Some of you may know I recently took a week long trip to the Grand Escalante region of Utah. This is the first of several blog posts covering the trip and the locations I went and photographs I got.
I planned this trip back in February when I came across an Instagram post promoting a 5 day photography tour in Escalante offered by Action Photo Tours (www.actionphototours.com). The tour was appealing to me for several reasons. First, it was an area I had not been to before. Also, the images I saw promoting the tour and others I found online were breathtaking, and definitely the kind of images I would love to add to my portfolio. Another draw was the promise of several nights of night photography, something I love to do but don't do enough of. Finally, the price was right, a little over $1000 and that included hotel in Escalante.
Once the tour was booked, it was time to figure out the logistics of getting to Escalante. Unfortunately, from Albuquerque, Escalante is not the easiest or quickest destination to get to. It is in South Central Utah, and between Albuquerque and Escalante is the 200 mile long Lake Powell, meaning I either had to go South by Page, AZ or North to Hite, UT to get around it. Google maps lists each way as about the same, roughly a 10 hour drive. While doable in a day, I took the chance to break the drive up and do it over 2 days, camping one night along the way. And I knew exactly the place I wanted to camp at.
Muley Point is a remote overlook near Mexican Hat, UT. 20 miles north of the Arizona border, the point offers impressive views looking south of the San Juan river goosenecks, Utah's Valley of the Gods, and even the famous Monument Valley. It is reached by a 5 mile long gravel road off of Rt. 261. This is BLM land, so camping is permitted anywhere. I arrived about 6pm, and immediately headed towards the sheer cliffs to find my spot.
You can see the rock formations of Monument Valley 20 miles away in the image above. I had no idea what to expect when heading to Muley Point, I had read reports of people being the only ones out there, and other reports of people camping along side others on busy weekends. When I got there, there was a single car, which belonged to two other guys who were exploring the area. After talking to them, it turns out they were camping there that night as well. One of them happened to be from Albuquerque, and his buddy was from upstate New York.
Scott (seen above) and Greg were on night one of their own week long trip to visit Monument Valley, Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Capitol Reef NP, Zion NP, and Grand Canyon NP. I wish I could have gone with them! We spent the rest of the night talking about the best use of time in those places (I've been to many of them), Albuquerque, the American Southwest, and beer. In between discussions, there was lots of time to take in the views.
Eventually, the sun set and the night sky started putting on a show. Greg couldn't believe the view of the sky only an hour after sunset, and I told him that that was nothing. He saw his first shooting star soon after. I mentioned to Scott and Greg that I was going to do some night photography, and would love to create an image I had in my mind for sometime, which would also be a good souvenir image from their night as well. All in all, it was a great night with some new friends at an amazing spot.
The next morning I was up early to pack up camp and head out up north to Hite and around the top of Lake Powell to get to Escalante. Along the way, I found several interesting abandoned vehicles, and even made a quick stop in Capitol Reef National Park, which has some stunning scenery along with some old orchards and settlements from early Mormon settlers to the area.
I got to Escalante around 2pm, just in time for the half day workshop which was the beginning of the photo tour. I met the other two attendees, Bob and Tom, and our guide for the week, David Swindler. I'll talk more about David in the other blog posts, but he was amazing. A professional photographer and traveler extraordinaire, he was a great teacher, guide, pack rat, and friend throughout the week for all of us. I highly recommend checking out his tours if you are interested, and he also does private guided tours as well.
After a great workshop, where I learned several new techniques, tips, and tricks, we had a quick dinner and checked into our hotels. The plan was to get some sleep and head out at midnight for the first of at least two night photography sessions. We headed to Devil's Garden, a 30 minute drive from Escalante where some interesting rock formations and Metate Arch provided great foreground material for the night sky.
These were all shot using my Canon 5d mark iii camera, and either the Rokinon 14mm F2.8 lens or, for the last one, a Nikon 14-24mm F2.8. We lit the rocks with a constant source LED panel, and for the arch added in some light painting with a spotlight. Not often that you see a B&W night shot, but I sorta liked this one.
All in all, a great start to the trip. Coming up, slot canyons, more night stuff at sunset arch and the hoodoos, a hike through Coyote Gulch, and more!