Zion National Park

Zion National Park

It is one of the ironies of the American Southwest that Las Vegas, one of the mostunnaturalplaces on the planet, is located just a 3 hour drive from Zion National Park, a virtual Garden of Eden.  Zion has long been a favourite shooting location for landscape photographers.  I have now visited there on three occasions, each time in the fall.

Because of its great beauty and relative proximity to Las Vegas, Zion becomes very crowded during the summer months.  In fact, the National Parks Service (NPS) is considering closing the park to vehicular traffic and having visitors moved through the park in busses.  This is similar to their forthcoming plan for Yosemite.  This is a true shame, but seemingly unavoidable due to the crowds.

View From Zion Bridge View From Zion Bridge — Zion NP, 1997

One of the most photographed scenes in the western United States.  Zion Bridge in Zion National Park is so popular that the Park Service has actually marked out spaces for photographers to stand!   It’s usually a sunset view but seen here in mid-morning.  I almost expect Hobbits to appear.  A clichéd view, but still worthwhile.

Taken with a Mamiya 645 Pro and 55mm lens on Provia 100.

Because of the crowds and the extreme heat I have avoided going to Zion in summer and have made each of my visits in the fall, usually October when the fall-colours are at their peak.  The crowds are gone, and when shooting at sunrise and for the first couple of hours of the day you’ll virtually have the park to yourself.

Zion canyon was carved over the eons by the Virgin River which runs through it.  The deep valley is fed by a number of waterfalls, which after a heavy rain in spring or fall can provide quite a spectacle and some great photographic opportunities.

Zion WaterfallWaterfall — Zion N.P., 1996

Photographed with a Rollei 6008 and  180mm lens on Provia 100

This shot was taken in pouring rain and with a leaden overcast sky.  One of the challenges of shooting in Zion is that the canyon walls are very high (as is the case atCanyon de Chelley), and during mid-day the valley floor is harshly lit.  A day with soft lighting is usually best.(The keystoning of the falls, due to looking upwards can be corrected in PhotoShop, but at a price.  See the article onPerspective Control with PhotoShopfor details.)

There are many hidden spots along the valley floor.  One, which I found thanks to Robert Hitchman’s invaluable guide, thePhotograph America Newsletter, is found 6/10ths of a mile after you leave theGateway to The Narrowsparking lot. Just back from the road is a stream and a lovely little waterfall.

Hidden Waterfall - Zion N.P.Hidden Waterfall — Zion N.P., 1994

Photographed with a Mamiya 645 and 35mm lens on Provia 100

You’ll need a very wide-angle lens and a lot of depth of field to capture this scene.  When I was last there, though it’s unmarked and can’t be seen from the valley road, I found 3 photographer working this tiny falls at the same time.

At the end of the canyon road is a large parking area.  This leads to the Narrows, a day’s hike through a riverbed which I plan to take one day.  But, within walking distance of the parking lot are a range of images that can occupy one for many hours, particularly as the light changes.

Cliff & Fall FoliageCliff & Fall Foliage — Zion N.P., 1994

Photographed with a Mamiya 645 and 150mm lens on Provia 100

The contrast of the red-rock and fall colours is remarkable.  The two above photographs are worth viewing enlarged, even if you have a slow web connection, because of the wealth of detail and colour.

I’ve shot in Zion with both 35mm and medium format.  I hope to return with a large format camera, but the hike up the narrows will require something a bit smaller.

Moonrise over Zion, 1996

Photographed with a Mamiya 645 Pro and Mamiya 500mm mirror lens on Provia 100

The moon always intrigues me when I can include it in a landscape. Here, a long lens was used to create an unusual perspective, looking upward at a red-rock cliff a thousand feet above our heads. At this steep angle and magnification I was forced to literally run across a meadow to set up the shot before the moon disappeared behind the cliff, because it was moving so quickly relative to the cliff-top.

Zion Rock Face & Tree, 1996

Taken shortly after the above photograph with the moon, this is one of my favourite images from my 1996 Zion trip. I particularly like the pattern of the tree’s shadow in the lower left repeating in the lone tree at the upper right, and also how the large crack in the cliff has a fractal pattern like that of tree branches.

Photographed with a Mamiya 645 Pro and Mamiya 500mm mirror lens on Provia 100

Getting There

From Las Vegas take Interstate 15 and then just after St. George, Utah, turn onto Highway 9.  Follow 9 to Springdale which lies just outside the park’s west entrance.  I’ve always stayed at Flanagan’s Inn (801/772-3244).

Other Things to Do

In Springdale there are two spots worth visiting.  There’s anCinemax Theaterand also a wonderful photography gallery showing work byMichael Fatali. The gallery is located on the north side of the road about halfway through town.  The address is 868 Zion Park Blvd.

The only problem with visiting his gallery is that you’ll want to throw your cameras away in frustration.  A remarkable photographer!  A must visit for anyone interested in photography and an inspiration for landscape photographers.

July, 1999