Utah has never been high on my list of places to visit. Having grown up in an arid, dusty landscape (northern Pakistan), I always gravitated towards greenery and the ocean. A couple of things happened that gradually changed that sentiment. First, as my interest in landscape photography grew, I kept encountering striking images out of Utah (and the Colorado Plateau in general). Then, along came an HBO series called “Westworld”. Shot primarily in that part of the country, the show opened my eyes to some truly stunning high-desert, Mars-red, weirdness-popping out-of-the-Earth scenery. Finally, a flight from Denver to Southern California on a crisp day with clear views of this otherworldly landscape below, provided the push I needed to mobilize and visit this place.
A plan was hatched for a three-day family road trip to Zion National Park in the Southwestern corner of Utah (all of my photography happens during the chaos and rush of travel with my family, including two young kids). Zion is roughly a two and half hour drive from Las Vegas, making it fairly accessible to residents of Southern California. We left on one of only two days of the year that it rains in our region. I was not complaining though, because the low thick clouds added a touch of drama to the landscape.
The image below represents one of our first encounters with the classic red landscape of this region:
When we finally reached Zion, it was dusk and still drizzling. At higher altitudes, there was even a sprinkling of snow. The scenes that greeted us within the canyon were truly spectacular:
The next day, it snowed – quite a novel and enjoyable experience for us residents of the Southern California desert. We were cooped up in our hotel rooms, watching the snowstorm from our window. When there was a break, we ventured out. At that point, the park was truly a sight to behold. Because of the light drizzle and haze, my camera was not able to truly do justice to some of vistas we saw. But that’s OK – because my eyes did.
The image below is one of the few (actually the only one) I took with some planning and time—everything else is done in quick sub-minute spurts while my family is impatiently waiting for me in the car or on a trail. The family had retired and I was exhausted but there was no way I was going to not attempt this shot, especially with the sky clearing and the prospect of a nice sunset. So, I overcame the fatigue and left the comfort of my warm room to venture into the bitter cold (it was zero degrees Fahrenheit at that time) to take this shot. The sunset never really took off but I was still happy with whatever happened because it allowed me to capture this:
All in all, I left with a whole new appreciation of what Utah has to offer. Zion National Park was a magical place, especially after a fresh snow in winter. Can’t wait to return!
This guest post was contributed by Talha Najeeb. Please visit his website to see more of his work.
I am so excited after reading this as I am going to spend a week in Zion from Australia in November. I can’t wait to capture this beautiful place.
What perfect timing with this comment – specially considering the article was published over a year ago. I’ve been pondering recently the question of what I want out of my photography. I’m not cut out for the aggressive self-promotion today’s world requires to get eye balls on work. But who doesn’t want a huge audience for their work? For me, I’m more than happy to settle for the fact I was able to inspire and excite someone from as far as Australia for a trip they have planned.
PS: Not sure when it starts snowing in the area so just be aware that there may not be snow in November although I’m sure the park is as beautiful (or maybe even more so) without it.
What a breathtaking place. Beautiful shots – I like the first one the best.
Beautiful work! You capture the dim gray light of winter perfectly. I’m wondering if you used a tripod? Noticing some of your shutter speeds were quite slow to get the max light, I didn’t notice any appreciable lack of focus.
Thank you. Yes, any time you see an ISO of 100 but shutter speed less than 1/30, I probably used a tripod. I, for sure, remember using it for the Temple of Sinawa and the Watchman sunset shots.
Thanks for your response. Looking forward to your next post.
I visited Zion about a year and a half ago in September. Different scenery. I want to mention a few things that may be helpful for potential visitors.
There is an Zion for active people (climbing, wading, etc.) and for photographers with big bags (people like me). You can wade through the far narrows but I would not risk anything except a Gopro, etc. You can rent water shoes, etc. outside the park.
The best place to stay at Zion is just outside at a B&B. A bus takes you right into the park until about dusk. You can stay in the park at Zion Lodge or camp out as well.
Everyone takes a photo at Canyon Junction bridge facing Watchman south at sunset. I was one of 30 or so people every day who took a highly imaginative photo.
Rain is a huge risk at Zion. If there is a hint of rain obey their rules and get out.
Composition is sometimes tough near the water because of the debris from floods. I have found the best daytime angles/light about 9 am until noon. Remember that the park roads are essentially along a river in a canyon.
A good sunrise spot is at the Zion Human History Museum facing west. Mountains block the moon rise.
Zion is comfortable as a Utah park for its low elevation. Bryce is a much higher elevation and you notice it in thirst, dryness, mood… Also, if you are traveling through Utah it is one of the parks that you do get phone reception.
Just a note – the Zion road north of the lodge is closed today because about 200 tons of rock fell on it. I would not go there for a week or so.
I especially like the first photo in the essay. It reminds me of the paintings done by some of the early explorers of the West (e.g., Alfred Bierstadt, Thomas Moran).
thanks for the kind words!
Thank you for sharing these lovely images. An inspiration to visit this area in Winter!
Thanks, absolute wonderland in the winter …
Beautiful photos.Great pleasure.
Very nice winter landscape shots of Zion NP. Another hour north is beautiful Byrce NP, where it is nearly empty in winter season.
Really wanted to hit up Bryce but weather conditions did not permit. On top of the list for next time …
I would never have imagined that you had kids in tow, some really great work. I too only manage to work when encumbered but with a disabled partner who need regular pushing. Your example encourages me to persevere…
Thank you. My family is very patient with me and for that I am very grateful. Keep at it and best of luck.
THANKS FOR SHARING!! GREAT PICS!!!