Updated: Apr 29, 2021
I believe everyone has a place they find themselves returning to again and again, driven by a desire to always go back. Sometimes you question why you return so often , but always rewarded with a wave of peace of mind and warmth in heart once there. For some, the hard part may be recognizing this special place that can either be just around the block from their home or 2000 miles across the country.
I was fortunate enough to find my “place” early on. While still in our early and mid 20’s, my cousin and I decided to leave our jobs and take a road trip through the southwest of America. Starting in Phoenix then Traveling north through Sedona, The Grand Canyon, Page Arizona, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley and all the side roads in between. I think we stopped at every single viewpoint to gaze in awe and photograph all the buttes, mesas and red rock formations. There was one place that stood out among all them, the small town of Springdale Utah and Zion National Park, and it has called me back dozens of times since that first trip. I never get tired of walking the many trails and staring up at its steep valley walls, it is a magical place for me.
It Rarely Rains When I’m Here…
But when it does, it pours! On my most recent trip to Zion it did just that, poured and poured. So much that The Virgin River swelled higher on its banks than I had ever seen and waterfalls cascaded over many ledges that I had only know to be dry. Even with all the rain the park was still an amazingly beautiful place to visit. With so many “new” waterfalls flowing and low clouds snaking their way through the enormous rock formations of The Court of the Patriarchs and Towers of the Virgin.
Usually the multi-colored walls along with amazing sunrises and sunsets are the spectacular features that help me create my landscape images. Unfortunately, with the stormy weather I was not going to have that on my first day in the park. I wasn’t deterred, what I saw was an opportunity to capture the dramatic range of tones in the whites of the low lying clouds to the blacks in the rain soaked tree bark. All of these elements ended up lending themselves well for creating some pleasing black and white images. For my black and white photographs I first capture my images in color then convert them over to black and white in Photoshop. As far as gear goes, I usually carry a pretty large backpack loaded with everything I may need, but when hiking in a park like Zion that can get a little overbearing. I bring a small backpack and with only what is need for that specific hike, In this case 1 camera body and 1 lens, Tamron’s All I One lens, the 28-300m Di VC PZD.
When The Sun Comes Out, It’s Time to Hit The Trails.
Zion National Park is part of The Grand Staircase, a set of sedimentary layers in which three of the most stunning national parks reside. The most northern park in the sequence is Bryce Canyon NP, with Zion NP in the middle and then the Grand Canyon to the south. What makes Zion National Park unique, setting it apart from the other two canyons, is how you access the Park. You actually drive into the valley of the canyon and then hike upward to its rim, where as for Bryce and Grand Canyon’s you drive along the rim and then descend into them. The ability to drive into the valley allows for a completely different visual experience for its visitors, and the chance to hike some of the most spectacular trails imaginable.
While the valley makes for some of the most Iconic photographs of Zion, such as The Watchman from The Junction Bridge, I prefer to either hike further into the canyon or up its steep walls. There are hikes for almost anyone’s ability within Zion, from the flat and paved 2 mile (RT) Riverside Walk Trail to the strenuous and somewhat dangerous 5 mile (RT) Angels Landing. Three of my favorite hikes for photography with in the park are Canyon Overlook, Observation Point and The Narrows. Canyon overlook is the shortest of the three and is a relatively easy 1 ½ mile (RT) hike that takes you out to the edge canyon over looking the valley and Hwy. 9 snaking its way up to the famous Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. This location is great for sunrise as the light slowly hits the peaks along the far side of the valley.
A Quant Town To Go Along With a Spectacular Park
National parks towns can sometimes be pretty sparse with only a few hotels options and a couple of restaurants to choose from. There are a few exceptions to this, one of them being, Springdale Utah. Located at the western entrance to Zion National Park. With a significant rise in visitors to the park, Springdale has seen allot of growth since I first stayed at the Pioneer Lodge (www.zionpioneerlodge.com) many years ago.
There are many more lodging options to choose from, like the budget friendly Bumbleberry Inn (www.bumbleberry.com) to the more elaborate Cliffrose Inn and Gardens (www.cliffroselodge.com) . When it comes to food and restaurant options Springdale does not disappoint in that department either. Some of my favorites are The Whiptail Grill (www.whiptailgrillzion.com), which is in a converted gas station in the middle of town and making an amazing Goat Cheese Chili Relleno. With a outdoor patio, Oscar’s Cafe (www.oscarscafe.com) makes the perfect place for a lunch break on a sunny afternoon.
Finally, back to the theme of the article, and the places we always return to. When it comes to restaurants in Springdale, that place would be the Bit and Spur (www.bitandspur.com). I ate there the very first night I ever spent in town and never stopped returning, enjoying their food and talking with their friendly staff. I can truly say I have enjoyed everything I have ordered there, with some of the standouts being the Pork & Sweet Potato Tamale’s, Carne Asada Taco’s and Jalapeño Poppers. The minute I step into the Bit and Spur, I know I have truly arrived to my second home.