Posted by: kerryl29 | May 20, 2012

Day 1: The Watchman

On Friday, May 4, I boarded a flight at Chicago’s Midway Airport, bound for McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas.  I arrived shortly before 2 PM, Pacific Time, collected my luggage from baggage claim, picked up my rental car and immediately began the 3 1/2 hour drive for Zion National Park in southeast Utah.  I stopped at a supermarket in St. George, UT, en route, to pick up provisions.  I don’t really eat normal meals when I’m on one of these photo excursions–and this trip was to be no exception–so I typically load up on fruit, granola, nuts and similar staples to sustain myself through the long days in the field.

I arrived in Springdale, Utah–gateway to Zion–and checked into my motel shortly after 7 PM, Mountain Time.  Sunset was only about an hour away when I finished unloading my luggage and settled into my room.  There was just enough time to zip into the park and set up for a single shot as the evening light faded into sunset.

The Watchman at Sunset, Zion National Park, Utah

From the beginning of April through the end of October, auto access to Zion Canyon is off limits.  There’s an extensive shuttle bus system that runs up and down the canyon at regular intervals beginning at 7 AM and ending after 9 PM.  I had no experience with the bus system prior to my arrival–the only other time I was at Zion, in 1998, the bus system had not yet been implemented–so rather than attempting a crash course at this late hour of the day, I drove to Canyon Junction–as far as you can take a passenger vehicle into this part of the park–to photograph The Watchman from the Virgin River bridge.

The Watchman is the dominant formation at the mouth of Zion Canyon and it’s fascinating to watch the evening light change on its face.  The view of The Watchman from the bridge that spans the Virgin River at Canyon Junction is iconic; it’s one of most recognizable scenes at Zion National Park.

The Watchman at Sunset, Zion National Park, Utah

This particular scene has been photographed countless times for a reason–it’s a naturally beautiful composition.  That’s one of the things that makes icons icons…and while I rarely go out of my way to photograph iconic scenes, I don’t eschew them either.

The view faces south by southeast; it’s not your classic sunset shot, obviously.  But in a place like Zion Canyon, with its towering cliff walls, classic sunrise/sunset shots are few and far between.  In fact, one often finds oneself facing in the opposite direction of sunrise in the morning and sunset in the evening, to take advantage of the sweet light as it hits specific formations.  That’s the case with the Watchman.

Occasionally, shooting away from sunrise or sunset produces very nice pastel skies and this evening was one of those instances.  The images you see embedded with this entry were all shot within about 30 minutes of one another, and you can see the changing light, both on The Watchman itself and in the sky.  I was fortunate to have some clouds in the sky in the direction I was shooting.

The Watchman at Dusk, Zion National Park, Utah

In the next installment, I’ll cover my first full day at Zion:  Towers of the Virgin, Court of the Patriarchs and the Zion Plateau.



  1. Absolutely stunning. I’m looking forward to more. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks very much, Angela.

  2. Oh to be there. Guess this is the next best thing.

  3. A great part of the country for any photography and these are no exceptions. I wish I was there!


    • Thanks, Todd. You’re right, it’s pretty hard to go wrong photographically in that part of the country.

  4. An iconic classic for the beginnings of this series, Kerry–well done. I’m very curious to learn how the shuttle service worked out and I suppose we all shall find out soon enough.

    • Thanks, Jim.

      I promise: there will be extensive discussion of the Zion shuttle bus system in ensuing installments.

  5. Beautiful.

  6. Beautiful shots Kerry!
    Can’t wait to see more.

    • Thanks, Derek, much appreciated.

  7. Wow..this looks to be a great beginning to a super series! Can’t wait to see and read more!!!

  8. Just beautiful photos and I look forward to taking this journey with you. Utah looks like such a stunning and fun place to photograph.

    • Thanks. Yes, it’s hard to go wrong when photographing in Utah.

  9. Beautiful composition with POV, colours and texture. nice that you got a shot when you arrived at end of day.Some of my favourite shots have been the ones behind me when i turned around and looked. And hitting the road…always start my journeys with a cup of 1/2 french, 1/2 coffee at Tim’s, and licorice.The nuts and granola get added in- thanks so much for sharing. Yes this is one of my places that I have yet to visit.

  10. Gorgeous, Kerry…can’t wait for the following posts.

    • Thanks, Scott. I’ll get the second post up once I’ve gone through all of my Day 2 images; should be before the end of the week.

      • You’re welcome…looks like you had a wonderful time.

  11. Kerry, gorgeous shots – the colors are so rich and varied, lots of subtlety amid the spectacular. I wish I could see it 4 feet tall so that I could see every nuance and maybe pretend to walk into it 🙂 I used to have a computer graphics program called “Bryce” named after the canyon, used to create other worldly digital landscapes. It always made me want to visit the real Bryce canyon and take photos! I look forward to the rest of the series.

    • Thanks, Lynn. Bryce really needs to be seen in person to be appreciated; it’s quite something. There are hoodoos in a lot of locations, but I’ve never seen any other locale with a concentration of them like the “Silent City” part of the main Bryce amphitheater. It will take some time, but I’ll get to the Bryce images eventually. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to see it for yourself one day, and the sooner the better. 🙂

  12. That’s one long day Kerry. I’m amazed that you had the energy to go out shooting after all that travel. I like the last shot best.

    • Thanks, John. It was a long day, but I was definitely pumped up to get a little bit of shooting in after admiring the scenery over the roughly 200-mile drive from Las Vegas to Springdale.

  13. […] shooting The Watchman at sunset from the Virgin River bridge on my first evening at Zion, I made one stop on the way back to Springdale.  My plan was to shoot the Towers of the Virgin at […]

  14. Stunning pics. I was just there, but didn’t have near enough time.
    Looking forward to getting back and making it a proper trip.

    Thanks for sharing these!

    • Thanks, Joe. I’m off to check your blog to see what you came up with.

  15. Oh wow! The lighting and colors here are perfect. How did you get such great exposure?

    • Thanks.

      Each of these frames are blends of two exposures–one for the sky and one for everything else. It was actually possible to retain detail throughout the frame in a single exposure for each of these shots–the marvels of ever-improving digital sensor dynamic range–but the foreground was extremely dark in that instance, so rather than trying to optimize a single exposure I chose to go with the blending approach.

      • Interesting. That’s all really good to know 🙂

  16. I love the soft light in that first shot. Bryce and Zion are on my bucket list! I’m glad you got to experience these beautiful places!

    • Thanks, Michael. I hope you get the chance to hit Zion and Bryce some day–I’m sure you won’t regret it. BTW, Bryce images will follow the completion of the Zion experience, probably in three more installments or so.

  17. […] Kerry has a wonderful series of light filled photos of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in his Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog.  I will be taking a two week vacation from the blogging world; I look forward to catching up in […]

  18. Awesome shots of the Watchman, Kerry! I love the ones with the Virgin River in the foreground. It sure is a stunning hunk of rock and you brought that out in your images.
    We didn’t see much water in the I was constantly looking for rivers, streams, etc, for reflection and interest!!!!

    • Thanks very much, Judy.

      Bryce and Valley of Fire have no permanent water features so it was pretty much the Virgin River (at Zion) and nothing else when I was out there. Back in early May, the river was running pretty high. I just checked the USGS site for the first time since I was at Zion and the river is a bit less than 1/2 the height I saw three months ago.

      • Wow…isn’t that amazing? I could tell by your photos it was running much higher than when we were there. So glad you did okay in the higher water. I was hanging on every word when you were traversing the river and could not see the bottom! You are a great writer too!

        • Thanks. Yeah, it was a bit harrowing there for a few moments. 🙂

  19. […] Day 1:  The Watchman […]

  20. […] I do especially remember a trip he did and I read each and watched as it all unfolded.  If you would like to read about it here is the link to the first of those posts, Day 1: The Watchman. […]

  21. […] As a result, I more or less committed to producing a set of posts for future trips, beginning with a journey to Utah and Nevada in the spring of […]

  22. […] Arizona and Utah. I hadn’t been to the desert Southwest to photograph since taking a trip to Utah and Nevada in the spring of 2012 and spending some time in northern Arizona in the fall of the same year. So […]

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