I understand how lucky I am to live relatively close to Acadia National Park. I have what is considered a landscape photographer’s dream location in my backyard… a jewel of a park that I can explore and get to know more intimately in a variety of conditions and in all seasons. If the afternoon light suddenly looks promising, I can literally take off and be in one of the prettiest places in America within an hour. As I said… I am lucky. Like many photographers though, I also dream of seeing the iconic landscapes of the American West and beyond. I have always been intrigued by photographs of places such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion… and Bryce Canyon, but in order to experience these places for myself, it takes immense planning and a considerable commitment – unlike my local early morning or late afternoon impromptu jaunts down to Acadia.
Every now and again I get a chuckle out of reading online opinions preaching that in order to photograph a particular location properly, you must spend time there, you need to come back to the same location again and again in different seasons, in different light… you need to fall in love with the landscape to truly appreciate and make a photograph of it. Of course spending time in a particular location will help you get to know it better – and probably photograph it better (whatever that means) – but sorry… but while I would love to buy into the romantic requirement of becoming one with the landscape to make a pleasing photograph, for me, like most normal people, it’s just not always practical. I’m often in the position where I’m stealing a weekend – or maybe even just one morning – in an attempt to catch a glimpse of a place that I might have been longing to see for quite some time. Since I usually don’t have any flexibility with travel plans, my fingers and toes are crossed, hoping that the weather cooperates to provide those ever-elusive “perfect” landscape photography conditions. That’s OK.
A few years ago I was able to tack on a couple of extra days to a work-related Salt Lake City conference, and one of the stops I made on my whirlwind tour of southern Utah was Bryce Canyon National Park. I literally rolled into my hotel after dark one evening, and only had the next morning to “see” the park before I was scheduled to fly back home. Obviously I would have liked more time to better understand and discover this wonderful place, but despite this frustration, I was determined to make the best of what little time I had there. It’s also not a bad idea to do a little research ahead of time so that you can maximize your time. Beyond the obvious mapping of where you want to be, checking where and when the sun is going to rise, and if you will be beside the ocean, checking the local tide charts can give you some added information about the conditions you are likely to experience.
The relatively small 56.2 square miles of Bryce Canyon National Park is quite high in elevation, sitting at over 8,000 feet on the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in south-western Utah, and as such, it is exposed to a wide range of elements. Frost and dissolving rainwater have shaped the limestone amphitheaters into a ragged and surreal landscape of canyons, arches and the famous spires called hoodoos. As the sun peeks over the eastern horizon, early light bathes the park and the colorful rock formations actually appear to glow… quite a sight, and when I was there a recent snowstorm had dumped at least another foot of the white stuff on the landscape making for a spectacular vista.
Speaking of vistas… on this particular occasion due to the deep snow and the brief time I had available, it wasn’t workable for me to venture much beyond the standard touristy viewpoints skirting the rim of the park. I wish I could have hiked down into the heart of the park and explored the wonders of Bryce more fully, but when opportunities are limited and there’s not enough time, you make the best of it and embrace the moment… wherever you are… hopefully coming away with a few photographs that remind you of the incredible sights you saw.