Trip to Zion and Buckskin Gulch

October 2020  |  Zion, Utah, Buckskin Canyon, AZ
Milky Way over watchman, Zion

Photo trip to Utah/AZ

During the summer of 2020 I took a two-day road trip to Utah and Arizona with a stop at Zion and Buckskin Gulch, Utah and also a failed attempt for White Pocket, AZ. The first night I drove to Zion, one of the most enchanting places in the world. I wanted to go on one of the buses to the top of the canyon for some sunset shots. But I didn’t realize they stopped taking people up there an hour before dark. I was a little disturbed to see the buses still leaving the parking lot but only to pick people up. So I had to decide on another photo idea for that date. This has happened many times but has actually turned into some creative ideas and awesome photos. I decided to try to get an up close and personal shot of the Watchman at night along with my favorite nighttime entity, the Milky Way! So, I found a trail that takes you up a cliff to get to a higher elevation directly across from the Watchman. It was a steep fairly rough hike on a well-marked trail except for one spot. I hiked up the trail which took about an hour. I found a spot I thought would make a great composition and shot several pictures with the sunset and the Milky Way. I located trees that I could frame the landscape with and strangely enough they were the trees I’d been searching for to create a different unusual effect. They were dead juniper trees and gave a nice spooky effect especially with the stars and Milky Way behind them at night. After shooting for a few hours, I headed back down the trail. It was a bit intimidating at night even with a headlamp to find my way. I found the trail I thought until I was on the edge of the cliff and decided to go back to the main trail. Then, on the way down part of the time you’re walking on hard rock with loose sand. At one point I slipped and had to catch myself before possibly falling off the cliff. I finished the hike to the bottom and drove to Kanab, Utah to stay at a hotel. The night drive through Zion Park is so exhilarating, it makes you feel good to be alive. I really like driving through the long The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel at night and usually you have it all to yourself. After leaving the park I encountered two places along the road that had signs to slow down and watch out for deer and sure enough there were plenty of them grazing along the road. I finished driving to Kanab and checked into my cheap motel around 1230.

The next day I wasn’t sure of where I really wanted to go to get some great pictures during the day and then at night. So, I decided on Buckskin Gulch during the day and then White Pockets at night. On the way to Buckskin Gulch, you’ll drive over some very rough roads that you don’t need four-wheel drive but most people take it pretty slow because the speed limit is only 25 mph. If there has been rain recently, I wouldn’t even try to drive there because you’ll probably get stuck in the mud! Buckskin Gulch is actually the world’s largest slot canyon at over 20 miles long and with a permit you can even camp there. It’s also very dangerous for flash floods! I hiked it in late October, and it was still very hot during the day outside of the slots. There was a fair amount of people hiking the day I went. It’s really awe inspiring and great for daytime photography because of the contrast you can get with the shadows in the gulch. I took many pictures but only have a few favorites including one that distinctly looks like someone’s face in the rock! I named it Rock Face. One thing I disliked was the horse poop in a few places along the trail that I avoided.

Finally, I decided I wanted to go to White Pocket, AZ. However, the road there was nothing but sand and the conditions were much worse than normal because of the never-ending heat and lack of rain. I drove up the hill about 2 miles and encountered the deep sand and tried to speed up and go through it and ended up stuck! Then, I tried getting out of it. Easier said than done! I put wood and rocks under the tires and moved it a little ways at a time and then I would dig out more sand and try to move it again. After about 3 hours of this and heavily sweating in the heat I finally decided to call for help. If I didn’t have plenty of water in my car I’d have been dying of thirst. Luckily, there was a cell phone signal when I walked about two miles down the hill to the main road. So, I called my insurance company, and they told me that my insurance didn’t cover being stuck in the middle of nowhere. So, they asked me if I needed a tow truck or someone to pull me out with a winch? I told them I needed someone with a winch, and I could get back down the hill. They said they would call one and it would cost $120. That was very cheap for me and probably immensely cheaper than a tow truck! The winch truck had to drive about 60 miles to get to me so I knew it would be a while. The insurance guy said it would only be 2 hours, but I expected at least 3. Well, I waited to about 3 ½ hours and wondered if they forgot about me so I walked back down to where there was a cell phone signal and they said they were about a half hour out and would be there soon. They were heading out to help me and got a call just heading out of Kanab thinking it was something simple but turned into to be more and longer than they expected. They wished they could’ve called to let me know but there wasn’t any cell phone service where the car was. When I saw them, I was walking up the hill back to my SUV. They were very friendly and let me sit in the back of their truck. They literally saved my life that night and I won’t ever forget that. Lesson learned, do not try to drive an all-wheel drive on a road that requires a four-wheel drive. Next time, I’ll either own a four-wheel drive or pay one of the photography businesses to take me on an overnight photo shoot. Despite that ordeal I took some nice pictures that night.

Rock Face