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Author Topic: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please  (Read 5270 times)

kaihp

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National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« on: August 26, 2012, 06:02:28 AM »
I will be flying into LAX in the beginning of October for some days of track riding at Willow Springs, and then 9-10 days of exploring the National Parks in the SW. I've never been to the parks, so I'd like to get some input for places to see/pixelshoot and how much time to spend where.

I will be driving out from the Rosamund/Lancaster, CA area on the morning of Oct 8, and hop on a plane mid-day Oct 17th in LAX.

Based on fsu_dan17's thread in Feb/March (I hope you had a safe return), and reading through the Lonely Planet Guide, I'm so far planning to go the following parks/places:
Grand Canyon, South Rim (2 days?)
Lower/upper Antelope Canyon (OK to do in 1 day?)
Horseshoe Bend (same day as Antelope?)
Grand Canyon, North Rim (½day? 1 day?)
That would bring me to around Oct 12-13.

Question is what to do next - one option would be to go back west to Zion, Vegas (just a stopover for sleeping), via Death Valley to Yosemite, but getting to Yosemite and back to LA is quite trek.
Another option would be to go NE for Bryce Canyon NP and the Utah Highway 12 from Bryce to Torrey ... but where then? Capitol Reef NP?
Suggestions are most welcome, keeping the Oct 17 date in mind.

As for lenses, I plan to bring 'the lot': 5D3, 17-40, 24-70, 70-200/2.8 IS, 1.4x TC III, 580ex and tripod. I'll probably bring the 50D just as a backup and/or for reach.
Speaking of lenses: I'm considering to swap my 70-200 Mk I for a Mk II - can anyone recommend a shop in the LA area for this?
What about Lexar 1000x cards? (getting them shipped to CN from B&H or Adorama before the end of the month is not an option).

Thanks.

Edit: fixed fubar url thingy.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2012, 09:57:18 PM by kaihp »

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National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« on: August 26, 2012, 06:02:28 AM »

CTJohn

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2012, 07:09:21 AM »
Bryce and Zion can each be done in a day and are fairly close (and stunning.)  I visited Capitol Reef, and the Moab area this year (Arches, Canyonlands.)  All of those parks are awesome.  If you're here for photography, skip Vegas and stretch yourself out through Moab.  I would also skip the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (too many people) and start the trip on the North Rim, which opens up the Utah locations.
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tiger82

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2012, 08:13:15 AM »
IMO, south rim is too touristy.  Get into the canyon.  Painted desert.  Sedona.
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Cali_PH

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2012, 08:22:29 AM »
My first suggestion, and one I've seen many times on photography forums, is to get at least 2 of the 3 parts of Photographing the Southwest by Martres, Vol 1 - Utah and Vol 2 - Arizona.  There's a wealth of info in these books, and have helped me on several trips through there, including one that overlaps with yours a bit. 

Depending on how many NP's you think you'll see on this trip and over the next year, consider getting an America the Beautiful one- year pass.  It can save you a lot of $$.  $80 to get into all the NP's (and some other facilities) for a year.  Yosemite, Bryce, and Zion are all $25/car.  Plus the other NP's in the area you may consider after suggestions in this thread or reading those books ;).  You can order one online, or buy them at the entrance to most NP's...if they have them (read the FAQ's if you go that second route). 

I don't know if you're aware of it, but you'll be in what's often called the Grand Circle, because of a rough 'ring' of NP's and other scenic areas, such as Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Grand Canyon.  One common 'loop' for example:  Zion, Bryce, Captiol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Monument Valley, Page (Antelope Canyons/Horseshoe Bend), Grand Canyon.  I basically did this in late April/May, and was surprised at the number of people we ran into repeatedly along the same route.

Grand Canyon - From what I've heard, most people actually just swing by for a few hours and take in the south rim views before moving on to something else.  This is what we did, because we had so much else to see on our trip, including Havasupai.  Since this is your first time, unless you really want to hike in, I'd suggest spending a few hours/half a day doing the views, and move on to other locations.  North rim closes around mid-October or so depending on weather; I'd probably save that for another trip.  In fact, I'd probably scratch GC altogether and do more Utah locations, but that's me.

Lower/Upper Antelope Canyon - Definitely OK to do in a day; there's basically a 2 hour limit in each, and they're basically across the road from each other.  The official Navajo website says you need a guide for both, but in my 2 trips, that hasn't been the case for Lower (more details below).  Note that in October, I don't think you'll be getting the sun rays beaming into the canyons.  But you also should have less crowds; Upper is a madhouse in the spring/summer!  And you don't have to worry about trying to schedule both around early/mid morning for the rays. 

I held a little photowalk there for both Upper and Lower on my trip and wrote up a lengthy tip/suggestion thing to send out to the first-timers.  If you want to PM me your address I can email it to you, I could write up pages lol.  Oh, and in May, I heard all the tour groups raised their prices, almost doubling them. 

And yes, you can do Horseshoe Bend on the same day, easily.  Either sunrise or sunset, both are popular.  Bring a flashlight ;)

I guess since it's your first time, the question is do you want to see more locations and spend less time at each, (my preference), or fewer places with more time at each?  For fewer locations, maybe GC, Page, Zion, Bryce.  My first trip, I cut out GC since it's further way from the other parks; I did Zion, Bryce, Page, Monument Valley in 5 days.

For more locations but less time at each, maybe something like:

Day 1 - Grand Canyon South rim - 1 day to drive there (about 7 hours or more from Lancaster?).  Stay in Village overnight to catch sunset & sunrise. 
2 - Page - 1 day to do Upper Antelope, Lower Antelope, Horseshoe Bend.  Hope that there's no rain anywhere in the area, or you won't be going into the slot canyons.
3&4- 2 1/2 hours to Monument Valley; drive through the self-guided tour; 3 hours to Moab.  Spend a couple of days exploring Canyonlands & Arches.
5 - Swing by Goblin Valley, on way to Capitol Reef
6 - Bryce
7&8 - Zion
9 - Valley of Fire, swing through Vegas, on way to LA.  It's a long drive to LAX from either Zion or GC.  Be careful about the morning rush hour traffic on the 17th, especially if your flight is mid day.

EDIT - Holy cr@p, didn't realize I wrote so much  :o ;D
« Last Edit: August 26, 2012, 08:28:52 AM by Cali_PH »

distant.star

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2012, 09:49:51 AM »

.
Wow, great advice from Cali_PH. I agree almost completely. Personally, my style is to stay longer at fewer places, but that's a personal preference.

I'd have a hard time not doing the North Rim, although the seasonal closure may play into it for you. I just remember the grand vistas.

Also, no one is mentioning Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. If you google images from there it seems like that may be worth looking at.

While I love Yosemite, I'd rule that out given the distance and the chancy element of weather. You may not be able to get in from the east side once they close the passes for winter. Save that one for another day.
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triggermike

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2012, 10:28:21 AM »
I would not skip the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It may be touristy, but you're there to photograph the Canyon. The views and vantage points are spectacular from the south (as well as the North.) One thing to know is the South Rim is a lower elevation than the North Rim. When viewing from the North Rim, you see the flat land beyond the canyon. When viewing from the south, you see all canyon. Also, great sunset opportunities at the South Rim.
Try to go to Moab if you can. Two parks in one place which can't be beat and a nice small town to stay in.
I'm jealous!

moreorless

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2012, 01:39:47 PM »
If you don't have a problem with long uphill walks I'd definately recommend Observation Point in Zion NP, gives you an amazing view down the valley and goes though some interesting slot canyons en route.

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2012, 01:39:47 PM »

kaihp

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2012, 11:46:57 PM »
Thanks for the all good suggestions everyone. I wasn't aware of the 'Grand Circle' nickname, but then again, I'm not really surprised - I can't be the first to get that idea.
Cali_PH, I appreciate you taking the time to write the detailed response. Keep it coming! I looked into the Martres books, but unless I pay $50 in super-expedited shipping and import fees for $33 in books, I won't get them in time (I located in mainland China atm).

Since I come from overseas, so I don't know how often I will be visiting the NP's during the next 12 months, but the 1 year pass would make sense for sure just the the NP's I'm planning to visit..

I'm going to the parks first to see see them, but also for shooting photos. This is my 'summer vacation' so I'm not sure I really want to do a mad dash from park to park, but take it a little slower as I want it to be a vacation. I must be getting older, since I did 4000miles in 4 weeks on NZ in 2002 (and there's like 1000miles from Cape Reinga to The Bluff) 8)

OK, Yosemite is out for this trip :)

An option would be to head directly for the North Rim to get the best weather/least chance of closure, then head north to Zion, Bryce, HW12, Capitol Reef.
Grand Staircase-Escalante NM is an obvious neighborhood addition

Lancaster-GC south rim is about 8 hours according to Google maps. How reliable is google maps for driving times?

Rental car: do I need an SUV type car or will a normal 'compact' size car (not raised) be OK?
Being European, I'm used to driving "compact" cars.

Cali_PH: I'll PM you shortly.


friedmud

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2012, 12:44:01 AM »
I _highly_ recommend Teton National Park in western Wyoming.  Bonus points are that it is right next to Yellowstone so you can hit both in one trip.

Here are a few galleries of mine from both parks:

Yellowstone Late Fall:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/friedmud/sets/72157624141955305/

Yellowstone Winter:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/friedmud/sets/72157628920723567/

Teton Sunsets:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/friedmud/sets/72157627889894423/

Pink Tetons:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/friedmud/sets/72157624703902635/

Fall Tetons:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/friedmud/sets/72157624777659140/

Cali_PH

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #9 on: August 27, 2012, 01:38:04 AM »

.
Wow, great advice from Cali_PH. I agree almost completely. Personally, my style is to stay longer at fewer places, but that's a personal preference.

Well, my stated preference was for the specific circumstance of 9 days, first timer to the area.  Ideally, I'd be independently wealthy and able to spend as much time as I wanted at each location.  ;D

kaihp - Ah, I did wonder if you were here in the US or not.  That's a shame; if you think you may return someday, I'd still recommend buying the books sometime.  There are lots of locations in there most people don't know exist.  I meant to buy them for one trip, and now I find myself planning my third in less than a year.  My current obsession with the Southwest is largely why I'm writing so much  ;)

I sent you an email with the write-up I did for Antelope Canyon; feel free to email me with any other questions too.  I may not have the best answers, but I'll help with what I know.  I may not know as much as someone that lives there, but I feel like I've been planning southwest trips for about a year, done a lot of research in books, online, etc. 

If you plan on the north rim, make sure to have a backup plan in case the weather closes the rode unexpectedly.  Maybe like staying in Page for 1 or 2 nights, and if the road's open, take a day trip out to the north rim.   Although the image everyone has of the southwest is 'desert,' some of these locations are actually at high elevations.  As someone mentioned above, the north rim is higher than south, and the rim of Bryce Canyon is about 8-9,000 feet.   Did a quick check, because I'll be there mid-October too.  Lows get below freezing, so be prepared if you plan on sunrise/sunset shooting there!

I think you'll enjoy Capitol Reef; I've seen more than one person call it the most under-rated NP in the US.  I scheduled one night there for us, and I really wish we had at least 3 days.  I hope to go back someday.

As far as an SUV...from what you're saying  you're mainly considering now:
 - Zion basically all paved roads.  For the main valley section, you'll parking and take the bus system anyway.  Mandatory, until end of October.  You can drive your own car in other sections of the park though, but that's all paved anyway.
- Bryce - roads all paved
- Capitol Reef - there were a lot of non-paved roads we took, sort of like dry riverbeds, but none of it needed an SUV.  BUT, we didn't make it out to Cathedral Valley...I think I read an SUV is highly recommended if you do that. 
- Horseshoe Bend/Antelope Canyon - No problem with a standard car.
- Escalante - It'll probably depend on exactly where you want to go...it's not like Bryce Canyon or something like that, with one specific location.  There are varied places to see, with varied conditions.  Off the top of my head...Devil's Garden was very cool, and didn't require an SUV. 

SUV's can be a bit of a problem; they typically won't have a trunk, which means your suitcases and photo gear may be visible in the back while you're parked and hiking or whatever, potentially tempting for thieves.  If you get one, I suggest buying  a cheap blanket the same color as the car's interior to throw over your stuff. 

Now, if you're the gambling type...google Coyote Butte's South and North, not far from Page (Antelope Canyon).   Some amazing landscape at both locations, but visits are restricted.  10 tickets per day are given out 4 months in advance (those are gone for October).  However, they also give out 10 tickets a day, the day before.  If you show up at the Bureau of Land Management office in Kanab by 9am and sign up for the lottery for each section, you may win a ticket for the following day.  However, that's a big gamble for someone with limited time.  Just thought I'd mention it because they're amazing locations. 

There's also the Pariah River Rimrock Toadstools near Page, although it seems they're collapsing as time goes by.  If you go, make sure to go up and left of the main trail to see a smaller section of them. 

There are lots of small stops like this in the area; I'll try to help and mention them as your schedule gets set and I have a better idea where you'll be. 

I posted too much again.  ::)

HoneyBadger

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #10 on: August 27, 2012, 04:01:01 AM »
I have to suggest Yosemite. I live right by it and everytime I go I am amazed. The trip from LA to Yosemite isn't that bad and has very little traffic once you get out of the LA area. On your way up to Yosemite you can see Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. There you can see the General Sherman and the General Grant Trees: the two largest trees in the world. Good luck trying to fit either of those trees completely in one shot lol.

Oh also, if you have not yet, buy a national park pass. It is 80 dollars for 1 year and grants you entry to all National Parks and most Federal Recreation lands, else its 20 dollars per national park.
« Last Edit: August 27, 2012, 04:02:53 AM by HoneyBadger »
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pp77

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #11 on: August 27, 2012, 04:37:27 AM »
I have been to Bryce in Mid-May and there was still quite a bit of snow, it might be the same in October.
If the weather should be too nasty think about Joshua Tree NP, its just a few hours from LA and you can then go up to GC south rim. In sunny weather north rim is not ideal during midday for photography because of the sun standing pposite and already lower in October, if you are aiming at sunrise and sunset its a good location.
Personally I did not like Zion too much, kind of unspectacular to me, but you can do some nice hiking there if your are interested. Angels landing is nice for its view but it is a kind of tourist highway up to the top with paved staires. Arches NP is spectacular indeed, Canyonlands are less spectacular if you have seen the GC before and if you just stay on the paved roads on the upper rim of the NP. To save some time during your trip, Canyonlands might be something you could consider to skip, in my opinion.

For the rest, CaliPH said it all.



Caps18

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #12 on: August 27, 2012, 08:54:39 AM »
I have done the drive from Vegas to Yosemite in November.  I got lucky that it was still open, but it was absolutely amazing.  Especially coming in from the East.  You will want to spend 3-5 days in Yosemite though.  And if it doesn't rain a lot, the waterfalls won't be very impressive.  However the leaves are changing colors in the Fall, and the crowds are a thinner.

I've been to the Grand Canyon many times and have hiked down 4 times.  Including with a 5Dm2 an 16-35mm & 85mm lenses.  The Grand Canyon is farther away than Yosemite from LAX isn't it?  Personally, I would go to Yosemite first, or just Yosemite for this trip.

I don't think a 580 flash will be of much use at the national park.  At least I don't use mine there.
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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #12 on: August 27, 2012, 08:54:39 AM »

RC

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #13 on: August 27, 2012, 09:30:28 AM »
Lots of great advice already.  Some other things to consider if time permits:

-  North rim GC is far better than south rim.  Plan for more time on north side.  Check schedule, it does close in winter months.
-  Petrified Forest National Park (east of Flagstaff), this is combined with the Painted Desert.  One of my favorites
-  Canyon de Chelly. (Chelly pronounced "Shea"). Do jeep tour or drive south rim out to spider rock.  This place may blow you away. 
-  Walnut canyon National Monument (just outside flagstaff). Intimate canyon hike through ancient ruins.
-  Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments (just north of Flagstaff). More Indian dwellings, ancient volcanic activity.
-  Monument Valley - many people think the short drive across state lines (AZ into UT) is it.   Go to the visitor's center and drive loop road it goes several miles (around 15) back into AZ and it will blow you away.

As you can imagine, time of day and angle of sun is huge.   16-35/17-40 (FF equivalent) with CPL is a must, ND could be helpful too.  Enjoy.

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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #14 on: August 27, 2012, 10:21:14 AM »
First, the last two questions.  In LA, I recommend Bel Air Camera in Westwood. www.belaircamera.com.  About 20 minutes north of LAX unless you hit it in the afternoon rush hour.  There is one camera store - Sammy's - in Culver City which would be about 10 minutes from LAX, but Bel Air Camera is a more extensive shop.

Lenses.  If you could replace the 24-70 with the 24-105 you won't regret it for this trip.  You can use a tripod in Upper Antelope, but in Lower it can be very difficult.  The IS of the 24-105 is very welcome in that instance.  Otherwise, you are on the right track.

Parks.  I think you can already see from the replies there is no right answer.  We all have our favorites.  Mine are Yosemite, Page area (but not only for Grand Canyon), and the Grand Tetons.  In my view, of all of these, Yosemite is the treasure.  Six hours from LAX by car.  I can't imagine missing it.

You can do the slot canyons and Horseshoe in Page all in one day.  At that time of year, I think you should start with sunrise at Horseshoe.  Only bring your widest lens for that trek -  you will not need the others and won't want them on your back on the walk back up to the parking lot.  It will take you about 20 minutes of a walk on an open but sandy and incline path each way from the parking lot.  It is just 5 minutes outside of Page.  Then absolutely hit Upper Antelope Canyon between 11 and 1 - which is about 10 minutes from Page - for any chance of the sun shafts.  The canyons are two experiences - one with direct light and one without.  From Upper, go across the road to Lower.  You can spend more time in Lower if you pay an additional fee.  (When in Lower - pay attention to the rope ladders when framing your shots - they lend an interesting perspective.)

The other replies have covered a bunch of other great ideas so I won't repeat them.  I would say, however, if you can find a way - long drive, plane - to get over to Jackson, Wyoming from the Southern Utah area, you will not regret it.  The Tetons are stunning, the area is unbelievably gorgeous (any time of year), and Yellowstone is unique in this world.

Good luck.
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Re: National Parks besides Grand Canyon? - recommendations please
« Reply #14 on: August 27, 2012, 10:21:14 AM »