A few years back I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and decided to move from the Land of 10,000 Lakes to The Valley of the Sun to start my first job as a nurse. As it turned out I absolutely loved Arizona. The job was great but the outdoor adventures were even better. It didn't take long before I was planing many weekend camping trips throughout the state of Arizona and went out hiking as much as I could. I bought my first "good" camera when I was down there and that just added fuel to the fire to get out and explore even more.
Even though I loved Arizona, I knew at some point I wanted to come back to Minnesota, not only to be a nurse but to ultimately get back into my family farm operation and slowly take that over (long story). Because I left Arizona so soon I didn't have a chance to check all my hikes and planned trips off my "to do" list so this is my story of checking one of the many trips off the list.
Here is a quick list of the points of interest we made it too during The Great Southwest Winter Wonderland adventure. Followed by photos of each place with a quick trip update and photo tips.
Horseshoe Bend - Page, AZ
Antelope Canyon - Page, AZ
Monument Valley, AZ/UT
Arches National Park, UT
Canyonlands National Park, UT
Dead Horse Point State Park, UT
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Zion National Park, UT
Sedona - Just a short hour and a half drive from Phoenix this was a must stop and a perfect start to our trip. When we left Phoenix it was 70 degree's and drizzling rain. After gaining a few thousand feet and dropping to 35 degree's on the drive up to Sedona the rain soon turned to snow. Definitely added an extra twist to the photo's and something quite different than the classic red rock shots you normally get in Sedona. This bridge is located on the north side of town, on the road that leads you into Oak Creek Canyon. Since it was snowing pretty hard we wanted to keep moving and reach out next destination during the daylight.
Horseshoe Bend - This is a must see if you're ever in Northern Arizona. I'm not even sure you would call it a hike to get here but from the parking lot its about a 5 minute walk. This place will never fail to amaze you no matter what conditions you see it in. On this specific visit we had quite a bit of cloud cover, which made for some unique pictures. Horseshoe Bend seems to be getting more and more popular and increasingly difficult to get shots without someone accidentally photo bombing you. Just like at any other popular site, I have found that adventuring off a little ways gets rid of the crowds of people and you can get some time away from the hoards of people. I was fortunate enough to be able to have my cousin (pictured - @MattyVogel) and a good friend from Phoenix join me on this winter expedition.
Antelope Canyon - This unique slot canyon is only a 10 minute drive from Horseshoe Bend so if you see one it would be a shame not to see the other. Antelope Canyon, both lower and upper, are on Navajo land and require a guided tour to view each of the canyons. Just as the sunlight at different times of the day changes your viewing experience, the same goes for having a different guide for each tour. Every time I have toured this place, the tour guides themselves show you different ways to look at rocks or how to angle your photo's with the different light shining through. They are truly amazing at their jobs and show so much respect towards the canyon and all of their guests that they are guiding around. Words of advice while photographing this place - if the guides tell you specific setting to turn your camera's too, DO IT! They know what they are talking about.
Monument Valley - This is another place that I have been fortunate enough to explore on multiple different occasions but my initial interest which brought me here was to see where Forrest Gump quit running:) Numerous other movies have been filmed in this area and once you lay eyes on the monuments of rock, you can see why it has drawn so many people here. If you have time take the "Valley Drive," which starts near the Navajo Tribal visitors center. The drive winds around numerous rock formations and gives you a true perspective as to how enormous and tall these structures really are. No need to get out and load a tour bus or jeep for the "Valley Drive" - you can drive your own car for this. Or if you are like me and don't have a lot of time to spare, throw up a tent near the parking lot, take a photo you have been waiting to take for months and take off to your next camp site.
Arches National Park - Next on our itinerary was to get to Arches NP from Monument Valley, which is roughly a 3 hour drive. Arches is just on the outskirts of Moab. If you are the type person who is into rock climbing with your off road vehicle or someone who is looking for some epic mountain biking trails - this will be a slice of heaven on earth for you. Otherwise if you are into camping/hiking Arches NP is a small slice of heaven as well. Arches is home to one of the most popular arches in the nation and probably the world - Delicate Arch. It is just a few mile hike to get there, again it's very popular and a huge attraction so TONS of people hike this trail all time. If you are a photographer it is key to show up hours before sunset or sunrise to get a half way decent place to set up your tripod. It's actually absurd how many people are lined up to take photos of this fascinating arch. If you don't like crowds and want to see more arches there are numerous arches scattered throughout the park. Get out and explore the park to see how many you can find, you will probably be surprised how many there actually are, I know I was. My other favorite arches and ones I'd recommend visiting are Double Arch, Turret Arch, as well as Landscape Arch. This specific photo was take after everyone had left and we were the only people left at the Arch. It was quite cloudy at sunset and I had multiple people ask me why we were going to say out here longer well past sunset? They said the clouds wont break up, and it's probably not worth it. Then this happened an hour after they left. It was awesome. So happy we all stayed out the extra hour.
Canyonlands National Park - I had never been to this park before so I was super stoked to get up early and attempt be the first person to get to Mesa Arch in the morning. I was told by some friends prior to the trip that the photography congestion is even worse here than at Delicate Arch, and they were spot on. There weren't necessarily more photographers, it's just a much smaller arch and less foreground for everyone to adequately fit to get the classic sunrise photo. So if you want a sunrise photo, get here early. Especially if you're planning to go in the summertime. Fortunately we were one of the first photographers there in morning so we could have our pick of the area. When the sun finally started to peak over the horizon all you could hear were the sounds of shutters constantly going off for a solid 10 minutes. As it turned out this was the last cloudless sunrise for the remainder of the trip, every other day was either completely cloudy or snow-storming. We lucked out big time at Mesa Arch.
Dead Horse Point State Park - This park was not originally on our itinerary, but after talking to some people at Mesa Arch, earlier in the morning, they highly recommended it and said to check it out on our way out of Canyonlands. Sure glad we did. This turned out to be one of my favorite photos I took over the course of the trip. Really cool panoramic views overlooking the winding Colorado River. It is really jaw dropping how much rock and material the river has carved out over all the years. If you are in Canyonlands NP, make sure to carve out some time for Dead Horse Point SP, you will not regret it.
Bryce Canyon National Park - My main goal on this trip was to do the entire "Utah Mighty Five" road trip but due to a large snow storm closing in on Bryce Canyon we decided to skip Capital Reef National Park and save that park for another time. We got to Bryce just in time before the snow really started to fall. Immediately we got out our snow gear on and hit the trails to see what kind of adventures we could find in this winter wonderland. We were unable to get those sweeping panoramic views of the amphitheater but the snow made for an exciting hike and photography adventure. This photo was taken in the "Wall St." section of the trail. My cousin pointed out this unique view and perspective overhead as we looked straight up the walls from the canyon floor. By this time there was over 10 inches of snow that had already accumulated in Bryce Canyon since the morning and it was expected to snow throughout the entire night. I broke down and decided to get a hotel instead of crossing our fingers and praying that our friends three season tent would withstand the extra weight of the snow during the night. When we walked out of our hotel the next morning there another 8 inches that fell overnight and what appeared to be white-out conditions. Somehow we made it down to the interstate unscathed, but after white knuckling it down thousands of feet in near white out condition we quickly rewarded ourselves with a large Wendy's frosty and headed off towards Zion National Park.
Zion National Park - Although Bryce Canyon and Zion are quite close to each other there was not the massive amounts of snow in Zion as compared to Bryce. Yet, there was another snow storm expected to roll through Zion later in the day. So needless to say, our day in Zion was cut short. Even though we weren't able to spend as much time as we would have liked in Zion, we were still able to see a large portion of the Valley and do a few hikes before the snow pushed us out of the park and back on the road. My favorite short hike while in this Park is the "Canyon Overlook Trail." The trailhead is located on the side of the road immediately after you exit of the Mount Carmel Hwy tunnel as you travel east out of the canyon. There is a small parking lot there as well. It is a short hike ending with amazing views of the main canyon. Along the trail you can frequently spot Big Horned Sheep. It is obvious that they are used to seeing tons of people as they didn't seem to mind me sneaking behind a tree to get a shot of one of them climbing up the near vertical rock wall. As expected, the snow storm came rolling in right as we got done with the hike. Then it was back into the rental car and speeding back to Phoenix to catch the flight back to Minnesota. You'll never guess what happened when I landed in MSP...it started snowing haha.
This was one of the main trips I had marked on my "to-do" list ever since I left Arizona. I'm super pumped to check it off but it was even better being able to check this trip off the list all while camping, hiking and taking adventures with great friends and family the entire way.
"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view." - Edward Abbey