When we arrived at Zion we had high hopes for the week. We were put on a site that was next to a lovely group of people visiting from California. The campground was fairly empty and backed up to the Virgin River that flowed down from the mountains and created a tranquil place to sit and relax. The only major downside was the massive amount of construction that the town was undergoing. All of the roads were being torn up and repaved before the busy tourist season commenced. Unfortunately for us, this meant that going anywhere, whether to the grocery store or to the park, became an easy thirty minutes of waiting for the one way road to clear.
Each day after work we would head into the park and wait patiently for the sun to set over the nearby mountain range. The weather was in the 60’s and was a nice change of pace from the freezing nights the past few weeks. One oddity we discovered in attempting to get sunset shots was that there must be some sort of weather anomaly for the area. The valleys surrounding Zion would have perfect, wispy, high altitude clouds, but as you get closer to and into Zion valley, the clouds completely clear away and you are lucky to even get a single tiny cloud in the sky. We can’t be sure if this is an actual weather pattern or just our misfortune but it made getting ideal sunset shots impossible.
The first couple of nights we went to one of the more iconic points for sunset photography, the Canyon Junction bridge over the Virgin River. This is the stereotypical, postcard view but for good reason. The river bends at just the right angle to create a nice foreground with the Watchman in the background painted with the last glows of sunlight. The downside of course is that everyone knows this and there tends to be a large conglomerate of tourists and photographers alike jostling over the limited space. On our third visit to Zion however, we decided to head further down the river to a second bridge. While more overgrown than other parts of the river we were pleased to discover a small amount of glow reflected off the water. Additionally, there was a smaller stream that merged with the river at this point creating a waterfall. While it wasn’t the postcard view, it was at least something a little different from the run of the mill shot and was quiet enough to just sit and enjoy the sunset.
The daunting traffic in town had caused us to overlook the nearby Kolob Canyon that we should have considered earlier in the week. The canyon itself is not as remarkable or as well-known as Zion, but at this time of year it had a rather unusual advantage: snow. Just after the last snows of winter and before the warmth of spring, small amounts of snow can be found clinging to the North facing parts of the canyon that don’t receive as much sunlight as the rest of it. This, coupled with the dark orange and red textures of the rock and the bright green of the pines, gave the area an even greater contrast. Together it created a visual appeal that we hadn’t found in Zion Canyon. After the sun had set, we proceeded down into the small town of Cedar City to grab some food and a bit of dessert. The latter, Sub Zero Ice Cream, was quite a discovery. Despite having locations across the country, neither of us had been there before. Unlike other ice cream vendors, their claim to success was using liquid nitrogen to freeze a custom mix of base dairy and toppings. The end result was possibly the best ice cream we have had.
After our excursion to town, we returned back to Kolob Canyon to attempt a bit of astrophotography. Despite our best efforts, the excessive light pollution from nearby Cedar City and Hurricane completely ruined any efforts. Where there should have been stars instead lay gaps of dark, empty spaces. Instead, we decided to head back to the Canyon Junction bridge in Zion since it was far enough away from civilization to have the light pollution of Kolob. There was a different set of difficulties to getting an astro-shot there though. Due to the fact that the road through Zion is still a main road for the area, cars cross over the bridge even in the dead of night. Careful timing could end up leading to nothing if a car came around the bend unexpectedly, and ruin an entire shot. As was the case, this happened frequently and it proved that patience was the key to getting any results.
With the week at an end, we packed up and once again hit the road, this time to Las Vegas. Though neither one of us is particularly thrilled with being back here, it is a necessary evil as it is one of the major transportation hubs in the region. Brandon will be heading back to D.C. for a week and half and this is one of the cheaper places for him to fly back. Once he returns we will be heading through Death Valley and up to Yosemite.