Right before the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, I made plans to go on a week-long landscape photography trip to Arizona with my friends Kane Engelbert and Shane McDermott. We had grandeur plans of spending time in Grand Canyon National Park and other secluded locations in the desert southwest. At the end of my trip, I was going to attend the inaugural Outsiders Photography Conference in Kanab, Utah and do some fun podcasting events. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus had other plans for me. Days before my departure, we learned of the growing spread of the virus and many states were issuing limitations on large group gatherings. The Outsiders Photography Conference was cancelled as a result. I decided to keep my trip plans in place and head for Flagstaff, Arizona to meet up with my friend Kane. He had gotten us a hotel room there where we would depart from the next day to head into the Grand Canyon. Upon arrival in at the Grand Canyon, we were both struck by how empty it was of people. What a treat! We did some scouting and found some amazing locations to photograph from on the south rim with some extended hiking involved. Off we went. We were greeted with storms and great light - a true photography delight.
Matt Payne Photography Blog: American Southwest Fine Art Photography
If you have never been to the Grand Canyon - it really is a magical place. Perhaps the most magical way to experience it is not from the classic road-side parking lots and vantage points, but rather from vantages that require some exploration. Exploring a new place on foot is really one of the best parts of landscape photography for me. Spending time in nature and taking in all of the wonder - its really why I do this. Discovering interesting plants, rock formations, patterns, and all of the intricacies that nature has to offer keeps my attention diverted away from the crazy reality of the civilized world - truly a welcome thing in these troubling times.
Looking down at the Colorado River at sunrise is a truly magical experience, one I won't forget anytime soon.
As bitter wind cut through our clothing, I huddled near a small cliff wall to watch the start of the day unfold before me in the canyon below. A lone tree stood guard on the rim, providing a really nice foreground element and a sense of scale.
As the light slowly evolved through the morning, I was captivated by the shadows on the rock walls across the canyon from me, several miles away. Using a telephoto lens, I was able to peer deep into the heart of the canyon and revel in the intricate details found in the layers of rock accentuated by the early light of day.
Of course, I'm always a sucker for the grand scenic and the Grand Canyon is probably the ultimate location for that type of photography.
We decided to explore deeper into the park via our 4x4 vehicles on some rather insane roads and found ourselves in some wonderful terrain that very few people ever get to see in person. We found some magical vantage points along the rim that really provided the essence of the Grand Canyon - a view of the Colorado River surrounded by huge cliffs and layers of geologic time.
After a long hike out to a remote location on the rim, we found ourselves perched above some of the finest scenery in North America. What's not to love about a river, cliffs, sunset light, and precarious rock pinnacles?
As the sun parted ways with us, my mind was blown by the sheer scale of the scene before me.
After sunset, soft light cast on the river below and the cliff walls of the canyon, making for quite a special scene to photograph.
Being the crazy adventurers that we are, Kane, Shane, and I decided to haul ourselves all the way back up there again for sunrise, which did not disappoint at all. The soft morning light made for a magical scene indeed.
Shane had a great time taking it all in as well!
I was still captivated by the details found in the rock across the canyon. I could have spent hours just gazing into the various nooks and crannies of the canyon, each vantage a window into time long past.
Shane was pumped too!
After our time at the Grand Canyon, we decided to head deeper into the Desert Southwest for some exploration. We had been eyeballing a location on Google Earth and using Shane's drone, we found some really amazing places to photograph. Kane, being the Google Earth expert he is, found some awesome places for us to explore. I'm confident these are places very few people have seen before. I am really fortunate to have such wonderful friends to take me with them on these adventures. I appreciate you more than you know. We of course were very careful to not disturb the desert ground as we hiked into the unknown. We did encounter some cryptobiotic soil and avoided it at all cost.
Much to our surprise, as we were out exploring, the scene changed quite suddenly and revealed one of the most explosive sunsets I can recall photographing. It was quite surreal.
The toll of the situation surrounding the Covid-19 virus had finally caught up to us and Kane was summoned back home to Denver to help his family. That also meant I was going to cut my trip short since I wanted to get home as well. One last day of exploring with Shane was that was left. The night before, Kane, Shane, and I huddled around footage of Shane's drone to see if we could find some interesting compositions on foot. Kane used Google Earth to locate some great spots and relayed those coordinates to me, which I plugged into Gaia GPS. Using the coordinates in Gaia, Shane and I were able to find this freak show of a canyon that Kane had discovered in the drone footage. We were blown away.
We were delighted to find these two small hoodoos here as well, which really provided a nice anchor overall to this composition.
We ended the night at our trucks and I decided to set-up a star trail sequence of the canyon below. I had fun editing and creating this one using a variety of tricks and tools I have learned and discovered over the last decade of photographing the night sky.
At sunrise the next morning, I made one last image of the scene near our vehicles and really enjoyed taking it all in one last time before the drive home to Colorado.
I hope you enjoyed my images from this trip into the Desert Southwest. I had hoped to stay out longer, but was happy with the time I did get exploring the outdoors. Until next time...