The first day on the Zion trip

Richard Charpentier Arizona, Canon Cameras, hiking, Notes from Rich, Photography, RLC Design 4 Comments


On the way to Zion we stopped outside of Page, AZ. The Vermillion cliffs

Finally, we’ll get into my recent trip to Zion.  If you read yesterday’s post you got some quick insights, but not the whole story.  Over the next few days I’ll post about the days there, what it was like, and of course, some photos will be put up.

Wednesday we headed out to Zion bright and early.  6:00 a.m. departure.  I could have left earlier.  I was up at 3.  I later learned that 3 out of 4 were up at 3 a.m.  We could have rousted our final companion and headed out even earlier.

An early start was necessary.  6 hour trip, many stops, and a few plans I had in my head.  For weeks I’ve been wanting to get to the Page area.  Coyote Buttes, Paria, Glenn Canyon, and more.  For this trip I had a side adventure in mind.  Cottonwood Canyon Road along the Cockscomb.

We made progress pretty quickly.  All the familiar landmarks flashed by in no time.  Chino, Ashfork, Williams, the Grand Canyon turn off, Flagstaff, and finally Sunset Crater.  I’d never been further north on Route 89.  Definitely an adventure!

By mid-morning we began seeing the Vermillion Cliffs in the distance.  Even before I’d gotten so into photography on a grand scale I’d wanted to see them.  A BLM guide book I purchased back in 2006 while visiting Delores, CO. put the cliffs into my head.  But ever since I read about them I hadn’t stopped by.  Too many other things to do, but after seeing them I still wonder why I waited so long.  Ah well, now I’m clearly aware of where they are, and what they hold…….I’ll return sooner rather than later.


Along the path to Yellow Rock. True barren desert!

After stopping along Route 89 shortly after the junction with 89A we continued on.  A fill up of gasoline in Page.  Some “oohing and aaahing” at the surrounding landscape.  A quick look at the dam in Page.  Glimpses of Lake Powell.  I say glimpses because I understand how large it is, and I believe it will take me quite some time to really see the whole area.

We pushed on a little further until we got between mile markers 17 & 18 on Route 89 in Utah.  Cottonwood Canyon Road.  It’s been occupying my thoughts since I picked up two wonderful photography guides for this region.  See, there’s a ton to view out there.  And I really wanted to see and experience “Yellow Rock.”  From everything I’d read it seemed like a great place to take a 2 hour walk and be amazed.

The trailhead to get to Yellow Rock was 14 miles up an off road trail called Cottonwood Canyon Road.  Quickly we found that at the time of our visit it was hard to actually call it a road.  Soft soil with a double track, deep ruts, huge puddles, strange cut arounds.  The road was not in great shape.

Often I’d feel the truck pulling me in one direction while I attempted to go in another.  I’ve off roaded enough now to know how to navigate bad terrain, but this was the toughest dirt experience I’ve had to date.  Sharp inclines, nervous passengers, and sighs of relief when we didn’t roll over.  Personally, there was a moment on an embankment getting around an impassable and deep pool where I felt I was on a roller coaster of sorts.  Hands went up to the handholds in the truck, I steered along knowing it wasn’t bad enough to roll the Titan, and when it was over I wanted to do it again……but I didn’t.  Not even on the way back.  Didn’t need to make passengers uncomfortable!


The changing scenes along Cottonwood Canyon Road

We continued up the “road” finding it worse and worse.  Clearly it had rained in the area recently, just like in Prescott.  It’s never a great idea to get off road after rain.  Mud on the truck, etc.  You know.  We had no idea where the nearest car wash was, so we didn’t want to muddy the truck up too much.  Of course, we were worried about things beyond the truck getting a coat of mud….like getting it stuck.

7 miles into the trip I noted to myself “halfway point, almost there.”  The scenery had changed.  The weird dark dirt made way for lighter sand, redder dirt, and a change in landscape.  How much can change in 7 miles?  A lot!

We reached one wash that was totally blocked off my tumble weeds.  They seemed to bar the way of the truck.  “Do Not Pass.”  I passed them all the same, but learned shortly afterward that I should have heeded the tumble weeds.

The road began to ascend and narrow.  A sign noted a change in the road to cope with the river below.  It seemed to be constructed of sliding sand.  I worried about the truck’s weight on the sliding throughfare.  Fortunately the decision making was taken out of my hands quickly.


On the road to the old Paria movie set

Half way up a steep and sliding pitch it became extremely muddy.  Deep ruts were carved into the road that became deeper in the distance.  Really deep.  Suck your truck down with you in it deep!  We stopped short and I got out to survey the situation.  As I walked forward toward a wet muddy area I began sinking.  Sinking quickly.  Clearly whoever had gone before us stopped, had to back out, and made it somehow.  We decided not to risk it.  The Titan is a lot heavier than a Jeep, I have no power winch, etc.  Getting stuck day one would suck!

So, we gave up on Yellow Rock for the day.  It would have to wait until the roads were more firmly packed and not muddied up due to recent rains.  Later I would find out from a BLM worker that he’d made it in a shorter distance than we had in the morning.  He’d only gotten 3 miles in and described the rough spot where we went at an angle to stay away from the deep water trap.  We did good……

We moved on from Cottonwood Canyon Road and went a little further to Zion.  The next stop, the old Paria movie set.  Apparently a few westerns were filmed out there.  Just shocking to my mind…..  🙂  Ok, not shocking.  Appropriate.  A western shot in the west with dramatic backdrops.  Zowie.  Several buildings were waiting for us just a few miles up another dirt road.


A public restroom substituted for the movie building against this backdrop.

The colors along this road were different.  Less than a 30 minute drive and you felt like you were in another environment altogether.  What a little milage can do for you.

We reached the end of the line quickly and came to the site of the old movie set.  Unfortunately it wasn’t there.  Burned down by some grouchy person a few years ago.  That’s according to the BLM guy we met out there.  He started describing what this area once was.  Seafloor.  He explained the layers in the sandstone.  It was all interesting.  But I was bummed out by the lack of old buildings.  I had a few ideas for photos, and some jerk burned down my props……

Even without the movie props the location was amazing.  I could have happily stayed there for an evening and not exhausted photographic possibilities.  Too bad there wasn’t anywhere to camp.  It would have been fun!

Everyone ran around the site for a while taking pictures, reading about the history of the location, and just generally enjoying something very different.  When we loaded up into the truck again we were all excited to get a move on to Zion!


Shot from the Watchman Campground as the sun was setting

After the stop to the movie set location we continued on without stopping until Kanab.  Cute town.  Reminded me of North Conway.  A tourist town on the edge of some amazing nature.  Towns on the edge of amazing places always seem to remind me of other towns in similar settings.  For me, North Conway is the watermark.  Fortunately Kanab was not full of outlet malls…….

It did have a photo shop though, and we stopped there so Tom could get a filter for his 1 7-85mm.  Polarizer.  Knowledgable photographer ran the shop, and he had a great selection.  If you’re looking to get a Manfrotto tripod for an “Internet” price, stop by and pay the store a visit.  Great prices, neat antiques, and more medium format cameras than I could count!

We left Kanab quickly and finished out the day’s journey.  As we made our way toward Route 9 I started feeling light headed.  Not long afterward I saw the Cottonwood flying everywhere.  Roll up the window……filter turned on int the truck, but it was a little late.  The last part of the trip into the park found me in the passenger seat and Tom at the wheel.  I was feeling pretty poorly.  My suspicions about cottonwood are now confirmed.  Not good for me at all!  The pollen in Zion was not in sync with the pollen in Prescott.  I knew it would not be an easy couple of days tenting for me.  I wished for the Airstream, the HEPA, and my refuge from environmental junk!  Ah well, next time.


A first stop on day 2 at the Three Patriarchs

Our first night in the park found us at Watchman Campground.  An open dirt patch full of ants.  That was our tenting site…..the ants were everywhere.  Wood fires burned around us for the night.  Cottonwood puffballs were everywhere.  I took a bunch of Benadryl and felt a little better.  I doubled my Xyzal.  I doubled my Protonix.  I made it through the night…………

Well, there’s the first round of story telling and photos.  Tomorrow I’ll talk about the second day in the park and why I took the photo of the Three Patriarchs first thing on our journey into the park by shuttle bus.

Comments 4

  1. Love the progression of images. To my eye, they get better and better as you move along. Thanks for the terrific photos and discussion.

  2. Rich,

    I like to follow the photos and discussion of Gary Hart (no, the other Gary Hart). Recently, I was struck by his idea of “bracketing for composition” rather than for exposure. By this he means working an image wide, close, horizontal, and vertical, with some medium distance shots thrown in for good measure. Sounds like a good discipline to follow. I’m going to try and make it a habit.

    His discussion is at

  3. Post

Leave a Reply