Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Virgin River

Watchman by Night
Photographing the Virgin River is one of the most common subjects in Zion National Park.  After all, it is the Virgin River which has carved the incredible Zion Canyon.  The river runs through the canyon and is scenic in its own right.

One of the most popular spots in the park is to stand on the bridge and photograph the Watchman and the Virgin River.

Many will instantly know what I mean when I say "the bridge", for those that do not there is a bridge at Canyon Junction across the Virgin River where dozens of people gather every night to stand on the bridge and photograph sunset light on a mountain called the Watchman.  

Now when you stand on the bridge cars are going across the bridge right behind you.  I mean right behind you.  As in don't wear a backpack, they are that close.  Now they are not going to fast (maybe 20 mph) but they are right there.

If you have never been to Zion, it is probably a shot you will want to do.  Just be prepared for a crowd.

I have done that image and knew I wanted something different from the area.  So I did a few things different.  I went out there at night.  The crowds are gone, the cars are rare, and the stars above the Watchman make for an interesting image.

Look at the top image here and you will notice, that is not daytime.....it's night.

Virgin River and Peaks
As I walked around the area I thought the view of the mountains in the other direction look interesting.  I walked the river right near the bridge and found a way I could frame them with the river.  Walking around where I was I might have been in a few peoples images when they were photographing off the bridge, so I worked quickly and then tried to be out of sight to be courteous.

Ok, I had a good composition.  Now I just had to wait for the right light.  It took me three days before that light happened but when I did I got what may be my favorite image from the trip. I was able to get the images in a just a few minutes.  My prefinding the right spot really paid off.

I really like the cluster of peaks here, the light and clouds in the sky and the river in the foreground.

Virgin River and Milky Way
On my last night in the park, I went back to the bridge and saw the Milky Way over the river on the other side of the bridge.  I could not work it into my composition with the peaks but I was able to just stand on the north side of the bridge and photograph it over the river.

So in just a 50 yard stretch of the river I was able to make several very different images.  It is why I keep exploring
 areas and like to move around and look at what might be possible.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Zion Narrows

Hiking the Zion Narrows is not only one of the highlights of a visit to Zion NP, it's one of the best hikes in any National Park.  It might be better called a wade as the hike is wading/hiking up the Virgin River as the walls of the narrow canyon rise well over a thousand feet above you.

I knew I wanted to spend a day in the Narrows and I knew I was going to truly have time to do it on my trip.  In the past I always visited the Narrows with only limited time and I was never able to really go as far and photograph as much of it as I wanted.  This trip was going to be different as I set aside an entire day for just the Narrows.

I knew from past experience that it would be cold in the Narrows, especially at the end of October.  I had been in the Narrows in the fist week of November a few years ago and I went in shorts with a pair of Keen sandals.  It was really cold in the water.  As in numbingly cold.  Every other person in the canyon had the dry pants and booties.  Several asked if I was cold.  I was pretty excited just to be in the canyon so it did not bother me.  However, as it got dark and I made my way out it was chilly.  I was glad to be able to change into socks and shoes and warm up walking back to the bus, where I was the last one out of the canyon.

This time I knew I wanted to be up the canyon all day and be warm.  I visited Zion Outfitters in Springdale on Sunday with a plan on going to the Narrows on Monday.  I got sized for my gear, watched the video and would be all ready for Monday.  Now I would have on 5.10 Canyoneer shoes, neoprene socks, and dry pants.  They also give you a hiking stick, but I had a pair of hiking poles I was going to take.  Now I was better geared up for a full day in the canyon.  My legs would stay dry and with a base layer they were warm.  My feet would be wet, but the neoprene keeps them warm.

I had chosen Monday as my day since it was going to be clear (which is important for photography), there was zero chance of rain (never go in a canyon like this with any chance of rain), and the shuttle stopped on Sunday, meaning I could drive into the canyon!.

I got my rental gear from Zion Adventures and was ready early.  I was the first person at the parking lot at the Temple of Sinewava which is the start of the Narrows Trail.  I did some light painting and a few night images.  After sunrise, I had a quick snack and then suited up for the wading/hike the Narrows is.


Orderville Canyon as it meets the Narrows
A few others had shown up and were getting ready for the water.  I waded in and moved up canyon.  I knew the good light would not happen until around 10am and my plan was to go all the way to the Wall Street area and wait for it.  I made my way up the river.  The light in the canyon was still cool so I only made one stop for an image before Orderville Canyon. 

After that you really enter the Wall Street area and I began to look for a good composition with a spot I hoped would get some good glow.  I found a spot of dry ground and a rock for my pack, set up the tripod, and put on my down jacket to keep warm.

I still had to wait almost an hour but I did get a shot.

After that I packed back up and moved farther up the canyon.  Now the light was good and I would wade until another good composition presented itself.  Then it was set up the image, make a few shots, pack up and move again.

This process went on for a good 2-3 hours.  Finally about 130pm, I turned around and now worked my way back down canyon.  


Waiting for the Light
Again, it was move, photograph and move.

As the day wore on I saw more people wading upstream.  Mostly they were just day hikers.  Occasionally, I met a few other photographer.

As I passed Orderville Canyon on my way back down the amount of people increased and if I made any images usually required waiting for people to pass by the scene.

Finally as I got closer and closer to the end of the trail, I gave up trying to get images and just finished the hike out.  By the time I got to the car I was tired but elated I had made it a good day.  I hoped I had a few images in the bag and it was a huge success of a day.

I will certainly plan any future Zion trips to make a full day of the Narrows again as it is a place well worth that effort.