Zion National Park is a geological wonder eons in the making. As the "gateway" for Utah's canyon country, Zion is an impressive example of what can happen with a little bit of water, and a lot of time. Like all natural features of the Colorado Plateau, Zion's history i closely associated with water. The Virgin river has carved an impressive canyon throughout the landscape, and at Zion National Park you placed at ground level, immediately able to view the scenery from the bottom up. Thats the unique part about the viewing experience in this natural wonder. Every year, fall color comes to the canyon, and the Aperture Academy has an opportunity to show photographers the majesty of this special "straight up land."
Like all of our workshops, we start with an orientation. Located in Springdale, just a stones through from the park entrance, we met our first group of eager participants. After a round of introductions, fellow instructor Mike Wardynski and I, went through the plan of attack with everyone to bring them up to speed on this extreme workshop. The first day, we would start off at a slower pace, showing off some of Zion's easier to get to vistas, and on the second day, we would ramp it up a couple notches, and delve deep into the park, by way of the Virgin river Narrows.
Zion National Park is not easily accessed by car, as more than 80% of the park is wilderness. The only road that navigates the river canyon is very small, and lacks the parking for the hordes of visitors wanting to experience the beauty there. So Zion has an ingenious solution: a shuttle system. No cars are allowed on the main road for the better part of the year, so we all woke up a couple hours before sunrise to be on the first shuttle into the park. Our first stop was the Court of Patriarchs, so named for three biblical fathers; Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph. The virgin river snakes around a bend where theres a small waterfall, a perfectly placed footbridge, and the patriarchs themselves. For sunrise, there are few spots in the park so perfect. We walked a short distance from the shuttle stop and had our group setup along the waters edge. We waited for the light to start hitting the tips of the towers overhead, used filters to help correct the contrast, got invaded by a group of curious wild turkeys, and finally made our way back to the van for short drive into the east side of the park. As we snaked our way up into the east side of the park, we stopped a couple times to grab some photos and admire the way life forces its way onto the sandstone rocks. The trees up there literally grow out of the rock face, which is an extremely impressive feat. and we used the light and shadow to make some interesting photos with the trees as our subject. With the sun rising higher, our morning shoot ended, and we made our way back to Springdale for our midday break.
After lunch, we picked everyone up and headed to Zion Outfitter, where we would picking up our gear to safely and comfortably navigate the canyon narrows. With water temps just above 40 degrees, and an average shin high depth, proper gear is essential to stave off hypothermia in the canyon. We all picked up boots, chest high waterproof bibs, waterproof bags, and walking sticks. All dressed up, everyone looked ready for action! So we piled back into the van to drop off our new toys and pick up our cameras for the sunset shoot. One of the best spots to hit sunset in the park is along the Virgin river looking southerly at the Watchman. One of the last mountains in a series of peaks along the river, the Watchman stands tall at the entrance to the southern end of the Virgin river canyon. We parked the van and made our way down to the Pa'rus Trail, which snakes along the river and over a series of foot bridges, from which we would setup and shoot our sunset. The views from these bridges is nothing short of spectacular. The river underneath you, the mountains towering to the left, fall color in the trees to the right, its beautiful. As we setup, our group travelled back and forth between two different vantage points along the river, and we all waited for the light to fade into night, capturing photos all the way through.
After an easy day one, everyone was giddy to start the hike that this National Park is famous for. The Narrows. Again we woke super early, hours before sunrise, to be the first on the shuttle that would take deep into the park on a 45 minute ride to the Temple of Sinawava. We came fully dressed in our gear, boots, waterproof pants, and of course, cameras! Arriving at the last stop, we made a quick bathroom break before walking the first mile of the hike on the Riverside Walk, a completely paved trail that drops you off at the waters edge along the Virgin river. Now the boots that you are given are not waterproof, they are designed to allow water in, and the thick neoprene socks you wear allow the water to enter and heat up against your natural body heat. Not exactly what you want to hear after finding out the water is only 42 degrees! So getting in the water at first is an eye opening experience. Mike and I made everyone wade in the shallows and get good and wet, before we snapped a group photo while everyone was awake and high energy. That would not be the case after spending all day trudging thought the water. The Narrows is one of the places where you completely loose track of time. Sun rarely hits some parts of the canyon in the fall, and its course through the sky allows the light to bounce off the huge walls and fill the canyon with a warm glow. This happens once in the morning, and again in the afternoon. As we made our way through the canyon, Mike and I led our group to some of our favorite spots, paying close attention to the way the light bounced off the canyon walls, making stops where the light was fantastic for photos, and trudging on where it was not. There are trees down the canyon, and the fall color was plentiful in places. We made sure to spend extra time taking advantage of the light and color. When we checked our watches after a time, it was nearing 3pm, so we started the long journey back, shooting all the way where the afternoon light peaked. Thankfully, I was only one who fell into the water, twice. No cameras were lost on this trip! After hiking for miles and miles in and out the river, we finally made our way back to the Temple of Sinawava, and we de-robed from our canyon gear. what a great feeling after nearly 7 hours in the water. Our feet all nice and pruny, we boarded the shuttle back to the van, dropped off our stuff at Zion Outfitter, and with the whole van crying PIZZA & BEER, we made our way to the Flying Monkey to satisfy everyones need for some carbs after burning what must have been 3000 calories! With everyone significantly done and tired, our work was complete! Cards full of images, sore feet and muscles, and super happy campers, we would all sleep well and remember the awesome time we had hiking the venerable Zion Narrows. Thanks for a great trip everyone, we enjoyed your company and hope to see you again on another adventure!
Until next time,
Scott, Mike, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.