By Vicki Uthe

We (my wife and I) live in Flagstaff, AZ which means Grand Canyon’s South Rim is a little over an hour away and makes for a glorious day of hiking. We like to go to the canyon for training hikes to get in shape for longer hikes.

One such day found us at the South Rim heading down Bright Angel Trail toward Indian Garden, which you can see in this image as the splash of green on the right side in the smaller canyon, then out to Plateau Point. We did it with full 25# packs. It is six miles down which means six miles back up…12 total.

Here’s another image of Indian Gardens but showing the switchback of trail heading down. My constant dilemma when doing activities such as this is…WHICH CAMERA DO I BRING?!?  Weight is almost always the first concern. I believe strongly in the “Less is More” philosophy so I only own three camera bodies, two of which are identical. I have a mirrorless Lumix Gx8 times two with four lenses and a Canon S120 point and shoot that shoots RAW images.

These images, however, were taken before I switched my setup to something lighter and easier to travel with. These images were taken with a Canon 40D and 35-70mm lens. Far heavier than I am willing to travel with these days. This is the view from Plateau Point, a 1.5 mile jaunt from Indian Gardens, to the river below. If you look closely you can see a river raft parked at the large beach on the left.

Here’s the thing about this blog: I focus on  taking images when most travelers would be shooting, during the day. In a perfect world I would be here at sunrise and/or sunset, but in a traveler’s life, that is not realistic. Time is short and many things and places are crammed into a short period of time so it is my intent to show that, even though conditions are not ideal, it is still beneficial to bring your camera and snap some pictures.

The canyon had some wildflowers  in May when we hiked. Wildflowers are always worth a stop and a shot. Here I played with a wide open F/stop to blur the canyon in the background.

The Prickly Pear cactus were in bloom as well as the cactus below. The splashes of color on the hike were wonderful to see.

So take a camera, even on long hikes. Be aware of weight so you bring the correct one and don’t regret hauling it around. And then don’t forget to take it out and shoot with it!!!

Happy shooting!

Vicki Uthe is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

How the West Was Won

By Nathaniel Smalley

The American Southwest, a land of raw elements and rugged terrain, a place where only the hardiest wildlife and plants survive. This corner of the world has captivated the imaginations of people for centuries. Once known as the great frontier, it drew settlers from all corners of the world seeking to make it their home. Today we read in history books about ‘How the West was won’, but my recent travels throughout Arizona and Utah would indicate that the wild west is anything but tamed. While crowds of tourists surely pour down its main highways in the summer months, just over the distant hills remains a land of unexplored beauty and silence. There the sun rises and sets over a stunning landscape, painting shadows in the corners that act as a supporting cast to the elaborate sandstone formations.
This was the first year since moving to Arizona in 2007 that I have not been in some remote corner of the world for the season of Spring. I took full advantage of this opportunity and spent the past three months chasing the light throughout the American Southwest. I was recently asked by Arizona Highways to lead a Best Of The West Photo Workshop for them in April of 2018, this was the perfect opportunity to scout for that upcoming itinerary and fill out my portfolio in those areas of the State.

My adventures of the season took me to countless iconic destinations across the gorgeous Arizona landscape. Monument Valley has long been known as the back yard playground of some of Hollywood’s greatest actors, most notably John Wayne. Standing there overlooking the vista dominated by towering rock buttes that are illuminated by the setting sun one quickly realizes why many have been so easily drawn to this magical place.

The beauty of this region extends below the earth’s surface as well, deep into narrow slot canyons that have been forged by flood waters rushing over the sandstone for centuries. These powerful torrents carry rocks, logs and other debris with such force that they carve out fantastic underworld realms that are incredible places to explore and even better to photograph! During the Spring and Summer months sunbeams occasionally make it down through the top of the canyon walls painting the walls with light and revealing their amazing textures and patterns. Walking through the chasm one can often hear the call of a Raven perched by the top echoing through through the passage, or that of a Great Horned Owl if you’re lucky!

The plant life in the Southwest is unlike anywhere else in the United States. Gigantic Saguaros and other varieties of cactus decorate certain sections of the landscape while other parts support species that dominate a specific region as is the case in Joshua Tree National Park. I happened to be there during the season when these ancient trees bloom and found some wonderful subjects. This image of one bowing down to the earth burdened by the weight of time was one of my favorites due to its unique shape.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share one of the wonderful shots I captured of the Grand Canyon during this adventure. Here is a place that is impossible to put into words or offer an image that dose justice to the majesty and glory of gazing out at one of the seven wonders of the world. When the sun cuts across the ridge line at sunset and casts beams across the vast opening it is truly breathtaking.

Another location that I photographed during this whirlwind tour was the beautiful Canyon de Chelly. Here a towering sandstone spire rises up 750 feet from the canyon floor reaching to the sky. The Navajo Nation has a fantastic legend about Spider Woman surrounding this formation that would impress even the most dedicated comic book enthusiast. Sunset overlooking this valley is unforgettable.

No trip in the American Southwest would be complete without walking around under the cover of darkness in the shadow of ancient rock formations, so I returned to do just that last weekend. My travels took me north where there is limited light pollution in order to photograph the Milky Way. Here in the wee hours of the morning the galaxy explodes above and leaves one feeling incredibly small. It is therapeutic, it puts life in context and heals your tattered soul. The adrenaline that courses through you standing there can not be duplicated. What a wonderful world.

The simple reality I discovered is that the West will never be won, it is a wild and free land for those who are willing to go out and seek its raw dimensions. If you would like more information on my upcoming Best Of The West Photo Workshop you can find complete details at this link. Three spots filled the day it was announced and space is limited. I can’t wait to return to these exceptional destinations next year with my group and look forward to sharing our images with you at that time. I am now off to lead my Ultimate African Adventure Safari, I’ll put together an in depth trip report from our experiences once we return. Thanks for reading!

Nathaniel Smalley is an Instructor with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops


Fall in Northern Arizona

Author: Meng Tay

Fall is an exciting time in Arizona.  It represents change.  For those of us living in southern Arizona, it means a relief from the hellish heat of Arizona.  No longer will you be smacked with the heat when you go outside to pick up your morning paper.  Everything pumpkin start showing up:  Pumpkin Bagels, Pumpkin Spice Latte, Pumpkin Waffles, etc.

To truly appreciate Fall, one must leave the brownish landscape of the desert to where Mother Nature does her magic every year.  Up in the higher elevations of Arizona, cooler weather means a change in color.  Trees are bracing for winter and the leaves are turning yellow and some, red.  This is not quite New England, but it’s close.

On a recent trip with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops (AHPW), we visited two places in Northern Arizona:  Flagstaff and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.   The workshop was led by Zen Photographer, Shane McDermott.  Shane hails from Vancouver Island, Canada, but has lived in Flagstaff for about 10 years.  Zen because of his calm demeanor and approach to photography.  He is into meditation and yoga and the environment.  You can see his work in Arizona Highways Magazines and at this site:

We started and ended the workshop in Flagstaff.  Flagstaff may be a small college town but it offers many beautiful photo opportunities. Places like Hart Prairie, Lockett’s Meadows, Sunset Crater, Snow Bowl, all are blessed with fall colors.  Even downtown (or Old Town as some would call it) Flagstaff, have some interesting buildings that deserve some photo shoots.

It’s about a 5-hour drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, passing through a remote Indian reservation, then as you turn into Highway 89A you see some interesting geologic formations in Marble Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs.

From the entrance of the Grand Canyon, it’s about a a 14-mile drive to the Lodge.  This is more than a boring stretch.  On both sides of the road, the aspen trees are bursting with golden color.  If that doesn’t make you want to stop to take pictures, a herd of bison lazily grazing in a broad meadow alongside the road will.  Don’t get too close.  These are not friendly animals.  Many a tourist have been gored.

Grand Canyon Bison1-0526

If you have never been to the Grand Canyon, either the South or North Rim, your first sight of it will blow you away.  You can see the beauty of the canyon without having to take a hike.  The Lodge has a couple of terraces and a sun room where you can relax and enjoy the views.  A 15-minute walk to Bright Angel Point will give you some excellent photo opportunities.  Our group had a sunset and a sunrise shoot at this location.

We spent two days at the Grand Canyon, shooting at different locations that Shane had scouted.  Seeing a majestic view is one thing.  Being able to capture it in an artistic photograph is another.  This is where Shane’s creativity comes in.  The camera is just a tool to capture what you see and what your mind interprets.  The end result, the photograph, is how you see or feel about your subject.

Come join us for a memorable trip to the Grand Canyon or other beautiful places in Arizona.  You can find out more about Arizona Highways Photo Workshops at:© Meng Tay

Meng Tay is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Light & Shadows — Making the Adjustments

Author: Christina Heinle

On a recent Arizona Highways Photo Workshop to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon,  one of the locations visited with a special permit, was Yaki Point.  Arriving well before sunrise we settled in capturing the sun as it illuminated each point.  As you can see in this picture in it’s raw, out of camera format, Yaki point is well lit but the area behind it is in  deep shadow.

Yaki Point 4

To work with this file, I reduced the highlights, increased the contrast and most importantly drew down a graduated filter so I could increase the shadows slider so I could see detail in the shadows..

 Yaki Point 3

Using a radial filter, I drew an oval around the area with the mule train and brightened it a bit to draw attention to the mule train.

Yaki Point 2

The final result was a properly exposed picture with Yaki Point in the light and the shadows appropriately visible.

Yaki Point 1

Christina Heinle is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops and you can see more of her work at