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

Daydreaming about canyon hunting by Josh Trudell

Antelope Canyon
With the sands of another semester trickling through an educational hourglass, I’ve reached that point where the pile of work looks enormous and the last day seems to be far, far away. While I’d love to blow things off and bury myself in Civilization:Revolution, that’s not how world domination is achieved.

Part of surviving the grind of schoolwork/regular work/freelance work is finding ways to pick up little bursts of inspiration and happiness. For me, that can range from listening to the Red Sox win a game to getting out with my camera and taking pictures of something new.

Another source of inspiration is seeing what other photographers are working on. My fascination for the last couple of weeks has been a blog called A Curious Endeavor.

Written by Kate Lockhart, she's an accomplished photographer and a good writer. Recently, she’s been on a road trip through the Southwest, stopping at some of photography’s holy grails: Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and my personal favorites, Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon.

These canyons, which are nestled against the Utah border outside of Page, Arizona, are the source of some of the most famous photographs ever taken. She does a great job capturing the magic of these spots, and her writing is very helpful to photographers planning to visit these places - it’s filled with tips about what to watch for and how to reach certain spots.

One of my photography dreams is to travel the Southwest on a road trip like that. My only taste of it so far has been an afternoon at the Grand Canyon, and it’s only whetted my appetite.

Bring on that homework – the canyons await!