Top 10 of 2015: 4
2015 was full of great experiences as a photographer and May brought one of my favorites from this year. I had the opportunity to work with the State of Utah for an assignment which took me to the Southwestern corner of Utah, near St. George and Zion National Park. I was to photograph various sights and experiences along State Backways and Byways, with simple instructions: Show us how you see it and make it your own. There were certain places I was to go explore and general areas, but little in the way of specifics. To me, this was the perfect opportunity to get to know new places and focus on showing others a glimpse of the experience. Zion National Park attracts over 3.5 million people every year and is just one of Utah’s 5 National Parks. Tourism is booming in Southern Utah for very good reasons and as more people visit, the economies of surrounding areas benefit as well. There is no doubt Zion National Park is incredible. In fact, it is easily one of my favorite places that I’ve been to. There really is no way to show how majestic it really is but photos can offer a glimpse and perhaps inspire you to experience it for yourself. Outside of the Zion Canyon, lies other sections of Zion National Park and the city of St. George is a short distance away, which serves as a great hub to explore this incredible area of Utah. I have much more to share than what I can show in this blog post, so be on the lookout for Part 2 soon with many more photos:) Let’s get started!
Speaking of Zion National Park, there are places in Zion to escape the crowds and see a different side of Zion. One such place is Kolob Canyon, literally a mile off Interstate 15. From the Interstate, there isn’t much of a view but within minutes of passing the Visitor Center, a new world opens up. Massive cliff walls, towers and spires pierce the blue sky and your eyes are immediately drawn upward. The road isn’t very long and ends at a popular trail head for backpackers. A short distance up the road is a parking lot and trail head for Taylor Creek and from the car you can tell the views will be good. Water flows in Taylor Creek throughout the summer and is crystal clear. The relatively easy trail follows this creek for about 2 miles and reaches a junction with the North Fork of Taylor Creek. By now, your neck is sore from looking straight up! I chose to follow the North Fork of the creek for a while longer until the evening light turned me around. I returned to the car just in time for a full moon rising from the parking lot. I stood in silence and watched it as no cars drove by, the parking lot was empty and Zion was just being Zion…
Between St. George and Zion National Park lies a hidden gem, Sand Hollow State Park. I only scraped the surface of this State Park and I’ll definitely go back again. There is such a variety of activities at this Park, from fishing, to boating, to playing on the beach, to sand dunes for motor sports and dunes to hike. The entire area is surrounded by vast sand dunes and the reservoir is large. The view across the reservoir to Zion National Park isn’t bad either! I spent the morning photographing sunrise, then moved to the docks to talk to some local fisherman. Bass fishing is HUGE at this reservoir and there was a line well before the 6AM opening at the gates of the Park. The water is exceptionally clear here and during calm weather, the sandy bottom is visible 50 feet deep. With beaches, campsites and a multitude of activities, this State Park is a great place to spend some time while in Southern Utah.
A short distance away is another reservoir, Quail Creek State Park. This place offers more beaches and water sports, with Zion National Park in the distance. The color of the water here is a turquoise blue and is striking with the surrounding red rocks. I was there during the middle of the day so I didn’t get to properly photograph this area, but the mid-day sun brought out the color of the water a little better. I crossed under Interstate 15 from here and made my way to Red Cliff Recreation Area to catch sunset. A small campground in a beautiful canyon of red sandstone offers a few short trails to explore the nearby cliffs, with stunning views to the West and South. There is so much more in this area to explore and unfortunately, I didn’t have to the time to fully explore here. Next time!
The next day brought me towards Zion National Park and the town of Springville. I began the day with a drive up the Kolob Terrace road, a less popular section of Zion. The trail head to the Subway is located along this road and is the main draw for tourists. But what else is there? Driving along this paved road in the dawn light is amazing. Watching Zion wake up with sunrise colors is something you don’t forget. There are many spots along this road to pull over and do just that.
Once the sunrise has passed, light and shadow begin their daily routine and bring the landscape to life. Massive cliffs and towers are now more defined with the low angle morning light. I found a spot along a cliff to watch while enjoying a 2nd coffee and breakfast burrito. All was quiet, Zion was waking up and the light was playing. To me, this is Paradise.
Further up the Kolob Terrace Road lies Kolob Terrace Reservoir and Lava Point Campground. The reservoir is at a 8100 ft in elevation and offers a cool mountain air, a contrast from the 90+ degree head of Zion Canyon. Lava Point Campground is near the edge of a mesa that has incredible views to the South and overlooks Zion from a unique angle. Storm watchers will love this place for the vista over Zion during the monsoon storms of late summer. It was clear on my visit so I’ll have to go back for this too!
The afternoon was spent in the town of Springville at the entrance to Zion National Park. I wandered the town’s streets, photographing anything that caught my eye. I found an incredible B & B, Zion Canyon B&B, complete with eclectic and unique desert style. Again, next time! This little town has much charm and was a pleasure to spend time in. Traffic rushed by and walking the small town slowed the pace of life back to normal. As evening approached, I headed to Grafton Ghost Town to catch sunset and explore this historic area of Utah. The graves were of particular interest to me, with several causes of death being from Indian attacks. This wasn’t all that long ago in the larger sense of time. Today, life is relatively easy for us while visiting this area. 100-200 years ago, not so much. These historic places put time in perspective when viewed with the nearby landscape that was shaped by time. 200 years is nothing, but to us, everything has changed.
There is so much more to this trip but I’ll share the last section I visited before wrapping this up. The far SW corner of Utah, at mile marker 2 along Highway 91, lies the Joshua Tree Scenic Backway. I had no idea Utah had Joshua Trees. This place was simply incredible. The evening light added a sense of drama to this unusual landscape and I only saw one other group who were rock climbing nearby. I parked and walked around the open desert in many places and photographed scenes I’d only seen in photos. The evening light in the desert is unparalleled in quality and the evening went by way to fast. In keeping with the theme of this entire post, I’ll visit here again too! I had a long drive ahead of me so I returned to mile marker 2, took a few final photos, and put my camera away. Four days of non-stop shooting and exploring later had worn me out physically but inside I was already wanting to do it all over again. There is so much more to see than the obvious places and these 4 days opened my eyes to what is possible. I met some incredible people, saw amazing sights and did so by allowing myself to be open to new experiences. On your first, or next visit to Utah, give it a try and you may just find that the best experiences lie beyond the well-known landmarks.
Thanks for reading this long post and happy exploring!