Trip Report: Canyons of Utah: Zion & Bryce – May 2019

Spring and fall are wonderful times to visit the canyons of Utah. Each season offers something unique and beautiful for photographers to capture. We just wrapped up our spring Canyons of Utah: Zion & Bryce tour, and it was a great time.

We dealt with spring showers, but we were also treated to some spectacular skies and sights. I was amazed at the number of wildflowers blooming around southern Utah. If you live in the area or nearby, I’d recommend getting out somewhere to shoot right away.

Now, let’s get to the trip.

As always on this tour, we spent the first half of the week in Zion National Park. Zion is one of my favorite national parks. I got engaged to my wife in The Narrows and celebrated my one year anniversary on this trip while in Zion (don’t worry, my wife gave me the OK to go on this trip!).

After Zion, we move on to Bryce Canyon National Park, home of the hoodoos. Zion and Bryce Canyon are just a sliver of what the southwest has to offer. In my opinion, some of the greatest geology and photogenic scenes exist in the American Southwest.

We started the workshop in St. George, Utah at the Rib & Chop House on Sunday night. Backcountry Journeys own Jillian Swalwell joined us for this workshop. As our Photo Adventure Specialist, Jillian will be one of the main points of contact for all future guests out there, and I can tell you that you’ll be in good hands.

After a great meal and orientation, we prepared for our first morning at Zion National Park. After an early drive and quick shuttle ride, we found ourselves hiking up the iconic West Rim Trail with Angel’s Landing towering above.

We enjoyed the great views as we traveled higher and higher above the Zion Canyon. We had clear skies our first morning, but it made for an absolutely beautiful day of hiking.

We traversed up to the backside of Angel’s Landing and then started to head back down. We stopped at the base of the Virgin River to take a few shots of Angel’s Landing.

High levels of snowmelt and some early spring storms had the Virgin River absolutely raging! After a nice hike, we grabbed lunch at Oscar’s. My personal favorite restaurant among the national parks and one of the best burger joints you will find anywhere.

With full bellies, we took a quick break before meeting back up for sunset. We found some lesser traveled roads on the west side of Zion that brought us to some great views above the Kolob Canyon area. It is one of the most scenic areas of Zion but gets hardly any visitor traffic.

Matt Meisenheimer

We spent the evening shooting epic red walls with literally no other people in sight, it was a really special night with some good light.

Matt Meisenheimer

The next morning, we headed to one of the best sunrise spots in the park, Towers of the Virgin. The day started with another beautiful sunrise and perfect hiking conditions.

Although The Narrows hike was closed due to high river flow, we hiked all the way to end of Temple of Sinawava and then explored Weeping Wall. We made the most of our morning, as the forecast called for storms starting in the afternoon and continuing the rest of the week. The storms did come, but we made the most of it. We drove around waiting for a break in the sky and took advantage of the small clearings we had. We also drove up a side road outside of Springdale for a panoramic view of the town with the red cliffs surrounding it. The storm brought low lying clouds in the canyon and it almost felt like we were in the Pacific Northwest or Alaska. It was amazing.

On our final morning in Zion, we jumped on the first shuttle into the park and stopped at the Court of the Patriarchs. The Court of the Patriarchs is my favorite spot in the park. The three towers are absolutely immense.

Matt Meisenheimer

The storm from the night before left a lot of moisture in the canyon and we were treated to an amazing display of atmosphere. Clouds were wisping all over the Zion towers and we shot for hours. Just like that, our time in Zion was done and after packing up, we were on to Bryce Canyon, but not before exploring a bit of the east side of Zion. The east side of the park is completely different from the canyon. Rock transitions from a deep red to a light beige and the hillsides are scattered with absolutely gnarly trees, and usually, bighorn sheep too. We visited one of my favorite twisted trees near Checkerboard Mesa. More storms moving in gave us some interesting skies to work with. After capturing some great shots, we continued on to Checkerboard Mesa and continued on to Bryce Canyon National Park, our final destination for the workshop.

Bryce Canyon is traditionally an incredible sunrise park. The hoodoo amphitheaters all face east and the morning glow just lights them up, not to mention you can capture some epic sun stars, too. We got to Bryce Canyon and decided to try one of the points for sunset. We actually had some decent cloud cover and the late afternoon light was really nice for photography. The light faded by sunset, along with the clouds, but we were all blown away by how unique and spectacular the hoodoos were.

I hyped up sunrise to the group and we were all excited for the morning. The forecast looked like more storms were moving in, but the storms would be on the edge of the park at sunrise, meaning potentially awesome light. We went to Sunset Point for sunrise. Read that over a few times, I know, sounds backward. Well, sure enough, we arrived early and captured the amazing pinks, reds, and yellows in the sky and then BOOM, the sun came over the ridge and we all got amazing sun stars peaking over the horizon of the canyon as it lit up the hoodoos below.

Matt Meisenheimer

Matt Meisenheimer

It was one of the best sunrises I have seen at Bryce. I was crossing my fingers for one more sunrise in the park. I wanted to bring the group to my second favorite sunrise spot. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had a different idea for us. A massive storm came through and we were rained out for sunset that night and snowed out for sunrise on our final morning. The storm was crazy, almost a blizzard. We all exclaimed that it felt more like we were in Canada during November as opposed to Utah in May. We instead made use of our time with post-processing work. We covered luminosity masks, focus stacking, HDR blending, Lightroom, and Photoshop.

All in all, it was a great trip. We dealt with some unseasonably wet weather, but it actually made for some great shots. We had one fantastic sunrise and a few other days with great light. We came away with quite a few shots and the canyons of Utah continue to amaze me. It’s one of my favorite regions and I would recommend putting a trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park on your list.

Matt Meisenheimer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin.  His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special.  Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image. Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world. As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals. You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com

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