Arizona Strip/Southern Utah Thanksgiving Photography

Hello Readers. This will be the first installment in a series about the American Southwest. I have lived in Las Vegas the last four years and it is an ideal location to reach many sites within a days drive.  I spent Thanksgiving this year driving and hiking Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. The majority of the time was spent between highway 89 and highway 89a along House Rock Valley Road in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. I have outlined my route in red in the below graphic.


You could spend a week here or use it as a base to visit Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon. I have been a few times already but I am already planning my next trip back. I mostly use the M43 format with a Panasonic GF3 and and Olympus EM1 Mark 1. This was a recent change from the Sony A6000 (still use this for night photography, none worth sharing from this trip). But I will also my phone, an in expensive Motorola,  on occasion. I keep a 14mm pancake on the GF3 and a 70-300 with a 1.4 teleconverter on the EM1.


This is House Rock Valley road. It runs about 30 miles north-south. You can see the washboards in the photo. It is generally passable in a sedan but i would recommend good tires. I helped a person out from the WirePass trailhead who had gotten two flats and was limping out on a spare and slow leak. From this road, you can view California Condors soaring above and roosting on the cliffs.


My plan for this trip was to explore Coyote Buttes South, Toroweap, Buckskin Gulch, attempt some astrophotography and some Condor photographs. I entered House Rock Valley Road from the south. There is a condor viewing area a few miles up the road (they release them on the cliffs making it a reliable spot for viewing). What I found was even with my cropped sensor and a 1.4tc on a 300mm lens that I still could have used about 3 times as much reach. In future trips I plan to find a different location. Either the rim of the grand canyon or Navajo Bridge nearby on the Colorado River.

I had acquired a permit for Coyotes Buttes South and took some advice I had found online to drive up Cottonwood Cove and then leave by way of Pawhole (there are areas of deep sand that are easier to be going downhill for on Pawhole). I plan on returning to this area to explore White Pockets, another popular area I have yet to visit.  This area is much less popular than the Coyote Buttes north but still very impressive.

I camped off of 5 Mile Mountain road as the Stateline campground was full. What I found later in the trip was that this was a very popular weekend to be in the area. The next morning I had a long day of driving ahead of me. I had to stop at the Escalante Visitor Center in Kanab to pick up my permit for hiking Bucksin Gulch and then I was on my way to Toroweap. I timed the visit with the Coyote Buttes north lottery. I enter the online lottery each month but competing with over 300 people each day has not led to any success. This day however they set an in person record with 319 people. I however had luck on my side and won a spot for Sunday.

The drive to Toroweap, an overlook on the northwest side of the Grand Canyon involves 60 miles of dirt/gravel roads. The first five miles pass through a reservation and then you reach the Grand Canyon Monument boundary. There are about ten campsites at the overlook and the scenery along the way makes it well worth it. I chose campsite 5 and found about four others were taken that day. This area of the canyon is narrower than the more popular rims. I could have chosen a better time to view with the late day shadows but that just gives me a reason to make a return trip. I attempted some photos of the Andromeda galaxy and Orion that night but will share more details of my astrophotography setup when I hopefully have some better success.

View from Campsite 5 at Toroweap

I initially planned to spend the remainder of the weekend hiking in Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the country. There are a few backpacking trips found in the area. You can connect up with Pariah canyon for a multiday trip. I planned to wander around for a couple days and take some interesting pictures. Once I won the Coyotes Buttes north permit I changed my plans and only visited for a short time with plans to come back (this is an easier permit to get). On the drive back from Toroweap I detoured to the North rim of the Grand Canyon. I have been here previously and enjoy the drive. I recommend this rim to the South because it is at higher elevation and less crowded. I didnt actually go to the rim as I wanted to avoid the crowds but couldn’t pass up the drive because it would be closing for the winter seasons in a few days. People were collecting their Christmas trees from the forest and the montane meadows were empty.

I drove back to House Rock Valley Road and hiked from WirePass to Bucksin Gulch. It is conveniently the same trailhead as Coyote Buttes north that I would hike the next day.

I started my hike in Coyote Buttes North at first light. It was an overcast morning. I had previously won a permit here a couple summers ago and was looking forward to exploring more of the area as the first time I took a direct route to see the main attraction, the Wave. I wandered around more to the East. I generally take most of my photos on the hike in as I find it easier to then hike out faster but with the overcast skies I ended up taking the same photos twice because conditions improved by late morning. I recommend spending the day here and seeing as many sites as time allows. The majority of people just see the Wave and what is on the route to it but there are detailed resources online that show other sites and even the best times to visit for the best light.


I look forward to future posts and discussions and would be happy to give any recommendations if people are planning trips out here.