Zion National Park: The Landscape Photographer’s Perfect Palette

article2259_web image Light, form, texture and natural history are the creative elements of the landscape photographer; and few places provide all four, and in rare and multitudinous combinations, as Zion National Park. Located in southwestern Utah, Zion’s palette is uniquely enhanced by encompassing portions of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert. Here, high plateaus; a maze of narrow, deep sandstone canyons; and striking rock towers and mesas form ready-made compositions for the landscape photographer with an eye to capture the fleeting moments when light and the atmosphere play among these natural features.

The magical ingredients of Zion are its range of elevation, from 3,666 to 8,726 feet, and the eons of geological activity that has shaped the landscape into spectacular and subtle forms at every turn of the trail. Zion was a relatively flat basin near sea level 240 million years ago. As sands, gravels, and muds eroded from surrounding mountains, streams carried these materials into the basin and deposited them in layers. The rock layers have been uplifted, tilted and eroded into a feature called the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Today, the Virgin River is still excavating the landscape. Upstream from the Temple of Sinawava, the river cuts through Navajo Sandstone, creating a slot canyon. At the Temple, the river has reached the softer Kayenta Formation below. Water erodes the shale, undermining the overlaying sandstone and causing it to collapse, widening the canyon.

This combination of altitude, wind and water has made Zion the home of the greatest collection of freestanding, natural arches in the world. Hidden in its geologic grandeur are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of freestanding arches of all shapes and sizes. Crawford Arch is the most visible, clinging to the base of Bridge Mountain a thousand feet above the canyon floor.

The other famous arch in Zion is Kolob Arch, which is located deep in the backcountry and hidden in a small side canyon. Because of its remoteness, Kolob Arch has challenged hikers, climbers and photographers, as the one place they wish to experience and capture in the amazing images it provides. The beauty of this area begins from the first step at the trailhead, as it presents the landscape photographer with truly overwhelming scenery. Geology becomes art as the La Verkin Creek, with its soothing sounds of life-giving water, sculpts some of the most colorful canyon walls in southwestern Utah. Awe-inspiring views of the Kolob Terrace along the trail give any photographer many places to stop to record the palette of colors and formations in the high plateau country of Zion.

Zion’s unmatched mix of terrain and environment has also made it the perfect home for a plethora of wildlife and plant life. With so many varying heights and resultant microclimates and habitats, it is no surprise that Zion is home to more than 78 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles and amphibians and 8 species of fish. Many of these animals hide from the heat of the day, so early morning and late afternoon treks are required to find and photograph them.

The most frequent mammal sightings are mule deer, foxes, bats, bighorn sheep and rock squirrels. As day gives way to night, listen for the coyote’s call or watch for the nimble movements of a ringtail cat. Other nocturnal wildlife includes mountain lion, porcupine, skunk, raccoon, badger, bats and beaver. Keep an eye to the sky for glimpses of the Mexican spotted owl and Southwestern willow flycatcher as well as the peregrine falcon, California condor and bald eagle. Their populations continue to increase in the sanctuary of the Zion National Park.

Become more than one of the millions of tourists and casual photographers that visit Zion every year by attending the intensive and all-inclusive photography workshop hosted by Visionary Wild, October 8–12, 2012. You are promised an unprecedented photographic learning experience, as Jack Dykinga, acclaimed landscape photographer, and Justin Black, Visionary Wild co-founder and assistant instructor, will help you develop your creativity and visual acuity to capture compositions you might otherwise miss.

No one knows the southwest American desert better than Jack Dykinga, who has been photographing this astonishing landscape for three decades. He and Justin will share the techniques that will make your photographic palette richer and more intense. You’ll learn composition, light, exposure control, anticipating and working through changing conditions and essentials of digital workflow.

Visionary Wild workshops are popular and the limited spaces fill quickly. For more information, visit http://visionarywild.com/workshops/zion/.

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Photograph by Justin Black