Southwest Trip 2017: Part 1

Howdy! I can say that now that I've been to the Southwest... right? Regardless of your thoughts on my mediocre attempt at cowboy slang, it's been quite a while since I last posted a blog or an update on my life. If you've been following along, you'll know that in January of this year, my father and I took a little excursion down to the Florida Keys and had a fun little road trip. From the moment our plane's wheels hit the runway at Philadelphia International Airport upon our return home, we began planning what I like to call "The Great Southwest Road Trip". 

For years I've been interested in landscape photography. I mean, it's what got me into photography in the first place. I started out by taking pictures of the landscapes in my backyard and then I began to travel to Canada and other casual places like Poland and Israel (you know, as one does). After getting to explore international lands and getting to see what beautiful places this world had to offer, I became interested in turning my attention inward to my own country. I began to explore the state parks and national battlefields in my home state of Pennsylvania; but I was always craving more. I'd never been to a United States National Park in my life and I was dying to see the beautiful landscapes in parts of this country that I'd never seen before. That's when we began planning The Trip. 

Now, I'm not going to give you any hints, I'm going to make you read further to find out about each place we went. Or if you're simultaneously and good and supportive friend but a lazy reader, you won't read on because you've already seen some of the pictures and know the places that I went. Either way, I hope you enjoy! 

Day 1: PHL --> LAS

Our schedule went as follows: wake up, get ready, go to the airport, board plane, fly across the country, land and then start the adventure.

My father, sister and I boarded our afternoon flight to the beautifully dry city of casinos and nightlife: Las Vegas. There were a lot of things I was excited for, starting with.... I don't know... maybe the entire trip I would be embarking on in a short moment. I was also looking forward to seeing the Rocky Mountain Range from above as we flew over Denver and the rest of Colorado. Once we passed Colorado and entered into Southeastern Utah, everything began to change from blues and greens to orange and reds. Curvaceous rivers carved spirals into the ground and it looked insanely cool from the plane. After binge watching Hulu's 11.22.63 (no this isn't an ad but that show is really good), our plane finally landed at McCarran International Airport. We gathered our belongings and headed outside and instantly every piece of moisture that was hiding in the every which way of my body had said hasta la vista baby! Welcome to the desert.

So there we sat, all three of us packed into our rental car and ready to go. We drove out of Las Vegas headed for Springdale, Utah (approximately a 2.5 hour drive). We drove past The Strip and I caught my glimpse of the almighty neon yellow and red sign that sparked in the setting sun sky that read "In-N-Out Burger". But alas, we continued driving. This story isn't that sad because when we arrived in St. George, Utah this East Coast baby got to chomp away at her very first In-N-Out Burger and Animal Style Fries. Now, I know all of my New York friends are wondering "So how does it compare to Shake Shack?" Well, Let Me Tell You, my friends. That is one of the best burgers I've ever had (unpopular opinion for some, I'm sure) but those Animal Fries were some next level ISH. 10/10 highly recommend for whoever is planning on having their inaugural In-N-Out experience in the near future. Aside from that, I won't bore you with the exhilarating details of our lengthy drive to Springdale.

Day 2: Zion National Park

The entrance sign at Zion National Park (feat. a line of cars waiting to get in)

The entrance sign at Zion National Park (feat. a line of cars waiting to get in)

Have you ever heard the term "The buttcrack of dawn?" If not, let me educate you. It basically means getting up at a ridiculously early hour of the morning. So.... anytime before 9am if you ask me. On this trip, sleeping in meant sleeping until 6:30. After a fresh breakfast, my family and I were headed to Zion National Park. The clock struck 8am and we were already halfway done our first hike of the morning. We began our day in the park by driving through a tunnel carved out of the mountains by workers in the 1920's. Just on the other side was the Canyon Overlook Trailhead. The 1 mile roundtrip trail led us to arguably the most stunning view within the park. From way up, we were able to see into the canyon, the winding roads below and the faint view of Pine Creek below.

The Zion-Mt.Carmel Tunnel that leads visitors to the Canyon Overlook Trailhead

The Zion-Mt.Carmel Tunnel that leads visitors to the Canyon Overlook Trailhead

My wonderful sister posing for a picture on a single person bridge that stretches out over the canyon. It is compromised of some rusty metal and three planks of wood. Good luck!!!

My wonderful sister posing for a picture on a single person bridge that stretches out over the canyon. It is compromised of some rusty metal and three planks of wood. Good luck!!!

After completing the climb to the Canyon Overlook, hikers are rewarded with this glorious view.

After completing the climb to the Canyon Overlook, hikers are rewarded with this glorious view.

Another view from the Canyon Overlook

Another view from the Canyon Overlook

The next stop was the Visitors Center where I think I can safely said that I #raided that place of their magnets and patches. Some more experienced world travelers and hikers might say that Zion is lame because of how commercialized it's become. However, all I'm saying is that I saw that ice cream that they sold at Zion Lodge and if that's what commercialized looks like then I'm all for it. After getting our daily dose of souvenirs, we gathered our Camelbaks (again, not an ad those things are just seriously helpful in the desert) and our walking sticks, lathered up in sunscreen and headed out on The Watchman Trail. What began as an easy stroll along the Virgin River in the shade under some trees, quickly became a Nightmare™️. I can assure you that while we tried, we did not complete the 3 mile roundtrip hike. About half way through it, the trail began to literally escalate quickly so we figure it'd be best to turn around while we're still ahead. 

A 35mm film shot of The Watchman Trail

A 35mm film shot of The Watchman Trail

A view of Zion National Park from the beginning of The Watchman Trail.

A view of Zion National Park from the beginning of The Watchman Trail.

A photo of The Watchman Trail as it quickly began to pick up and this was taken right about when I had the first of many experiences when I started to question everything and how out of shape I am.

A photo of The Watchman Trail as it quickly began to pick up and this was taken right about when I had the first of many experiences when I started to question everything and how out of shape I am.

Like many other National Parks, Zion has its own shuttle system to take visitors from Point A to Point B (most often from the Visitors Center to a stop along the route). For us, we were interested in taking a trip up to Zion Lodge -- the hotel within the park. Upon our arrival we took the moderate and short stroll on the shaded Grotto Trail up to -- you guess it -- The Grotto. From there we embarked on a journey along the Kayenta Trail, which offered us some stunning views. The trail, which later turned into the Emerald Pools trail was true climb in the beginning but was well worth it when we reached the fork in the roached which forced us to decide between Upper and Lower Emerald Pools Trail. We opted for the latter. While it is the more popular trail, a steep descent into the Emerald Pool allowed us to get up close and personal with the small waterfall that fell from above and sprayed those passing by. 

A 35mm film shot on the Kayenta Trail

A 35mm film shot on the Kayenta Trail

Looking up at the mountains in Zion Park from the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

Looking up at the mountains in Zion Park from the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

A view of the Virgin River and mountains within Zion from the Kayenta Trail

A view of the Virgin River and mountains within Zion from the Kayenta Trail

Climbing upwards allowed me to get off the ground and see higher views like this one

Climbing upwards allowed me to get off the ground and see higher views like this one

Our day came to an end on a bridge right before Canyon Junction on the Zion Scenic Drive. Luckily, me and about 30 other photographers all scouted the same location for that evenings sunset (that was sarcasm if you didn't catch onto that). I somehow managed to squeeze my tripod in between people and steal some shots of the cloudy, but still beautiful sunset over the park.

The sunset over a cloudy Zion National Park

The sunset over a cloudy Zion National Park

The Virgin River flows through Canyon Junction

The Virgin River flows through Canyon Junction

A 35mm film shot of the sunset over Zion National Park with the help of my prism

A 35mm film shot of the sunset over Zion National Park with the help of my prism

Just as I was packing up, thinking the sunset was over, a deep purple hue spread across the sky. Here's a 35mm film shot I snapped in the moment.

Just as I was packing up, thinking the sunset was over, a deep purple hue spread across the sky. Here's a 35mm film shot I snapped in the moment.

So we completed day 2 of the trip but day 3 was going to be filled with so many more beautiful views and surprises.

Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park

The entrance sign to Bryce Canyon National Park

The entrance sign to Bryce Canyon National Park

In the early morning we woke up and drove through Zion again en route to Bryce Canyon National Park (approx. 2 hour drive). We pulled up to the ranger station and met a lovely ranger who's name I'm not even going to pretend to remember who we found out actually grew up in Westchester, Pennsylvania. A close-enough-to-home-town boy! The drive to Bryce included many a farm landscape and cows that made me feel like I was back home in PA but it also included a scenic drive through the arches of Dixie National Forest. Just when I thought my jaw couldn't drop anymore, we arrived at Bryce Canyon. Upon arrival, there's not much to see of the park. The visitors center is right at the entrance and you bet that I went and #raided that place. After spending all of the money that I do not have, we hopped back in the car and headed to the Southernmost point of the park and the highest elevation: Rainbow Overlook (2778 feet). 

A view of Bryce Canyon from the Rainbow Point Overlook

A view of Bryce Canyon from the Rainbow Point Overlook

Bryce is so big that I had to take multiple shots from different angles at Rainbow Point

Bryce is so big that I had to take multiple shots from different angles at Rainbow Point

A 35mm film shot of the rock formations, called hoodoos, that Bryce Canyon is known for

A 35mm film shot of the rock formations, called hoodoos, that Bryce Canyon is known for

The view at Agua Canyon on the descent towards Bryce Amphitheatre 

The view at Agua Canyon on the descent towards Bryce Amphitheatre 

The Agua Canyon trailhead

The Agua Canyon trailhead

A view of Bryce Canyon from one of the many viewpoints en route to Bryce Ampitheater 

A view of Bryce Canyon from one of the many viewpoints en route to Bryce Ampitheater 

This arched rock formation is called Natural Bridge and is one of the most popular stops on the journey from Rainbow Point to Bryce Amphitheater 

This arched rock formation is called Natural Bridge and is one of the most popular stops on the journey from Rainbow Point to Bryce Amphitheater 

From Rainbow Point we proceeded to make our way down in elevation but further up North in the park -- I hope that makes sense. If it doesn't, just carry on. Each viewpoint on the journey towards Bryce Amphitheater brought us closer and closer to the canyon edge before we threw our hiking gear on and headed to Sunset Point to descend into the canyon. The first couple of switchbacks were packed with tourists taking pictures but the more switchbacks we descended and the deeper into the canyon we got, the less people we saw. Once I got to the bottom of the canyon I looked back up and instantly regretting my decision, knowing how much I was going to have to climb back up on the other side. 

A 35mm film shot of Bryce Amphitheater from the Bryce Point Overlook

A 35mm film shot of Bryce Amphitheater from the Bryce Point Overlook

Another view of the Bryce Amphitheater from the Bryce Point Overlook

Another view of the Bryce Amphitheater from the Bryce Point Overlook

The switchbacks (paths that are created when a descent is too steep to tackle at once) on the way into Bryce Canyon on the Najavo Loop Trail

The switchbacks (paths that are created when a descent is too steep to tackle at once) on the way into Bryce Canyon on the Najavo Loop Trail

After conquering the switchbacks I turned around and looked up and this is what I saw

After conquering the switchbacks I turned around and looked up and this is what I saw

A 35mm film shot from inside the canyon on the Navajo Loop trail

A 35mm film shot from inside the canyon on the Navajo Loop trail

I just really liked the light in this photo

I just really liked the light in this photo

Two Bridges as seen from the Najavo Loop Trail

Two Bridges as seen from the Najavo Loop Trail

We began our planned hike which consisted of the Navajo Loop Trail and The Wall Street trail only to find that the Wall Street Trail was closed to due a rock fall in the winter. Unfortunately, things began to go downhill from there (and I don't mean literally). We opted to take the Wall Street Trail as far as we could until the closing. While on the mediocre and flat trail we were able to enjoy the Canyon just the three of us and the super cute but fat little chipmunk friend that we made along the trail. Once we turned around we headed back to our starting point and embarked on the Navajo Loop trail en route to the Peekaboo Loop Trail. Once we reached the Peekaboo Loop trail after about half a mile we began the climb. We quickly realized that this steep 5.5 mile loop hike was not for us and once again began to retrace our steps back to where the Navajo Loop Trail meets the Queens Garden Trail. The one thing that we didn't know is how much energy we exuded on that trail that we should have been saving for the climb out of the canyon. 

A shot along Queens Garden Trail

A shot along Queens Garden Trail

A 35mm film shot of the canyon from the climb out of the canyon on the Queens Garden Trail

A 35mm film shot of the canyon from the climb out of the canyon on the Queens Garden Trail

Looking back into the Canyon from the Queens Garden Trail

Looking back into the Canyon from the Queens Garden Trail

After an exhausting two hour hike through the bottom of the canyon we finally reached the beginning of the climb out of the canyon and Let Me Tell You that it did not look easy so I don't know why I was still expecting it to be easy. In total, I think it's safe to say that the hike out of the Canyon took us at least another hour and a half to get out of. The hike up was so steep and miserable that we were stopping at the top of every other switchback. Never before in my life have I questioned things as hard as I did that day. The only thing that was really making up for the immense amount of pain that literally every part of my body was in was the insanely beautiful views of the canyon that only those visitors brave enough to enter the canyon could see. 

After clawing our way out of the canyon, we sat on the ledge of the rim trail at Sunrise Point in order to take in the views and the immensely cooler breeze from the rim than we were getting from within the canyon. Once we revived ourselves, we gathered our belongings and hiked the rim trail back to the car which was resting peacefully at Sunset Point. Never before have I tested myself the way I did during that hike, but it was well worth it. 

The day was quickly coming to an end, so we gathered our belongings and headed out of the park and into Bryce City to indulge in some much needed dinner before embarking on our approximately 2 hour drive to Richfield, Utah where we would be staying for the night before embarking on our migration to Moab for some more National Parks fun. But that's all for now! See ya next time!

 

I hope you enjoyed part 1. Don't miss parts 2 and 3 which will be published in the coming weeks!