American Southwest Landscape Photography and GPS coordinates
Desert Landscapes of the Southwest
Traveling the Grand Circle, American Southwest Landscape Photography and GPS coordinates
Exploring the American Southwest Landscape through Photography. Where will you be coming from? From this point I will write as if you are coming from the east via I-40. I have been to the area 13 times over the last thirteen years. I think it’s impossible to see everything in one trip. But if you have two weeks you could stand a chance to see a lot of it. Some points of interests on the map below are clickable and will take you to the individual photo galleries. If you would like directions to some of these places, just like my facebook page and send me a message. I will reply back to you with directions and or GPS coordinates. I usually will either come up hwy. 191 from I-40 past Canyon de Chelly, or exit hwy. 371 and go to the Bisti Badlands. From there I will cut up to Farmington and take hwy 64 to hwy. 191 and head north. Since I have done the trip so many times I usually skip Monument Valley and head straight for the Canyonlands Needles District. Then on to Moab to visit the Arches national Park, Canyonlands Island in the Sky area and Dead Horse Point State Park. But later on in this story I will make some good suggestions of other hidden or off beaten places to visit along hwy. 191 as well. You can easily expect to travel 1200 miles during your round trip of all the national parks in Southern Utah and areas in Northern Arizona alone. So I think it’s always good to plan the trip out well in advance knowing I usually change my mind as soon as I get here depending on the weather and sunlight. Being a landscape and nature photographer, the perfect light I seek will take precedence over me seeing everything since I know full well which ever trip I am on will never be my last here. I keep coming back usually year after year since I was bitten by the bug on my first trip to the area in 2000.
Bisti Badlands, New Mexico Landscapes
Coming from Dallas Texas, my first stop is the Bisti badlands to get a sunset shot and maybe camp and also wait for a good sunrise shot. I have been here three different times and know where to go now since I have explored it thoroughly now. The Bisti Badlands is an amazingly scenic and colorful expanse of undulating mounds and unusual eroded rocks covering 4,000 acres, hidden away in the high desert that covers the distant northwest corner of New Mexico. The Badlands are administered by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), and are known officially, but less evocatively as the Bisti Wilderness Area. There are no signposts pointing the way to the Badlands from any nearby towns, but the usual approach route is along NM 371 from Farmington, the largest town in the Four Corners region – this heads due south through wide open prairie land at the east edge of the great Navajo Indian Reservation, which extends for 200 miles across into Arizona.
Cox Canyon Arch, Aztec Arch
Cox Canyon Arch, also know as Aztec Arch is located about 4 miles south of the Colorado board and just north of Aztec New Mexico. From HWY 550, take County Road 2300 for a mile and a half miles, then take 2310 County Road north for about two and a half miles until you see compressor station facility. Follow the dirt road just past the facility and park at the first pull off you come to. It’s very obvious. And you can see the Arch from this spot. you only have two 10 foot scrambles as obstacles on the trail to Cox Canyon Arch.
The King of Wings
The King of Wings location has been a guarded secret to help preserve it. Its wingspan is over 18 feet long. So you can see why so many photographer have wanted to keep the gps coordinates and location of the King of Wings from being posted all over the net. I was lucky enough that someone shared the location with me. So out of respect, I will not post gps coordinates and directions to the King of Wings here on my website.
The Ah-shi-sle-pah Badlands
Another area very similar to the Bisti badlands are the Ah-shi-sle-pah Badlands. The Ah-shi-sle-pah Badlands are located in the north western section of New Mexico north of Chaco Canyon and east of The Bisti Badlands. Also near The Ah-shi-sle-pah Badlands is the rock formation called “The King of Wings”. Though not directly located here, it is just seven miles away. The parking spot GPS coordinates I used to start hiking into the Ah-shi-sle-pah Badlands area is here: 36.147938,-107.919244
Canyonlands Needles District
Next I drive to the Canyonlands Needles District and expect to spend two to three days here. Hikes in this area are a lot tougher and are usually 12 miles round trip depending on the location you are hiking to. My favorite place here is Chesler Park or Druid Arch. You will be taking the Elephant Hill trail to see these areas which will eventually split off down in a canyon to go see one of these two areas. If you are into off-roading, there are several good and famous four wheel drive roads that require high clearance to go explore. The most well known of them is Elephant hill. Others include Horse Canyon and the Colorado Overlook. You can stock up on supplies, gas and take showers at the Needles Outpost just outside the main entrance to the park. On your way either in or out, make sure you pull over at the Newspaper Rock Recreation site to see the petro glyphs.
Canyonlands Island in the Sky District
You can cover this in a day. Unless you are trying to get great shots for sunset and sunrise. Mesa Arch is a sunrise shot, so get there early. You will find plenty of other photographers there who had the same idea you and a million others have had over the years.
Looking for GPS coordinates to find False Kiva? Won’t do you much good since it would place you on a bluff above them and you would never see it. It is regarded as a secret location due to the fact it is a semi-protected location. Park rangers were very helpful in giving us more detail directions on how to find it even though the party I was with had really good instruction on how to find it from a book they had purchased. In the spirit of protecting the structure, I will not post my waypoints along the trail. If you would like directions to False Kiva, just like my facebook page and send me a message. I will reply back to you with directions and or GPS coordinates. The trail is strenuous in several locations along the way. And if you have a fear of heights, better come to grips with it before you head out. One of my friends who was with me chickened out on the last stretch of the hike and did not get to see it.
Arches National Park
From here you will want to head into Moab to see the Arches National Park, Canyonlands Island in the Sky District and Deadhorse Point State Park. Stop by the Moab information center to get a list of other off road trails and things to see. Hwy 279, Potash Road is a nice drive and you can also see petro glyphs along the road. If you are into a mountain bike challenge, you won’t want to pass up riding Poison Spider Mesa that is along this road. Plan to spend at least two days in the Arches. The hikes are pretty easy here but there is still a lot to see and photograph. I have been to this park more than any other in the nation. There is always different lighting or sunset each time you visit. Make sure you go on the Fiery Furnace hike. A lot of people skip this guided hike. Delicate Arch is a must see and is the most famous Arch. Photographed millions of times, I still hike it each time I visit. Camping can be a challenge depending on when you go. As late April tends to be the start of peak season, spots quickly run out. But there are plenty of other places along the Colorado River and around Moab to camp. If you’re a photographer, I suggest you go in early March or sooner. Or you will be fighting the busloads of tourists who will constantly wonder into your shot and not think anything is wrong by standing there in your way.
Capitol Reef and Factory Butte
Driving on HWY 24 you will come to Factory Butte and Capital Reef National Park. Capital Reef is filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold that extends almost 100 miles. Lots of good off-roading to be had in this area. But if it is very moddy, you will have to have a high clearance 4WD to go see the rock formations in Cathedral Valley. We had a high clearance 4WD, and getting in and out of the area was still a challenge. Since we had heavy rains while we were camping in the area, the small rivers washed out part of the trail getting out. We spent 2 hours building our own ramp out of rocks and dirt to get back up on the trail. And we still had the last 4 miles of the trail to worry about. Deep mud for the entire last 4miles…I could not wait for that to be over.
Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Further down past Boulder you will approach Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls. Here you will walk past beaver ponds and pre-historic rock art sites to the 126-foot-high Lower Calf Creek Falls. Roundtrip distance to the falls is 5-1/2 miles. The trip takes 3-4 hours but under 2 hours if walking quickly. While little elevation change is encountered, most of the trail is sandy, and can be very strenuous walking, particularly in warm weather. The trail is along the west side of the creek, mostly above the canyon floor which is covered by large areas of reeds and thick grass. The trail passes three Indian petro glyph sites and two ruined stone-built granaries in alcoves in cliffs at the far side. Calf Creek Recreation Site and Campground is located along Utah Highway 12, 15 miles east of the Town of Escalante.
Desert Landscapes in the Escalante Area
Gas up and stock up on supplies and head up to I-70 to make your way to Escalante. Take the exit to hwy. 24 towards Hanksville. Make sure you stop by and see Goblin Valley State Park. Strange looking rock formations called Hoodoos litter the valley floor here. Goblin Valley State Park is located between the towns of Green River and Hanksville. From Green River, travel west on I-70 for 12 miles to exit 147 (Hanksville) and head south. After about 30 miles turn right at the Temple Mountain/Goblin Valley Junction. Travel west on that road for about 5 miles and then turn left (south) and continue to the park entrance. From hwy. 24, you have many options. I head on to Escalante but you could also head the Maze District of the Canyonlands. Take Utah Highway 24 south for 24 miles. A left hand turn just beyond the turnoff to Goblin Valley State Park will take you along a two-wheel-drive dirt road 46 miles (76 km) southeast to the ranger station.
Hole in the Rock Road
Hole in the Rock Road starts 4.5 miles east of Escalante on UT 12 and reaches the edge of Glen Canyon after 55 miles. The road can be severally wash boarded in most areas making for a rough ride, but doable in any car. You will just have to drive slow as to not be rattled to death. The last section after the Davis Gulch crossing is very rough and for high clearance, 4WD vehicles only. A lot of slick rock driving in this area. The first point of interest you will come upon is Devils Garden. This is a well photographed area with hoodoo looking rocks as well as the famous Metate Arch. Metate Arch has an opening span of 16 feet and a height of 22 feet. This is a good area to rest and has a few picnic tables for lunch before you venture down the rest of hole in the Rock Road.
Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulch
Traveling down Hole in the Rock Road, approximately 26.5 miles you will come to a sign indicating the turn-off to Dry Fork wash on your left. Travel about 2 miles on this road, Keeping to the left. The road ends at the trailhead. Head out on the trail and stay to the left of the gully and pick a route that will take you to the bottom of the cliff and into Dry Fork. It’s a tight squeeze in these Slot canyons. Many times I had to take off the camera backpack and slide it under the rocks to crawl through. You can explore Spooky Gulch for about a mile in the snake turning slot canyon. This hike is best done in the early spring or fall. In mid-summer the daytime temperatures make hiking unbearable and even dangerous. Plan your hike for some time in March, April, May or September, October or November. Keep your eyes open for rattlesnakes and don’t put your hands or feet into or onto anything you can’t see. Pygmy rattlesnakes live in the canyons.
Sunset Arch down Hole in the Rock Road
From Hole in the Rock Road, Hurricane Wash/Coyote Gulch trailhead at mile 33, marker 270 is the location for this arch. As you head to the trail head you will see the arch off in the distance to your right. It’s about a two mile hike from the dirt road. You will see other small dirt roads around that you will think might get you closer to the arch. Do not bother even thinking about it. None of them get you any closer. We tried and explored one only to end up on the back side of Dance Hall Rock. There are many other unique rock structure around this arch as you can see in this photo I took. Even another less impressive arch about 500 yards behind Sunset Arch. So plan on spending 3 hours here at least since the hike to the location is going to take you 30 minutes each way back to the road where you parked.
Cottonwood Canyon Road – Grosvenor Arch
Cottonwood Canyon Road is unpaved but a relatively popular cross-country route through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, starting from Cannonville on UT 12, and eventually leading past Kodachrome Basin State Park and hooks up with US 89 near milepost 18. Some sections of the road are rather steep and narrow, but 2WD cars usually can make the 47 mile journey. The surrounding land has much of interest to explore. Grosvenor Arch is one of those areas. It is 30 miles from US 89 and 17 miles from Cannonville. This is a large double arch at the end of an isolated ridge of yellowish-white sandstone, and is one of the most photographed places in the national monument.
Hiking Bryce and Zion National Park
Heading west on hwy 12 just past Tropic lies the entrance to Bryce National Park. Bryce is famous for its unique geology of red rock spires and horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters. It is the uniqueness of the rocks that caused Bryce Canyon to be designated as a national park. These famous spires, called “hoodoos,” are formed when ice and rainwater wear away the weak limestone. I had a great time at Bryce National Park. Being on the road and hiking and camping for two weeks, this was a great place to relax and kinda take it easy. It is very tourist oriented which can be a bit of a pain with all the visitors there. But it was a nice change of pace compared to me roughing it in primitive camping and eating MRE’s all the time.
The park is open 24 hours a day year-round. The visitor center is open year-round and is located 1.5 miles inside the park. Bryce Canyon National Park has two campgrounds, North and Sunset, located in close proximity to the visitor center, Bryce Canyon Lodge and the geologic wonder that is the Bryce Amphitheater. Backcountry camping is also available, or you can be a wimp and stay at the Lodge.
Zion National Park
I’ve only visited Zion twice over my 12 trips to Utah. The first time was my very first trip to the southwest. Back then I jumped right in and hiked up to Angels Landing. I just returned from my second visit where I finally got to hike to the Subway area at Zion. Though I think Zion National Park is beautiful, it is just too crowded for me personally. I do not like to be dependent on a shuttle bus system to take me to trail drop off points within the main area of the park. But some of the best areas of Zion are well outside the beaten path. Getting into the Subway area at Zion is pretty tricky, first you have to get a permit. You can get them online 3 months in advance of your visit. Or you can wait in line and be there right when they open. When we went to get in line, we arrived at 4am, only to see 17 people camped out there already. They only pass out 21 permits per day. Some people arrived at 11pm that night to be first inline.
White Rock Canyon
White Rock Canyon is almost due west of the Wahweap Hoodoo’s. To gain access to this area you will turn off at mile marker 13 on HWY 89 heading west from Page. It will be just before the small community of Church Wells. Getting to the parking location is easy enough unless it has rained recently. Just follow the dirt road. You will have to get out and open a gate once on your way in. There are numerous hoodoos in the canyon. Plan on spending a day wondering around and exploring the area. As always, I suggest you stop at the ranger station just across the road from Bigwater as they can provide you topo maps of the canyon and help you plot your hike. As always and something very important to mention.
Do not climb on the Hoodoo’s. They are very fragile. I can’t tell you how many times I have come across images of people standing too close to them or standing on them. Keep in mind these fantastic rock formations took millions of years to create and all it take is a little carelessness on your part to destroy something nature took so long to created. Preserve all the wonderful land marks you come across. Someone was already very selfish and careless and destroyed the Teapot Rock at Fantasy Canyon. It is now gone forever.
The Rim Rocks along HWY 89
The Paria Rimrocks are an amazing collection of hoodoos, badlands, and other interesting rock formations found in the area located between the Cockscomb Fault and the southern section of Cottonwood Canyon Road just north of US 89.
After exploring this area, head east on hwy 89 and visit the Rim Rocks. It’s an easy half mile hike to see them. Then on your way to Page, AZ, stop by and see the Wahweap Hoodoo’s just outside of Big Water, Utah. You can see more images at the Rim Rocks photo gallery. The Wahweap Hoodoo’s trail is a 4 mile hike following Wahweap Creek, which most of the time is dried up. There is another rangers station almost directly across the road you will take from Big Water. Check in with them and they supply detailed maps on how to get there.
Arizona Rock Formations Landscapes, National Park and Hidden Wonders
Coyote Buttes North and South
After Bryce you have two choices. You can go to Zion National Park, or head towards Kanab and go see many locations along hwy 89 leading to Page. Since I do not care for Zion National Park too much (too restrictive with busses taking you to trail heads) unless you plan on going to the Subway area, we will talk about heading towards Kanab and going to see the Wave at Coyote Buttes North. You will need to get permits to visit the Wave at Coyote Buttes North and the South area. Click here to see Coyote Buttes South Photo Gallery.
You can read all about the Wave area on my site here. While your plans may get side tracked here, you can always go see other places in the area. There is a lottery held each morning to get into Coyote Buttes North and South. So if you miss out, you can go see White Pockets. You can read more about White Pockets here. You will need a 4WD to see this area due to deep sands on the way in to White Pockets.
White Pockets Arizona
Directions to White Pockets From Kanab, drive 40 miles east on Highway 89. The turn onto House Rock Valley Road is located on the south side of the road (right side driving from Kanab). It is located between mile markers 25 and 26, before a sweeping left hand curve in the road, prior to a guard rail protecting the curve. Slow down and turn right just before the guard rail. This north-south running road is House Rock Valley Road.
The road soon becomes dirt and may be impassible if wet. Continue past the Wirepass Trailhead (8.4 miles from Highway 89) to the Utah – Arizona state line. This is the border of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah and the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. Keep driving south for another 8.1 miles past the Wire Pass Trailhead and look for the dirt road that turns left and to Lone Tree Reservoir. At this point there are two options to arrive at Poverty Flat. Poverty Flat is the junction to the east which is necessary to locate to continue further to either Cottonwood Spring (South Coyote Buttes) or White Pocket even further to the east.
Close the gates after passing through them. (Alternative route to the Poverty Flat Ranch and Windmill Intersection: At the Lone Tree Reservoir/ House Rock Valley Road Intersection you may opt to continue another 4 miles to the south on House Rock Valley Road to the road intersection 1017. Turn left (east) on 1017 and then travel 3 miles east to the junction bearing north-east and another 3 miles to Red Pocket. Traveling north-east for another 2.5 miles puts you at the Ranch and Windmill, and the junction to either Cottonwood Spring or White Pocket.
This option of driving is longer, but does not require 4WD until after the Windmill.) Once at the Windmill, travel northeast passing the windmill just on your left and a group of buildings on your right. The road now becomes quite sandy as it ascends a hill, toward a large water tank resting on a knoll 100 yards away. Be sure to keep up momentum and follow this sandy road to the east and then north for 1.8 miles until it arrives at a corral and fence. At this point the road will turn right and follow alongside the fence for a short time and continues east for 2.8 miles and then steers northeast for another 1.5 miles and ends in a very sandy area by a lone juniper tree. This is the parking area and trailhead. “White Pocket” monolith will have been visible during the drive at various times, and at the trailhead/parking area it is just a half mile to the west. A 4WD is required. GPS coordinates for White Pocket Parking and Trailhead 36°57.328 N 111°53.734 W
One of the most visited areas on a personas travels to the southwest is Antelope Canyon. I have been here several times in the past. But it is getting to the point now where overcrowding is a problem. This coupled with photo workshops makes it difficult to really get a secluded spot of your own. Expect to find your spot and wait for people to move out of the way. Patients will be a virtue here. Best times to go in my opinion is April or October. Temps are perfect. You need to be here around 11 to 2 for the sun to be directly above to light this place up. Make sure you go to both the upper and lower Antelope Canyon areas. You have to pay for each one, but most people skip out on visiting the upper canyon. Which means it is less crowded.
Stud Horse Point
Stud Horse Point is just outside of Page Arizona overlooking Lake Powell. I took a group of 5 people here for sunset and night time shooting and I thought it was very easDirections and GPS coordinates to Stud Horse Point. Traveling west from Page on HWY 89. Just before the Greenhaven community you will look for a turn off from the highway that starts out as a rough paved road. GPS coordinates for this turn off is 36.983877° -111.552020° .
Follow this road until your first left turn down a dirt road heading south. You will soon approach the cliff in front of you. You will see a bunker straight ahead. The road splits to the left so take that left.
Keep going and you will see another path that goes to the right. Skip this one and stay on top of the cliff edge, you are almost there. The GPS coordinates for Stud Horse Point where you will park is 36.989138° -111.602157° . Park here and walk towards the west. You will see the larger hoodoo when you park your car. Study Google Earth with these directions and you will see that the trek in is really pretty easy. Use the butte that is isolated from the cliff as a reference point.
Blue canyon is located on Hopi India reservation land of hwy 264, north east of Coal Mine Canyon. No permit is needed to get here, but do treat the area with respect. Still out of respect for them, I will hold off posting GPS coordinates to Blue Canyon. But will always help anyone who is interested in seeing this area for yourself. If you would like directions to some of these places, just like my facebook page and send me a message. I will reply back to you with directions and or GPS coordinates to Blue Canyon for your own travels. It’s a little out of the way from the main road of travel most people take on their first trips out this way, but worth the extra effort.
Coal Mine Canyon
Coal Mine Canyon is fifteen miles southeast of Tuba City in Arizona. To get there, drive southeast 15.1 miles from the intersection of US 160 and AZ 264 (Main Street) in Tuba City and turn left on a small dirt road. The turnoff is at mile marker 337.25, coordinates 36.005324, -111.048578 . Then drive 0.4 miles north and turn right just before the windmill.
Chiricahua National Monument
Located in the Chiricahua Mountains in southeast Arizona, it’s a 13 hour drive for me to reach the park entrance from Dallas. Checked in with the park rangers and let them know I would be out on the trails all night doing night photography which was no problem with them. I arrived at about 11am from the 13 hour drive so I found a nice place to park and sleep for a while since I had a six mile hike to reach the Heart of Rocks Loop trail.
I found a small cave and stayed there until the storm let up. All this was coinciding with sunset and it was looking like sunset would be a waste. But to my surprise, an opening appeared to the west and I was greeted with awesome light and a double rainbow. I was running around getting as many shots as I could even though it was still raining on me. The last bit of light lit up all the rocks a brilliant red which lasted only 5 minutes. But that alone was worth the drive and hike as you can see with the image above.
White Mesa Arch
White Mesa Arch in Arizona directions, From Page drive south on Highway 89 until you reach the intersection with route 160. Drive 32.2 miles on Route 160 to the intersection with Indian Route 21. Take Indian Route 21 14.4 miles and turn right onto Indian Route 6260. Take Indian Rte 6260 6.2 miles and turn right. Stay on Indian Rte 6260 for 2.1 miles to (36.47199 N, 110.93591 W) and turn right onto a good dirt road. Continue 0.5 miles to an open area and park at ( 36.472935 N, 110.970187 W).
Devils Fire, Hobgoblins or Little Finland
The place is known by three different names. The correct name is Devils Fire. Some call it Hobgoblins, and some have called it Little Finland. It is a little irritating when people do not bother to research the real name of a location. Adds to a lot of confusion when others are trying to find out about it. But there is a lot of info out there about this place. It is just going to be a long journey for you to find it.
The directions to Devils Fire, Little Finland or Hobgoblins: I just ask that you please be careful around the rock formations as they are very brittle and fragile. If you bump into them, they will break and be destroyed forever. Respect the land so that others who follow you are able to enjoy what you got to see. Just like my facebook page and send me a message. I will reply back to you with GPS coordinates and a link to a map to help you find it.