I started my trip in Las Vegas, Nevada. As I cruise down the familiar length of road, I breath in the desert, my eyes drinking in the beautiful barren vistas. This route is an intimate one for me, and carries with it a sensation of going home. As the desert yielded its breathtaking colors like a rich, warm blanket before me, I feel the excitement well up inside my soul; I am getting closer to Zion.

I drive upon a sign bearing a familiar name: Hurricane. The taste of the air and spirit of the land start to infuse me. I open my windows, allowing the dry, 98° breeze swirl about me, twisting my hair, stinging my eyes behind my glasses.

Upon my arrival in Zion, I am anxious to plan my itinerary for a sunset shoot. I touch base with a local Instagram connection, a photographer named Katie, in the hopes of getting a local taste and possibly discovering a more exclusive site to shoot; something more off the beaten path, so to speak. Joining forces, we study the topo maps and check in on the evening’s weather. Katie and I decide to begin at Kolob Canyon, which contains clandestine peaks and panoramic views.

I check all of my resources and determine the cloud and weather patterns for the evening. I tend to use the following tools when preparing for a sunset photography shoot: Google maps (satellite view), topo maps from the location I’m interested in exploring, weather apps (my radar is my favorite so far), sunset prediction apps (sunset, sunrise is one of my favorites). In order to attempt to capture a specific scene or feel, it does require some research and planning. Other times I wing it and figure it out when I reach the location. All indicators pointed to favorable conditions for a spectacular sunset. Research complete and plans in place, Katie and I gather our equipment and prepare to explore a section of Zion that I have not set eyes on in years.

Along the route, Katie and I pull off alongside the road and hatch a final plan. As we were chatting, we both glance to the left, our eyes drawn. Instinctively, we both grab our cameras to capture the magnificent view.

Zion National Park - Kolob Terrace Road - Sunset
Nikon D750 | Nikon 24-70mm – ISO 200 | 1/30 at f 16 – Hoya Circular Polarizing Filter – Cokin neutral density gradient filter

 

The backside of Zion was aglow with the evening gold of the sun just starting to set…or ‘golden hour’ as many photographers aptly moniker the fleeting moment. The light is precisely perfect, but our instincts strongly whispered that we had to keep moving to reach our final sunset location, while the spot was still sweet.

We quickly hopped back in the car and proceeded to head south, backtracking to a prime location that we had spotted earlier, nestled among a cluster of trees that we envisioned would provide for a great foreground location.

While we were making our way to this location, we were stopped in our tracks as the clouds efficiently parted to reveal the gorgeous valley directly in front of us, just as it exploded with light. Acting on instinct, we leapt from the car, shutters snapping. The light was incredible and the impending sunset promised to be spectacular.

Zion National Park - Kolob Terrace Road - Sunset
Nikon D750 | Nikon 24-70mm – ISO 200 | 1/100 at f 22 – Hoya Circular Polarizing Filter – Cokin neutral density gradient filter

Finally, we come upon the dirt-packed road we had pinpointed to explore. Anticipation is high and we start to pick our way down the trail. Approximately, a quarter of a mile in, I feel the car bottom out on a loose patch of sand and dirt, and we are stuck. Realizing we are at a standstill, Katie and I are disheartened as we recognize this could be the demise of our promising sunset excursion.

Zion National Park - Kolob Terrace Road - Sunset
Nikon D750 | Nikon 24-70mm – ISO 200 | 1/80 at f 7.1 – Hoya Circular Polarizing Filter – Cokin neutral density gradient filter

Switching gears and putting safety first, we grab our gear, lock up the car, and start hiking back to the main road. We exchange hysterically nervous laughter, partly poking fun at our situation, laced with a sneaking intimation of fear at the possibility of a night sleeping out in this canyon with no supplies. Miraculously, we see three cars pull into a lot not far ahead of us. We hurry towards them, waving our hands, our thoughts quickly lift with the hope that this expedition won’t be a lost cause after all.

As it turns out, three amazing female geologists were kind and willing to assist in freeing our vehicle. It did take some trial and error, but through some incredible GIRL POWER and the charity of good Samaritans, we made a memorable escape and gained a great lesson learned on my part…when navigating unpaved roads, make sure you bring a 4×4 vehicle! Needless to say, lessons were learned and we stuck to the paved roads going forward. We were exhausted after the car rescue, but exhilarated that we managed to save the shoot. Katie and I hit the road running, as the sun danced and played with the clouds. I could not wait to see what wonders the dusk would hold for us.

 

Zion National Park - Kolob Terrace Road - Sunset
Nikon D750 | Nikon 24-70mm – ISO 200 | 1/80 at f 14 – Hoya Circular Polarizing Filter – Cokin neutral density gradient filter
Zion National Park - Kolob Terrace Road - Sunset
Nikon D750 | Nikon 24-70mm – ISO 200 | 1/80 at f 14 – Hoya Circular Polarizing Filter – Cokin neutral density gradient filter

I was not disappointed. As the sun dipped, the sky lit up as if on fire and we tried to capture this fleeting bit of wonder…thrilled by each playful dance of the sinking rays on the gorgeous backdrop of Zion. We stayed out until the first stars started to appear and captured as much beauty as possible before working our way back into town to prepare for a date with the sunrise.

Zion National Park - Kolob Terrace Road - Sunset
Nikon D750 | Nikon 24-70mm – ISO 200 | 8 sec at f 5.6 – Hoya Circular Polarizing Filter – Cokin neutral density gradient filter

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