View Full Version : Eastern Sierra or Zion?

Dan V
22-Dec-2005, 20:06
Iím toying with the idea of a week-long spring photo trip to either the Eastern Sierra or Zion; then a week-long fall trip to the other. The plan is to go early enough (April/May) to avoid the crowds but to catch the spring wildflower bloom; then late enough in the fall (September/October) to miss most of the crowds, if possible, but to catch the autumn foliage.

Iíve never been to the Eastern Sierra and itís been many years since I visited Zion, but my guess is that crowds there have increased significantly. Would spring in Zion and fall in the Sierras entail smaller crowds than spring in the Sierras and fall in Zion?

Brian Vuillemenot
22-Dec-2005, 20:54
The entire Colorado Plateau area can be windy as hell during the spring, although sometimes you might get lucky. It's pretty hard to predict when the wind will pick up, so if you've planned a trip long ahead of time, it could be ruined. I took a trip out to Petrified Forest and Canyon de Chelly in April, and went home early after three days with only one afternoon session of photography under my belt. On the drive home through New Mexico, a dust storm did several hundred dollars worth of damage to the paint on my car. At least I didn't get caught up in a pileup, though, which happens on a regular basis in the duststorms...

Fall is a great time to be on the plateau, although it can be crowded, especially in the "household word" type attractions, like Arches and Zion. However, there are all kinds of lesser known ones that are just as nice, and you don't have to deal with all the annoying tourists. As far as the Sierras, I was out there in October, and there was little in the way of crowding, at least on the eastern side. Yosemite valley was pretty congested, but few were in the higher areas of the park. Most of the great scenery that lies along highway 395 I had all to myself.
www.imagesofenchantment.com (http://www.imagesofenchantment.com)

Doug Dolde
22-Dec-2005, 21:03
Part of Zion (the canyon) is closed to private vehicles usually between April 1st and the end of October. So you'd be stuck riding the bus in April/May which I think is a real pain. Of course you can drive through the Zion Plateau year round.

To me the Zion area which would incidently broadly include the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and the Grand Staircase Escalante is more interesting than the eastern Sierra if you are into sandstone in all its shapes and colors.

Eric Leppanen
22-Dec-2005, 22:33
Fall colors in Zion Canyon normally peak around the first week of November, so aesthetically that is an ideal time to go although there is some crowding (while the shuttle buses no longer operate, finding parking in the canyon can get tricky). Devil's Garden (near Escalante), Horseshoe Bend (near Page), and (if you are really ambitious and have extra time) The Wave are also good nearby photo attractions. I personally prefer Bryce Canyon in early spring, while there is still snow on the rock formations.

There are so many photo targets in the eastern Sierra, and your timing will depend on which you select. If you are shooting up at the mountains from highway 395 (e.g., Alabama hills in foreground, snowy Mt. Whitney in background), you are better off with a flexible schedule so that you can hustle out there right after a passing storm so that the air is clear (there is normally quite a bit of haze, which can ruin distant shots). If you want shoot Mono Lake (e.g., Navy beach in foreground, mountains in background, shot at sunrise), a good time of year is March (roads are passable while there still is a lot of snow on the mountains). If you want to shoot the Bristlecone Pine forest, the main road there opens up around May if I recall correctly.
The Tioga Road also typically opens up around end of May. Nearby Death Valley is good in late winter/early spring in my opinion (spring wildflowers are nice, but the valley is often too windy to shoot wildflowers with LF).

I agree that spring is a windy time on the Colorado plateau. In my experience, Utah is worth the wind risk in the spring, since snow still resides in the mountain areas and provides a wonderful background for your shots. I would forget Arizona in the spring, as locations like Canyon de Chelly are so windy that shooting with LF is virtually impossible. Arizona in my opinion is a better Fall location.

I would suggest reading photo guidebooks such as Photographing the Southwest (http://www.phototripusa.com) and Photograph America (http://www.photographamerica.com) to better determine which targets you want to shoot, and the best times of year to shoot them.

Scott Davis
23-Dec-2005, 05:08
I spent a week in the Eastern Sierras in October this year- magnificent scenery, and very few tourists around. While the main road through Yosemite, as noted elsewhere, was very busy, I did a lot of hiking around Mono Lake, took a jaunt up Lundy Canyon, visited Bodie, and went down to Devils' Postpile and Manzanar.

At Mono Lake, you can go over to the north rim of the lake and take in the volcanic fissures at Black Point, in addition to the much over-photographed tufas at Navy Beach. If you get a good boat guide, they can take you around to the tufas on the east side of the islands in the lake, which are more fantastic than the Navy Beach ones, but less photographed.

Lundy Canyon is just off 395, heading west, so best to catch it in the morning. It is alpine meadows and a lake formed by a beaver dam, some waterfalls of varying size, and gorgeous aspens turning gold, orange and copper.

Bodie, the ghost town, is relatively quiet in October - you could spend two whole days just wandering around photographing it. Although they'll be some of the most technically challenging photos you'll take, shoot some interiors there, through the old wavy plate-glass windows.

In October, they allow you to drive in to Devils Postpile on your own, instead of the shuttle bus. I didn't actually make it to the Postpile, but on the way to Rainbow Falls (inside the park) stopped at a beaver-dam lake with spectacular mountain backdrop, rimmed with lodgepole pines that reflect in the water. The hike from the trailhead to Rainbow Falls is also worth doing, as you pass by the still-recovering remnants of the Rainbow Fire back in 1998. One side of the trail is relatively untouched, the other side looks like a moonscape. The falls themselves are quite spectacular, dropping about 100 feet. You can hike down some rather steep and narrow stairs to get to the bottom of the falls.

Bishop makes for a good stopping point, as it is a fairly large town (for the Eastern Sierras). If you want to explore this region of the Eastern Sierras, I do recommend booking your room in advance in Bishop, as this is still trout season, and Bishop is quite busy. You can drive on down to the Alabama Hills from Bishop. I highly recommend making a stop to visit Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp, on the way. Also near Bishop, there are ancient petroglyphs you can visit. To find them, you have to go to the Bureau of Land Management office (co-located with the Forest Service tourist office right on the main street in Bishop) and sign for the map and directions on how to find them - they're rather protective of the petroglyphs because too many people have damaged them in one way or another over the years. If you do the Petroglyphs, I highly recommend a 4-wheel drive with high ground clearance, even though they are located off a maintained, graded road on BLM land. I got my rental Mustang stuck on the berm of the road while trying to turn around. They are NOT marked from the road, so you have to follow the directions in the BLM guide to find them, using a trip odometer.

John Kasaian
23-Dec-2005, 09:27
If you get to Lee Vining, try the lobster taquitos and margaritas at the Whoa Nellie Deli (actually the whole menu is GREAT. I still get seared Ahi salad flashbacks!

bob woitaszewski
23-Dec-2005, 10:30
Remember that the Tioga pass Rd into Yosemite isn't open until mid-May. If you go to Bishop around Labor Day, check if they have the Mule Day's festival, if they do, U will have trouble finding a ROOM within miles.
Don't forget to go to the BristleCone Pine Forest just east of Lone Pine. opposite the Alababa Hills. Photographing these 10,0000 year old trees is fantastic.
I think the Eastern side of the Sirrea's is best in the fall.

Jim Rhoades
23-Dec-2005, 13:17
Three years ago I did Utah in April. I came back with less than 12 negs of 8x10. It was so windy that I only shot my 35mm and even on a L/F tripod I had to lean on the pod to hold it down. Just on one evening in Arches did the wind die down in over two weeks. In spite of the wind the Grand Canyon was smogged in. I'm going to try again this year but in late May.

Dan V
23-Dec-2005, 18:33
I recently subscribed to Robert Hitchmanís excellent newsletter Ė but donít recall reading anything there, or elsewhere, about the spring wind problem on the Colorado Plateau, so thanks for that big heads-up. Looks like itíll be spring in the Eastern Sierra instead.

Fall will be a tougher nut to crack though. Thereís no question that with so many magnificent places the Colorado Plateau is a winning destination. OTOH, the Eastern Sierra in autumn must be spectacular and the lure of combining alpine lakes, mountains and autumn foliage Ė not to mention bristlecone pines may prove irresistible.

Appreciate everyoneís insightful comments and details. Now I have some serious planning to doÖ

John Kasaian
24-Dec-2005, 00:11
If you get to Loa, Utah in the Autumn try the chow at the Road Creek Inn---wonderful trout!

Michael Gordon
24-Dec-2005, 11:31
The oldest bristlecone and longest-living organism is 'Methuselah', at 4,767 years of age. "10,000 year old trees" is a bit stretching it ;)