Recently I traveled to Page, Arizona to spend some time out west and do some photography in an area that I've never visited before. It was an amazing experience and I thought I would jot down some of the things I experience in planning the trip out there that someone else might find useful.
I chose Page because there are several locations that are very photogenic and easily within driving distance. I usually choose a location as my home base for a few days and set out from there rather than staying near a location each night. This allows me to get to know the area a little better so if I return I'm familiar with most everything and spend less time trying to figure out things.
My first stop was in Monument Valley along the Arizona/Utah border north of Kayenta about 20 miles. I've always had it in my head that Monument Valley was some huge open valley in the west that a highway happens to run through, mostly because of the many westerns I've seen that showcase this landscape, but many times what we see in our head and what is reality is usually much different.
As you travel north from Kayenta there are indeed formations that can take your breath away. I was entranced by the sight of Agaltha Peak just north of town along the highway. There are a few places you can pull over and get some good shots, but there are houses along the way that can get in the shot if you aren't careful, but I was able to find some areas where human activity wasn't evident in the photo. Finally you get to the area of Monument Valley but it's not entirely evident you are there. There are signs about the visitors center, the hotel and restaurant, but if it weren't for that you'd easily drive right by. Long story short, follow the signs to the visitors center because this will take you to the valley, as it isn't right along the highway. If you visit during business hours, you will be charged $20 to enter. I traveled back to this place to capture a few sunset shots after business hours (later than 5pm) and with the booth being unmanned drove right in for free. It's a beautiful place, with dirt roads that take you down into the valley and around the area, which if you take your time can easily take up a couple of hours. Along the way there are a bunch of Navajo vendors ready to sell you their wares, so if you're looking for an inexpensive gift to bring home for others this is a cool way to do it.
After my visit to Monument Valley, I traveled on to Page which is about 90 minutes away to the west. Page is a small town which fits me perfectly, as I'm not one that enjoys a lot of traffic and overcrowded restaurants and such.
Just to the south of Page, about two miles or so, is the world famous Horseshoe Bend. It's shaped exactly like its name where the Colorado River runs through it. There is a small sign along the highway that tells you where it is, and there is a parking lot. You don't see the canyon as you walk from the parking lot, as it's a nice little hike up a sand laden path, then about another 5-10 minute walk to the canyon itself, which luckily is downhill most of the way. The canyon itself is spectacular. There are no barriers, no fences, nothing that would keep you from going over the edge so you have to be extremely careful as you approach. It took me a good half hour to get comfortable enough to approach the ledge to get a wide angle shot that didn't include a good portion of the ledge. I went several times to this area to try to capture the best shots, but it seemed that the sunset hour was the best time to capture the colors. The day I went there were no clouds whatsoever, so it made it tough not to get a blown out shot with the sun setting in the west, so bracketing your shot is recommended when this is the case. I believe if I were luckier I would have captured at least some clouds in the sky, but in the two days I stopped by this wasn't the case.
My next stop was a tour of Upper Antelope Canyon west of town. You can't just show up at the canyon and walk through, you must book a tour with one of the companies in the area where they will bus you down into the canyon. I booked my tour with Chief Tsosie's Antelope Slot Canyon Tours. The tour I booked was not the normal tourist tour where you are with a large group, but I had booked the photographer's tour which is a bit more pricey at $90 or so but well worth the extra money. After meeting at the tour's central location in town, I rode in a van with my assigned tour guide (Vera, who was awesome btw!) out of town and to the canyon. With the photographer's tour, I was given ample opportunity to capture shots within the canyon, and although it was very crowded in the canyon, they give the photographers time to take their shots and in many cases hold up other groups from traveling through so it's possible to capture shots without people in them. There isn't a ton of time to set up or adjust your settings, so you have to be quick. But, they help you with the best settings ahead of time so you are able to go in with your tripod and shoot away. There were only two in my group that afternoon, so I felt like I had VIP treatment and came away with some amazing shots. I didn't travel to the Lower Antelope Canyon, so I guess that's for another day, but the Upper Canyon was awesome.
My last day I traveled down to the Grand Canyon south rim, which is about 2 hours and 30 minutes away. The highway that travels west to the canyon was pretty light on traffic so that was nice, but I wasn't terribly excited about visiting the canyon for the first time. The canyon itself is impressive, and of course is always north of the road not very far away, but once you stop at the first few pull-offs along the way you feel like you've seen most of what there is to see already. I've never been one for tourism and like to get to know places much more intimately, and this is what I would recommend if you are going to spend time there. I think I spent a couple of hours there, and came away thinking "that was cool" but without getting deep into the park and getting to know the parts that aren't as visible I felt mostly empty from the "tourists" trip in.
A bit of advice and a couple of places I would recommend. When you book your Antelope Canyon tour, do it as soon as possible so you aren't scrambling at the last minute, especially if you are wanting to capture sunbeams in the canyon. Horseshoe Bend in the evening, preferably with some sparse clouds. If you're into night photography, book when there is no moon. The Milky Way Galaxy viewing is awesome here. Days Inn in Page is very nice and accommodating. Slackers is a great place if you want a burger or beer in an informal setting, especially when you're out shooting photos at sunset and you want to eat a little earlier.
Here's a few photos from my visit:
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