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Red Rocks, Canyons, and Vistas

I am back from a swing through the southwest. We arrived in Las Vegas on a Friday morning and spent the day there. The next morning we drove to Hoover Dam and on to Sedona, AZ. Sedona proved to be an excellent place to prep for the rest of the trip – which was largely for photography. I wanted to give my Fuji XT-1 camera a real test. This was the first time that I would go on a landscape photography trip and leave the Nikon cameras (D4 and D4S) at home. I took the Fuji XT-1 and a Fuji X-Pro1 body and several lenses (a 12mm Zeiss lens and Fuji 16, 35, and 56 mm primes and a Fuji 50-120/f2.8 zoom). I carried several spare batteries, but no flash system.

After a few days of R&R in Sedona, we drove to Page, AZ for the first real photo location. I chose Page for two places I wanted to photograph. I always wanted to photograph Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, but on every prior trip they seemed too far out of the way. I arrived around mid-day at Horseshoe Bend and it was perfect. I usually plan to shoot such place in the early morning or evening, but the combination of fluffy clouds and sun allowed me to get a good capture of the Colorado River at mid-day as it went both east and west around Horseshoe Bend. I noted that there were no railings of any kind despite having to stand on a 1,000 foot drop to take my shot. I learned later that NOT having railings is seen as a safety factor – when there are no railings, people tend not to go so close to the edge for fear they might fall! As you can see from my photo (in the landscape section of this site), this was not a deterrent for me. Then, it was on to Antelope Canyon.

I made an Antelope Canyon photographer tour reservation the night before arriving. I signed up for a two canyons tour with Adventurous Antelope Canyon Tours (a Navajo-owned business). I am glad I made the reservation before I arrived, because there was rain the area the day before and all tours were cancelled in the afternoon. (Flash floods are always a fear in slot canyons and deaths have occurred.) My day would prove to be crowded as a result. When our driver, MacArthur, arrived we piled into his 4 x 4. It was a short drive to the Canyon. There were several trucks leaving when we arrived and, of the 2:30 pm crowd, we were the first in. Mac did a great job of making people wait behind us or yelling at people coming towards us to get out of the way so that I could get shots free of people. The leaders of the photo tours all seemed to work together to ensure good photos for their groups. In the trip up the canyon, we photographed largely ground level scenes, including the traditional sand flowing off a rock (usually done with the help of one of the photo guides). All the time there was a constant “rain” of sand from above and I was glad that I had wrapped my cameras in plastic rain sleeves and wore a hat. There was no sense of rush and Mac was very patient. Often he would tell the group where to set up our tripods and where the best shots were.  He had a photographer’s eye (or he had taken so many photographers into the canyon that he developed one). After resting a moment when we got to the end of the canyon, we started back. This time, the emphasis was on shooting up toward the ceiling. Again, Mac handled the crowds. (I am told that the crowds can be quite large and if not on a photographer’s tour it is almost impossible to get a shot without people in it. Also the photographer’s tours last a full 2 hours, the others only 1-1/2 hour.) After shaking the sand off our bodies and cameras, it was off to the second canyon – Rattlesnake Canyon (part two of my two canyon tour).

Rattlesnake Canyon was much smaller and shallower. But there were no other people there. Here one can appreciate the rock striations better. It was calm and peaceful, and again Mac did not rush us. The Fuji cameras performed without problem. I was a little worried about the X-Pro1 because it is not weather sealed, but I had no problems. One caution – DO NOT attempt to change any lenses in the canyons or your camera will end up full of fine, red dust.

Back into the car for a long drive to the next destination – Bryce Canyon and its Hoodoos.

We arrived in Bryce late in the evenings after a fairly challenging ride. I was tired and the roads were twisty (but with high speed limits). After a decent night’s sleep in a motel near the canyon entrance, early the next morning we were in the canyon ready to take photos. There were very few people there when we arrived and initially I saw only one other photographer trying to get a sunrise capture like I was. Here the colors were a bit more muted than Sedona, but beautiful nonetheless. The experience will stay with me for a long time. Everywhere I looked there was beautiful sky and striking, multicolored hoodoos. I shot from the rim of the Amphitheater and then we started down for a short hike. There were beautiful views everywhere, and somewhere along the way a 0.5 mile hike turned into a multi-mile one. But when we emerged at the rim again we were treated with a beautifully lit “Thor’s Hammer.” This made the trip all worth it. I kept my 16 mm lens on the X-T1 camera practically the entire time. I was struck by the multitude of shot that were at Bryce – they were everywhere. Nothing was boring – shots were everywhere and I wanted to stay longer. I will return to Bryce one day.

But now it was time to go to Zion National Park. Because of the driving experience getting to Bryce, I was anxious to get to Zion before dark. The drive into Zion was spectacular. There were switchbacks and startling views everywhere. But because I was driving – no shots.  In the end, I wanted to retrace my entry route to take photos, but ran out of time. In Zion we hiked to “The Narrows.” We were not prepared to hike up to The Narrows so we had to stop when the hike became one up the watery riverbed. Many people came prepared for the water, but we were not. I took some shots but the best shots in Zion were taken at sunrise the next day. Zion is not like Bryce though; Zion is a place for contemplation. The views are beautiful but on a more grand scale. Nonetheless, it made for a place to take great photos. The next time I return, I’ll come prepared to walk to The Narrows and perhaps “The Subway” (look that one up).

Then it was a return to Las Vegas with a short stop at the Valley of Fire for more red rocks, and the return home.

How did the Fuji’s perform? In a word – “flawlessly”. There was the usual problem of short battery life but I came prepared for that and missed no shots because my battery went dead. The X-Pro1 was harder to use because so many adjustments are in the menu and not on the top of the camera like the X-T1 – but that was no surprise. Both cameras made great captures. I enjoyed the 16 mm lens the most and never used the zoom. I plan on keeping my Nikons for other work that I do, but from now on will not hesitate to take the Fuji X-T1 and X-Pro1 for landscape work when traveling light is a priority.