I’d wanted to visit the national parks in Utah again ever since I’d been to Monument Valley in 2013; I’d initially set my sights on going to all of Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands for this trip. However I soon realised the week I’d organised the trip was memorial day weekend (a bit of an error) – so there were tons of people in each of the parks and also lines to get in. This also made the logistics of the trip quite hard, as all of the campsites were fully booked. So this meant we ended up staying at near St George UT and driving to the parks each day.
In an effort to beat the crowds, the first afternoon we visited Bryce. They’ve got an convenient shuttle service so you can park easily outside the park and take the shuttle to all of the main sites. We got off at Bryce Point (the first bus stop after the visitor centre) and walked along the rim to sunset point. Then we took the hike down through the hoodoos which was pretty epic – the scale of these eroded monoliths is best appreciated hiking around them.
Then we drove to near Capital Reef national park and secured a campsite there to break up the drive to Arches. It was not really a fun drive, along winding roads in the pitch black, with deer jumping out in front of the car. The next day, with a significant drive to Arches still ahead of us, we powered on and didn’t stop in Capital Reef. The scenery from the car was still fantastic.
We arrived to Arches to a queue of cars waiting at the entrance. This was at maybe 10.30am on the Sunday of Memorial day and it took maybe 45 minutes to finally get through the date. Once inside we headed straight for the hike to delicate arch, as we figured this would be busy already and only more so as the day progressed. The road into the park is stunning, to be honest photos don’t do this place justice – the shapes and scale of these eroded rocks is phenomenal. I had to stop for a few snapshots along the way.
There is a short easy 3 mile hike from the bursting full car park to the arch itself It seems so improbable that rock would erode like this, so its easy to see why this is such an icon. An icon that everyone wants their picture taken under, perhaps unsurprisingly, and there was indeed a massive disneyland style line of people waiting to have theirs taken. Its great that the national parks are accessible for people to enjoy, however the next time I visit here I’ll definitely plan it for the off season. I managed to get a few snapshots of the arch (with the poor lighting) finally without anyone underneath. We stayed for a while longer in the park itself but finally the mid afternoon heat got the better of us and we decided to get on with the 5 or so hour drive back to Ivins, leaving Canyonlands next door for a future trip.
So Snow Canyon State Park seems to be an absolute undiscovered jewel of Utah. Its right by the town of Ivins and on the Monday of Memorial Day weekend there was barely anyone there. The scenery is sublime, with petrified sand dunes, lava flow rocks and lots of great trails. Its easy to see why they shot Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid here. Theres just one road through it so its easy to see in a day, but we spaced out a couple of visits to the middle and north side of the park over two mornings.
Finally, we visited Zion National Park on the Tuesday after memorial day, hoping the park would at least be a bit quieter than the weekend. Perhaps it was, but we arrived around 7am and already the visitor center car park was already pretty full and there was a big line for the shuttle busses. The Angel’s Landing hike was my most anticipated of the trip. It did not disappoint – its a pretty strenuous 5 mile round trip hike with a narrow trail with steep drop offs at times. There was already a good number of people who were coming down the mountain by the time we got near the top, and many sections are essentially one-way for any given time, so there was plenty of waiting for people to pass. The view from the top was spectacular. After descending we stopped at a few other spots in the park, and drove around the other side before heading back. I view this trip more as a photography scouting mission, as I aim to return again to get a few more shots. Things to work on next time is definitely metering – as you can see from below. I realised there was a fault with the meter on the FM quite late on into the trip, leading me to overexpose quite a few shots from where I’d wanted to be.
After getting back into film photography after a couple of years not really shooting any rolls, I did not hesitate to decide to exclusively take analog cameras. However deciding which gear to take was pretty tough. I was torn between taking two 35mm Nikon bodies or my 6×6 Bronica SQ. In the end I went for the former due to a lower cost per shot but as I do really enjoy shooting 6×6 I also decided to take my Zeiss Ikon 517 as well. This is such a great travel medium format camera as it is so light and compact. I’m also consistently impressed with the colour rendition and sharpness of the lens.
Its very easy to take kilograms and kilograms of photo gear on trips like this, but with Nikon Ai lens being so lightweight and compact this set up seemed a good option. I went for a 20mm Ai f4, 35mm Ai f2.8, 50mm Ai Series E f1.8 and a 200mm Ai f4. These all also have 52mm filter threads which is also a boon, as I mainly used a Nikon R62 filter for the black and white photography, so it could be used across all of the lenses. The only lens that I’d reconsider is the 200mm as it didn’t get much use really. I think a shorter telephoto like a 105mm would have been better for compressed landscape shots. The lens itself though is great and light, and if there had been more in the way of wildlife I suppose it could have come in handy. This was also the first time I’d used the 20mm Ai f4 which I was quite excited to see the results from. It was definitely a great focal length to have, but to be honest I was pretty disappointed with the corner sharpness of this lens. Most of the shots were taken at f8 or f11 and focussed to maximise DOF from the scale on the lens. Maybe this was the issue as I have since read that corner sharpness is better when focussed towards infinity, or maybe I have a poor copy of this lens.
I also took the opportunity to buy a lighter travel tripod. An aluminium Giottos tripod has served me well for the last 5 years, but its nearly 3kg with a ballhead attached. I’ve never hiked with it and its always felt like a pain to lug around. So after some research I decided to get a Manfrotto Be Free carbon fibre tripod which only weighs 1.1Kg. To be honest its not a cheap purchase but its built really well and comes with a 10 year warranty. It was no hassle to attach to my camera bag for hiking.
So this was a fantastic trip and I am happy with the photos that came back, but I see it more of a scouting mission as I hope to return at some point in the future. However next time I think I would choose different B&W film – one I was more familiar with like Delta 100 or TMax 100. I wasn’t blown away but what I got out of SFX. As for the colour film I was surprised how much I liked the muted colours of Portra, as this isn’t a film I’ve used much before. Normally I go straight for the Ektar so it was pretty cool to shoot both on similar landscapes. But the main thing I’d reconsider going back to these places is to camp nearby and visit less places in a similar time. It was hard to get to the parks when the morning light was good (sunrise was around 6:15), and due to the late sunsets (somewhere near 20:45) the same applied as we generally had long drives back to where we were staying. The heat in the midday was also very exhausting. I think September or October could be a good time of year for my next trip there.