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The final leg: Monument Valley, Canyon De Chelly, and The Grand Canyon
We complete our Grand Circle photo road trip by visiting, three more memorable parks. Join us in the final leg of our journey!
It's time to complete the circle. In this article, especially prepared for Adorama. we'll finish what I consider one of the best photographic road trips in the world for scenic and landscape photography. Be sure to check out what's in my camera bag at the end and remember that everything I shoot with and print on is available at Adorama.
Monument Valley Tribal Park
Coming out of Natural Bridges we will hop back on UT-261S so we don’t have to back track all the way to US- 191. About 40 miles down the road we will join up with US-163 S. The last part of 261 runs through the Moki Dugway. It’s a 3 mile series of gravel switchbacks descending 1100 feet into the valley floor.
The views are spectacular, but the traffic is excruciatingly slow. So just take a turnout and make a few memories when you find yourself cursing at the person in the rental car in front of you going 10MPH and swinging wide at each bend of the road while you choke on their dust. When you clear the Dugway you have less than 30 miles to the turnoff for Monument Valley. It’s visible in the distance in about 15 miles.
That National Park Pass you bought is not honored here and the charge is per person, not per car so be prepared. They have really built this area up in the last couple years. There is now plenty of paved parking, food, souvenirs and a luxury hotel called “The View”. Across the road is Gouldings Lodge. These are your choices if you want to stay “in” the park. Otherwise you will be driving on to Kayenta, AZ, about 25 miles down 163.
The classic view everyone wants is right off the parking lot. And it’s usually crowded with people taking photos like this one of my wife Sandie. Once I had a vanload of Japanese tourist ask if I would take a photo with them...they thought I was an American Cowboy because of my hat! While I often get asked to take a photo of someone for them, this was a first to be asked to be in a photo with them. I just said “shore thang partners” in my best southern accent!
Ilford uses this image in their promotions and their traveling Convention booth. It's a personal favorite.
The iconic Monument Valley shot is about 1⁄4 of the way down the dirt road into the park, and is passable in passenger cars if you are careful. There is a large amount of sand near the crest of the first hill, (so don’t stop on the way back up or you could get stuck), and large potholes here and there that could swallow a compact car. I swear I think they do this to help sell their tours! That is an option if you don’t want to chance it in your car. During the tours, they stick you in open 4WD trucks and drive you all over the park. They also go a few places you are not allowed to go on your own, so that’s a bonus. Me, I tend to stay away from group tours and shoots.
Canyon De Chelly National Monument
70 or so miles away from Kayenta down a number of local roads is Canyon de Chelly (Pronounced Da Shay) National Monument. While the National Park Pass will get you in, the majority of the river area is on Indian land and you will need a guide to access that.
Tours are plentiful and surprisingly free of supervision and schedule. Ours was in an old Korean War era 6 wheel drive vehicle. It was enclosed with Plexiglas, but I suspect that comes off in the summer. You will pass a number of Indian farms where the kids will come out to sell you their jewelry. I can’t attest to its authenticity, but my wife couldn’t resist and the prices were low.
Grand Canyon National Park
Heading out of Chinle, AZ on Indian Route 7 we will join back up with US-191 S for about 30 miles to Burnside. There we turn right on AZ-264 to Tuba City, AZ, a good 120 miles of a lot of nothing. Several more long and winding AZ roads and about another 100 miles and we will arrive at the entrance fee collection area for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The last road into the park is US-180 and it has some of the best and least crowded views of the Canyon.
The Grand Canyon is an awe inspiring place to be, but a photographer's conundrum. By the time you get wide enough to get the idea of how large it is, you miss all the details that make it so, well, “Grand”. Concentrate on the details and then you lose the grandeur. But everyone has to see this at least once; it's an American experience, uniquely ours, but shared with the world. No other place I've ever seen is quite like it. And maybe that reverence for this place is why I'm never happy with photographs of it.
There is a less visited part of the Grand Canyon called the North Rim. Its 212 miles back up the road towards Page (another great place to shoot in UT, and maybe another article for later on). The entrance is a long road passing through flat, grassy alpine meadow-like scenery and lots of trees.
This is a much more laid-back area, a lot smaller but still beautiful. The buildings look like something built for the rich back in the 30’s. The lodge is large and the food good. There are cabins for rent, many with a rim view. It would be a good place to just relax before heading back home after your “Grand Circle Adventure”.
And don’t be shy about taking side trips along the way. Sometimes your best shot are waiting for you down those roads less traveled.
What's in my camera bag?
All images in this article were shot with digital cameras and lenses that are available at Adorama. The majority were taken with a Nikon D300s. The shots of me by my wife Sandie were taken with a Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot camera (shop Nikon Coolpix at Adorama), or Nikon D3100. Lenses ranged from a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S zoom to a Nikon 500mm f/4G ED AF-S VR lens. Most were shot on a Gitzo tripod such as a Gitzo GT531 Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod with an Induro BHS2 Ball Head or a Manfrotto 694CX Carbon Fiber Monopod with a Giottos MH-1000 Large Ball Head.
All were processed using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop on PCs I built myself. My prints are always made using Epson printers, available at the Epson store at Adorama, and Ilford papers, available at the Ilford store at Adorama; my favorite paper being ILFORD GALERIE Prestige Gold Fiber Silk, which is available at Adorama. I find the absorption properties of the paper combined with the slight gloss surface showcase my work the best.