A week in the Southwest and Four Corners.

By Pat Kearns for the Large Format Page, part of Travels

I spent the week of Nov. 18-25,2000 in the Southwest and Four Corners area of the US. I would like to share with everyone my thoughts on the places that I visited in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. I will cover aspects such as the routes, admission fees, road conditions, and places to see. The Southwest has numerous National Parks, National Monuments, State Parks, and Pueblos. I would suggest purchasing a National Parks Pass for $50 it is valid for 1 year and is good for admission at all National Parks. State Parks are now charging admission in many states and the admission varies from park to park. Many of the pueblos charge admission and fees for photography. Also, some have restrictions on equipment and deny photography in certain locations. Please check at tribal offices for policies. In the National and State Parks, DO NO HARM. A recent photo expedition in Arches National Park has all rangers a little wary of LF photographers. Please help keep our reputations intact.

Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico

From Albuquerque take I-40 to Laguna. There is a scenic overlook on the interstate that you see the pueblo and it's church. Take the exit and drive directly to the pueblo. The pueblo is small and not exciting but there is a church that sits atop a hill which calls out to be photographed. The church is a small brilliant white building with a walled courtyard that celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1999. I enjoy shooting the church because of the brilliance of the white washed walls. I would almost put it in the same league with San Xavier in Tucson if it didn't lack the arches. B+W film with a red filter or color with a polarizer will yield some spectacular images.

Acoma Sky City, New Mexico

From Laguna take I-40 to Acoma Sky City. The pueblo sits atop a large mesa and offers guided tour every hour until 3 p.m. There is an admission charge of $5 and a $10 per camera photography fee. Medium format and 35 mm photography is the only way to shoot because tripods are banned on the entire reservation. This is frustrating because the approach to the mesa has potential for some great images. Photography is not allowed in the cemetery in front of the church as well as inside. I felt constrained with taking pictures. It is about a 50-mile round trip to Acoma Sky City from the interstate and is a loss of valuable time going there so I can't really recommend this as a serious photographic site.

Monument Valley, Utah

From Gallup take Hwy 666 to 264; Hwy 264 to 191; Hwy 191 to 59; Hwy 59 to 160; Hwy 160 to 163. If anyone plans to stay overnight near Monument Valley, lodging is limited to only 3 hotels in Kayenta, AZ and 1 lodge at Gouldings outside the tribal park so make reservations in advance. The drive to the tribal park is nice and offers many opportunities for some great shots. Don't get the mindset that the park will be the same, it is 10 times better. Admission is $3 and you will be given a self-guiding map of the park. The route is an 18-mile drive on a dirt road. There are some guides that are in the parking lot that offer tours and can take you to areas that are not accessible on the self guided tour. Make sure you have plenty of film. The Mittens, Elephant Rock, John Ford Pass, West Window and the Thumb are excellent scenes to photograph. On my next visit I will have to hire a guide to get to some of the more remote areas. I highly recommend Monument Valley.

Valley of the Gods

From Monument Valley take Hwy 163 to 261. The Valley of the Gods is about 30 miles north of Monument Valley. The drive is on a very primitive road that passenger cars can drive. It is quite rough in a few places and there are several water wash areas that cross the roadbed so DO NOT attempt the drive during a rainstorm. The drive is 17 miles that stretches between Hwy 261 and 163. It goes through canyons and buttes like in Monument Valley and offers some great shots. I entered from Hwy 261 and the photo opportunities after the first 5 miles of the drive are quite unique. I really enjoyed shooting the buttes and rock formations in the valley. There are some that are quite craggy and others that have some small sand dunes leading up to them that provide some nice rippled effect. Depending on the time of day strong backlighting can present a problem. This should be taken into consideration when choosing the highway entrance to the valley. If you aren't pressed for time do take a trip through the Valley of the Gods.

Capitol Reef National Park

From Valley of the Gods take Hwy 261 to 95; Hwy 95 to 24 west. A word of warning: leaving the Valley of the Gods there is a 3 mile switch back road along the face of the canyon on Hwy 261. It is unpaved, no guard rail, and in a couple of places there is room for only one vehicle to pass. At the top of the cliff there is a pullout at Muley Point Overlook and the view is breath taking. If you are afraid of heights this may not be a road to travel, it is an 1100-foot vertical drop. There is not a lot of traffic on the road so you can stop for some shots of the canyon. The route mentioned above takes you through Glenn Canyon and the start of Lake Powell. There are quite a number of spectacular canyons along this route. Capitol Reef is an extraordinary park with some truly unusual geologic upheavals and fractures of the earth's crust during the formation of the Colorado Plateau. It is a backpacker delight with many trails over easy to difficult terrain. Just off the roadside are Hickman Bridge, Petroglyphs, the Castle, and many other rock formations that can be easily photographed. There is a scenic drive through the waterfold area of the park that winds through Fruita orchards, and the campgrounds to the waterfold pockets. About 8 miles down the scenic drive on the left side of the road there is a fallen weathered rock that resembles a giant skull of some type of alien creature. I had to stop and shoot it. Capitol Reef is an excellent park to visit because there are a lot of sights that just off the side of the road that do not require any hiking. Just photographing these sights that are along the drive in the park will take about half a day but I recommend 1 or 2 days to further explore the park. Also, if you visit in the Spring or Fall the fruit orchards will be blooming or leaves turning and will give you some nice colors. I like the varied formations in and around Capitol Reef and recommend it. There are several off road trails near Caineville that will take you to some remote areas if you have a 4 WD vehicle but it is advisable to check with the locals concerning road conditions.

Goblin Valley State Park

From Capitol Reef take Hwy 24 east about 75 miles. This is a state park with a $4 admission fee. There is a 12-mile drive to the park off Hwy 24. The approach may not seem very exciting but the real treat is the Valley of Goblins at the end of the road. When you see them you will believe that you are on another planet from Star Wars. The weathered sandstone rock formations appear to be giant mushrooms ranging from a couple of feet to over 30 feet in height. They are free standing, clumps, and rows inside and along the valley walls. It is just pure fun to shoot The Goblins. Panoramic photographers can have a field day in this park. If you just want to have fun this is the place.

Arches National Park

From Goblin Valley take Hwy 24 to I-70 east; I-70 to Hwy 191. Arches National Park contains the most natural arches and balanced rock formations in the world. I never get tired of visiting Arches. A planned visit should be several days at the very least. The park is large and the terrain is so varied that it cannot be seen in a single day. There is a good trail guide available at the visitor center that lists the various arches, length, difficulty of hikes, and the best time of day for photography. There are ranger-guided tours in the Fiery Furnace and permits are required for hiking. Delicate Arch, Utah's most famous land mark , is a strenuous hike and best photographed in the late afternoon as well as Balanced Rock. Landscape Arch should be photographed in the early morning because it is backlit by the sun after 11 am. Also, the trails that lead you closer to the arch have been closed to hikers and rangers frown upon people wandering past the barricades. Windows always draw large crowds so it is difficult to photograph without tourists in your shot unless you are there on very cold days in the off season. If the crowds are too great at the Windows drive back to The Garden of Eden. I found some excellent rock spires and several balanced rocks in The Garden of Eden that are easily reached with a short walk from the overlook. Arches National Park is high on my list for photography. There is always one burning question I have when I leave Arches and when Judgment Day comes I am going to ask God. Where did You hide all the rocks that should be on the ground in Arches National Park? I have planted the seed in your mind and now you have to visit Arches to see if you can answer the question.

If you are thinking of going to the Southwest keep the above places in mind. If anyone would like to share his or her favorite spots please let me know. I am always looking for something new and exciting. Well, my work is cut out for me, I've got 100 sheets of 4x5 and 10 rolls of 120 film to develop. Happy shooting.

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