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The Works of Jed Appelrouth
Jed Appelrouth

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Trip to Arizona and Utah
June 24-29 2009

In late June, my close friend Larry Golson and I took a short photography trip out west. The primary attraction was Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ, and we tacked on a couple of days in Zion National Park in Southern Utah.

We flew from Atlanta to Vegas, picked up our bare-bones Jeep and hit the road. We made a few stops along the way (REI, DQ) and we paused for moment when we heard that tell-tale smack when rock meets windshield. Instant Karma is going to get your rental car's windshield! But a little spidering glass wasn't going to slow us down. Around 10PM we arrived in Page, unpacked and called it a night. The next morning we made our way to the gas station/staging ground for Chief Tsosie's Antelope Canyon Tours. As we attended our departure, a dancing Navajo bedecked in ceremonial garb added an air of ritual to the otherwise mundane gas station.

Our tour guide Milo was young, probably in his early 20s, but he knew more about photography than anybody I have ever come across. He was the perfect guide for our photography tour. After a quick 3-mile drive to the mouth of the canyon, our group was herded inside. Milo was the Master of Antelope Canyon. He knew the dance of light inside the canyon with military precision: "We'll have a shaft of light coming in here at 11:34, moving down the east wall: it will last for 8 minutes." And he was right on every time. He set all of us in our designated photo positions, we adjusted our tripods, and we were well poised to capture some great shots.

In order to illuminate the light shafts, the guides would throw the sand at the foot of the canyon up in the air to catch the streaming light. Wonderful for pictures, but not so hot for cameras. Larry and I both ended up with very nice shots of the canyon as well as fine grains of sand trapped in our brand new lenses. Ouch! Still need to find a camera shop to help take care of that.

When he as not tossing sand, Milo was eager to help us fledgling photographers learn how to use our cameras. He was as much of a camera guide as a canyon guide. With his coaching, we were playing with white balances, f-stops and shutter speeds, and bracketing our shots for different exposure levels. Shooting in the F15-F22 range with 30 second shutter speeds led to some really crisp details of the canyon.

After our tour, as we drove back to Page, we were picking Milo's brain for good photography locations. He recommended we make our way to Gunsight Butte in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area for sunset and advised us to check out Horseshoe Bend for sunrise. Larry and I picked up a map from the Glen Canyon Visitor center to find out how to reach Gunsight Butte. As we reviewed the map and charted our path, one of the rangers warned us of the perils of flash floods and impassible dirt roads in the back country. If the storm brewing in Utah made its way south we could be stranded for days on those dirt roads. We checked the weather, discussed our options and decided it was worth the risk to take Milo's advice and see the sunset from the Butte.

We quickly found that the directions were spotty and the numbers of the state and county roads didn't follow the map. We also realized that this place was completely desolate. The morning had been packed with people, but now we were off the beaten path and would not see another human being for the rest of the day. It was perfect: mile after mile of desert and solitude. We waited on the moments of beauty when the clouds opened up, illuminating the desert and awakening its rainbow of orange and purple blooms, red-tinged cacti, light-green sage and yellow chamisa. We finally arrived at the Romania Mesa overlooking Gunsight Butte on Lake Powell. It was awfully windy (we actually lost the cap to our salsa as we watched it blow over the edge of the cliff) but well worth the trip.

When the sunset was complete we drove back towards the main road and stopped for dinner under a giant phallic hoodoo. We were able to get the camping stove going and cooked up some Mountain House dinners. As night fell, we felt the first drops of rain on the wind. We were still several miles from the main road and the ranger's warnings echoed in our heads. The roads were fairly rough, but the Jeep was a rental, and the windshield was already smashed. How much more damage could we do? Flooring it, jumping over rocks, skidding all over the dirt road, we made a mad dash for the highway. It was actually incredibly fun and brought me back to my video-game playing days. We successfully outran the storm and eventually arrived at the main road. We were thankful the Jeep survived our abuse, and we casually drove back to Page.

5:30 AM the next morning we joyfully heeded the call of our alarms (okay, not so much joy) and made our way out to Horseshoe Bend in the hopes of catching a breathtaking sunrise. We were the first to arrive, and we set up our cameras at the edge of the Canyon, overlooking the Colorado River. As other photographers arrived, the sun peaked its head over the hills and began to illuminate Glen Canyon. It was impressive. I made my way around the rim of the canyon, looking for other shots of the rippled sandstone rocks.

7:30 AM: back in the car and off to Lower Antelope Canyon in search of more mote-speckled shafts of light. We waited at the locked gate for the Navajo guides to let us in at 8:00, and once inside we were the first ones on the scene: we had the slot canyon to ourselves. Making our way down the length of the canyon at a leisurely pace, we took our time to set up shots, focusing more on design, free from the worry of having to stay with the group. At 9:00 a posse of elderly Japanese photographers armed with Howitzer camera lenses made their way respectfully through the canyon. A little after 10:00 we finished the lower canyon, returned to our hotel, negotiated a late check out and crashed.

1:30 PM: time to make the 90-mile trek to Zion. We noticed that we were getting low on gas, but I wanted to hold out for a good price as the Page prices seemed inflated. We rolled out of town and kept our eyes peeled for the next gas station. Soon we were running out of peel. Had we consulted the map we would have realized that there was nothing but a giant void for the 70 miles between Page and Kanab, and no hope for a gas station. As the fuel gage dropped lower and the empty circle burned more brightly, we began to strategize how we were going to handle getting gas once the car died. But there was still a chance we could make it into town on fumes. We slowed way down and continually pulled off to the shoulder, signaling for cars and trucks to pass us by. AC turned off to save gas. Windows rolled up to minimize drag. Streamlined (well, as streamlined as a Jeep can be). And more than a bit toasty. Every hint of a down-hill, we'd shift into neutral. 35 miles to Kanabии20 milesии14 milesи.. 4 milesи.we crawled our way into Kanab, and rolled into the first gas station, utterly unconcerned with the price per gallon.

With a full tank of gas, we entered Zion through the east entrance and admired the geometry of the white Checkerboard Mesa. I had forgotten to change my camera settings from Lower Antelope Canyon, and I was now shooting with an ISO of 1000 in bright daylight. Can you say overexposure! But the mountains were gorgeous even though the pictures were just white. We drove our way through the man-made tunnel and arrived at the canyon overlook just at sunset. Out came the cameras and the tripods. With every new vantage point we'd pull over to try to capture the illuminated mile-high, reddish-hued sandstone cliffs. We continued to headed south, leaving the park and driving through the small town of Springdale. The campsites were booked in the park and in Springdale, but we learned about a free campsite 8 miles down route 9, on the left. As we drove from Springdale to our campground we stopped again and again to capture the rising red as the sun made its final impression on the sandstone cliffs. As the sun retired for the evening, we arrived at the campground, found a perfect camp site right next to the river and set up camp for the night.

After a rocking breakfast of huevos rancheros and sweet potato fries at Oscar's Cafe in Springdale, we made our way into the park, hopped on the public bus and headed to the Temple of Sinawava- the last stop on the line. We walked the mile or so to the Narrows where the valley grew thin and the cliffs grew closer and closer together. To navigate the Narrows, you have to be willing to wade through waist-high and chest-high water. I used one leg of my tri-pod as a walking stick and managed to keep the camera above water. Whole families were playing and wading in the water and it seemed everyone was having a great time against this beautiful backdrop.

After the Narrows we explored other areas in Zion: the emerald pools, weeping rock, the Court of the Patriarchs, Altar of Sacrifice and the West Temple. We rode the bus down through the valley, following the Virgin river and enjoying the epic mountains on both sides. I was impressed that this tiny little river, some 30-feet across, had whittled down these towering mile-high walls of sandstone over the course of millions of years.

We spent our final day in Zion chasing the sunrise, climbing up the canyon overlook trail, and hiking around in the valley to capture our final pictures of Zion. From there we headed back to Vegas. Feeling Hot, hot, hot. 107 degrees hot. We met up with friends who happened to be in town and had a great meal at Mon Ami Gabi in Paris. Every 15 minutes we enjoyed the Bellagio fountain and light show. And after dinner, it took less than 15 minutes to lose all of my Vegas play money at 2 very cold craps tables. I knew to call it a night, retired to my Parisian Hotel room for the night, and in the morning I returned home.

If you made it this far- thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the pics.

Looking forward to sharing the next adventure.

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