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As 2013 came to a close, I made a list of the photographic goals that I wanted to accomplish during 2014.  I did this for a number of reasons:

  1. Goals push me to accomplish the things I need to do, to better myself
  2. A list of locations that I wanted to shoot, to add to my portfolio and continue to hone my skills (a never-ending task!)
  3. The list provided me with a list of places that I could research & plan for my trips, so that I could, with any luck, maximize my efforts.

So far this year, I have knocked off two of my eight “to-shoot” locations, and I have plans to revisit one (Great Sand Dunes National Park) later this Summer.  This trip was originally slated to hit North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Horseshoe Bend and Monument Valley.  I ended up making it to two of the three locations, knocking off Monument Valley due to winds that were blowing and kicking dust up making photography less than spectacular.

My research & planning for this trip started in December 2013 and continued all the way up until just a few days before I left.  Most folks would probably say I am putting too much time into research & planning.  While I will admit it does seem a bit crazy at times, I can assure you that research really helps me to understand the location(s), light conditions for the time(s) of day that I intend to shoot and allow for setting my agenda for the trip.

Originally, the trip would be done with my trekking buddy.  We were planning to use his 26′ bumper-pull trailer for our lodging.  I was able to secure a campsite at the North Rim Campground in January and a campsite at Page-Lake Powell Campground in early April.  Late in April, my trekking buddy and I were snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park and he informed me that his company had just purchased a company and all vacation for management were on hold until after October…so he had to cancel out on me.

Not being one to get deterred by a slight shift in things, I continued researching and planning for the trip.  North Rim has so many possible options, so by using my tried & true methods of starting with TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris), The Photographer’s Transit iPad app and Google Earth, I found the two primary locations that I wanted to shoot for sunrise & sunset (sunrise and sunset at both locations).  Knowing weather conditions vary greatly, I located three other locations to shoot in the event conditions at either of the two primary locations was sub-par.

The two primary locations on the North Rim were Cape Royal and Bright Angel Point.  After researching weather patterns, historical data and the aforementioned techniques, I chose Cape Royal as my first Sunset & Sunrise location and Bright Angel Point as my second location.

After I finished shooting on the North Rim, my plan was to head to Page, Arizona for sunset & sunrise at Horseshoe Bend.  Sunset would be a scouting shoot mainly, as the location is really not one for sunset (though night sky photography after twilight does work quite well).  There are so many other locations to shoot in and around the Page area, but I had a limited amount of time and for this trip, I did not feel that spending the time in Antelope Canyon was worthwhile (I’d rather shoot there later in the season or over the Winter months).

Last up was planned to be a single sunset and a single sunrise at Monument Valley Tribal Park before heading home.  The Mittens are just one of those locations I wanted to add to my portfolio first off, so that I could then focus on researching the many other opportunities that exist in Monument Valley.

The day finally came and it was go-time!  I had the truck all packed up early on Thursday, so that by 3pm mountain time, I would be able to hit the road quickly.  Since my trekking buddy was not going to be coming along, the route I drove was the more direct (in my opinion) route from Denver through Durango, stopping overnight in Durango, then heading on to the North Rim campground via Kayenta, Page, Kanaab Utah and then down to North Rim.  Not quite the most direct route, but would also serve as a scouting opportunity for other areas along the way, for future trips!

Upon arrival at the North Rim campground, I checked in then drove over to my campsite and set up camp.  My REI Half-Dome 2 Plus tent does not take much time to set up and within 20 minutes, I had it all set up arranged and ready be used upon return from my first sunset at Cape Royal.

The drive over to Cape Royal was an adventure all by itself.  Cape Royal, while only 20 miles away, is a 20 mile journey of twists & turns meaning slower speeds and having to keep your eyes open for Elk, Deer, Bear or any other critters!  Driving over in mid-afternoon, the drive was very pleasurable and I was able to see that this would not be my last trip to North Rim.

Along the way, I trekked out to see Angels Window and see what possibilities existed there (for future reference).


Once I had my fill of the sights from Angels Window, I headed on down to the parking lot at Cape Royal, geared up and started the short trek out to the point where I planned to create images.

I intentionally arrived at Cape Royal about 2-1/2 hours before sunset, so that I could scout out, in real time, the spot(s) that I wanted to use for sunset.  As time passed, the weather really was subfusc and I was a little concerned that conditions would not be very good for sunset.  A number of other visitors and a few photographers were also nearby and were asking me questions about my gear, composition and such.  There were folks from Germany, France, Japan, Great Britain and some from the midwest and eastern portions of the USA.

The most often question asked this particular day was “do you think the weather will be good enough for sunset?”  While I was not 100% certain, the one thing I suggested was to just be patient and see what happens.  Even if the light is not the best for a colorful sunset, the Grand Canyon was shot for years in black + white, so that is always an option!

About 10 minutes before actual sunset time, a small sliver of light broke through the clouds on the western horizon and I felt a sense of relief that Mother Nature was going to provide another amazing sunset in this spectacular location.

Sure enough, as sunset approached, I was composing and shooting images to be sure I was ready for sunset.  While I was doing this, a visitor exclaimed ‘Hey, look over there (off to my left to the southeast)…that is incredible!”

I made the mistake of not looking around to see what may be behind me, which I have become keenly aware to not forget!  The image that came about from that was indeed gorgeous:


Once I had that image created, I returned to my previous position and got ready for sunset.  Sunset at Cape Royal was absolutely beautiful and I feel honored & blessed to have been able to witness the sunset:


Sunset came and went.  A lot of folks left once sunset was over, while a few remained at my suggestion, to see what would happen as twilight approached.  We were fortunate to see even more magic as twilight approached:


Normally, I would have stayed for another hour or two, but I had plans to be up for twilight & sunrise at Cape Royal and knew that it would be a 45-60 minute drive, so sleep would be minimal at best.  That said, after twilight I packed up my gear, put my chest pack & backpack on and headed to the truck for the drive back to the campsite.

The drive back was 50 minutes, making sure I knew the road well enough to drive it early the following morning.  Once back at the campsite, I stayed up long enough to import the days images from the camera to Adobe Lightroom to allow for starting the next day with a fresh CF card.

Walked over to the General Store, to use the semi-okay wi-fi to check the weather overnight and through early morning.  What I saw did not bode well for sunrise, though I would still go unless it looked ominous once I got up.

When I awoke the next morning, it was not due to my alarm, but rather light.  Apparently you have to turn the alarm ON in order for it to actually be of use!  ROTF  (yes, I set the alarm for 3:30am, but did not turn the darn alarm on.  I normally use my smartphone but did not want to burn through the battery in the off chance I would not have an opportunity to recharge).

Since I missed sunrise at Cape Royal, I had a lot more time on my hands than originally planned (but now I have a reason to return to North Rim, as if I really needed a “reason” to return).  After cleaning up, having some breakfast (mountain house scrambled eggs with bacon) and coffee (Starbucks VIA French Roast), I geared up for a hike along the Transept Trail out to Bright Angel Point then back up the Bridle Path trail to the campground.  Scouting out sunset spots, even though I knew where I wanted to shoot after all the research and planning, panned out well.  The spot that I thought would be the prime spot, was okay, but not “great!”

Once back at camp, I had time on my hands, so I got my laptop out and did the initial review pass of the Cape Royal images, then did my first pass of post-processing of the images created thus far.

After finishing up the initial post-processing, I decided to gear up and hike over to the North Kaibab Trail area and see what opportunities may exist for photography.  Along the way, I came across a nice grove of aspen trees:


After returning to camp, I spent a couple of hours relaxing, making an early dinner and getting prepared for sunset at Bright Angel Point.

Like the prior day, I headed to the sunset location early, so that I was on-location about 2-1/2 hours ahead of sunset.  My intent was to capture the changing of the colors over time to ensure I did create some good images.  The weather was more lackluster, which did not make all those who were present very happy, but there were a few moments where decent light was present and I did create a few images, including one that I created in black + white:


After sunset, I headed back to camp and again, did a quick import of my images into Adobe Lightroom, so that I would start out the next day with fresh memory card.

Another ‘short’ night of sleep, but I wanted to give Bright Angel Point another opportunity for image creation.  The wind had picked up some, so I had my doubts.  Ultimately, the wind and overcast skies led to a less than stellar and was not successful in creating any images for sunrise at Bright Angel Point.  After sunrise, I left Bright Angel Point to break down camp and begin the journey to Page, AZ.

The trip from the North Rim campground to Page, AZ was fairly quiet; nothing that really caught my eye requiring a stop to create images.    The original plan included my trekking buddy and his bumper-pull RV, which I did not have and upon arrival at the campground, I found that it was not conducive to tent camping (i.e., no tent camping spots that I could see, nor did I feel like camping in 90+ F temperatures). So, I cancelled my reservation (no charges applied) and booked a hotel room.  Unfortunately, I was very early to Page (arriving at 10:30am) and most hotels in the area do not start check-in processing until 3:30pm.

While waiting for check-in time to arrive, I did some area scouting, had some lunch and went to a local self-service car-wash facility to clean up my truck.  Around 2:30pm, I was able to check-in and get prepared for a short trek to Horseshoe Bend for physical scouting (scouting for sunrise, since Horseshoe Bend is predominantly a sunrise location) and sunset imagery.

Sunset at Horseshoe Bend was actually pretty neat and while I was not expecting to capture anything worthwhile, I was fortunate to get a decent sunset shot.  My location was quite a ways off from where most others were standing, but as sunset approached, I found myself having a bit of ‘company’ nearby (more serious photographers, based on the amount of gear & type of gear they carried vice the tourists with a simple point-n-shoot).  Given the location I chose, I was pretty stoked for sunrise the next morning!

Following the trend, very short amount of sleep and I was up and headed to the parking lot at Horseshoe Bend Access Point, to be on-location before twilight (4:30am).  As twilight at 4:45am came, I could sense that the light & conditions for sunrise at 5:15am would be just fantastic.  Mother Nature did not disappoint and I was blessed to create this sunrise image at Horseshoe Bend:


Wind was picking up as sunrise occurred and I was glad to have a solid Gitzo tripod to ensure a stable shooting platform!  I did have the legs on the 2nd notch out, to lower the overall height a bit and the legs were extended to provide solid footing (using the ReallyRightStuff “Rock Claw” feet I have on the tripod).

As sunrise passed, I continued to shoot for a few minutes then chose to pack up and head back to the hotel to clean up, have some breakfast and check the weather in Monument Valley and run through an initial pass of post-processing.

Breakfast was actually pretty decent for hotel food.  The weather forecast for Monument Valley, however, was not so delightful.  Winds forecast for 15mph gusting to 30mph and temperatures in the mid-70’s to upper 90’s told me that my final location for this trip would have to wait for another day.  I spent about an hour searching other locations that might work and not put me further away from home.  Alas, I was not finding anything that I felt comfortable heading towards, so I opted to head home a day early.

Overall, this trip was very much the amazing adventure and well worth all of the research & planning.  🙂