Not enough time… Bryce Canyon


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.


42 thoughts on “Not enough time… Bryce Canyon

  1. Hoodoos are also called “fairy chimney’s”, which is my term of choice. Gorgeous photos, as usual. I went to Bryce for the first time this last November and the combination of the red rock, dusting of snow, and the bright blue sky is one of my all-time favorites.


    • David Patterson

      heidi… I love the term “fairy chimneys” too – thanks for sharing. You live so close to Bryce (and other wonders)… I’m jealous 🙂

  2. Okay David your posts are getting spooky for me now. One of the best vacations that I ever had involved my husband and I driving from Salt Lake to Sedona. On the way and by accident we ended up in Bryce Canyon National Park. One of the most beautiful places I have ever been. That part of the country speaks to my New York born heart! Beautiful pictures.

  3. I’ll never forget my 1 day visit to Bryce Canyon, when I spent 3 weeks in the south western USA in 1995. I am dreaming of returning back there – and maybe digitize my analog photos from there. But you were lucky with the light and weather on your visit: Excellent photos!

  4. Your work is beautiful, David. You did a marvelous job capturing the essence of Bryce. I’ve never visited there with snow on the ground. Your images make me wish I could go there now.

    • David Patterson

      Thanks Rick. I was lucky with the snow on the ground, and I have a feeling that I will definitely return to Bryce one day.

  5. I’m about five hours away and have driven past the canyon several times…always on the way to somewhere else. An intentional visit is near the top of my to-do list.

    I love the red rocks and snow combination…and the sun helps bring out the colors.

    Beautiful photos, David.

  6. Bryce is gorgeous, yes (I’ve been there multiple times), but don’t stress over the limited time there. While other places can and do “demand” longer visits, Bryce is OK in short bursts. Hiking in the hoodoos is interesting and fun, but I think the best photography is from/near the road.

    When you make it to Bryce again, make sure to visit Kodachrome Basin State Park. Easy to pass by since it’s “just” a state park, but it’s beautiful.

    • David Patterson

      Carol… thanks. The air at that altitude was pretty crisp, especially after the winter storm had blown through.

  7. Holy WOW!

    I have a trip planned in a few weeks to a ghost town here in CA, but BC will be moved to the top of the ‘next place to go’ list after I’m finished with that, thanks to this post!

    These pics are incredible and I really enjoyed the story.
    I had been trying to decide what was next, but nothing was coming to mind.

    Thanks for such an inspiring post!

  8. This is beautiful. Actually I find being close to such locations extremely extremely helpful. Having to fly a few thousand miles and to be thwarted by a variety of factors is a terrible feeling.

    • David Patterson

      Thanks. I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I feel so lucky to live so close to Acadia National Park. Having said that, anytime I do make a big trip out west (or beyond), I always tell myself that no matter what, I’m going to enjoy the experience and if I can come away with some photographs that I enjoy… then all the better.

  9. I know the feeling. I am planning to visit Acadia NP from June 7-10 with 2-3 fellow photographers. Given that time of year and number of days, what would you define as the best 5-10 best photo objectives (location, time of day) to plan for?

    • David Patterson

      Russ… here’s a post I made on that very subject:

      Must see places include… Cadillac Mountain, Loop Road, Otter Cliffs, Bass Harbor Light, Jordan Pond, Bubble Pond. There might also be some Lupine in bloom at the time you visit (nice for foreground interest). There is a field of it up on the road to Beech Hill Cliffs, and I have been told there is a field of it on Bar Island (reachable at low tide). Then there’s also the Schoodic side of Acadia that I have been exploring more and more lately. Don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you need more info: pattersond at roadrunner dot com

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