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Help Planning a Southwest USA Photo Tour

Discussion in 'Special Sessions, Events, and Tour Announcements' started by koolk2, Jul 11, 2008.

  1. koolk2


    Sep 9, 2006
    I'm starting plans for next years vacation. I would like to tour the southwest. Since my wife is a school teacher a late June/July time frame is required. We would most likely fly into Las Vegas, but Phoenix is an alternative. A must is a photo tour to one of the slot canyons. I've ordered the Southwest photo books by Laurent Martes and Joseph Lange to get me started planning. Besides touring the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam what others areas are not to be missed. Besides photo opportunities I'm looking for historical , adventure, and typical tourist sites for my wife and 13 yr old son. We'll have about 9 days for touring.

    Any recommendations will be greatly appreciated.


  2. Jeez - the possibilities are endless.

    Slots = Antelope Canyon just outside of Page, AZ which is conveniently adjacent to Lake Powell.

    Do not, under any circumstances miss Bryce Canyon. Nearby (relatively speaking is Zion NP) If you are Bryce, stay at Ruby's Inn.

    Then there is Canyon De Chelly - pronounced "Shay" (one of the best kept secrets in the SW) Far less crowded than most of the red rock places in the area and simply fantastic to visit. If you go there, be sure to allot time for a tour of the canyon floor as well as time around the rim.

    Then depending on your time, you must consider Arches NP. Unique formations to be sure.

    Let's not forget Monument Valley. You need at least a full day there. Take a tour with a Native American guide. You are not in the US there - you are in the Navahoe Nation. Breathtaking scenics and spectacular "monuments".

    While at Grand Canyon, just to the south is Sedona; a very pretty place, but honestly, if you are doing most of the other "red rock" locales, I would opt to skip Sedona. Way to "upscale yuppie" unless you want to stay put for a few days and relax. Then Sedona makes a fine place - many high priced resorts there

    If you have time, a visit to Durango CO is great if only to take the railroad trip from Durango to Silverton. It is a narrow gauge old time steam engine that pulls both parlor cars and flatbeds. Opt for the flatbed cars if you want to shoot. Unimpeded side to side action and cooler than a closed car. If you go - wear old cloths and bring cleaning material for your camera and other gear. You get a lot of cole dust from the engine. Very sooty - if you wear contacts, consider leaving them home and bringing old fashioned glasses. Durango itself is a cool, old west style town, but the main draw is the train.

    Santa Fe is terrific as is Taos.

    Google any of these sites and you will find a wealth of information.

    By the way - unless you want to make Las Vegas itself part of your trip, if you are allotting 2 weeks to the "circle", the best spot to go in and out of is Albuquerque. Makes for a nice 2 week 1500 mile or so circle, although at the risk of offending those from Alberquerque, the city itself can safely be ignored other than to land in and take off from.

    The SW is an area that you can always go back to and find more to see. One of my favorite parts of the world.
  3. follow ups:




    http://www.powellguide.com/ (if you can get a copy of the original Planet of the Apes video - the opening scene where the spaceship crashes to earth was shot there.)



    If you want to hit some of the sites I mention and time is short, I might actually recommend omitting Hoover Dam and substituting Glen Canyon dam which is at Lake Powell. Since the slots are high on your agenda, you will want Antelope Canyon which puts you at Glen Canyon Dam. Hoover is truly impressive, but better visited from LV which is quite far SW of the major parks and attractions that I have suggested. http://www.desertusa.com/gc/gcd/du_glencandamtour.html

    By the way - I highly recommend that you go here


    and scroll down to the South West section. These books, although written a while back, are simply excellent guides for photographers and ridiculously inexpensive. You can probably buy all 4 booklets for the SW for a total of about $60. Low production values - basically spiral bound small notebooks, but simply chock full of informative ideas geared strictly to the photographer. Has no hotel or dining recommendations. Just places to see and the where and the when. Makes no difference that they were written in the 90's. The rocks haven't moved much in the past 20 yrs or so. :biggrin:
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 11, 2008
  4. koolk2


    Sep 9, 2006

    Thanks for all the tips. We've got a lot of homework to do.

  5. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Rick has really nailed it! Just a few more thoughts.

    Upper slot canyon: Get to the departure location well in advance and time your departure so you'll be in the slots when sun is about directly overhead so you can get the rays coming into the slots. If you "accidently" miss your return bus, you get to stay longer and just return with the following group. :biggrin:

    Outside of Page, Az is The Wave. It's a long, somewhat strenuous hike but an amazing area.

    There is a LOT to do around Moab, Utah. A highlight for me was to leave my hotel about 4 am and drive over an hour to catch sunrise at Mesa Arch. Yes, it's been shot by almost everyone - but it's such a wonderful experience that you should do it too!

    Monument Valley: Years ago I used an Indian guide named Tom, who specializes in photo tours. Recently a Natl Geo friend used him. Tom has gotten more expensive over the years, but at least you know he will get you to great places at the right time of day! My last info for him was: Keyah Hozoni Tours, 520-674-1960. Try to catch both sunrise and sunset.

    And, don't miss Bryce!!!!!!
  6. F15Todd


    Feb 1, 2005

    I'll second this, the Moab area is awesome.
  7. Apropos Karen's comment about the native guides at Monument Valley, when I was last there (actually quite a few years back unfortunately), we signed up for a tour in an old army truck and as luck would have it, my wife and I were the only 2 people who showed up. So we had this big deuce and 1/2 truck to ourselves with a young native american kid as a guide.

    I wasn't expecting much from the kid since he was really young, but off we went. Before we left, the guide came over to me and asked me to show him the gear I had in my bag. He looked, nodded and got into the driver's seat and off we went. As the tour progressed, he would yell into the back to me to, "get the 80-200 mounted and look to the left." Sure enough, 2 minutes later, 2 natives appeared on their horses dressed in bright colored regalia and sort of just posed there on Ford's Point (the spot that is instantly recognizable to anyone who ever saw a John Wayne/John Ford western. I shot the hell out of the scene (film in those days - a LOT of film). Then these 2 dudes rode up and it was suggested to me that I should just give them $1. (remember - this was probably 20 yrs ago; I am sure the "price" has gone up). Off they went.

    then a little later the kid say, "mount your 24mm and come with me." We went off the truck to this old withered tree and the kid practically set up the shot for me. One of the "mittens" viewed through the crotch the tree limbs with damned near perfect sidelighting. I mean it was really obvious that this kid had done this for photogs before and that he knew his locales.

    It went on and on like that. He just took us from location to location. Several times we saw the same two other guys who kept taking shortcuts to get to the next must see photo op before the truck. They always posed perfectly in the distance (they even changed shirts so the colors were not obviously the same); always with the light right.

    The finale came at the end when we were driving below this enormous sand dune. The kid stopped, told me to mount up the long zoom again and then, right on cue, the two dudes appeared with about 50 sheep at the top of the dune. Then, when it was obvious that I saw them and I was ready, they drove the sheep down the face of the sand dune. Man - I nearly wore out my film advance crank! (An old F2 in those days). Every stop cost me a $1 and it was just a hoot.

    For many years, I saw no need to admit to anyone that essentially every one of the great shots I got were "set ups". Hell - why tell anyone that it was like shooting fish in a barrel?

    Sure does bring back memories of a fine day of shooting in an exotic and indescribably beautiful locale.
  8. BarkisPhoto


    Jul 20, 2007
    New England
    Hi, Ken -- Rick pretty much 'nailed' it. This is a great vacation area: my wife is also a teacher and we went with another couple during April school vacation this year. I'd add, for your consideration: a) Meteor Crater (an amazing location with quite a lot to see and shoot), b) Petrified Forest, and c) Painted Desert. We did all three in a single day (we were based in Flagstaff for a couple of days).

    Antelope Canyon is awesome. No other words to describe it. However, there are a few things to know.

    Everyone tries to be in the canyon about mid-day when the "shafts of light" appear. This makes for a large, rather unruly crowd of people, most of whom have point-n-shoot cameras and don't stand a chance of capturing the picture they saw on the brochures & postcards (but they don't know that). We were with a guide from a place in downtown Page (you can also catch a trip in with a guide from the site entrance, I believe -- the regulations require a guide escort; you cannot go in on your own). Our guide (and some of the others) try to do crowd control: get a group together, hold up the traffic, shoot, then move on. Not everyone cooperates, so be prepared to shoot quickly when you can.

    A tripod is a must. Be prepared to meter quickly and shoot in manual mode. Turn off your LCD to save power and carry a spare, charged battery!

    Alas, what I did not know before we went in is that the sand can "rain down" through the slot if there is any wind above. :eek:  Protect your gear: my D200 was fine, but I had an expensive repair bill for my 17-55m f2.8 when I returned home, as sand made it into the zoom mechanism. The fine sand even made it into my closed camera backpack -- and, it took me hours to clean my equipment later that day. Whatever you do, don't change your lens in there. One of those commercial rain shields the sports shooters use would be great: but, even a plastic shopping bag with a hole cut for your lens to poke out would help.

    Don't let me scare you away from Antelope: it was a highlight of our trip and must not be missed. :smile: Just be prepared and be careful ...

    We also flew in/out of Vegas, mainly because of the airfare we could get. Sharing driving & expenses with another couple made it a very good trip.

    Best Regards,
  9. koolk2


    Sep 9, 2006
    Rick, Karen, and Barkis,

    Thanks again for all the tips. Based on your info, some web searches, and the Photograph America newsletters we have come up with a preliminary itinerary. My photography time will be mostly limited to sunrise/sunset with the daytime devoted to family touring and driving.

    Thurs - Fly into Las Vegas by 10:00AM - Drive to Zion for sunset

    Fri - Sunrise in Zion, see park with family and relax in hotel pool

    Sat - Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP ( hopefully before the ATV's arrive). Drive to
    the North Rim Grand Canyon

    Sun - Tour North Rim. Drive to Page, AZ

    Mon - Antelope Canyon (10AM-12PM), afternoon at Glen Canyon Dam, sunset
    kayak tour on Lake Powell

    Tues - Horseshoe Bend at sunrise and a boat tour to Rainbow Bridge. Drive
    to Monument Valley for a sunset photo tour with Tom Phillips of Keyah
    Hozhoni Tours.

    Wed - Sunrise at Monument Valley and a family tour with Tom Phillips. Drive
    to Tusayan, AZ.

    Thurs/Fri - Hang out in Grand Canyon

    Sat - Possibly tour Hoover Dam. Return to Las Vegas and walk the Strip

    Sun - Fly back to PA

    I would really like to spend some time in Moab, but feel it spreads us too thin for the time alloted. We'll plan a Moab trip out of Salt Lake City in the future.

    Your comments and feedback on our trip is greatly appreciated.


  10. Sounds like a terrific trip - you and the kids are gonna love it.

    Only one suggestion. Consider substituting Bryce for Zion since they are so close together and you have a time problem. You will get many points of view as to which is the "better" park, but Bryce is something special because it has the hoodoos - something that you will only see at Bryce. Don't get me wrong - Zion is spectacular, but if you are only going to visit one, I strongly recommend Bryce and the unique architecture.

    By the way, Bryce is a much smaller and compact park and, for what its worth, my kids enjoyed Bryce more than Zion because of the unusual nature of the formations.
  11. Butlerkid

    Butlerkid Cafe Ambassador Moderator

    Apr 8, 2008
    Rutledge, Tennessee
    Yep - Bryce is unusual and spectacular! Don't miss it!
  12. Having just returned from 9 days of shooting in that area and after having done a considerable amount of homework including discussions with other photographers who have made the same trip and have taken amazing photos here are my comments:

    1. My wife and I flew to Vegas, pickup up our car and went straight to Page. I made a reservation for the Upper Antelope as you need a reservation to gain access to this area. I also wanted to shoot in the Lower Antelope which is a short distance away. So we drove to the Lower Antelope, paid the admission which I believe was $20 apiece, and hiked the Lower. This is not like the Upper - it is more difficult to access and you have to be careful to protect your equipment from banging on the sides of the walls. You don't need a guide or a group to access the Lower unlike the Upper. I used a Nikon D200 with a strong tripod and found that time exposures up to 8 seconds at f22 turned out great for me. Bracket a lot - as every exposure will give you a different look and SHOOT IN RAW + JPEG. I used 4 gig cards, brought my laptop and downloaded once or twice a day as needed. I printed out some jpegs quickly and have had a lot of time to improve the shots from the RAW pics.

    2. We then drove to Bryce for 3 nights. 3 nights is not too much time here as it is a fantastic NP, and completely different from Zion. Zion is grand, huge, high canyon walls while Bryce is easier to navigate and to shoot. I bought a manual on shooting in Bryce off of the internet and it had great info on where to position yourself from early morning to sunset in each location. This provided me with excellent information.

    3. We then went to Zion for 2 nights. Great hiking and some great photo ops but again, entirely different from Bryce. If you want an exciting hike try the Narrows. You can rent necessary equipment from outfitters in the area as you will need or should use the type of shoes, wet socks and walking sticks needed to hike in a river. That's right - you hike up and back in a river. The photo ops were amazing but to get them I rented a wet bag to put in my backpack and I hiked very carefully - no tripod as using and carrying one is way too difficult. You can spend any amount of time you want in the river. The full hike is 13 hours or so but we spent 2 hours up and 2 hours back.

    We also went to the Kollub canyon area of Zion which was fantastic. It is much less crowded and the sites were great.

    For lenses I used the 17-55 most of the time and I rented a Sigma 10-20 but it was very slow and I found myself using it sparingly. I also used a telephoto some of the time in Bryce to isolate sites within the amphitheater.

    We stayed at the lodges in Bryce and in Zion but it is hard to get reservations unless you make them well in advance. In Zion if you don't stay at the lodge you have to park your car and take the shuttles everywhere. If you stay at the lodge you can drive half way and use the shuttle for part of the sites.

    The mistake I made was not incorporating the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I did not realize how close we were.

    As for Durango, that is one fantastic area. But don't stop by just taking the famous rail trip to Silverton. At Silverton you begin the famous 17 mile road to Uray which is one of the most scenic drives in the U.S. And at Uray there is a municipal pool which is really large. You visit the pool and sit among the greatest concentration of 14,000 ft. peaks in the U.S. You are surrounded by grandeur! And it is an easy drive back to Durango. Again, very wide angle lenses are a must.

    If you want any further info on my trip just get back to me. I can get you the info on the Bryce Photographic Tips I bought and other info. And if you get to Zion as planned, you absolutely have to see the photo gallery of Michael Fatali. Loaded with some of the greatest photos I have ever seen. He uses large format cameras, shoots film and produces outstanding photos which are incredibly difficult to obtain. Check out his web site by googling his name. Later. Don
  13. Vienna Pics

    Vienna Pics

    Nov 14, 2005

    Don, I too am planning a simular trip next year and would like additional information - thanks so much for the info that you have already provided. I would be interested in the names of the books you found useful, any guides/services that you used. Did you use any camera gear protective devices such as rainshields?

    Thanks - Mark
  14. Hi Mark and any other interested parties. Here is some more info on Page and the slot canyons.

    Page is roughly a 4 hour drive from Vegas. We stayed at the Courtyards by Marriott and it was a wonderful place to stay. Again, shooting in Lower Antelope is a different experience from Upper. You pay admission to the Navajo, and then you hike a short distance to what looks like a slice in the ground. Guide books warn visitors and photographers to leave back packs on top and the entrance is very narrow as are some of the areas in the canyon. You descend via metal stairs affixed to the walls and soon you are on the bottom. Then you start walking. The distance is not great to see the canyon. In fact it is quite short but the walk is not flat and not that easy carrying equipment.

    The views in the Lower Antelope are stunning. And you are under no particular pressure as you are not on a guided tour. That being said, we were told to be there in the morning and that upper Antelope was the best between 11 and 1 when the sun was overhead. To get out you climb up stairs on the other end and exit into the sunny desert area once again.

    For Upper Antelope, there are supposed to be restrictions on the number of photographers on each tour. There are about 5 tour groups for photography. It is important to hook up with a photo tour as opposed to a "walk through" tour as you can then use your tripod and you can get excellent assistance on shooting from the tour guide. I lucked out by signing up with Overland Canyon Tours and getting Marty as a guide. They kept our group to under 12 while some others bent the rules and brought in more than the maximum creating some chaos situations.

    You can get to Overland at www.overlandcanyon.com or call 928-608-4072. The cost was $40.00 per person but as my wife was not considered a photographer (she was my sherpa), they only charged me $32.00 for her.

    The guides in the canyon exercise crowd control so that your shots can be free of humans. They also throw the sand into the air to improve the rays when present. Note - to get these shots you have to be fortunate in 2 respects. The sky needs to be clear so that the sun light is strong. And if there is too much wind the drafts will disperse the rays too quickly. But while the rays provide exciting shots, some of my best shots were up towards the ceiling in areas and horizontal and vertical images that appealed to me. Just keep shooting. You won't believe the results until you see them later.

    I basically tried to stay away from the group to keep the dust down and the use of the tripod the greatest without worrying about other people. Some of the passages are narrow and the tripod can impede everyone coming and going. Just go for it.

    While Antelope is fantastic I also signed up for a tour of the Waterhole slot canyon. It was costly and included a 45 minute hummer ride to get to the canyon but after the trip when I reviewed the pics I was surprised as to how nice they were. Much better than I expected.

    You can get a lot of info by going to the internet and googling Antelope Canyon and slot canyons. For some of the best shots in Antelope that I have ever seen an amateur take check out www.pbase.com/mzelmar. Mike is a friend and in this case my photo guru.

    For Bryce I bought the "Photography Travel Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park Amphitheater". The web site is www.phototravel.com/bryce. They publish a Photo Traveler's Guide to Southwest Utah" for $15.95. You should check that out.

    I also used Frommer's "National Parks of the American West" for general info on each area.

    I used the internet to download tips on taking panoramic shots etc. as there is a wealth of info out there.

    As for protective gear I did not use any but I tried to use only one lens in the slots.

    There are also many many slot canyons out there but not all are easily accessible. Lists can be found on the internet. If you have a lot of time you can try to find and shoot them also. Let me know what other info you shooters need as I may be able to assist you.
  15. Mike Z

    Mike Z

    May 30, 2005
    Northbrook, IL
    Hey Don, Thanks for the shout out.

  16. baeken


    Jun 24, 2008
    Orange County, CA
    You might want to look up Red Rock in Vegas. You can get some beautiful shots out there.

    there's always fun/interesting things going on at the Strip or Downtown (of course that's an obvious choice)
  17. Vienna Pics

    Vienna Pics

    Nov 14, 2005
    Thanks for the added information Don!!
  18. Another tip

    I forgot to mention an important piece of equipment or a shooting technique. It is really important to use a wireless or wired remote unit. After setting up a shot it was great to release the shutter from a distance, review the pic on the lcd, check the histogram and then continue to make adjustments and shooting with the remote.

    I used a Photix wireless remote bought off of ebay. They are inexpensive and mine worked wonderfully. However one word of advice. In the canyons the battery compartment kept opening and the battery kept falling out. I bought electrical tape and sealed it shut.

    In Bryce the remote was essential for the early morning shots as the temperature at 5:30 a.m. in June was a balmy 30 degree F with 20 mph winds. I mean really cold. So cold that other photographers were fleeing like ants from ice. I wore 4 layers and used socks to keep my hands warm. But I could release the shutter from the remote in my pocket! Remember Bryce is at 8,000 feet and much colder than Zion or Page. By mid afternoon the temps were in the 70s.

    If you don't have a remote, strongly consider using the self timer. Set it for 2 seconds, press the shutter and voila, 2 seconds later you have a pic.:biggrin:
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