The American Southwest is one of those places that can show you how small you really are on this planet. The vistas are as huge as varied, and it seems impossible to have so much packed into one area.
The problem with trying to capture the magnitude of these scenes is that standard photos can’t come close to showing the size, it takes a panoramic image to do it any justice at all. So here is a collection of images from our recent epic southwest road trip that we hope will inspire you to visit.
First Light of the Day
Stay at the famous Goulding’s Lodge and you will be rewarded with a view like this from your balcony. You do still have to wake quite early but surely there is no better start to your day exploring the iconic Monument Valley.
The Perfect Time for Hiking
You may not have the whole area around Bell Rock in Sedona to yourself to enjoy the sunrise, but you won’t be fighting your way through the crowds either. It’s the perfect time to experience the amazing colours in the Red Rocks.
What a Way to Start the Day
Most of the top-viewed photos of Arches National Park seem to focus on sunset and with good reason. But you should never ignore the more subtle tones of a sunset building behind some of the amazing rock formations.
The Road Ahead
The view from the Monument Valley Visitor Centre not only gives you the perfect spot for a grand panorama but is the perfect view to get you excited about the adventure of the loop road you are about to drive through this incredible place.
Off the Beaten Path
Sedona is spoiled with magnificent views and it doesn’t take much effort to find that perfect piece of quiet space to be alone with nature. Here it can be as simple as walking a hundred metres or so from the carpark and it can take you off the beaten path and beyond any crowds.
Sculpted by Nature
There are places around the world that showcase nature’s ability to produce art equal to, if not greater than, those of the most famous artists of history, and the hypnotic and soothing colours and patterns in the rocks of Antelope Canyon is one of the best examples.
Surrounded by Giants
Zion National Park offers a vastly different experience from much of the Southwest. Gone are the sweeping vistas that go on to the horizon, for here you are surrounded by rugged and imposing peaks as you wander through the valley.
Watching the World Go By
It may not be deep inside a National Park but that doesn’t make Wilson’s Arch any less impressive. Situated right beside Highway 191 outside Moab, this imposing rock formation is like nature keeping an eye on the passing traffic.
Chocolate Covered Peaks
Deep into Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, you will find this unusual rock formation. Jagged peaks that change colour halfway up as though nature had run out of one colour modeling clay and had to continue with another.
Sharing the Sun’s View
While most people think a great sunrise photo has to have you staring directly at a blazing fireball, often the best views can be found when you turn around. This is what the sun sees every morning when it rises over Bell Rock in Sedona. Not a bad way to start each day.
Standing in Formation
One of the most unusual plants in the world is the giant Saguaro Cactus found around Tucson in the Saguaro National Park. So to walk through an entire forest of these magnificent beasts is something you should not pass up if given the chance.
The Traveller’s Rest
The Cabins in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park were built almost 100 years ago as overnight lodging for those who braved the elements to explore this rugged location. They are no longer used but do provide an interesting addition to the beautiful landscapes.
The Hills Are Alive
Hiking can be dangerous at any time if you lose your concentration, but a slip while hiking the trails in Saguaro National Park West can leave you with more than just a few grazes and bumps. Can you imagine falling on to one of these bad boys?
An Airport with a View
Who needs to take blurry photos from a plane window when you get this view from the airport at Sedona? Airport Vista is rated as one of the best spots around the town for sunset photos but unfortunately for us, it rained and the sun stayed away.
Ghosts of the Past
There are two reasons this photo of Canyonlands National Park is rendered in black and white. The first is that it pays homage to the great pioneers of landscape photography like Ansell Adams who showed the world what an incredible place the “Wild West” is, and the second is because I couldn’t get the colours to look how I remembered them!
A Slice of History
There is more to Petrified Forest National Park than just trees that have turned to stone. Some of the varied landscapes here give a great insight into the history of the area with the layers of sediment built up over the years. Note the person on the distant ridge giving us an idea of the magnitude of this place.
Ring the Bell
There are plenty of hiking trails around the famous Red Rocks of Sedona, probably more than the number of hikers except for peak seasons. Unless you plan on climbing some of the formations you will find most of the hikes well-signposted and quite easy to do.
Things of Stone and Wood
While the name “Petrified Forest” may have you imagining a strange place where you are surrounded by giant trees, turned to stone as if by magic. The reality is nothing so grand but that is not to say that this National Park will fail to impress.
Beyond the Monuments
Do a search for Monument Valley and the results page will most likely be filled with slight variations of the same few photos featuring the same half a dozen buttes the area is famous for. But take some time and drive the loop road through the Park to experience plenty of other stunning scenes, all equally worthy of your camera’s time.
Take Me to Church
There are plenty of wide-open plains on the drive north toward Moab and the distant mountains topped with snow create just that extra bit of WOW! But when you come across a strange and lonely rock formation called Church Rock in the middle of nowhere, the picture is complete.
While Arches National Park is famous for, well, its Arches, many of the other rock formations are just as mind-blowing. There doesn’t seem like any explanation could justify the existence of this crazy rock formation which stands alone, surrounded by sweeping plains.
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Oasis in the Desert
It is difficult to look at the arid landscapes surrounding Page, Arizona, and believe there is a huge lake on the doorstep. Equally, it is difficult to look at the deep blue waters of Lake Powell and wonder how the surrounding area can be so arid.
A Road to Nowhere
Not quite, but it is a very secluded road on the way to the Lowry Pueblo ruins just north of Cortez, Colorado. I’m guessing there are not a lot of opportunities for local kids to play with their friends after school out here.
One Man’s Point of View
A slight variation on what is undoubtedly one of the most over-photographed views of Monument Valley. What’s the difference here then? Everyone else sits on a horse at the tip of John Ford’s point but horses and I have a mutually exclusive relationship.
Living Off the Grid
There are not a lot of shops around and I would bet not many other modern conveniences we all take for granted in our lives. This is definitely a place for someone that enjoys their own company and is happy not to share with others.
Now That’s a Big Hole!
You can read about the potential damage when a space rock comes in contact with Earth but until you see the result for yourself you don’t really get it. Meteor Crater in Arizona is the result of a direct meteor strike and not even a particularly large meteor. Let’s hope we can avoid any larger ones.
Life on the Farm
Looks like some time off for this piece of equipment as I can’t see there being any need for irrigation in the near future on this farm outside Cortez, Colorado. There is something about a field of snow that makes the world look so clean and fresh.
Man Versus Nature
The dam that keeps Lake Powell filled with water and the bridge that lets people cross the Colorado River near Page are two magnificent examples of man’s attempts to tame nature. No matter your thoughts on technology and trying to control nature, this has created a beautiful and stark contrast.
One thing you will notice when driving through the Southwest, the scenery can change dramatically around every corner or over every hill. But you don’t expect to see this much variety in the same scene outside Kanab, with desert grass plains to four different-looking types of mountains.
Too Cold for the Horses
This farm outside Kanab in Utah gives the horses some pretty impressive views from the paddock, but can you blame them for not hanging around out here in Winter? Some places are lovely to look at but not somewhere you want to spend a night!
For No Apparent Reason
A drive through Arches National Park will bring you face-to-face with some amazing and unexpected landscapes. You can understand plains filled with desert plants and the distant snow-covered mountains, but the weird row of crazy-shaped rocks defies understanding.
When You Become the Subject
While I was zooming in on some fishermen unloading their boat at the bottom of Horseshoe Bend, little did I know I was an innocent bystander in Pauline’s sweeping shot of this popular Instagram spot. If the shot was a little wider it would have included dozens of idiots creeping ever closer to the cliff edge for that “perfect” selfie.
Blanket of Snow
We had arrived in Cortez, Colorado to find out we had missed the snow by a few days and no more was expected until the following week, which left us a little disappointed. Things were looking up when we woke the following morning to find the forecast had been wrong and the world outside looked like this.
The Other Side of Delicate
Another of the overworked Instagram places of the Southwest, and possibly the most photographed sunset location, is Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. This is a much less photographed angle from the reverse direction. It’s just a shame it was so quiet and we didn’t have someone in the shot to show the size of this monster.
This is Canyonlands
It doesn’t take long to figure out how Canyonlands National Park got its name. If you think the Grand Canyon is impressive, well you are right, but this place has canyons inside canyons, inside canyons, and then a river at the bottom. It’s quite unbelievable to witness.
Through a Dragon’s Eye
Turret Arch in Arches National Park is a spectacular sight at any time of day but catching a good sunset behind it is extra special. But what do you do when the shy is wildly overexposed? Make it into an eye-catching black and white of course. Is it just me or can you picture this as a dragon’s head with a mouth at the right and a horn on top of the head behind its eye?
Closed for the Winter
I imagine this road is quite a popular way to get to the lower reaches of the canyon in the warmer months but nobody was driving it in these conditions. Not sure if I would drive it in any conditions as I prefer to minimise my risk of sliding off the edge of cliffs.
Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt
Unfortunately, there are times when we travel that we have no option but to take photos in the harsh, flat light of the middle of the day. But if possible you should always try to include deep shadows when possible, like in this stark contrast between light and shade at Arches National Park. Is it just me or does that small rock on the left look like Queen Nefertiti?
Holding Down the Fort
We almost missed this place completely as we drove south toward Monument Valley but seeing a covered wagon on the side of the road piqued our curiosity. And so we came to spend an hour or so learning about the history of Fort Bluff and getting an idea of what the conditions were like back in the day.
Windows to the Soul
As the sun sets on another day in Arches National Park most people will be staring directly into the sun, snapping photos filled with blown-out light and lens flare. Instead of doing the same thing, turn around and you can find amazing sights like to sun turning the Windows Arches to gold. You don’t need to face the sun for a good sunset photo.
The Reason We Road Trip
Surely one of the main reasons so many of us love to explore as part of a road trip is to have the chance to just stop on the side of the road and take in some amazing views like this one. You can’t always do it on a coach tour and you never see this on a flight, which leaves us just one option, we drive.
No Pain, No Gain
This photo proves a lesson I learned watching a pro photographer talking about always being ready for the unexpected. I certainly never expected to find this scene, and only had my phone handy, when we missed the turnoff and ended up behind the Walmart in Cortez, Colorado, but imagine how many people have no idea this even exists.
The Beginning of the End
OK, so I know I said you shouldn’t necessarily take photos directly into the sun at sunset but I decided it was close enough to gone and the colours were too good to miss. The problem with visiting Arches National Park at sunset is there are too many great locations to get those final shots and you can’t get to them all in one day, or two!
Valley on Fire
The amazing range of colours in the rocks at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada is spectacular viewing at any time, but throw in a sunset that is competing for attention and you get one simply stunning end to the day.
Last Light of Day
One of my dreams for many years was to watch the sun set behind a field of giant Saguaros and it became a reality just outside of Tucson, Arizona. I have to admit to not getting many good photos as I was so drawn to watching the spectacle live and not through the camera. Because sometimes it is more important to live an experience than the need to document it.
The Last Word
Do you create panoramas from any of your travel photos or are you just satisfied sticking with whatever comes out of the camera? We would love to hear your thoughts on that question or if you have a favourite shot from this post and why you like it.