Photo Essay

Arizona and Utah

Grand Canyon from South Rim

We decided we needed a vacation -- after all it was six months since our trip to Joshua Tree National Park in the spring. Where to go? We had discovered that we were eligible for a senior pass to all of the National Parks at Joshua Tree, so we thought we would continue the national park discovery. Where to go?

We had never been to the Grand Canyon -- I have flown over it a few times, but even though it is impressive at 35,000 feet, not much to see in the short time at 500 miles per hour. So that was on the list. Bryce Canyon? Hell, not too far away. A day in Flagstaff -- why not Petrified Forest?

Since it was at the end of the season, we were able to get a room at one of the Grand Canyon Lodges (Yavapai) and at Ruby's right outside of Bryce Canyon. We picked a Courtyard by Marriott for the stay in Flagstaff.

Flying out to Phoenix on old reliable American Airlines. Not. It was pouring when we left NYC and there seemed to be a problem with the plane -- the windshield wipers did not work. Since the plane had been at the gate overnight, nobody could explain why this was being found 10 minutes before boarding, but there we are. American said they will bring out another plane. Oops, mechanical issues with that one too. So we have to wait for a flight to come in from San Diego later that afternoon and we will get that flight. Leaving JFK 8 hours late (and a couple of hours after the next flight to Phoenix had already left. Sigh.

So we get into Phoenix at night instead of in the mid afternoon and get our car from Hertz and drive like lunatics up to Grand Canyon -- luckily there was little traffic on I-17 or I-40 or the local road AZ 64. We arrive a bit after midnight after being up for close to 24 hours. Nice comfy bed.

Since it was at the end of the season the South Rim was not terribly crowded (the North Rim was pretty much closed down already) but it was great that the shuttle buses were still running. We drove over to Grand Canyon Village and meandered along the Rim Trail and then took the shuttle out to Hermit's Rest, stopping at some of the points and walking between a few shuttle stops.

Photographs do not do Grand Canyon justice. For a New Yorker used to skyscrapers, this was just incredible. Dinner was in Tusayan that night, at Sophie's Mexican Kitchen. With a name like Sophie, could not be bad and it was great.

The following day we did the shuttle route all the way to the east, to Yaki Point and back to Yavapai Point. In the afternoon, we drove along AZ 64 out to the eastern entrance to the park at Desert View to the Watchtower. On the way back, we stopped at a bunch of the viewpoints. Dinner that night at Yippee-Ei-O Steakhouse again in Tusayan. Another really good meal.

The next morning we left for the drive to Bryce Canyon. We had a nice leisurely run out on AZ 64 to the eastern entrance to the park, again stopping along the way, and then onto US 89 in Cameron for a straight run up to Bryce. We stayed at Ruby's Inn, a Best Western, right outside the park. The room was good, and it was pretty quiet. We took a ride into Bryce to catch the sunset over the hoodoos (photo below).

We tried to get into the hotel restaurant for dinner that night, but the line was ridiculous. One of the hotel staff gave us the names of a couple of places out on UT 12 -- we ate dinner at each of them on the two nights. Just as well because the hotel restaurant, where we had breakfast, was pretty bad. The dinners we had were ok, but nothing to write home about.

The next morning we drove the park road all the way to the end and worked our way back to the many viewpoints along the 18 or so miles. Beautiful landscape and nothing at all like the Grand Canyon. As a bonus in the afternoon, we drove outside the park, east and south to Cannonville and then on a back road to Kodachrome Basin State Park. Again, great scenery and even though we were close to Bryce, very different.

Back to Flagstaff the next morning down on US 89. We couldn't find a place for breakfast until we hit Mt. Carmel Junction, where a side road goes off to Zion National Park. We had breakfast at the Thunderbird Diner, a restaurant in the Best Western Hotel. Pretty good. Then back on the road. At Kanab, we decided to take US 89A, which connects back to US 89 south of Page after passing through Kaibab National Forest. The road to the Grand Canyon North Rim meets US 89A along the way. Back on US 89 all the way to Flagstaff, arriving mid-day at the Courtyard.

The next morning, out on I-40 to Holbrook and then local roads to the south entrance of the Petrified Forest National Park. The petrified tree logs are scattered throughout the park, mostly extinct species, and incredibly beautiful, with a dramatic change in the landscape from the south to the north. Even though pieces of petrified wood are on the ground, it is not permitted to take anything out (of course souvenir packs of petrified wood are for sale at the gift shop, but they are marked as coming from private land in the area).

Very early day the next day, back to Phoenix on a straight run down I-17, get rid of the car at Phoenix Sky Harbor, and fly back to JFK. American Airlines was on time, even arriving a few minutes early -- and there was even a gate free!

All in all, a great trip -- we covered 1500 miles in the rental car, saw incredibly beautiful landscapes, took over 300 photos, and spent lots of time outside in the sun and fresh air. One regret -- we were so close to Zion National Park but did not think about getting over there for a quick visit.

Next time...

On the photos -- I debated with myself for weeks on whether to take the Canon 5D3 and shoot color or the Leica and shoot b+w (or slide) film. After all, the Joshua Tree photos were all b+w. Of course I could travel with both cameras ... But in the end, I realized that my choices of color slide film were very limited (Fuji is the only supplier these days, Kodachrome is gone and so is Ektachrome) and so were my options for processing the film. I could do b+w and send the film out for developing, but the chore of scanning would remain. So, I pulled out the Canon, charged the batteries, made sure I had sufficient CompactFlash card capacity -- and then debated over the lenses. Primes? Zooms? How many? I settled on the workhorse 24-105/f4 Canon zoom, with a circular polarizer. Heavy as hell compared to the Leica, but it did the job well. I bracketed exposures and processed all the files with a light touch in Photomatix and then did the final processing for crop, exposure, contrast, etc. in Lightroom. I also brought along a MeFoto compact tripod that I could fit in my carry-on luggage, but it stayed in the trunk of the rental car for the entire trip. I knew that I would need it if I didn't have it and probably would not use it if I did have it. For the 3 pounds it weighted, one less thing to worry about.

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