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Photographing the Southwest

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Shooting the Southwest

Three years ago in 2011 I spent the entire month of May. photographing the American Southwest.

I was mostly in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. I visited twelve National Parks and areas that should have been National Parks and I shot over 7000 images.

To the right and at the bottom of this page are twenty-one pictures, one or two each of the main places I visited on this trip. (Except for Arches and Canyonlands which I visited last on the trip and whose pictures I haven't even looked at yet.

You can see all of these Southwest images plus many more in our regular southwest galleries.

My main motivation for this recent Southwest trip was to add wildflowers in Southwest locations to my collection of pictures. I have shot in the Southwest many times before, but never really in wildflower season; this time I really wanted flowers. My timing this time worked pretty well. I thought May would be wildflower season in most of the Southwest and it worked well.

I was a too early for flowers in El Morrow and in Bryce, but everywhere else I was there at more or less the right time. My timing was perfect in Arches near the end of May where the park was filled with flowering Yucca, Slick Rock Paintbrush, Rough Mules Ears and much more. And it was close to perfect in most of the other parks.

My inspiration in shooting Southwest wildflowers this year was Larry Ulrich's "Wildflowers of the Plateau and Canyon Country." You can buy this superb book picture book at Amazon.

After spending three weeks of shooting every day all day from dawn to sunset, I improved a lot of my basic shooting techniques. In the first place I refined my wildflower shooting into the real essentials and threw away some old wildflower ideas.

Secondly, I got a lot better at capturing exposures that had more contrast than my camera was capable of handling, ie those kinds of exposure where you generally burn out the sky, leaving it blank white instead of a deep blue filled with clouds.

I also got lots better at making huge panoramas by stitching several pictures together into very large images.

And I refined my photo pack into a ultra-light pack containing all the essentials needed for long day hikes, both essential camera gear and hiking stuff like water, lunch, warm clothes, rain gear etc. My new photo pack weighs about a quarter of my old pack and makes longer hikes possible and much more pleasant.

All of these new ideas will be discussed in detail in articles on our web site in the coming months.

One other thing I noticed on this trip. There are a lot more people using the national parks now than there used to be. Since the parks have been under funded for many years now, there are no new roads, no new camp grounds and not nearly as many friendly Park Rangers as there used to be. As a result the roads are bumper-to-bumper with cars and there is no hope of getting a camp space if you arrive later than 11:00 AM. All of this is clearly a result of our ever more populous world which has less and less public money for "unimportant" things like National Parks.

Most of the parks have made one important innovation though, they have closed the most popular park roads and instituted a system of shuttle buses to ferry people around. This innovation has been going on for the last ten years, and has now reached most of the larger Parks.

The bus systems in Zion and Grand Canyon are some of the best. The only way into the Zion inner canyon or the Grand Canyon inner rim road is now by bus. At first, I hated this idea. I was used to getting into scenic spots very early and late and in some parks this is no longer possible. However, at these two parks, buses begin running long before dawn and until 10:00 PM at night. In Zion a bus arrives at each stop every seven minutes. In Grand Canyon it is not quite this good, but close.

The bus solution was inevitable. In Zion, ten years ago, the Park had 10,000 visitors a day with 400 parking spots available. By 2010 the number of visitors has increased astronomically. If sightseers are to continue to have access to the parks, buses are inevitable.

The National Parks have definitely done a great job making our Great Parks accessible and also in preserving what is left of them.What they have done to the Parks is necessary if the Parks are going to survive.

Still, it is sad for someone like me, who grew up with National Parks that were still something like wilderness, to visit the Parks as they are now.

Nowadays, to me anyway, the parks feel more like formal museums of wilderness and nature than the real thing. It is impossible to get away from the great mobs of people and traffic and the stress and irritation that this crowding leads to.

I am thinking that my National Park days are about over and that in the future, I will be doing most of my picture taking in our Wilderness Areas where there is still a modicum of solitude and peace and quiet and real wilderness.

Unfortunately, the days of even Wilderness Areas as they are now is also limited. I think that all of us who appreciate the value of wilderness, need to become more and more aware of our need to create more and larger Wilderness Areas. Not only are such areas invaluable for the solitude so valuable to human beings, but also to our very survival as a species.

At the rate species are dying off, wilderness has become a vital necessity for preserving the bio diversity that our planet depends on for its survival. The books of Edmund O Wilson such as "The Creation" and his latest, a novel called "Anthill," are a great source of the information about the absolute necessity of preserving bio diversity in our planet.

Many of Wilson's books are available at Amazon.com

There are many more large pictures taken on my recent South Western trip below.


Grand Canyon Sunset, Dead Tree sillouette and Golden wall
9096, Grand Canyon Sunset and Tree Silhouette
Grand Canyon, AZ


Grand Canyon Yavapai Dawn
9046, Grand Canyon Yavapai Dawn
Grand Canyon, AZ

Petrified Forest National Park, Blue Mesa
9024, Petrified Forest National Park
Blue Mesa Area


Grand Canyon Sunset, Tower of Light
9040, Grand Canyon Sunset, Tower of Light
Grand Canyon, Arizona


Petrified Forest NP, Arizona
9017, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ


Abandoned Stone house and Door, Zuni Reservation, NM
9033, Abandoned stone house with door leaning against wall. Zuni Reservation, NM


Ponderosa and Canyon Wall, Tent Rocks, NM
9028A, Ponderosa and Canyon Wall
Tent Rocks National Monument, NM




Plains Prickly Pear, Lake Powell AZ
9054, Plains Prickly Pear, Lake Powell, AZ



Desert Dandelions, Lake Powell
9055A, Desert Dandelions, Lake Powell, AZ



Upper Emerald Pool, Zion NP
9058, Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT



Fairy Land Poin at Dawn, Bryce, NP in Utah
9086, Fair Land Point in Bryce NP in Utah



Nakedstem Sunray in Capital Reed National Park, Dawnnray
9080, Nakedstem Sunray in Capital Reef National Park at Dawn



Grand Canyon sunset,
9050, Grand Canyon Sunset, Gold Wall, Red Wall and Tree Branch
Grand Canyon, AZ



Utah Penstemmon, Capital Reef NP, Utah
9083, Utah Penstemmon and Canyon Walls
Capital Reef National Park, Utah




Dead Horse Point with Fremonts Mahonia, near Moab, Utay
9085, Fremonts Mahonia Buttes and Sky
Dead Horse Point near Moab, Utah


Spring Waterfall near the Patriarchs in Zion NP, Utah
9098, Spring Waterfall near the Hall of the Patriarchs
Zion National Park, Utah



Towers of the Virgin, Zion NP in Utah
9107, Towers of the Virgin at Dawn
Zion National Park, Utah



Slickrock Paint Brush on high slabs in Zion NP
Slickrock Paintbrush on high rocky slabs
Zion National Park in Utah



Deadhorse Point Dawn with Emphedra Bush near Moab Utah
Dead Horse Point Dawn with Emphedra Bush
Dead Horse National Monument near Moab, Utah



Rough Mules Ears in Capital Reef National Park, Utah
9114, Rough Mules Ears, Capital Reef National Park, Utah



Common Indian Paint Brush, Placitas, NM
Common Indian Paintbrush in Placitas, NM



Go to all our Southwest images.

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Go to our best photographs

Go to our home page and access all of our photographs