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Northern Arizona pt. 1

nothing like the open road

While I normally enjoy mountains and cold weather, I have been drawn lately to the desert. Barren landscapes and diverse terrain beacon to a landscape photographer and Arizona has many of them both. So after much research I decided that this would be the perfect destination to take a photography adventure.


Arriving in Phoenix I embarked on a long 4 days covering 1200 miles and many different types of terrain and climates. The first destination I had on the agenda was Monument Valley. Nestled on the Utah Arizona border this iconic landscape is on every landscape photographers to-do list. As I made my way north 300 plus miles, I couldn't believe how many times the landscape changed. From the saguaro cactus dotted deserts of Phoenix to the snow covered mountains of Flagstaff and back to the barren flat-lands of the Navajo Reservation, this is an amazing area.


snow covered mountains, not what you expect in the desert

After a long flight and exhausting drive, I finally began to see the huge stone towers of monument valley. I arrived just as the sun was setting intent on capturing the glowing horizon against the famous monuments. As I arrived though I realized that it was not to be. No matter how you plan and prepare sometimes mother nature intervenes. There was no beautiful sunset to be had after this long journey, only overcast skies and blue horizons. Undaunted, I set up my gear and began to capture the beauty of this place. Sometimes when things don't go as planned you have to step back and recognize that its not just the work that's important, it's the journey. So I took a few images and then just stood back and took it all in. This place, where thousands have stood for hundreds of years, and admired the grandeur of it all.


overcast skies over Monument Valley

In order to explore the valley you must have a Navajo guide. The whole area is part of the Navajo nation and access is strictly controlled. Many of the sites are considered sacred and therefore off limits to outsiders. I had booked a nighttime photography tour as well as a sunset tour. My plan being to stay out in the valley all night and shoot the milky way, and then capture the sunset. Weather being as it was however, I had to cancel my night shooting plans. Without a backup plan for my night I was forced to spend the night exploring the area. I still had plans to take the sunrise tour, even though there wasn't much chance of one.


the first beams of light across the valley

I met my guide before dawn and set out into the back country. Exploring this area with someone who grew up on this land is a very special treat. He let us know about some of the history, and took us to many places deep in Monument Valley. There are so many spectacular sights in this area, arches and enormous towers dot the landscape.


big hogan arch

One of the highlights was the seeing the ancient petroglyphs. The rock art etched into these walls has been here for centuries, no one is quite sure of the meanings but there are clear depictions of hunting and animals.



Having another long journey ahead I decided it was time to move on and head toward my next destination, Page.


Forest Gump point

The drive from Monument Valley to Page, AZ is one of the most beautiful drives Ive ever experienced. The landscape is so big and beautiful it almost doesn't seem real. Mile after mile of highway rolling over the horizon and clouds unimaginably huge across an endless sky. I did have time to take a short detour to see one of the highlights of this area, the Navajo bridge. The twin bridges span the Colorado river and strike a beautiful contrast against the Vermilion cliffs.


Navajo Bridge national monument

As stunning as this area is, there is a stark contrast with the terrible poverty of the area. The Navajo nation is really quite beautiful, and the people are very accommodating, despite the overwhelming poverty. We as a country should do much more to help the native nations.


these stands dot the area. Navajo women make and sell jewelry here to support their family.

After many hours I finally made my way to Page, the home of slot canyons, Horseshoe Bend, and Lake Powell. This was my most anticipated leg of the journey. Every photographer has seen images of the slot canyons of Arizona. Smooth walls created by rushing water carved over millennia. Antelope Canyon is the most famous of these canyons, but that fame comes at a price. Everything I read about Antelope Canyon commented how the crowds were unbearable, people jammed into the tight space pushing for position. So I decided to skip it in favor of another less crowded but just as spectacular canyon, Canyon X


.

Now I have seen countless images of this area many times, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience of being here. The colors and patterns of light are just stunning. I always thought the images of sandstone blanketed in purple, orange, and yellows were somehow manipulated. Being here however, surrounded by it I was just speechless.


the colors are unbelievable

The best part about Canyon X is that it is on private land. The tour company only allows a few people at a time in the canyon which means you have much more freedom to explore. Our group consisted of me and a couple having their engagement photos done in the canyon. While they were setting up their shots I was free to explore the canyon alone. I set up my gear and began shooting. I was almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of angles and compositions available. It is almost impossible to take a bad shot here.


As I explored further the canyon opened up into a larger area, presenting even more opportunities for images.



After three hours of exploring this canyon it was sadly time to say goodbye. I think I could have spent two or three days seeing every part of this place. maybe next time.


to be continued...


#arizona #monumentvalley #page #desert #southwest #antelopecanyon #canyonx #slotcanyon #travel #travelphotography #landscape #landscapephotography

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©Ronnie Mayo