A Different Land of Zion

In the nearly infinite bucket list of places I want to visit and photograph, the desert Southwest has always ranked high on my list. I mean, how can you beat a place that has beautiful red rock formations, sand dunes, slot canyons, exotic desert plants, flash floods, poisonous snakes, deadly scorpions, and big hairy scary tarantulas? This is a place that has it all! So when my friend Jeremy invited me to join him on a trip he was organizing last Spring, I jumped at the chance! (You can read about our slot canyon adventures on that trip here.)

One of the stars of this region is Zion National Park in southern Utah, and this is the first place we visited. Now anyone who has ever driven a significant distance to a campground without having a reservation at said campground is familiar with a typical logistics problem: if you’re not careful, you will arrive at the campground late in the afternoon or evening, just in time to watch an over-sized RV pull into the last available campsite. Oh, the horror! Now what? Sleep in the car? So we devised a brilliant (I think) plan. We would leave after work on a weekday and drive all night long to Utah, rotating drivers every hour and a half or so. With three of us on the trip, this allowed for one driver, one supervisor in the passenger seat, and one sleeper in the back, and the plan worked perfectly! We arrived in Salt Lake City just in time to meet some cousins of Jeremy’s for breakfast, and arrived at Zion in plenty of time to have our pick of the last, oh, three or four campsites. Phew! Next time we’ll skip the family breakfast.

The campground we selected was Watchman Campground, named after a peak known as, surprisingly, The Watchman, which towers over the area. This was one of those places where you don’t even need to leave the campsite to see amazing things – the image below was taken from a spot next to our picnic table!

The Watchman by Moonlight, Zion National Park, Utah

We didn’t have anything better to do after dinner, so we grabbed our camera gear and headed down the road – on foot – to see what we could capture. There was a nearly full moon out illuminating the park, so we knew we’d have lots of interesting subjects. The fact that the tourists were all asleep didn’t hurt, either – the place was deserted and pleasantly quiet.

One scene I particularly liked was of a bridge over the Virgin River, with some great rock formations along the road in the background. Getty Images liked it, too, and they asked me to post it to their site for licensing.

Bridge over the Virgin River by Moonlight, Zion National Park, Utah

The next afternoon we decided to tackle Angel’s Landing, a 1,488-foot tall rock formation that provides a spectacular view up and down the Virgin River canyon. In addition to the fantastic view, what makes it really interesting is the last half-mile, where there are very narrow sections with drops straight down on both sides, so much so that the Park Service has installed chains for use as handholds. But that wasn’t challenging enough for us, so we decided to stay until it was dark and get some nighttime images from up there.

Zion Canyon from Angel's Landing by Moonlight, Zion National Park, Utah

While we were shooting images from a ledge near the top of this thing, I heard Jeremy shout, “Whoa, that’s the edge!”. Great. I had thoughts of having to explain to his fiance that he had, well, sorta walked off the edge of a cliff at night by accident. Well, that was my second thought, actually. My first thought was, “Oh hell, he has the car keys!”. Step away from the edge, Jeremy, and nobody gets hurt – or, heaven forbid, has to walk back to Seattle!

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