Annual Photography Trip Across Southern Utah


Oct 1, 2012
Canyonlands Sunset.jpg I started planning for this trip last spring, and even had a poll on this site on where I should go-Canyonlands won by a landslide, so I decided to drive there and stay a few days, working my way across Southern Utah for 11 days and finishing in Zion. My goal was to improve my photography, and I had a paper copy of this article as my guide: It's the best article I've ever read on photography. I also decided to spend more time just observing the light, and to only shoot when I felt like it rather than compulsively take pictures. If I didn't feel like shooting, I went hiking or did something else. I also found a lot of pictures I'd like to take, but realized the light would be better in another season, so I resolved to come back later. I also wanted to avoid the cliche spots like Mesa Arch, the bridge in Zion, but as I was going to find out, these places are cliche because you are almost guaranteed good pictures! Finding your own is a lot more work, a lot more experimenting and failures. Turns out I would do some of both.

I had so many adventures that I'd bore you guys to tears recounting all of them, and since this was a photography trip and not an adventure trip, I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking. I spent 3 days in Canyonlands, focusing on Island in the Sky. That place blew me away! I hiked for miles, exploring, and trying to capture what I felt and saw around me.
Murphy Sunset.jpg

Shafer Cliffs.jpg

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I barely scratched the surface of this place. I could spend months here! Canyonlands is my new obsession-I'm already planning to come back in the spring.

From Canyonlands I drove to Capitol Reef. The light was really good and I took several hours to get there because I stopped for pictures along the way so many times. I even found a lone stand of aspen on Hwy 12!

Aspen stand.jpg

The cottonwoods were peaking-finally, this makes up for last year when I missed everything. I spent 2 days here, not nearly enough but fortunately I've been here so many times I know some of the spots to shoot. I also explored a lot of trails and found a lot of shots I want to come back for.

Capitol Reef Sunset.jpg

Cottonwood & Castle.jpg

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After this I headed to Zion, detouring along the way to Kanab to reconnect with a friend I hadn't seen in a few years. I'd been traveling solo for 8 days now and the solitude was starting to get to me, so it was good to have someone to talk to (I can see how people who live alone in the woods can get a little batty….). I also had plans to meet Yvonne/ @Miss Buffalo , and I found out @steve and @Tess would be there too, as well as another friend in Springdale-perfect timing! Like I had been on the whole trip, I shot if I felt like it, otherwise I just did something else. Didn't feel like going into the Narrows so I skipped it, but I explored a lot of the little known canyons. Did a LOT of observing the light.

Watchman Awesome clouds.jpg

Cottonwood and Peak Afternoon.jpg

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Watchman and Rock.jpg

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I was supposed to join Yvonne, Steve, and Tess in the Subway but the forecast was for rain, and I just wasn't feeling it. I got up that morning, took a look at the sky and saw it was mostly clear and decided to get breakfast and coffee instead. Something told me to bring all my camera gear so I did. As I was finishing up breakfast I looked out the window and saw dark clouds gathering behind the Towers of the Virgin, right where the light hits at sunrise. I quickly paid my bill and headed over there. I thought I had about 25 minutes before the sun hit the formations but as I came around the building about 30 photographers were there and the sky was exploding. I dropped my tripod right where I was and grabbed my camera. I was going to have to shoot with whatever lens was on it. It was the 16-35mm so it was going to be a wide shot.

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I've never seen anything like this. I kept shooting, awestruck.

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And on this note, I decided it was time to go home. Nothing I was going to shoot would even measure up to this. But the Light Fairy wasn't done yet, as I drove out of Springdale I saw this in my rearview mirror:

Springdale Rainbow.jpg

As I drove through the barren landscape of Nevada the sky one again lit up, so I pulled over and shot the sky as semi's blew by:
I15 Sunset.jpg

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Next day: I wrote that in 45 minutes between work ending and a class starting, and I forgot one of the highlights-the coffee tour of Southern Utah! There's nothing I like better than a good coffee shop (I'm in one now) and after some diligent research, here are the results of my study:

Best coffee shop in Cedar City: The Grind. I've rearranged travel plans so I can hit this place!
Best coffee shop in Moab: Red Rock Coffee and Bakery. There were two other coffee shops that looked promising, but I liked this one so much I stuck with it the whole time. I didn't sleep well in Moab and needed coffee baaaaad so I went with my sure thing.
Best coffee shop in Torrey: Castle Rock Coffee and Candy. I've been going here for 10 years, and unfortunately it's for sale. I sure hope the new owners don't change much because I think this is the best coffee shop in Southern Utah. And yes, I did consider selling my condo and buying this place, but as I've never run a coffee shop I'd run it into the ground.
Best coffee shop in Kanab: Willow Canyon.
Best coffee shop in Springdale: Meme's. Great food, too. Springdale has amazing food. I lost a few pounds with all the hiking I did the first week of this trip, then put it all back on once I hit Springdale.

All I need are the simple pleasures:


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i don't think you could bore people here recounting adventures. i'm pretty sure that's what we're all here for.

Yes, I could. My "adventures" aren't what most people here would consider an adventure, lol! But they were to me (do you really want me to recount how many times I went to a particular spot to gauge the light? ;)). That's also why I put this post in the photography section.
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as long as you mention places, i think it works : )
i like the post though
Wow, those pictures are awesome Laura, nice job! Sounds like you had a blast. Loved reading your report.
"I barely scratched the surface of this place. I could spend months here! Canyonlands is my new obsession-I'm already planning to come back in the spring."

I left Detroit 38 years ago to be closer to Canyonlands. I've barely scratched the surface.

Great pics.
I enjoyed looking at your great pictures. Thanks for posting them.
Looks like you had a great trip, Laura!

It was awesome, eve
"I barely scratched the surface of this place. I could spend months here! Canyonlands is my new obsession-I'm already planning to come back in the spring."

I left Detroit 38 years ago to be closer to Canyonlands. I've barely scratched the surface.

Great pics.

I hope I'm exploring it for the next 38 years or so as well. :cool:
Great little adventure to Utah's land down under. I liked the coffee shop reviews too!
Wow, beautiful pictures - especially Canyonlands!
A successful trip.
It was awesome, eve

I hope I'm exploring it for the next 38 years or so as well. :cool:

Let me know when you're going to the Maze or Needles. I can direct you to a few special places that aren't in the brochure.
This is the sorta report I love reading! Gauging light may not be "exciting" but it is a lot of fun (to me anyways). Often just being out is a worthwhile spending of time. I haven't been to this area so seeing things from other peoples perspectives gives me a bunch of ideas. I guess I should start dumping my photo trips out onto a report too ;) hehe.
Great shots! My favorites were of Canyonlands - thanks for sharing!