The Southwest Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon

Monument Valley

Forrest Gump Point

About 8 miles southwest of Mexican Hat, UT on Highway 163 (mile marker 13), you will come across Forrest Gump Point. This is the location in the movie where Forrest decides to stop running.

"I'm pretty tired. Think I'll go home now." -- Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump Point

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park actually sits in Arizona, although you are in Utah when you turn off Highway 163. From the turn off, it's about 1.1 miles to the Arizona State Line and then another 2.2 miles to the Admissions Booth. Fee is $20 per vehicle, up to 4 people. The View Hotel and the Visitor's Center is about a half a mile beyond that.

The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has a 17 mile scenic one-way loop (Valley Road), which takes you to several overlooks. You are suppose to stay on the main road and overlook areas, and are not allowed to drive, bike, hike, or camp anywhere else without being part of a paid Navajo guided tour. The only exception is the Wildcat Trail that circles the West Mitten, which you are allowed to hike on your own.

All the guest rooms of The View Hotel have a balcony that overlooks the West and East Mittens along with Merrick Butte.

The View Hotel (click to enlarge)

Below is the vista looking east from the rear side of the hotel or from your room. Too bad the Navajo Nation is dry (no alcohol allowed), as sitting on your balcony with a glass of wine enjoying the view would be wonderful.

Vista from The View Hotel

At John Ford's Point Overlook, there is often a Navajo with his horse. He will ride out towards the end of the point in the foreground and pose for tips. He wasn't there either time we stopped.

John Ford's Point Overlook

The Yei Bi Chei (Navajo spiritual gods) is a formation of dancers emerging from a hogan, located just east of the Totem Pole.

Yei Bi Chei & Totem Pole
Artist's Point Overlook

We made sure to get back to the hotel to catch the sunset, lighting the Mittens in a warm glow. Twice a year the West Mitten casts its shadow on the East Mitten just before sundown. We were probably 2-3 days after the ideal time, but still got a nice shot.

West Mitten casting shadow on East Mitten

Grand Canyon

Our visit to the Grand Canyon was limited to the South Rim as the North Rim doesn't open until May 15th. Really wasn't sure what to expect (other than a big hole and lots of people). Came in the East Entrance on Highway 64, and was a bit surprised at the vegatation and all the trees.

Desert View Watchtower

Located 25 miles east of Grand Canyon Village. The tower was constructed in 1932 and underwent major renovations in 2010, and is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The design was influenced from the architecture of the ancestral Puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau.

Desert View Tower (click to enlarge)

South rim overlooks

Moran Point
Mather Point
Yavapai Point
View from the Rim Trail near Maricopa Point

Bright angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trailhead takes off just west of Kolb Studio near Bright Angel Lodge. The trail is 9.5 miles in length (to Phantom Ranch) and has 4,500 feet in elevation change.

Bright Angel Trail (click to enlarge)

Horseshoe Bend

A couple miles south of Page, AZ on Highway 89 is the parking area for Horseshoe Bend. From the parking lot the trail climbs a sandy hill and then descends to the overlook. The trail is 1.5 miles round trip. At the end of the trial you will be greeted with a breath taking view 1,000 feet above the Colorado River. This is a very popular hike and therefore plenty of tourists.

I did some research before the trip and found that my 24-120mm lens would not be wide enough to capture the entire scene in one frame. I ended up renting a 15-30mm lens specifically for this shot. The image below was shot at 19mm on a full-frame DLSR.

We visited this location twice in the same day. In the morning the sky was clear, causing the left cliffs and the river directly below to be in shadows. We came back late afternoon when the the sky was overcast and captured this image.

Horseshoe Bend

Upper Antelope Canyon

Just east outside of Page, AZ on the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park lies Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons. Each canyon requires a separate tour, as they are run by different groups. Upper Antelope Canyon is known for its light beams that reach the canyon floor mid-day from April thru September, and is the most photographed canyon of the two.

(We booked our tour online at Antelope Canyon Tours by Roger Ekis )

There are two types of tours for each canyon. The Sightseeing Tour does not allow tripods, and the Photographic Tour requires that each person have both a SLR/DSLR and a tripod. On the Photographic Tour your guide helps with locations and timing, holding back other tour groups so you can get your shot, plus you get to stay in the canyon a bit longer. The tour company that we booked with did allow an "assistant"; however they do limit that. Lower Antelope Canyon tours are very rigid in allowing only photographers with "proper equipment" on the photographic tours.

We did have a chuckle at the start of the tour. Immediately before we entered the canyon, our Navajo guide said "Before we go in I have a couple of questions." "Everyone is shooting RAW, right?" We all confirmed our cameras were set on RAW. He then asked "Who is the whitest in the group?" There was an awkward slience as the six of us looked at each other not knowing how to respond.

"Who is the whitest in the group?" -- Navajo Guide

"16?... 17?... 20?" he questioned. At this point I realized that he had said "widest", referring to the lenses we were using. I spoke up with "I'm at 24mm." After 3 or 4 seconds, the photographer next to me then responded "Oh... sorry, I have a 16mm lens." The rest of the group, having figured it out and now relieved, chimed in.

(The reason the guide wanted to know about our lenses is so he could position us inside the canyon, with the wider lenses up front and the longer lenses immediately behind.)

35mm, ISO 400, 0.6 sec at f/9
28mm, ISO 400, 1.3 sec at f/8

The image below is a HDR combination of 5 bracketed exposures. This was needed because of the sun striking the canyon floor. Without combining the different exposures, the spot on the floor would have been blown out (totally white) with no detail in the sand.

HDR of 5 bracketed exposures. 24mm, ISO 400, 1/200 sec - 1/13 sec at f/8
24mm, ISO 400, 0.4 sec at f/8
38mm, ISO 400, 1/2 sec at f/8

Another HDR image due to the extreme difference in the bright and dark areas of the scene, and the inability of the camera to capture in a single exposure the range of what our eyes can see.

HDR of 7 bracketed exposures. 44mm, ISO 400, 1/50 sec - 1.3 sec at f/13


On our way back home from Page, AZ we stopped in Moab, UT to visit close friends. We did a 6 mile round trip hike in Negro Bill Canyon to Morning Glory Arch. While we were there a mountaineering tour group repelled down the gap between the arch and the cliff face. (Bonus: The 15-30mm rental lens came in handy one more time.)

15mm on a Nikon D700 full-frame body

Final Thoughts

Really enjoyed Upper Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Monument Valley, in that order. The Grand Canyon was nice but not sure it would be the primary destination for another trip.

Upper Antelope Canyon is such a special place, and Horseshoe bend is spectacular. There are also other slot canyons to explore in the area. Definitely would like to return to Page, AZ.

Created By
Terry Richmond

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