Arizona & Utah, Day 5 by Josh Trudell

I ended the trip to Arizona and Utah with a beautiful morning at Dead Horse Point. In a pattern we’ve almost gotten used to, we’re up and out the door again before dawn.

(I say almost because one of our number – who shall again, remain nameless – was a little slow out of the blocks that morning and nearly missed the ride.)

We cannonballed out to Canyonlands, just making it to Dead Horse Point in time for sunrise. Similar to Horseshoe Bend, there was nothing protecting us from a long fall but our own good sense.

It was a beautiful sunrise, lighting up the red rocks as we tried to capture them for the people at home.

It was a short hike from the parking lot out to the point – just long enough on the way back to make me wish I could stay a bit longer, even though I knew it was time to go home.

Back at the hotel, our group went its separate ways – I had to get back to Texas, and Ian’s wife was kind enough to give me a ride to the Moab airport.

A bumpy puddle-jump to Denver and a hop to Dallas later, I was walking out of the airport with some of Arnie’s words ringing in my ears.

“This isn’t a photo trip – this is an adventure.”

Postscript: After I came home and started editing my images, I posted a few on Facebook. The event co-ordinator at the San Antonio Public Library saw them and asked if I would be interested in having a photo show in the library’s gallery.

It was the second time my photos were shown publicly – I had a small show at my wife’s library, but there wasn’t a reception. For this one, we decided to pull out all the stops. It was entered in FotoSeptiembre USA, an international photography festival.

We had a big reception (for which I lavishly overbought in food and booze - seriously, we've still got wine from this event), and it was a great time.

Postscript II: I’ve still got some Utah pictures to go through, but these are some of my favorite pictures. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tale – if you’ve got any questions or thoughts, feel free to drop me a line.

Arizona & Utah, Day 4 by Josh Trudell

  Heading into Arches National Park, we all craned our necks to look up at the huge red stone building blocks and the – yay! – blue sky beyond.

We start with Balanced Rock, and shoot steadily for an hour or so. That stop resulted in one of my favorite shots from the trip:


Those wisps of clouds started to thicken into the deadly flat white sky as we reached the Windows, big almost-matching arches.

There were a lot of tourists, but Chris and I avoided them by walking through the arch and doing our best Spider-Man impersonation on the ledges on the other side, reaching a small ledge where we perched to shoot back through the arch at land formations on the other side.

After making our way down, we headed over to Double Arch, two huge arches that had tourists climbing all over the base.

We set up near the trail nearby. With some advice from Ian, I pulled out the big zoom I rented for the trip and got some nice detail shots of the arches intersecting – thereby cropping out the myriad of tourists below.

This was one of the few instances on this trip where the big zoom lens - 70-400mm - I rented came i nuseful.

All this time, it’s getting darker…

After lunch, we took a siesta, and I wandered the streets. As rain began to patter down, I realized I had forgotten a raincoat, and picked one up, along with a new Otterbox for my phone.

I keep all my notes for stories on my phone – both written and in voice memos – and the black casing – the most reliable phone case I’ve ever had - had finally worn out. When I peeled it off, grains of red sand from our adventures pattered on the countertop in the store.

The rain continued, but we braved it, heading back into Canyonlands in a storm that swept through the canyons, slowing us down at times to a walking speed.

At one point, we see a storm sweeping across an open plain to our right. Braving the rain, Chris, Ian and I dashed out to the cliff’s edge, setting up and shooting while trying to keep our gear dry with middling success.

It was pouring all around us - but there was hope of one little beam of light sneaking through.

The rain broke again as we headed for Mesa Arch – one of the most photographed arches, and really a unique challenge compositionally. The rock detail is amazing, but the view through it – to the plains and mountains beyond  - requires a very high f-stop.

And oh, by the way – the arch is right on the edge of a thousand-foot drop. It’s been photographed a lot and by the best, but it’s still stunning.

After Mesa, we hauled back to the car and headed for the Green River Overlook again, hoping to get one shaft of sunlight to break through the morass of storm clouds.

We waited.

And waited.

While we were waiting, I turned around for a moment and looked behind us. This rainbow appeared, centered over the old, worn tree.


I shivered – but that might have been the rain and falling temperatures.

And….the waiting finally paid off.

At the last gasp, one beam of sunlight broke through and lit up the canyon walls on the far side of the overlook. We all shot furiously, trying to capture it in the few seconds before it was gone. Trudell-Breaking-Through

Day 5: Heading home

Arizona & Utah, Day Three by Josh Trudell

This is kind of a Dr. Seuss/JRR Tolkien photo - it's a dangerous thing going  out your front door... My photography bucket list took a beating the first two days of our trip – Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon had been on it from the first scrawl.

One shot that I’ve been wanting to get for a long time is a star trail show – those nifty pictures of stars swirling around the North Star.

Since I live in the light-polluted environs of San Antonio, I don’t often get out to areas where the skies are dark enough for such a shot.

Waking up at three a.m. on the top of a mesa, I thought I’d have the perfect chance. Groggily, I unzipped my tent and took a look outside.

It was dark, all right. Black. 100C, 100Y, 100M, 100K, for any print folks out there. Which meant that it was too dark for any chance of a starlight shot.

Foiled, I tried to get back to sleep, but ended up reading a new Harry Dresden novel until the rest of the crew rolled out. Sadly, no magic could make the sun burst through the filmy gray clouds.

Headed off the mesa, we stopped at Spider Arch, the first of the big arches we see. Chris and I carefully climbed up the rock face to a closer spot, while Bob and Arnold stayed closer (and probably safer) to the ground.

Chris and I climbed up to Spider Arch, but our photos were largely defeated by the flat gray sky. Bah.

Down the mesa we went in the truck, nearly nose first at times, but Ray pulled us through. We transferred our gear to Ian’s truck and headed north to Moab, a three-hour trek.

Arriving in town, our first stop was lunch. A bar and grill filled with the neon and carbon fiber of exuberant mountain sports yuppies was a jarring contrast to the poverty we saw in the Navajo town of Kayenta.

After lunch, we dropped off most of our gear at the hotel and headed out to Canyonlands National Park and the Green River Overlook. The clouds stayed and darkened through the afternoon – not giving us any dynamic frames, but gave us a chance to look at some of these viewpoints as people, and not just photographers. (Yes, there is a difference.)

Equipment-related digression: For this trip, I rented two lenses to go with my Sony A99 body – a Zeiss f2.8 16-35mm lens, and a Sony f4-5.6 70-400mm zoom. Since this was my first trip into the area, I wasn’t sure what I was going to need.

I was hoping for a rattlesnake sighting that would give me reason to pull out the big zoom, but it was close to a waste of money. I only took it out once or twice, instead relying heavily on the 16-35, which I was very happy with.

My Sony tripod was iffy for a lot of the trip – I had to spend too much time tweaking it and making sure it didn’t slide on me. The Gorillapod was useful, but I think next time I’ll invest in a Manfrotto tripod and ball head. The images were processed using Photoshop 6 and Nik software.

Day Four: Drip, drip, drip…

Arizona & Utah, Day 2 by Josh Trudell


We’re up with our friend O:DarkThirty again, heading out to Horseshoe Bend, one of the most recognizable canyons in the world.

It’s funny – in some areas, places like this would probably have ropes or fences keeping you from the edge.

There is nothing between you and the edge at Horseshoe Canyon. And it is a long way down – nearly 1000 feet - to the tiny boat landing on the inside of the curve where we saw people camping.

One of our tribe – I won’t embarrass him by calling him out by name – was more than a little nervous about being that close to the edge. I don’t blame him, either, but I had seen a shot like the one above of Horseshoe many times, and I wanted one of my own.

So I made an effort not to look to closely at the river at the bottom of the canyon, crept up to the edge, and shot.

I wasn’t the only one, either – thousands of dollars in camera gear was inches from hundreds of feet of flight as we lined the rim, photographer crows on our perches.

After the sun came up, we made our way back to town for breakfast. Page is a mid-sized town – Ian said there were 17 churches, but I didn’t get a chance to count them. As we drove through the center of town and past a high school, baseball players were dragging the field, red dust puffing up behind them.

Lower Antelope Canyon has some remarkable wind-carved rock formations.

After breakfast, we headed out to Lower Antelope Canyon. The parking lot is on the other side of the road from Upper Antelope Canyon.

In Upper Antelope, you walk straight into a cliff face cracked by the slot canyon. In Lower Antelope, you walk down some stone steps and small ladders to the canyon floor.

As our group waited for its turn to go down in the caves, we got a bit of a chuckle listening to the guide give people instructions on taking pictures in the canyon.

He repeatedly told people to use “Beach Mode” on their cameras, and it quickly became our catchphrase for the rest of the trip.

Explaining the wonder of "Beach Mode."

“Got that in focus?” “Yep – got it in Beach Mode. I’m good.”

Lower Antelope proved to be more narrow in spots than Upper Antelope – less than three feet wide in places, making for some bending and twisting.

The canyon walls were lighter and more colorful. Bracketing our exposures – shooting the same frame with multiple exposures - was important here to get the rich colors and shadows in detail.


Thanks to Ian, we hit the Keyhole – a hole in the rock façade that has a beam of light shine through it for about 15 minutes during the day – just in time to capture that. Ian played the part of Sandman, bringing the light into sharper focus.

As we progressed through the canyon, crowds were noticeably less than in Upper Antelope, but the narrow pathway made even a steady single-file stream seem busy.

Bob poses at the bottom of one of the ladders in Lower Antelope Canyon.

We came to a steep, nearly vertical metal stairway/ladder, and then a switchback metal stairway to climb out, with about a 15 minute walk across sand back to the parking lot.

Post lunch, we packed up and headed east to Hunts Mesa in Monument Valley.

As we rolled into the valley, it felt like we were entering the domain of giants. Huge red monsters loomed over the landscape.

After a pit stop, we met our guide, Ray, who took us around Monument Valley and through Kayenta, AZ. (You can’t get to the mesa from the park by road…in fact, unless you’re hiking or ready for some off-roading, you can’t get there at all.)

Bull-rushing across dunes, with sand kicking up as high as the windows, there were a few white knuckle moments as Ray whipsawed the truck to keep it moving.

Once past the dunes, we did a slow crawl up the narrow trail to the mesa’s peak, just in time to catch the last few minutes of daylight.

It was short-lived, though – a blanket of clouds descended and took the glowing hills away. Unfazed, we channeled our inner Ansel Adams (with the help of a flask or two) and went for black and white moments.

Ray and his assistants were excellent campfire books, and we crashed early, hoping the clouds would clear off in the night.

DAY THREE: Arch hunting

Arizona and Utah, Day 1 by Josh Trudell

Photographing Upper Antelope Canyon was something that had been on my bucket list for a long time. After far too much time, I’m finally getting around to recapping the five-day photo trip I took in May 2013 to Arizona and Utah.

This area has always been high on my photography bucket list – when I drew up my first list, the glowing depths of Antelope Canyon was the first thing I wrote down.

I had a hard time giving myself permission to take the trip, though. Even though I was making some good money freelancing stories and photos for the local newspaper (on top of the Day Job), it seemed like an extravagance.

Talking it out with my wife helped me realize that not only could I go, I could take the next step and set up my own company, marketing outdoor recreation and travel stories with photography.

On New Year’s Eve, I was looking at various photo tours in the Arizona/Utah region when I came across Ian Whitehead. I had seen his site before when daydreaming about these trips, but now that it was more serious, I reached out to him to see what tours he had available.

Five days, four people, Antelope Canyon, Alstrom Point, Hunts Mesa/Monument Valley, and the parks around Moab. Perfect.

I might have pelted him with e-mails to the point of drowning, but he was very patient with me, advising me on all the gear I needed.

Before I knew it, it was early May, and I was flying in Flagstaff. We pick up the story at 0:DarkThirty…

Day 1: Sedona, Arizona-Page, Arizona Or, it would have been O:DarkThirty, but by the time the O finished yawning and it got to Dark, we were on the road and headed for Page, a two-hour-plus drive.

After a late night flight into Flagstaff and drive into Sedona the night before, it was a slightly sleepy me that got into Ian’s truck for the ride north with the three other photographers – Chris, Bob and Arnold.

With a breakfast stop for sugar and caffeine though, we were good to go.

One of the quirks about traveling through Arizona is the difference in times. I live in Central Time, and Arizona is on Mountain Time, but it doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings. Navajo Nation – the parts of three states that fall under the Native Americans - does support Daylight Savings Time, but Hopi Nation – a smaller state within Navajo Nation – does not.

Coordinate your timepieces. And your codpieces.

Our first day’s schedule was busy – Rattlesnake Canyon, Upper Antelope Canyon and Alstrom Point. We didn’t waste any time hustling up the road to Page, our headquarters for the next couple of nights.

Getting to Antelope Canyon itself can’t be done on your own – you need to hire a Navajo guide. We arrived at the wide spot in the road outside of Page where the tours start and transferred to a large truck.

The truck drove into a big, sandy wash for between one and two miles from the parking lot to our first stop – Rattlesnake Canyon.

Wind erosion created some interesting shapes and lines in Rattlesnake Canyon.

Rattlesnake and Antelope canyons are what are known as slot canyons – narrow clefts in the rock that allow for thin beams of sunlight to slip down to the canyon floor, making for some elegant lighting and beautiful images.

Rattlesnake was a good introduction to photographing these – there were virtually no crowds (or room for any crowds). Climbing up a couple of ladders to the shallow slot, we squeezed our way through the narrow passage one at a time, trying to protect lenses and tripods from the walls and each other.

I was using a Sony tripod at this point, but for this canyon, I’d probably use a Gorillapod to save on space.

After about an hour, we drove the rest of the way down the wash to Upper Antelope Canyon – a photographer’s mecca.

The light beams in Upper Antelope Canyon make for some wonderful photographs.

There are good things and bad things about meccas – they are wonderful places, and they draw armies of people.

Surrounded by people toting iPods, iPads, point-and-shoots, DSLRS of every make and model, large-format cameras - probably even pinhole cameras - we walked into Upper Antelope Canyon.

The Navajo guides do a fairly good job keeping the groups separated – only rarely did someone from another group stumble into my frame. This was a place where Ian definitely earned his keep, too – getting his group to the right places for dynamic frames, offering exposure tips and making sure we weren’t rushed and/or blocking traffic.

It was tight quarters, though – there are areas where photographers were lined up in murderer’s rows, tripod to tripod with the person next to them.

--SPOILER ALERT-- I’m going to spill a secret here – those beautiful light beams that filter down, framed in swirling dust? That dust doesn’t get there by itself, folks. The guides spend a lot of time lining people up in good photography spots, then dashing over to the side of the lightbeam (out of the frame, usually) and tossing handfuls of sand into the light as we snap away. --END SPOILER--

After two hours, we found our way out, cameras full of cool images. Also noticeably dehydrated – it wasn’t baking hot, but the moisture does disappear from the body noticeably out there.

We had a needed siesta, then headed out to Alstrom Point for sunset. Alstrom Point is a remote spot that requires a four-wheel-drive with sturdy tires to get to.

The sun sets behind you while you're photographing Lake Powell and Gunsight Butte from Alstrom Point, lighting up the buttes and the water nicely.

Our four-wheel-drive was lacking in sturdy tires, popping a rear wheel about halfway there. Ian again came to the rescue, changing the tire and getting us out to the point in plenty of time for sunset.

The point overlooks Lake Powell and Gunsight Butte – with just the five of us spread out along the point and no service, it was easy to feel like we were on a different planet.

After sunset, we crawled back into town, exhausted at the end of a long day. We shoveled in food at a local steakhouse and tried to catch some sleep, despite the atrocious karaoke/cover band combination polluting the air from across the street. DAY 2: Into the Canyon and Up to the Mesa