Beauty on the Road to Vegas

April 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I don’t pretend that this makes sense. As a matter of fact, I’ve been told many times that my preference to drive is a bit crazy. Be that as it may…when given the opportunity to drive to Las Vegas from Dallas, I decided it was a great opportunity to see some sights and create a road trip "scrapbook." Besides, a friend asked me to share my itinerary, as he is considering a similar trip. Happy to provide some details, happy to share my thoughts and opinions, and really happy to have had this experience.

It all started when talking to my boss about our upcoming annual conference in Las Vegas to promote our attorney portrait services. We needed to get our trade show booth, display TV and other equipment out there. After perusing the map and thinking about options, I offered to load up my Jeep and make the drive. In theory, the cost to ship all our gear to Las Vegas would cost roughly the same as the expenses associated with driving. So, why not, right…right?

Day 1: Left Dallas to arrive in Corsicana, TX and pick up trade show booth, etc.  Then, on to Albuquerque, NM - approximately 12 hours, 777 miles. At about 8 hours and 30 minutes into the trip, I made it into New Mexico. It was an inconspicuous crossing as there were no welcome signs on US380. Interestingly, the elevation here is 4100 feet above sea level so I had a very slow gradual climb from the Dallas area which is around 500 feet. 

Tatum NMTatum NMTatum NM is near the Texas and New Mexico border

Day 2: Albuquerque, NM to Page, AZ - approximately 7 hours, 406 miles via 550 north of Albuquerque.

Big Chief sign on 550Big Chief sign on 550Driving north of 550 through New Mexico

My destination by sunset of day 2 was Horseshoe Bend outside of Page, AZ. (http://horseshoebend.com/#)

The bend features the Colorado River meandering down towards the Grand Canyon. It’s an impressive sight, though I don’t recommend it if  you are acrophobic. I am not, but with no fences between you and a sheer drop-off to the river, I was more than a bit uneasy. The hike from the parking lot off 89 (a few miles south of Page) is relatively short and very easy. A bit uphill to a crest then downhill to the cliff’s edge and the stunning beauty of the Bend. Because it is so easily accessible there were a lot of people there -  people looking for the quintessential selfie and backing up a little too close for comfort, in my opinion, to the edge of the cliff. I found a place close, but not too close, to the edge and settled in to await the sunset.

 Horseshoe BendColorado River and the beautiful Horseshoe Bend, with 1/15 second at F/8.0, 16mm, ISO100.  

Tips:

  • The photos I like best of the Bend are at sunset. Get there early and explore the edge to get a good vantage point. While most of the tourists will come and go, plenty of photographers set up tripods in the premium spots, so you want to stake your ground. Bring water, snacks and maybe a small camp chair, then hang out (you will be entertained by the tourists and the close calls to the edge.) If you have some clouds (but not too many!), you’ll have a beautiful sunset. It is worth the  extra effort in post-processing work to bring out the shadows in the Bend.
  • If you happen to be there when there is a new moon, you will be able to stay as late as you’d like to do some astrophotography. It’ll be lonely though, as most will leave as soon as the sun has settled below the horizon.  Make sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight as it will be dark as you make your way back to the car.
  • Bring your widest-angle lens.
  • If you’re more of a morning person, get there well before sunrise and plan on staying awhile. Next time, I’ll try a morning shot and can share more tips.

Day 3: This was my most anticipated day of the trip - The Antelope Canyon Slot Canyons tour. I elected to do the “photographer’s tour” of Rattlesnake and Upper Antelope (3.5 hours). There are five companies that have access to these Canyons and you must book through them to have access. I used Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours (https://navajoantelopecanyon.com/index.asp). Luckily, I was the only photographer signed up for the earlier (Rattlesnake Canyon) tour so Roman, the guide, and I were able to leisurely walk through this Canyon. At the time, I didn’t realize what a luxury this was. While this Canyon isn’t quite as large and photogenic as the Upper, it was nice to photograph it without the throngs of other photographers and tourists. The water that formed this Canyon falls down the hill into the wash below, so it was  an easy hike up. We would take a short walk through Slot Canyon walls, then climb a ladder to get to the next level. Most were very easy, but a few were a little awkward to climb while carrying the camera and tripod.

Once we completed the Rattlesnake Canyon, we made our way back out to the wash to be picked up. Here I joined a new tour with a group of German photographers/tourists to view the Upper Canyon. This was a much more popular tour and created a lot of people in a very small area. But, our guides did a great job of getting the photographers with tripods into position and holding all the tourists at bay, while we spent a few minutes capturing the scene. The Upper Canyon is much larger and all on one level. We made our way through the Canyon stopping around 6 to 8 times to capture different vignettes. Once we made our way through the Canyon, we turned and walked back the other direction, which gave an interesting and different perspective of the Canyon. We stopped a few places on our way back including the area where, on a sunny day, you get a narrow band of sunlight coming down through the Canyon striking the sandy floor. Just as we arrived, the sun came out from behind the curtain of clouds so we were able to grab a few of these popular shots. It was fleeting and I wasn’t in a great position for that “classic” Slot Canyon shot, but it was fun to see it. Once the sun starts appearing, a guide uses a large ice scoop to pick up and throw sand into the beam of light so it is easier to photograph. I will have to revisit this Canyon in hopes of better luck in getting the shot.

 Upper Antelope CanyonNature creates beautiful angles. 1.3 sec at F/11, 32mm, ISO400

Tips: 

  • If you do the “Photography Tour” they require you to have a “professional” camera and full-sized tripod. They inspected my equipment before they allowed me to pay the fee. My guide told me that they do have to turn people away or redirect them to one of the other tours if they don’t have the right equipment.
  • Don’t plan on changing lenses in the Canyon. It is very sandy and the guides will often throw sand in the air. If you are concerned about your gear you may want to cover it in a rain cover (or shower cap from your hotel room). I picked up a can of compressed air at the local Wal-Mart to clean up my camera after the tour.
  • Make sure your battery is fully charged, your card has plenty of room on it and you have extra batteries with you.
  • Bring a remote shutter release.
  • Make sure your camera settings are set before you enter the Canyon. You’ll be going into an environment that is dark but has strong highlights. Expose for the highlights so you don’t lose detail in them. I photographed on aperture priority and ISO 400 most of the time. My shutter speed varied a good bit but it wasn’t unusual to have a several second exposure. 
  • Bring a bandana to cover your nose/mouth during the tour (see note above re sand being tossed in the air).
  • Talk to your guide before the tour starts and let him/her know that this is your first time in the Canyons and you’d appreciate any special advice he/she can give, especially regarding getting in the correct position when they are setting everyone up to capture a particular scene. If your guide helps you get into the right place for some great shots, tip generously.
  • Look around after you’ve grabbed the suggested shot. Often the other photographers would still be shooting that scene and I would be looking around for other perspectives. 
  • Be prepared for it to be crowded and hectic. Roll with it. It’s a beautiful place.

While walking out of the Canyon, my guide and I started talking about other areas around Page. He suggested that I check out Alstrom Point (http://alstrompoint.com). It’s a long dirt road that leads to a 4-wheel drive. Since I didn’t have other plans, I decided to give it a go. 

The dirt road out to Alstrom Point was long and rough but can be done in just about any vehicle. Plan on a solid hour to drive the 20+ miles and make sure you have the PDF from the website (above) with you. Set your trip odometer at the beginning to accurately follow the map. I got to the Point just after sunset so didn't have a lot of time. I grabbed a few photos before venturing down the 4 wheel drive part of the road. It was pretty rough and the extra clearance of a lifted Jeep came in handy. It didn't take long for it to get very dark so I reversed course and started the long drive back to the hotel. 

Alstrom Point, UtahAlstrom Point, UtahJust after sunset at Alstrom Point in Utah

I made my way a little closer to Las Vegas the next day and started getting mentally ready to leave the all this natural beauty behind to spend the next few days in the chaos and bright lights of Vegas. Stay tuned for “Part II: The Trip Home”

 


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