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Thread: American Southwest in full Autumn

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    North Italy

    American Southwest in full Autumn

    I'll be visiting the Us Southwest between October 25th and November 9th. Land in LAX, pick up a rented SUV and drive off the next day. It's my first time in that area and also it will be my first time trying to fly with my 4x5 camera.
    Aside from the logistics (suggestions? I'm thinking about buying Kodak negs there, and maybe even find a way to get them developed before departing), do you have any suggestions for the best route to take?
    My plan would be to stay from one to three days top in each location, and possibly drive around as much as I can manage, trying to cover California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah. Bonus points would be Colorado (hell, I'm visiting probably during the best period of the year) and White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.
    Of course I'll be visiting the most iconic places since I've never been there, but to be honest I prefer to avoid them for photographic purposes and focus a bit more on foliage, Zion, rural America, stuff like that.

    Also keep in mind that photography tends to be a sort of obsession to me when time is limited, and since I won't be alone I don't want to spoil the adventure for the person sharing the travel with me. So an optimized route is what I'm looking for.
    Feel free to suggest anything that comes up your mind.

    I appreciate any help, thanks.

  2. #2
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Seattle, Wash.

    Re: American Southwest in full Autumn

    Glad you're spending more than a long weekend in this favorite area of mine. Keep in mind, even the two weeks you're planning will still seem insufficient for the amount of land you want to cover.

    Since you have several months of planning ahead, here are some reading suggestions to help guide you to places that may suit your LF needs & inform you about the area's natural and cultural history:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    1) Anasazi: Ancient People of the Rock (By Donald Pike & LF photos by David Muench)
    Excellent overview of the area’s natural & Anasazi cultural history – w/ stunning photography, of course. Pike’s writing is graceful like Muench’s best photos.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    2) In Search of the Old Ones (by David Roberts)
    Adventurous first-hand account about exploring Anasazi Country w/ greater emphasis on the White Man’s treatment of the area since the Wetherill brothers’ 19th-C discovery of many of the monuments.

    * Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire is such an obvious recommendation that chances are you've already read it – like a lot of the high desert SW landscape-wandering photographers here. ;^)

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Oct 2015

    Re: American Southwest in full Autumn

    End of October could be pushing it for peak color in Arizona, but I'd highly recommend the Sedona and Flagstaff areas; hiking Oak Creek Canyon during fall color is a joy (Sedona) and the aspens in Flagstaff, especially hiking up into the Inner Basin, are quite a sight. Zion is always busy during fall color, but if you get away from the main valley floor and hike into a few of the side canyons/washes, you'll probably find some interesting things to photograph. Please be mindful of the weather forecasts, if you decide to hike the washes in Zion because you definitely don't want to be in there if rain hits! The states you plan to cover sounds like a wonderful trip, but, if you've never been out here, space brings with it a whole new meaning; it's VAST and driving times become longer than anticipated.

    Good luck and have a safe, enjoyable trip!

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    Bow, NH

    Re: American Southwest in full Autumn

    I hope you aren't expecting a lot of "fall color" in the Southwest, but that said, still a nice time to visit that part of the country. And don't run out of California so fast - there's Death Valley and Joshua Tree to explore before heading to other areas,

  5. #5
    Drew Wiley
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    SF Bay area, CA

    Re: American Southwest in full Autumn

    Harrumphh, Mr. New Hampshire!! The SW has absolutely incredible fall color. But the timing varies between mid Oct through Nov depending on the location and altitude. There are quite a few areas where the mountains in the Four Corners area are like islands, where you can see stunning rock desert and lower altitudes and fall aspen up high within a short distance. But be prepared for snow anytime. Always travel with plenty of supplies, warm gear, and good sleeping bags. Tourists facilities can be far between in the Fall. And just about the worst thing you could do is try to cover a whole bunch of states on a single trip. That's why I suggested Four Corners - where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. If you go from LA through Las Vegas to Zion Natl Prk, then to the upper part of that, it's easy to get to Bryce NP and from there onto Hwy 12 down into the Escalante River area, and from there up into the aspen, and back down again into Capitol Reef NP, and from there over toward Canyonlands and Arches, from there back down into the tip of Arizona and Monument Valley, Can de Chelly, then potentially backtrack northern Ariz through Petrified Forest NP, Grand Can S rim, etc, back to LA, with at least driving through Death Valley being perfectly feasible. That would be reasonable in two or three weeks and still allow some day hiking and quality photography time, plus lots of sheer sightseeing opportunities. Bring good boots, lots of water. In that part of the world, logistics can be survival. Much of the canyon area can be downright hot during the day and bitter cold at night. Many tourist facilities close at the end of October, so you have to plan for the option of camping. One more word of warning - beware of deer hunters in the woods in Autumn. You want to know where they are. They often hunt drunken and will shoot at mere noises. Drive around a bit on the road if hunting season is open before you camp or start hiking around. But in the National Parks, hunting is forbidden, so they're safer. Capitol Reef is magnificent in Oct and has few of the crowds of the better known National Parks. Taking Utah Hwy 12 there is highly recommended, but it does go up high. But before that, you should set aside a day to hike to Calf Creek Falls down on the Escalante. An easy lovely walk, maybe 6 miles round trip. Have good maps. Cell phone coverage is quite limited, and absolutely do not trust auto GPS to get you around - people die every year following phantom GPS shortcuts in the American West. When in doubt about road conditions, ask locally. Slickrock clay can be as hard as asphalt but turn into sheer soap after a rain; and you can easily get stuck in even a Jeep. Best to stick to paved roads. Flash flooding tends to subside late in October, with November being a generally safe month, but always beware of the risk, whether driving or hiking. Gas up fully when and where you can.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Hampton, VA

    Re: American Southwest in full Autumn

    Where to begin...

    First, do you have a special reason to fly into LAX? If not, I might suggest flying into Las Vegas instead. Most of your destinations are well to the east of LA, so having a more central point of entry / departure will save some driving time in your limited time frame.

    Likewise, why waste time trying to buy and get film developed locally? Do you not have enough room in your carry on for film? If so, that’s a legitimate reason. But if you are afraid of Xray damage, don’t be. You can find plenty of testimonials that it is quite safe through the carry on system. Do not however, put film in checked baggage.

    As to recommendations, well there are innumerable locations. One of my favorite drives is the US 12 Scenic Byway in Utah. It would be the natural route to take if you were going from Zion to Bryce to Capitol Reef National Parks. On the “hog back” section between Escalante and Boulder there are spectacular drop offs on either side of the road.

    If you got as far as Capitol Reef you might consider driving further on US 24 up to I 70 and then down US 191 to Arches and Cayonlands National Parks.

    I’m partial to the Grand Staircase - Escalante and Vermillion Cliffs National Monuments. That’s a big area with lots of out of the way locations to visit.

    With 2 weeks you are going to have to be fairly selective.


  7. #7
    Alan Klein's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    New Jersey was NYC

    Re: American Southwest in full Autumn

    I agree that LAX is too far west. Where do you intend to drop the car off? There may be a substantial drop off fee if you don;t go back to LAX. Last year in April, my wife I drove 2100 miles over 16 days doing the Four Corner area Drew mentions above. We found Hertz car rental was the cheapest through Expedia booking (thru AARP) but we're seniors, like Drew. We did no hiking and the time was full up. We started in Santa Fe, New Mexico and ended in Sedona,Arizona. We covered all the major National Parks. Here's the Google Map link. But you're welcome to adapt our map to your needs.

    You don't need to start in Santa Fe. We spent three days there relaxing as well as three days in Sedona relaxing as well. That was mainly to satisfy my wife because if I spent the time only shooting, I wouldn't have come home with a wife. Just a word of caution if you want to have a friend at the end of the trip.

    Also, most of the parks we went too are more rock oriented than foliage.
    You might want to start in Colorado if you want foliage.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2001
    Pine Junction, CO

    Re: American Southwest in full Autumn

    As others have said or suggested, you are trying to cover too much territory. Redefine and reduce the area you want to explore. It's over 400 miles driving from Los Angeles to Zion NP. You'll use a whole day each way. Flying into Las Vegas puts you at a much more convenient location. My suggestion would be to concentrate on southern Utah and save the other the other five states you mentioned for other trips. Southern Utah is a target rich environment. You've got six months to plan this trip. For that time of year, you probably should have campground or motel reservations lined up.

    While you might find fall color, you might not. But you will find lots of color in the landscape. It's a better focus, because it's a sure thing.

    Even though you might get a lot of corrective suggestions, keep asking questions on the Forum. There is a lot of experience here.
    Keith Pitman

  9. #9
    Drew Wiley
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    SF Bay area, CA

    Re: American Southwest in full Autumn

    Zion isn't far from Las Vegas. The advantage of flying into LA and crossing the Mojave Desert is that an extra day or two would allow at least a token view of Death Valley. The disadvantage is that it might take quite awhile just to get out of LA itself unless you drive late at night. Vegas airport can be quite a chore sometimes, depending on events and weekends. Santa Fe is pretty far east; and the main airport would be Albuquerque anyway. I think heading east from Vegas on the Utah 12 loop would give the most bang for the buck. Even getting up around Moab and the San Juan Range in Colorado (which tends to have wonderful Oct color) would seem easier heading that direction. Moab is a bit of a zoo these days with simply too many trail cyclists; but it might not be bad that late in the season; and it's a spot with year-round accommodations. There is a incongruous motel or two in Torrey just west of the Capitol Reef entrance; but I'd far rather camp there during the apple harvest season. Around Bryce, Ruby's Inn closes down at the end of Oct, and the motels down the road on Hwy 12 are full of bed bugs, which is about the nicest thing that can be said about them! Durango area has plenty of places to stay, as does Aspen (if you're rich!).

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Canyon Country, California

    Re: American Southwest in full Autumn

    There can be good to great Fall Foliage in the California Sierra Nevada, but you will most likely be too late. The arrival of Fall Colors is not consistent year-to-year. Have you been to the Southwest US before? Where are you located? In Italy? The distances in the American Southwest are much greater than in Europe.

    As others have said - and I'm a native Southern Californian - Las Vegas is probably a better place to land, unless you need to be in Los Angeles for a reason.

    Does someone know when the trams stop running in Zion? That might affect when you go to Zion. I've only been there when the trams were NOT running ... how difficult is it to trek a 4x5 on the trams?

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