Southern Utah has always had a special place in my heart. Having attended Southern Utah University in Cedar City for five years, I always thought of Utah as my second home. With school and work commitments during that time, I never really took advantage of living in such a naturally beautiful place.
Determined to make up for my lost time in Utah, my girlfriend and fellow photographer Sarah Korin and I hopped on a flight to Salt Lake City from our home in Seattle, Washington. After meeting up with our good friends Adam & Stacha in Salt Lake City, we headed south to St. George. This was the official start of our 1,129 mile loop of Utah’s best sights. We even crossed the border into Arizona briefly. I compiled a list of my favorite locations visited during the road trip, and my favorite photos to accompany them. The photos are mostly digital, but you’ll find some film images hiding in there as well.
Zion National Park, Utah
The Zion Canyon is still an incredible site, no matter how many times I look back through my photos from the overlook, which is the best bang for your buck view in Zion. Just past the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel lies a small parking lot that leads to a 1-mile roundtrip, short, mostly flat hike to the viewpoint that offers spectacular views for minimal effort.
One of the tougher hikes we did on the trip was also the most breathtaking. Once you navigate the chain assisted climb around a busy trail you are greeted with is a view that I couldn’t even dream up. A different look down Zion Canyon from a great height and sheer drop off on three sides of you is a humbling experience.
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Arguably, one of the most photographed locations in the United States, and for good reason. A very easy walk from the parking area leads you to a massive view of the iconic Colorado River scene. Visitor after visitor approached behind us, nearly everyone gasping at the grand sight that just smashed their retinas. Most images you’ve seen are huge panorama’s that are beautiful but seriously fail in depicting the scale of this view. Go there!
Monument Valley, Arizona
From the iconic road shot to the fantasy-esq buttes erupting from the valley floor, Monument Valley is one of the most spellbinding places I have ever seen. The land is part of the Navajo Nation and the people have great respect for Monument Valley, and hold it sacred. You do really feel at one with the earth when you explore, especially when you can camp with the Mitten and Merricks buttes right in your face. That was easily one of my favorite nights of the trip.
Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
Very easily overlooked, as this amazing canyon is nestled up right next to its much busier brothers in southern Utah, the town of Moab and Arches National Park. I enjoyed watching the sunset here with my friends as well as shooting a couple of rolls of film while the light was fantastic.
What a shit show! Seriously one of the craziest locations we visited. We woke up at 3:30 to ensure we got a good spot to view the sunrise illuminating the arch but we were far from the first people set up. Once sunrise approached a tour bus of tourists offloaded and our nicely spaced set up became a cramped, awkward mess. Many of them trying to set up tripods in front of ours and complaining that people were in their way. Still, despite the craziness, I’m elated with the photo I have from here.
Arches National Park
Well, just like Zion, you could easily spend a week here and not get enough. We spent the day exploring some of the lesser popular locations and enjoying the non-rushed day as the rest of the trip had been very tightly scheduled.
We started by soaking in some sun at the Petrified Dunes and Parade of Elephants.
We found our way into the narrow canyon of Surprise Arch due to the low traffic of the area while we waited for the evening light for Delicate Arch. Surprise Arch is a narrow hike through sandstone walls and deep sand. Once you come around a corner, true to its name, an arch cut from the canyon walls. We shot some portraits on the Leica M3 with Portra 400 because the lighting and color of the rock were too perfect.
Delicate Arch Hike
I may or may not have fibbed and misremembered how long this hike was. The first time I was here I was on a fire assignment nearby and had just enough time to sprint up the trail to catch the sunset. I knew it was long but I didn’t remember how steep the beginning of the hike was; the girls were not happy with me. It was also so damn windy, which led to some visitors losing some water bottles down the bowl and jackets flying around. But, it’s one of, if not the best location in Arches National Park, so no matter the conditions, it was worth it.
Even after this adventure, I know I have only scratched the surface of the beauty and adventure throughout Utah and Arizona. This corner of the American South West is one of the most beautiful places in the entire country and deserves as much time as possible to enjoy. Until next time….
Kyle Ford is a Seattle, Washington-based lifestyle and travel photographer. See his work on his website, Instagram and Facebook.
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