Posted by: kerryl29 | May 29, 2012

Day 3: Canyon Overlook, Temple of Sinawava and the Riverside Walk

Canyon Overlook

Day 2–my first full day at Zion National Park–had been a bit frustrating photographically.  I hoped to shake off the slump on the second full day by running up to the Plateau in the dark so I could photograph sunrise from Canyon Overlook.  The half-mile long Canyon Overlook trailhead is located just east of the Zion tunnel and it was pitch dark and deserted when I arrived there, roughly one hour before sunrise.  Ambient light was improving as I hiked the trail, which traces the rim of Pine Canyon–a fairly narrow slot–on the way to the overlook.  I noted quite a number of interesting compositions that I might shoot on the way back to the trailhead.

When I arrived at the overlook, it was dawn.  It was also windy and quite cold.  But the “side look” into Zion Canyon was beautiful, and I quickly set up my tripod.  It was a cloudless morning, and I ended up waiting for the light to come up a bit before clicking the shutter.  It’s a bit difficult at this size, but if you look carefully you can see the Towers of the Virgin in the distance (center).

Canyon Overlook at Sunrise, Zion National Park, Utah

After dealing with the obligatory overlook shot, I found a few other things that were worth shooting as the sun began to work its spotlighting magic on some of the nearby features.

Canyon Overlook Trail, Zion National Park, Utah

Before calling it quits at the overlook, I wandered around a bit and found a foreground/background way of shooting the canyon.

Canyon Overlook, Zion National Park, Utah

The sun was beginning to become a negative factor at this point, so I headed back toward the trailhead, with the hope of shooting some of the Pine Canyon scenes I’d seen on the way in.  Unfortunately, the sun was already a problem in much of the canyon and the appeal of most of the scenes I’d viewed earlier was gone.  I did find one shot where I thought the presence of sunlight was a benefit rather than a hindrance.

Pinyon Pine, Pine Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

It was still relatively early in the morning and I made the decision to return to the spot along the Virgin River that I had discovered while “walking the road” the day before.  That meant heading back down to Zion Canyon, ditching the car, catching the Zion shuttle, getting off at the Court of the Patriarchs and heading back up canyon roughly 3/4 mile on the road toward Canyon Junction until I found the location again.  And I had to do all of this before the sun’s rays hit the west edge of the river bank and ruined the shot.  I thought I had enough time to pull it off, but I knew I had to hurry.

Back in Zion Canyon

To make a long story relatively short, I managed to pull it off, but just barely.  Less than five minutes after the shot below was taken, the trees on the left-hand side of the river bank (as you see it here) were hit with direct sun, which came up just to the right of the peak that you see in the frame.  This shot is actually a blend of two exposures–one for the sky and one for everything else.  I was lucky enough to have some wispy clouds in the sky.

Virgin River, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

I’m not at all sure that this image does the beauty of this spot anything approaching justice.  Between the rushing rapids, the majestic canyon walls and the cottonwood trees, it was absolutely idyllic.  On both occasions when I was at this location I lingered, even when the light made the location unworthy of photography.  I sat in the shade of a large cottonwood–off the frame to the right–and reflected on my great fortune to be able to experience a place like this.

When I decided to move on, I hiked back down the road in the direction of Canyon Junction.  Due to the nuances of the Zion Canyon walls, there were still some spots along the river in open shade, and I took advantage of the opportunity to photograph several of those that caught my eye.

Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

The morning shoot was over and the plan for the afternoon was to take the shuttle all the way up canyon to the end of the line–the Temple of Sinawava and the Riverside Walk.

The Temple of Sinawava

I arrived at the Temple of Sinawava in mid-afternoon.  Most of the people who get off the bus at the Temple of Sinawava immediately head to the Riverside Walk and the Narrows, but I decided to linger at the Temple itself for awhile.  It’s difficult to describe the Temple of Sinawava at mid-afternoon on a sunny spring day without using the term “magical.”  The area is densely settled with mature cottonwood trees and in the middle of the trees, across the river from the bus stop, is an immense rock edifice known as “The Pulpit.”  I had been told that–contrary to my typical modus operandi–the best time to shoot the Pulpit was during the afternoon when “harsh light” would predominate.  When I sized up the area, I immediately understood the recommendation.  It was a bit of a high key scene, but dealing with it was aided by the fact that–when looking to the west–the canyon wall backdrop was in full shade and could go dark, further enhancing the Pulpit…and, I decided, the cottonwood trees, which, in the gentle afternoon breeze, were shedding like mad.  I wandered around, looking for the best composition given the circumstances, and ended up moving far away from the bus stop.  Once again, I felt as though I was alone amidst amazing visual stimuli.

The Pulpit, Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park, Utah

I eventually found a spot where a group of backlit cottonwood seemed to form a natural frame around the Pulpit.  Dealing with the exposure was a bit tricky, but I think, in the end, that I may have pulled it off.  What you see below (and above, for that matter) is a rendering of a single exposure.  Ah, the wonders of modern digital sensor dynamic range!

The Pulpit and Cottonwoods, Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park, Utah

Riverside Walk

The Riverside Walk is a paved one-mile trail that leads to the gateway to the Virgin River Narrows; the trailhead begins at the Temple of Sinawava.  By the time I hit the Riverside Walk it was close to 5 PM.  The trail is very crowded during the middle of the day, but the crowds were beginning to thin by the time I got there.  As you continue along the trail the canyon becomes increasingly narrow.  This serves as a major benefit for scenes demanding even light.  During the approximately three hours that I strolled (and photographed) along the Riverside Walk, I was in open shade the entire time.

Waterfall, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park, Utah

I found the Riverside Walk to be absolutely delightful, and increasingly so as the afternoon morphed into evening and the crowds melted away.  Between the cascades of the river, the reddish cliffs and the gently swaying cottonwoods, I found myself on the edge of photographic sensory overload.  I ended up bouncing back and forth continuously between wide scenes and intimates.  My neutral density filter allowed me to play around with some long exposures, like the 15 second black & white frame you see below.

Virgin River Intimate black & white, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park, Utah

Not far from the where the Riverside Walk ends–at the gateway to the Narrows–I saw a particularly appealing cascade and rock-hopped with my gear out into the middle of the river.  I set my tripod up below knee level, put my 14-24mm lens on the camera and shot this frame at 15mm.

Virgin River Cascade, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park, Utah

The light was fading as I returned on the Riverside Walk, back in the direction of the Temple of Sinawava, but I routinely found myself captivated by the juxtaposition of the green cottonwood foliage and the red canyon walls.

Cottonwood, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park, Utah

Sometimes a vertical was the way to go, sometimes I found horizontal compositions more pleasing.

Cottonwood, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park, Utah

Tomorrow’s Foreshadowing

Shortly before I wrapped up a very satisfying evening’s shoot, a couple passed me as I was sizing up the cottonwood shot you see above.  One of them said to me “Beautiful, isn’t it?”  I agreed, and noticed that both were wearing drysuits.   They’d come from the Narrows.  I asked them how the hike went.  “Fantastic,” they said, and then asked if I’d done the Narrows hike.  “I’m going to hit the river first thing tomorrow morning,” I said.  It was true.  I had been planning this hike for the better part of three months, from the time I decided to make the trip out West.  “You’re going to love it,” they said.

Next:  Day 4:  The Narrows, Etc.



  1. Epic photos, I’m overwhelm!!! Thanks for sharing Nonoy Manga

    • Thanks very much.

  2. Superb photo series, Kerry.

  3. These are gorgeous and made me feel like I was right there.

    • Thanks, that’s very kind of you to say.

  4. Wow! 😀 Superb photos. I loved the light.

  5. There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to use in describing your photos! I’m totally blown away!

    • Wow, that’s extremely high praise indeed. Thanks so much!

  6. Love it all

  7. Nice series of images, Kerry.

  8. Wow visual sensory overload!!!

  9. Keryy, I consistently preferred the images with predominant greenery in them – perhaps it is the color contrast (green and orange/red – complimentary) but it also seems that the color is more saturated. Do you think that digital cameras are challenged by the red spectrum of the area as well as the overwhelming light and reflected light? My DSLR does not record reds as well as greens, unlike the days of film. I remember under-exposing film in the Grand Canyon to get the saturation that I wanted but it still looked best to my eyes when I included some greenery. Hmmm, this is really making me think about color and light. . . and capturing it. Can’t wait to see the next installment! Your photos make me want to visit this unbelievable American landscape!

    • Thanks, Lynn.

      Re red…the thing I’ve noticed about reds and digital cameras is how easy it is to blow the highlights on the red channel if you’re not careful, particularly when shooting certain subject matter (i.e. just about anything with fairly saturated reds, oranges or yellows). Most–if not all–digital SLRs have a way to display the red, green and blue channel histograms separately, in addition to the more common single luminosity histogram. It’s a real good idea to keep an eye on the individual channels to make certain that none of them are blown…and the red one is, at least in my experience, the most likely to go first.

      I can’t say that I’ve noticed any particular problem with the reproduction of reds when shooting digital, but I shoot exclusively in RAW mode and there’s a seemingly endless supply of tools and techniques that can be used to tease out color nuances in post-processing, some of them in RAW conversion and some of them later on. It’s also possible that your viewing device may be playing a role in what it is you’re seeing with regard to reds relative to film…and it’s also highly likely that your film experience is at least partly predicated on specifically what type of film you were using.

      Specifically regarding your question about the reddish tint that predominates in the greater Colorado Plateau…I think you’re right. I was fairly regularly finding myself underexposing scenes by something in the neighborhood of a full stop, to ensure that I wasn’t blowing the highlights, and the vast, vast majority of the time that meant the red channel. I’ve been working through my Narrows images the past few days–I’m just about done–and it’s been interesting. In each of the images, there’s whitewater–rapids in the Virgin River. In many of these shots, reflected light on the red canyon walls of the Narrows is actually producing luminosity readings as bright or brighter than the whites of the river.

      The beauty of digital sensors like the one in the D700 that I’ve been using for about four years now is that, at base ISO, it holds detail in a dynamic range of greater than 12 stops. The new Nikon D800/D800E models–I broke down and ordered a D800E last week–has been rated at better than 14 stops of dynamic range at its base ISO. Back when I was shooting transparency film like Velvia Classic, was getting something like five stops of exposure latitude. I wasn’t doing all that much better when I first started shooting with a DSLR in 2003. But the improvement in dynamic range over the past decade or so has been nothing short of incredible–far more incredible, in my view, than the quantitative gain in pixels. The dynamic range improvement–along with massive improvement in noise performance in the shadows–has allowed me to underexpose virtually without penalty. It’s becoming increasingly easy to reproduce what the human eye sees with a single digital exposure and some dedicated post-processing work.

      Sorry for the long response; I’ve surely gone far beyond your initial inquiry. But I do hope I answered your question.

      • Kerry, thanks for the detailed reply! I shoot mostly in RAW (Nikon D80) as well, but never thought to check the camera histogram – I usually do that in Photoshop. Fascinating about the reflected light on the canyon walls! I will be very interested in hearing your thoughts about the D800 – I was looking at it as a possible upgrade from the D80 but especially for its HD video capabilities. I’ve since read less than stellar reviews of the video capabilities, so I’m rethinking my strategy, but I do like the idea of being able to use my current Nikon lenses for both stills and video.

        • Hi, Lynn.

          It’s a real good idea to check the histogram right after shooting–it’s the easiest way to be certain that you nailed the exposure. If a real time check of the histogram tells you that you didn’t, you have the opportunity to try again.

          Re the D800 and video…interesting, I’d heard pretty good things about it (not the UI part, but the quality). I really haven’t paid much attention since I’m not really into video (and I’ve never had a camera with video capability–my current camera, the D700, was the last Nikon body produced without video). In any case, after I get the camera–and I have no idea when that will be–I’ll try to put it through the paces.

  10. Beautiful Photos!

  11. Amazing natural beauty…well captured, Kerry. I love the pulpit shots and the one from the middle of the river/stream…incredible.

    • Thanks very much, Scott!

      • You’re welcome. 🙂

  12. Kerry….It’s so good to be back here on your blog! I’ve missed it! Life has gotten crazy and I’m having a hard time keeping up with blog visits. I just connected with you via email, so that will be better.

    Your shots of Zion are absolutely stunning! I love “The Pulpit”, the canyon, the rapids…and all the rest. It’s extra exciting to see these, as my husband and I are going to Zion this summer. Zion has always been on my bucket list, and your photos make me wish I was there now! Thanks!

    • Hi Judy. Good to hear from you again, and thanks very much for the kind words. No need to apologize about time limitations, especially to me. I’ve really been remiss in blog visiting for several months now.

      I’m sure you’ll have a great time at Zion–just be prepared to deal with the crowds. Zion’s a very crowded park and summer is definitely the busiest time.

      BTW, perhaps I misunderstood, but if you sent me an e-mail, I didn’t receive it.

      • Kerry…thanks for replying! I know we are going to hit the dreaded heat and crowds in July. ugh. But my husband has a golf tournament in Prescott, AZ, and I’ve always wanted to see Zion, so we thought we’d do it on the way home. I’m sure we’ll want to return at a less crowded time of year!
        I believe I may have mentioned email because I subscribed to your blog through email the other day. It works out better for me to have an email notification of your new posts, than to just have blogs I like in the “Word Press Reader”, which I don’t check often. 😉 Looking forward to your new posts and also Thursdays at Ana’s!

        • Gotcha, Judy, thanks. Crowds and heat or not, I’m sure you won’t regret getting a taste or Zion. It’s a beautiful place. Have a great time!

        • Thanks Kerry!

  13. The Wikipedia article on Zion says that if the Hebrew word Tsion is of Semitic origin, it may be derived from the Hebrew root ”ṣiyyôn (“castle”) or the Hebrew ṣiyya (“dry land”). Your pictures show that both etymologies would be appropriate for Zion National Park.

    Steve Schwartzman

    • Thanks, Steve. You’re right–both origins are quite fitting for Zion.

  14. […] ended the last entry with my early evening shoot along the Riverside Walk, the one-mile (one way) paved path that leads […]

  15. […] afternoon’s shooting.  I started off back at the Temple of Sinawava, which had enchanted me several days earlier.  Due to a surprising number of clouds in the sky, the light at the Temple was much softer than it […]

  16. Well somehow I missed this post but read all of the others! Anyhow stunning photography as always! The black and white shot is absolutely epic! Great advice about the red channel in the histogram. I noticed that a while back that reds always seem to go first but I never thought about checking the individual channels. Like you I was shooting Fuji Velvia. I always loved the saturation of the greens. But digital has improved so much that I could never go back to film. The instant feedback alone is worth it!

    • Thanks, Michael. I totally agree–I would hate to go back to film, for at least a dozen reasons.

  17. […] Day 3:  Canyon Overlook, Temple of Sinawava and the Riverside Walk […]

  18. Utterly amazing shots that are bringing back some precious memories for me. I pretty much had the Narrows nearly all to myself back in 1978 and loved every single minute. You captured what I couldn’t with my pre-digital SLR back in the day. Thank you for these wonderful images. Words fail me.

    • Thanks so much. The Narrows was a terrific experience and I look forward to (hopefully) hiking it again–maybe from the top down, at least to the Subway. Who knows…

  19. […] I hit the river–the very first person to start the hike from the jumping off point at the Riverside Walk that day–and due to the towering canyon walls that make the Narrows what they are, it was […]

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