Kolob Canyons

Zion National Park can be a pretty busy place with all the hikers doing Angel’s Landing and the Narrows and all the photographers lined up on the bridge.

Plus, we made a critical mistake. Because we had been there before, we didn’t do as much research as we usually do. We just booked a week at the RV park.

It turned out that the week we chose was spring break!!!! Noooooo!!! All the people! It was outrageous.

We couldn’t even get to the narrows because there was no where to park and it was a week before the shuttle bus started.

Seriously, spring break and there’s no shuttle bus? Who planned this?

Now we know and we’ll never go there again during spring break, that’s for sure.

We decided to find a quieter part of the park to enjoy, so we went on a drive to check out some of the other park entrances. The first was Kolob Canyons.

Kolob Canyons is located on the north western corner of the park, but to get there you have to drive out of the park, back to interstate 15, and re-enter the park at the Kolob Canyon entrance. You will enjoy many scenic vistas along the five mile drive on Kolob Canyons Road, like this one:

Kolob Canyon
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I made this photo right on the side of the road. I used a small aperture of f/25 to create a large depth of field so I could get both the flowers in the foreground (Japonica, I think?) and the mountains in focus.

Next up on the blog, I’ll show you another quiet spot in the park, Kolob Terrace.

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Roadside Attraction: California Poppies

On our drive back home from our snowbird season, we stopped for a night of free parking at a Casino in Nice, California.

As we pulled in, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, behind the dumpsters in the back, a small patch of California Poppies.

When the wind died down, I went out with my telephoto lens and my Canon 500D close-up filter to see what kind of interesting compositions I could come up with.

By the way, I love the 500D filter because it means I can get macro shots without having to carry around a dedicated macro lens.

California Poppy by Anne McKinnell
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It’s funny how often I find a great subject, or something amazing happens like an incredible sunset or a herd of antelope, in the most unexpected places like casinos and truck stops.

I had been looking for a pretty patch of poppies in all the parks, and I found them behind a casino dumpster. (I think it was a little too early in the year for the poppies to be everywhere!)

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The Watchman, The Virgin River, and No One But Me

As I made this photo, there were at least 20 photographers lined up on the bridge in front of me making a very similar photo. They are just around the bend in the river. The perspective is a bit different: a more elevated position, less river, no tree. But is it really that much better? Is it better at all?

The first time I visited Zion National Park, I had to make “the bridge photo” too because there must be a reason why everyone is standing there, right? And there is, it’s a great vantage point. But sometimes you just have to move on, and this time I wouldn’t allow myself to make photos from the bridge.

Instead I discovered what I think is a better location. And there was no one there but me. That alone makes it a better location! There was peace and solitude. Those are critical components of photography for me.

The Watchman and Virgin River in Zion National Park, Utah by Anne McKinnell
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Towers of the Virgin

It was one of those mornings when I lift the blinds on the window, a little bleary eyed, and suddenly I’m awake, excited about what I see. With a little hop and a jump I grab my camera gear and I’m off!

I was staying at an RV park just outside Zion National Park in Utah. The clouds looked pretty thick, but the chances were high for a dramatic view so I set off to one of the places I missed on my previous visit, the Towers of the Virgin located behind the museum.

The drive to the museum was only a couple of minutes and surprisingly there were only a few people there who soon cleared out and I was on my own.

Something magical happens when you find yourself all alone in a place like this while the clouds slowly shift, revealing different parts of the majestic mountains, in silence.

Please click the image to enjoy a larger version.

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A Secret Oasis of Barrel Cacti

Somewhere off the beaten track in middle of nowhere, Nevada, I saw an interesting rock outcropping in the distance.

“Let’s go explore!” I said to Ray.

I could see the look in his eyes.

“Long Pants!” I exclaimed.

So we donned our long pants and set off amongst the prickly pear cactus, the teddy bear cholla, the walking stick cactus, the spitting needle cactus, the attack cactus, and the grabby cactus. And there were some Joshua Trees too.

After half an hour of careful stepping, we reached the rock. We photographed all around and as the sun went down I decided to walk around the back.

To my surprise, I found my own secret oasis with barrel cacti working their way up the rock cliff.

Barrel cacti in Nevada by Anne McKinnell
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But the light disappeared quickly and I didn’t get any more photos.

I am keeping my special location a secret for now. It’s my first secret photo location :)

Next year I will return, with reinforced pants, to photograph here again.

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Abstract Rock Art in the Southwest

The thing I like the most about photographing in the southwest USA is the limitless opportunities not only for the grand scenic landscapes, but all the smaller abstract scenes that are inherent in them.

After you’ve seen places like Zion National Park, or the Valley of Fire, some miscellaneous rock formation in the middle of nowhere, like this one at Whitney Pocket, Nevada, may seem less impressive at first.

Whitney Pocket Nevada by Anne McKinnell

But when you look closer, the details equal what you find in the more iconic locations.

Whitney Pocket Nevada by Anne McKinnell

Whitney Pocket Nevada by Anne McKinnell

It’s wonderful to be able to take a stroll from the RV in any direction you choose, explore a nearby rock formation, and come away with such interesting abstract photos. Here are a couple more from the area near our campsite.

Whitney Pocket Nevada by Anne McKinnell

Whitney Pocket Nevada by Anne McKinnell

The sheer diversity of the landscape in the southwest is overwhelming. Especially when I think of how much of it I have yet to see.

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Arch at Whitney Pocket, Nevada

Way out in the desert, at the northeast end of Lake Mead in Nevada, lies one of our favourite new boondocking spots: Whitney Pocket.

In amongst the crags we set up our RV and spent a few days wandering this remote and peaceful area. Well, peaceful until the boy scouts showed up with their black powder guns, but you know it’s Nevada and you can do stuff like that!

It’s similar to the Valley of Fire with all the colours in the rocks: stripes of white and red with patches of yellow and blotches of purple. But different from the Valley of Fire because it’s at a different elevation, so there are Joshua Trees as well.

Here is an arch I discovered last year, which prompted us to return this year. I wanted to photograph here on a sunny day in the late afternoon light. I could imagine there would be nice shadows and the interior of the arch would have a golden glow. I got my wish this year with a beautiful clear day.

Please click the image to view a larger version.

I knew there would be lots of things to discover here, and I wasn’t disappointed with what I found! I’ll share more photos from this location coming up soon.

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Can Using a Tripod Inhibit Your Creativity?

When exploring in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, I discovered this really neat rock formation. I really liked all the rings and layers of rock, and the peak that comes up from the lower rock and touches the top of the arch, like it was molded on a pottery wheel. It’s a very unusual formation.

Sunburst in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell
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The sun was just about to set so I positioned myself so that the sun would peak through the opening and I used a small aperture to create a sunburst.

Although I had my tripod with me, and I’m a firm believer in tripods, sometimes I find that using it can inhibit my creativity by limiting my perspective to something I can easily achieve on the tripod.

When I made this photo I was standing on a relatively steep hill, made of this same rock, and it was hard to get the tripod positioned just right so I could capture all the elements I wanted to include in the frame. I kept getting a cramp in my foot while crouching down trying to set up my tripod so it wouldn’t slide down the hill!

Eventually I decided to take my camera off the tripod and just increase the ISO so I could take handheld shots. Suddenly I was able to move around more freely and make images from different and more interesting perspectives.

Perhaps using a tripod doesn’t always mean getting better images.

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Light Painting a Ghost Town

It’s great to have friends to meet up with and share experiences with when we’re on the road! Especially when we all get to learn about photography from each other at the same time.

Last year one of my blog readers contacted me when it looked like we were coming his way and invited us to stay at his small RV park in Moapa, Nevada, which is how we ended up at the Valley of Fire. Don and Marsha Davis are wonderful hosts who are very generous in sharing the beautiful locations they have discovered in Nevada, and I’m so happy we have become friends. Check out Ray’s review of their RV park. If you’re planning on visiting the Valley of Fire, and you’re in an RV, this is a great spot for a home base for day trips.

We enjoyed it so much that this year we decided to go back and another great experience was waiting for us. Don had arranged for us to go on a night shoot at a nearby ghost town! Not only that, but we were meeting up with a friend of his, another photographer, who has recently been learning about light painting. Cool!

So off we went to a ghost town called Nelson, in El Dorado Canyon, about an hour away from Las Vegas. It was exciting to explore the ghost town looking for a good photo location and figuring out how we were going to light it. We settled on this abandoned gas station with a cool old car in the garage. We stayed in this one spot and played with different lights, shining them this way and that for hours! I have a lot to learn, but this is my best shot from the night.

Gas station in El Dorada Canyon, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell
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This is a 30 second exposure, during which we all ran around shining lights on the building and the signs and there was also a flash with a green gel on it set inside the car.

I learned that light painting is as much about the shadows you create as it is about the light.

I have to thank Jim Sage for showing me his light painting techniques. Next year I might go on one of his Cowboy Trail Rides – that would be fun.

Now I can’t wait to go back to this place next year because there were a lot of different photo ops both for day and night shooting.

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While I was roaming around the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, trying to get a new perspective on Fire Wave, I ran across this rather large lizard!

I had no idea what it was when I photographed her, but she’s a Chuckwalla! I’ve never heard of a Chuckwalla before.

It turns out they are a stocky wide-bodied lizard with a flattened midsection and prominent belly about 15 inches long. I believe this one is a female.

Chuckwalla in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, by Anne McKinnell
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It’s wonderful to discover new things like this while out in nature.

The only problem was that because I had rented a wide angle lens and was playing with that, I didn’t bring my telephoto lens along. I made this photo with my Sony NEX6 and the 18-55 lens. In post-processing I cropped the original image to less than 1/4 of it’s size. I’m pretty impressed with the sharpness even with such a severe crop.

After I saw her I crept up ever so slowly, moving only inches at a time, and stopping frequently so she wouldn’t be alarmed. You can see she has her eye on me and her escape plan ready to put into action. She let me get pretty close, but eventually she crawled into the hole never to be seen again (at least by me).

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