Posted by: kerryl29 | June 29, 2012

Day 7: Shivering on the Rim

The sunrise forecast for my first full day at Bryce Canyon was clear and cold.  Sunrise was at approximately 6:30 and I wanted to be in place, fully set up, at least 30 minutes before sunrise, so I was out the door at roughly 5:15 and arrived at a dark and deserted Sunset Point parking area at about 5:45.  I quickly hiked to a spot on the rim trail that I’d scouted the previous afternoon and set up.  It was, indeed, cold.  The air temperature was about 30 degrees (F) and there was more than a slight breeze blowing directly in my face.  The wind chill was estimated at 22 degrees (F).  So, it was a frosty morning.

When I planned the trip I anticipated dealing with temperature extremes, and in that regard I wasn’t disappointed.  Because of the altitude, it’s never really hot on the canyon rim at Bryce (the canyon floor can be a different story entirely in the summer months) and it can be quite cold, with the minutes before sunrise being the coldest time of the day.  I had packed a lined, hooded jacket, gloves and a sweatshirt in the hope that it would keep me warm enough.  Snow is not unheard of in May at Bryce and it was cold enough that morning for the white stuff…except that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  Generally speaking, I don’t like cloudless sunrises or sunsets, but that’s what was in store for me that morning.  I really hadn’t anticipated just how cold it might be on the edges of the day at Bryce, given the temperature, the wind and the amount of standing around that’s endemic when you’re waiting for the light.

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise from the Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

It wasn’t pleasant but I stuck it out.  The sunrise, as you can see, wasn’t anything marvelous, but after 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 during the best angular light, there’s nothing to obstruct this process shortly after sunrise, due to the directional orientation of Bryce Canyon.

I thought that photographing the hoodoos to take advantage of sidelighting would be best, but as the morning wore on and the sun began to creep a bit higher in the sky, I began to think that I had miscalculated.  And I had.  I moved farther away from Sunset Point on the trail, in the direction of Inspiration Point, and the closer I came to shooting directly into the sun, the more vibrant the glow became.

Hoodoos at Sunrise, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

I had wasted a lot of good light, but I had learned a valuable lesson–one that I would take advantage of the following morning.  Still, I managed to get a few shots that I was pretty happy with before the glow began to fade with the rising sun.

Hoodoos at Sunrise, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

I wrapped up what I was doing and immediately headed back to Sunset Point to descend into the canyon.  I wanted to hike the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trails, which take you all the way down to the canyon floor.  The light wasn’t as good as it might have been, but it was still shootable and I spent the rest of the morning shooting the formations from these two trails.

Thor’s Hammer, Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

By sheer luck, I caught the iconic Thor’s Hammer formation with a marvelous reflected glow.  The light was slowly deteriorating as I descended the trail to the canyon floor, but there were a few shots that I couldn’t pass up.  I tried to make the most of the way the reflected light saturated the deep oranges, pinks, reds and yellows of the formations, with the complementary greens of the conifers and the blue sky as accents.

Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park , Utah

By the time I was on the back end of the Queen’s Garden Trail, on the ascent back to the rim (at Sunrise Point), the light had become quite harsh.  Still, I couldn’t resist the temptation to photograph a few particularly interesting formations, including the one you see below.  This one wasn’t easy.  I had to get down on my hands and knees, with my tripod just barely above ground level, to obtain the desired perspective and there was sufficient foot traffic in this awkward spot that it made getting the shot challenging, but I just waited it out.

Queen’s Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

After I climbed out of the canyon, I did a bit of scouting around Sunrise Point, with the thought of shooting there some time the following day and then I walked the pleasant half mile or so along the rim back to Sunset Point to pick up my car and drove to check out Inspiration and Bryce Points from the lookouts.  By now it was early afternoon.  From there, I continued down the road, to scout Paria View, Natural Bridge and drove all the way out to the end of the road–nearly 20 miles–to Rainbow Point, where I walked the Bristlecone Pine Trail.  My plan was to come back to some or all of these places beginning late afternoon, when the light would be better.  My goal was to shoot sunset from the Bristlecone Pine Trail, using some of the ancient conifer skeletons there as subjects against what I hoped would be a sky with some colorful clouds.

Bryce Point Panorama, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

I began the afternoon shoot at around 5 PM, at Bryce Point.  Some clouds had rolled in, which made for an interesting sky, and I shot 11 vertical frames from the overlook, with the intention of stitching them into a panorama.  The fruit of that endeavor is immediately above.  Unfortunately, it may not look like much given the size limitations of the blog.

From there I moved up the road, to Paria View and then to Natural Bridge.  At the latter location, the perspectives are limited.  I chose a tight shot, to eliminate some dead limbs and the impact of the sun on the top of the arch.

Natural Bridge, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

By the time I got to the Rainbow Point parking area, it was pushing 7 PM, about 90 minutes prior to sunset.  The temperature was still pleasant–probably in the upper 60s–but I figured it would get colder, and quickly, as the sun dropped.  I took a shot or two along the trail in the conifer forest that leads to the area with the bristlecone pines themselves.

Ponderosa Pine Intimate, Bristlecone Pine Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

It was 45 minutes to an hour prior to sunset when I wandered out to the bristlecone pine area itself.  The sky, much to my chagrin, was completely clear, and it was very windy–right in my face, as had been the case on the canyon rim at sunrise.  And it was already chilly.  It appeared as though I was going to end the shooting day the way it had begun–freezing my behind off.

I spent some time sizing up the various trees, but I settled on the one that had caught my attention during the scouting session during the afternoon.  After experimenting with the 24-70 mm lens, I decided I needed to go much wider to get the shot I was looking for and found a sheltered spot to change to the 14-24 mm lens.  I then sized up my subject, set up my tripod, fine tuned the composition and waited for the sun to go down.

It was a long and unpleasant wait.  The wind was unrelenting.  It probably didn’t get any stronger during the time I stood there, but it certainly seemed to and there was no question that the temperature fell.  Not long before the sun finally reached the horizon, a few wispy clouds appeared in the western sky and began to drift towards me.  When the sun disappeared, the clouds turned pink.  It wasn’t the most spectacular sunset I’d ever seen–not by a long shot–but it certainly beat another bald sky.  I took several series of exposures, one of which you see below.

The End of the Earth, Bristlecone Pine Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

When the color began to fade, I gathered up my belongings as quickly as possible and hit the trail.  It was about 3/4 of a mile back in the encroaching darkness.  I was a Popsicle by this point, but at least I was out of the wind.  On the drive back to my lodgings–which took just under an hour–I considered the options for the following day.

Next:  Day 8:  Rim Sunrise, The Overlooks, Fairyland and Red Canyon


  1. I loved the photos as always, and I also like to hear about how you go about getting them!

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Truly amazing and thanks for your suffering to share these. That Thor’s Hammer has to be an award winning shot!

  3. Great story & pics (as usual!)

  4. GORGEOUS photos! I think I need to add Bryce to my bucket list. I live in Utah & have never been!

    • You live in Utah and have never been to Bryce?!? For shame! 🙂

      Just kidding. It’s definitely worth the trip.

  5. I get what you mean about clouds in the sky but that sure is a beautiful warm yellow-orange glow above the horizon in your first shot. Great captures of an amazing landscape.Like the mix of large landscape with the closer intimate one at the end.

    • Thanks, Jane. Yeah, it wasn’t a bad sunrise, but I guess I’m getting a bit spoiled. 🙂

  6. I really like reading about what you look for and how you go about getting your shots. It’s good for the rest of us that are still learning 🙂

    • Thanks. It’s gratifying to know that I might be of some small amount of help.

  7. These are awe-inspiring photos Kerry. You have certainly captured the splendor of the west!

    • Thanks very much, David.

  8. Beautiful record of your shoot… this place is on my to do list. A big thanks for showing me the inner workings of this area.

    • Thanks, Mike. Happy to be of help.

  9. I think I’ve run out of superlatives, so I’ll stick with the simple ones. Beautiful shots, Kerry…. I love viewing your work. Thank you for sharing as you do.

    • Thanks very much, Scott.

      • Most welcome, Kerry…truly wonderful work.

  10. Looking forward to the next post! These are all beautiful!

    • Thanks very much, Michael.

  11. Really like the Bristlecone Pine at the end. Knarled trees are always a favorite for me.

  12. […] 8 started out much like Day 7–it was every bit as cold an early morning (maybe colder).  But the sunrise forecast included […]

  13. Kerry, you always seem to do justice to the scenes before you; these canyons become living beings through your lens.

    • Thanks very much, Lynn. It was a great trip.

  14. […] Day 7:  Shivering on the Rim […]

  15. This is a dream fulfilled. Thank you.

    • Thanks very much.

  16. I was never overly thrilled with Bryce during several visits, but your images have managed to show me the magic that I missed there.

    • Thanks.

      I have to be honest…of the three primary places I visited on this trip, I found Bryce the least enthralling and while I would love to go back to Zion and Valley of Fire, I’m much less likely to return to Bryce Canyon. I had been there once before, and I did enjoy this visit, but after about 2 1/2 days, I was ready to move on. I wouldn’t have minded spending some more time down on the canyon floor, but I’d had my fill from the rim. As intriguing and beautiful as it is, after awhile, it begins to feel as though you’re taking the same shot over and over again.

  17. Finally, someone who feels the same as I do about Bryce. I’ve had so many folks tell me it was their favorite. On the other hand, I felt Zion and Arches were far more interesting and varied visually. We had a home for awhile in Overton back in the early 90s. I fell in love with the Valley of Fire, but was busy taking care of a husband with a recent spinal injury at that time. I never did much exploring and never took any photos of that delightful area. I can’t begin to describe what your marvelous images of that park mean to me!

    • Make no mistake, I do like Bryce…but not nearly as much as Zion or VOF. Arches (along with Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Deadhorse Pt. SP) is on my agenda for a future trip to Utah. (I’ve been to all but Deadhorse, but it was a long time ago, shortly before I got serious about photography.) My problem is I have far more places I want to go (and return to) than I have resources (temporal and financial).

      I stayed in Overton while I was visiting Valley of Fire (there are very few options). VOF is another place I’d love to return to.

      I’m thrilled that the VOF images resonated for you! Thanks for letting me know.

  18. […] The chalk walls reflected this light beautifully in a way that reminded me to some extent of Bryce Canyon in […]

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