The final day of shooting would be a brief one. I was up at about 4 AM, ready to make the drive to Valley of Fire, with the intention of photographing Pink Canyon until direct sunlight became an impediment; I figured that, with sunrise at about 5:30, I’d have until roughly 7 before conditions became unshootable. Then it was back to the hotel in Overton, NV, shower and pack up and make the roughly hour-long drive back to Las Vegas for my early afternoon flight back to Chicago.
It was a typical southern Nevada morning in mid-May–about 70 degrees, dry and a cloudless sky when I set out in the pitch dark at approximately 4:30. It was around 5, and becoming light, when I got to Valley of Fire. I had spoken with a park ranger the previous afternoon and she said that, given the time of the day, there was no problem with my parking along the roadside at the dry wash that becomes Pink Canyon on the eastern side of the Scenic Drive. She said that as long as I was able to move the car by 9:30 or 10 AM, when the bus tours start moving through the park, I would be fine. I told her I’d be long gone by 9:30.
When I reached my destination, I decided to set up for a quick shot of Striped Hill–just to the western side of the road–before venturing into Pink Canyon. I had shot at Striped Hill briefly the previous afternoon, but under less than ideal conditions, so I wanted to capture the formation in the softer light of dawn. I had no clouds in the sky, but the light was excellent.
Then, it was into Pink Canyon, which had been so enticing even in the harsh mid-afternoon light that had enveloped me during the previous day’s scouting session. There were shots to be had just about everywhere, beginning with the mouth of the canyon itself, no more than a couple of hundred feet from the Scenic Drive.
The most interesting areas of Pink Canyon extend no more than a few hundred yards, culminating with a narrow, sandy slot that opens up into a wide, dry wash. My goal was to shoot the canyon from beginning to end, before the sun became an issue, but I was determined not to rush myself through it. If I didn’t get all the way to the far end, I thought, so be it. Better to be deliberate and get some good images than to move very quickly and get a lot of shots but be disappointed in most or all of them.
The first part of the canyon–before you reach the slot–is a fascinating area of sculpted sandstone, full of shallow pits, bowls and crevices. Like much of Valley of Fire, the area is an abstract shooter’s paradise, and it can be approached in a variety of ways, from wide-normal to very tight.
The sculpted sandstone patterns and pastel colors of this area of Pink Canyon could be breathtakingly beautiful.
I kept finding myself rendered momentarily frozen–physically and intellectually–by what I was seeing before eventually shaking it off and recovering my faculties.
I had nearly reached the entrance to the slot canyon itself and I pressed on, resolved to come back and shoot at least one or two tighter shots in the sculpted “sandstone garden” before leaving for good.
The slot canyon didn’t disappoint either, filled with fascinating colors and shapes, all of which was now becoming accentuated by the reflected light of the sun, which had been up for some time now.
The slot was very, very narrow in some places and I made sure to turn around and examine compositions in both directions all along the way.
With some of the images you see accompanying this entry, I used a focus stacking approach to shooting. Rather than attempt to stop down and gain critical sharpness from front to back of the image (which in many cases was functionally impossible), I shot images identically framed but with overlapping areas of focus (using a relatively shallow depth of field for each), with the intention of combining them in post-processing into a single, front-to-back sharp, shot.
When I had traversed the slot, in both directions, I returned to the “sculpted garden.” Direct sunlight was penetrating the walls of the canyon on the northwest side, but the areas at my feet were still in shade and I hastened to capture some of the shots I had seen on the way in–and a few I hadn’t noticed until the return trip.
By the time I took the last couple of images you see here, direct sun was encroaching on the canyon floor. It was time to call it a morning’s shoot. (It was somewhere around 7:15 AM.) I moved out of Pink Canyon, into the eye-blinking brightness of the dry wash that buttressed the Scenic Drive nearly two hours after sunrise. The shoot had been a brief one that day, but it had been highly satisfying, punctuating the time–parts of 12 days–that I had spent in Utah and Nevada.
I hope you enjoyed taking the visual journey with me as much as I enjoyed sharing it.
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If you’re interested, but missed the earlier entries in this series, they’re linked below:
Zion National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park and Red Canyon, Utah
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada