Posted by: kerryl29 | June 20, 2012

Day 6: Refrigerator Canyon and On to Bryce

In my last post, I mentioned that I was entranced by the offerings of Refrigerator Canyon, a rather narrow slot roughly halfway up the West Rim Trail to Scout Lookout.  Photography in Refrigerator Canyon begs for even light and that was wanting on my return to Zion Canyon after my adventures at Angel’s Landing and on the West Rim Trail.  But I resolved to return to Refrigerator Canyon first thing the following morning, which was, coincidentally, to be my last at Zion.

Refrigerator Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

As usual, I was on the first bus of the day down canyon, and disembarked at the Grotto shuttle stop and made a speedy beeline up the steep trail.  (Honesty compels me to report that a young woman hit the trailhead a bit before I did and slowly but steadily outpaced me on the way up.  She was probably at least 20 years younger than I was and was toting considerably less weight than the 35 pounds in my pack, but truthfully–considering that she was clearly going at least twice as far on the trail as I was that morning–it almost certainly wouldn’t have mattered.  I like to think that I’m in very good physical shape, but…wow.)

Refrigerator Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Refrigerator Canyon is a lovely mix of coniferous (mostly Ponderosa pines) and deciduous (mostly broadleaf maples) trees and the wondrous hues of Zion’s red rock walls.  I estimated that I had perhaps 90 minutes to shoot that morning before a combination of creeping direct sunlight and steadily increasing crowds of hikers would end the experience.  Fortunately, that was enough time for me to make it all the way from one end of the canyon to the other, taking shots as I spotted them.

Refrigerator Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

By 9 AM or so I was headed back down the trail.  That was the end of my shooting at Zion–four full days, plus one evening and one morning.  Magical as it had been, it wasn’t enough.  It never is.

The drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon is fairly short (90 minutes or so) and quite scenic.  I went through the Zion tunnel and across the plateau, exiting Zion to the east, then headed north on U.S. 89 to Utah state route 12/63 east.  Utah SR 12/63 enters the Dixie National Forest at Red Canyon, a remarkable landscape in and of itself.  I was so taken by Red Canyon that, I stopped, despite it being the harshest most miserable light of the day when I was there, for a closer look.  As Red Canyon was no more than a ten-minute drive from the junction of the road that leads into Bryce Canyon, I resolved to go back in better light, if time permitted.  I was to be at Bryce for the rest of that day, all of two others, and the morning of a fourth day.

Hoodoos from the Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The rim of Bryce Canyon is anywhere from 8000 to 9000 feet in elevation, depending on exactly where you are.  The canyon itself runs more or less northeast to southwest.  I spent the afternoon scouting most of the rim trail surrounding the main Bryce amphitheater, with the plan to photograph there in late afternoon and early evening.  While I hiked virtually the entire rim trail between Sunrise and Bryce Points during my scouting expedition, I ended up settling on a location about halfway between Sunset and Inspiration Points and that’s where most of these images were made.

Hoodoos from the Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

In truth, the best photography from the rim is done at sunrise and in early morning.  It’s effectively impossible to shoot sunset at the Bryce amphitheater because there are no truly west-facing overlooks.  The closest would be Bryce Point, at the southern edge of the amphitheater, but even from there you’re really looking north by northwest.  The sun is basically going down to your left from that vantage, not in front of you over the canyon.

Hoodoo Shadows, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Still, in late afternoon, angular light does provide a bit of the fabulous reflected light off the hoodoos that is so captivating at Bryce Canyon.  Basically, light reflects off a line of hoodoos onto the front of another set which simply…glows.  There’s no other description for the effect.  I found that impact greatest shortly after sunrise–something I wouldn’t experience for the first time until the following morning (and the morning after that).

Amphitheater Isolate, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

There are also plenty of scenes at Bryce that work well in even light, after the sun has dropped the rim, leaving areas in full shade.  As compelling as the stacks of hoodoos are–particularly the incredibly thick stand known as “The Silent City”–I often found myself drawn to unorthodox views at Bryce.  These scenes have more of a minimalist character to them than the primarily patterned looks of dense hoodoo stands, but are no less interesting, at least to my eye.

Hidden Pines, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The spots of green–towering Ponderosa pines, in some instances–also caught my eye and served as useful pattern-breaking elements, something I often look for when shooting heavily patterned landscape scenes.

The Amphitheater from the Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

In some cases, there were enough trees to serve as part of the overall pattern of a scene.

Lone Pine, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Occasionally, a lone tree served as a center of interest in an otherwise other-wordly landscape.

Canyon Abstract black & white, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

From time to time I went for a purely abstract look.

When the sun disappeared completely on this cloudless evening, a pronounced Earthshadow effect was in evidence in the eastern sky.  It wasn’t the most intense version of this phenomenon that I’ve ever seen, but it was still quite nice.

The Amphitheater and Earthshadow at Dusk, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

It gets mighty chilly up on the rim in the evening and early morning, as I was about to find out in spades the next day.

Next:  Day 7:  A Very Chilly Sunrise and Sunset at Bryce


  1. Hi Kerry,

    Your shots of Bryce are just awesome – I love them all but especially the lone pine. They are stunning. I was in the Grand Canyon & Zion in March and was actually snowed in GC (amazing experience) and couldn’t visit Bryce because the trails were all closed due to weather. You make me long to go back.

    I’m glad you are in such good shape and are willing to share your breathtaking images.

    I search my e-mail each day for an update from your trip – because I know it will be special.

    Thanks again

    Kathy from Pittsburgh (Jim’s workshop)

    • Thanks very much, Kathy, both for the kind words and for taking the time to weigh in.

      I’m not surprised that you had snow at the Grand Canyon–or at Bryce–in March. It was plenty cold enough in the mornings in mid-May for snow at Bryce (more on the temperature in the next installment or two), and when I drove through Cedar Breaks National Monument (which is at even higher elevation than the rim at Bryce) a few days later, there was still ample snow in places. This was on May 12.

  2. Wow, now that’s a place I would love to see!! Amazing photos :).

  3. You definitely had a great time in this canyon, Kerry. Not a bad shot in the bunch. 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Frank.

  4. Your exquisite shots are inspiring me to try my hand at landscape photography again once I purchase the correct equipment. One never knows what is possible with a camera until one sees the work of a master!

    • Thanks very much–that’s extremely gracious of you to say. And I strongly encourage you to explore your re-found interest in the landscape! No need to wait for further equipment–whatever you have access to will do in a pinch.

  5. Stunning photography along with fantastic narratives. It sure has been a fun trip!

  6. Kerry, the color in these photos is extraordinary – the hoodoos look like fossilized fire! Thanks for sharing this trip with us – every post is another adventure 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Lynn. When the reflected light is right, the Bryce amphitheater simply glows.

  7. Kerry… very nice set and extremely informative for my future excursions. Love the shadows and leaves.

    • Thanks very much, Mike. I hope you have the chance to photograph in Zion, Bryce (etc.) sooner rather than later.

  8. Terrific series on Zion and Byce. I’m headed out there in July and this was the best guide I’ve seen anywhere for a serious photographer. Great job!

    • Thanks very much, Tina. More to come.

  9. I must add my compliments and praise to the others. So much has been distracting me from the comments that masters like you deserve that I’ve been pretty silent recently–but I am truly enjoying your art in this wonderful series and am eager for more. Beautiful work, Kerry.

    • Thanks very much; that’s extremely kind of you.

  10. […] the sun came up I focused my attention on telephoto shots of the hoodoos, in the hopes of capturing a more intense glow than what I had seen the previous evening.  Unlike sunset, where the canyon’s rim throws much of the Bryce amphitheater into shadow […]

  11. These beautiful pictures really make me want to visit Bryce even more! I’m enjoying reading all about your experience as well!

    • Thanks. More from Bryce (and Red Canyon) in the next post.

  12. […] tight shots of the hoodoos, with an emphasis on the reflected light glow that I talked about in my Day 6 entry.  As is often the case for me when shooting at overlooks, I made heavy use of a telephoto lens. […]

  13. […] Day 6:  Refrigerator Canyon and on to Bryce […]

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