt that way a few times on this trip.

I’ve missed out on a couple travel opportunities this fall, and my photo-travel buddy was reminding me the year was drawing to a close. Then I saw a clip on the hike to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Suddenly our thoughts turned to the area of southwestern Utah and Northern Arizona. My buddy isn’t a fan of death-inducing cliff-side heights, so instead we opted to hike the Subway. I was delighted when he agreed to do that hike, as he’s been there, and I hadn’t, and for a first time visit I didn’t feel like traveling solo on a moderately strenuous, route-finding hike.

The trip started out with a small bump. Even though we’re both from the Bay Area, the drive to Utah started with a confused missed meeting point along Interstate 5. After a few minutes of “where the heck are you” from each of us, we finally connected east of Bakersfield. After 8 hours of driving, my buddy is leading us through Las Vegas when he calls me on the phone. “Hey! Let’s go see the Peter Lik Gallery!” Now, I hate Vegas. Not a place I want to voluntarily hang out, but a bribe of dinner and my own curiosity, I caved and said Ok. After the torture of getting off the strip and parked at the Caesars Palace, and walking end to end through the shopping area, we finally found his gallery. The image presentations were nice enough; high-end corporate collector, but overall I was un-impressed by the photos being displayed. There were three or four images that I really liked, including a fall shot of aspens in the La Sal mountains, and one of the Columbia River Gorge, but most were merely good without being spectacular – for the loudly self-proclaimed “Most-Awarded Landscape Photographer on the planet.” There were also a couple images that left me shaking my head thinking “what the heck was that?” – But in the end, my buddy made good on his bribe, treating me to a decadent meal at the Cheesecake Factory.

Bump # 2 came the next morning at Valley of Fire State Park where we went to shoot sunrise. While my buddy was busy photographing an epic red-sky desert sunrise, my stomach was in full revolt over my rich pasta dinner selection; and it was all I could do to watch the pink glow from inside one of the park’s picnic area pit toilets. After about an hour of not feeling well and thinking my morning photography had been shot, my photographic luck changed when I came across a small herd of Desert Bighorn sheep.

Bump # 3 came during our hike at the Subway, including several mechanical failures with my camera gear, but more on that in a later post.

Bump # 4 came during our visit to Lake Powell, but that was actually just a bumpy 4WD road, which I love, so it wasn’t a bad bump. The road led us to a spot on the rim of Lake Powell. (above) I must say, I was delighted by the absolute opposite of what I saw at the famed Zion Bridge, or for that matter in the Subway, namely photographers (including myself at the Subway) lined up to “get the shot!” – At Lake Powell we were alone; free to get shots which on that night and next morning would be ours; maybe not totally unique in terms of location, but certainly far less frequented than the line-em-up icon locations.

Bump # 5; Zion would not be my only experience on this trip where I lined up with other photographers to get a shot, and that bump too shall be the subject of another post.

Bump #6 came at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. After shooting sunset and heading out of the park, we came across an area along a dirt road where there was an open flame and smoldering logs. My buddy has forest fire experience, and he rightly insisted we had to report this. So we drove all the way back to the North Rim, spent 40 minutes driving around looking for the ranger… any ranger. We finally drove into the park residence area, walked up to the apartments, picked a door at random and knocked, hoping someone inside could tell us where the ranger was. Well darn if it wasn’t the ranger himself who answered the door. So we reported the fire, which it turns out must have been a spot flare up from some pile burning more than three weeks prior. We felt good about doing our good civic duty, even though it cost us several hours of our time late at night. Bump #6.5 came when I asked the ranger, saying I was already exhausted and was getting to the point where I didn’t trust my driving, would he allow us his discretion to sleep in the park. He said “No.” I certainly didn’t begrudge him for his answer, as he was just doing his job and following the rules. So my buddy and I once again turned our trucks and headed out of the park. But that bump came with it’s own unexpected perk the next morning, which I’ll also save for another post.

After 6 days, 2,030 miles, and a few bumps along the way, I finally got home. I’m not sure yet if I got any career-level or portfolio shots on the trip, but it was sure worth getting away for a few days in the glorious Red-Rock country of the great American Southwest.

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5 Comments on “Quick Trip Report: Bumpy Roads in the Southwest”

  1. Richard Wong Says:

    Quite an adventure Gary and sure to lead to stories at least. Hope you can look back fondly in a few years.

  2. Russ Bishop Says:

    I know the feeling Gary. Those trips where you’re on the road before feeling totally prepared – it can be both maddening and exhilarating. I certainly share your feelings too on Vegas, Peter Lik, and that “getting away” part!

    I’ll look forward to your elaborations and the beauty that found its way through your lens.


  3. Rachel Cohen Says:

    Wow Gary! Quite an exhausting trip, with lots of “bumps”. I’ll be interested in hearing more about your adventures/misadventures! Great post! 🙂

  4. Alan Majchrowicz Says:

    Sounds like a great trip. So sorry you had to endure Vegas and Peter Lik. I hope I never have to come close to that awful circus of a city! Love your shot of Lake Powell, Ahlstrom Point I assume. I was there a few years ago, parked near the rim and camped overnight, exceptional experience, nobody else there.

  5. enlightphoto Says:

    Thanks, everyone! Alan: Exactly right, Alstrom Point & all by ourselves. Best Part; we were using my publisher, Laurent Martres’ own Photographing the Southwest (v.2) to get there.

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