The American Southwest
Scenic Destination of the World
For purposes of this article, the American Southwest is made up of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and (shhh! Colorado). One of the seven wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon, is in Arizona. It draws travelers from around the world, particularly Germany and Japan. The very scenery that nourishes our eyes was often deadly to early settlers. Travelers are attracted as much by the wild history of the area as the scenery, but we will concentrate on the natural beauty.
Why? Because they've gone bonkers there! I so want to visit the Garden of the Gods. But until I don't have to share restrooms with MEN, and I don't have to breathe marijuana smoke just for existing, I ain't goin' there!
Not sure quite where Nevada fits in. Everything north is not south anymore. California is west coast.
So I will talk about the other states.
I spent a couple of years of my life living in New Mexico, and that was when I first became enamored of the beauty of the southwest. We lived among pine trees that whispered in the wind, and endured snow in the winter. But every day after school when I walked home, weather permitting, I went through the tiny canyon two blocks from my home. This distracted my mother no end, because I would dawdle there, and she'd worry about me. She didn't want me to walk home through the canyon, but I continued to do it anyway. There was a huge boulder near my street, that had hollowed out places where I could put my feet to climb the rock, and I can vividly see that in my imagination to this day.
I started my rock collection there. Interestingly, someone had dumped THEIR rock collection right next to the school playground, so that greatly enhanced my own collection. My parents contributed a piece of mica schist they had collected on a trip, with relatives, to Taos. They made me go to school that day. And I'm STILL upset about that sixty years later. I doubt seriously if I learned much in school that day, but the trip would have been memorable. I did get to visit Taos on another occasion, but that didn't fix it.
Later, we moved to Arizona. While we lived here, we spent some summer vacations exploring the scenic spots around the state, on up into Utah. I will show you some of these places, which I re-visited as an adult, expressly for the purpose of taking pictures to share. We never lived in Utah, for which I am grateful. But I have lived in Arizona about half a century.
In addition to the scenery, the wildflowers and animal life are spectacular. Aside from Texas, Arizona is the richest habitat for the number of species of birds. We see over half of all species seen in the United States, and nearly as many just in southeastern Arizona. They say there are about 800 species that visit the United States or live here, but over 500 visit Arizona, and more than 400 visit southeastern Arizona. Texas only surpasses us because it dips down south further, and gets some Mexican and tropical species we don't get. But we hold our own.
The area is mostly made up of desert. For us, desert doesn't mean endless wastelands of sand that sport no plant life. Instead, the area is often rich in multiple species of plants. And the carpets of flowers in spring after a good rain can often take your breath away.
I have retraced my steps as a teenager, in all the scenic places in Arizona and Utah, but I still want to re-visit two places in California: Yosemite, and Sequoia. And I want to re-visit New Mexico, and take in Shiprock for the first time. I want to spend some time tramping around in White Sands. The photo opportunities there are amazing. And I want to make it back to Big Bend, Texas. The day I spent there, I took many, many spectacular photos, ending with a wonderful sunset between two spires of rock, after which I discovered I hadn't had any film in my camera all day! Darn!
For the sake of the places I long to visit, I will indulge in a little fantasy, later on.
All pictures mine. The photo to the left is, obviously, the Grand Canyon.
Let's start with Utah. I have to do this because I don't have any photos of New Mexico.
In Utah, I have re-visited Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. I also visited Canyonlands, which was new territory for me, and I traveled briefly into Utah to access Monument Valley, which lies mostly in Arizona. Monument Valley is a tribal park that belongs to the Dineh Indians, and has often been featured in movies of the Wild West. The rock spires and other formations there are quite unique and readily recognized.
Zion National Park consists of a VERY deep canyon with some pretty tall cliffs and other formations all around. It seems like it is unique in terms of its own little climate, but I could be mistaken. When I was a teenager, we visited on a sunny day, but the day I re-visited was rainy and cold. This provided unique photo opportunities, but I want to go back and get some of those same scenes in the sun.
One of my fondest memories of the park from my teen years was when we stopped in the tunnel (you can never forget the tunnel) to watch people feeding the chipmunks. I've had a soft spot for chipmunks ever since. When I drove back through the tunnel recently, I didn't see any places where we could stop and look, through the openings, for the chipmunks. But I have since seen chipmunks elsewhere.
Bryce Canyon isn't REALLY a canyon in my opinion. It's a mesa! A mesa (from the Spanish word for "table") is a mountain with a flat top. On either side there are drops in elevation extending all the way to the floor of the terrain, filled with hoodoos and spires. The rock is predominantly red. On the way, going from the southwest, you pass through a small canyon where the rocks are even more red than they are in Bryce. I want to spend more time there; I had to flee through because of time constraints.
Canyonlands has a wide variety of different types of scenery. I had hoped to see one rather spectacular bend in the river there, but that is actually located north of Canyonlands. I want to go back and see that, and also see Arches. Someday when I have more money, if I ever do...
I also went into Grand Staircase - Escalante, which is a new park. I drove all the way to Grosvenor Arch and then came back. Between the point where I turned back, and Bryce Canyon, it is said there is a very interesting cave area with lots of green mossy stuff. I want to see that.
Here, I will give you an overview of many different places. For more information, visit my individual lenses below.
Zion - I'll whet your appetite, and then let's roll!
Temple of Sinawava Waterfall - Zion National Park
What It Looks Like When It's Raining
Red Rock Canyon - also known as Red Canyon, 9 miles from Bryce
Bryce Canyon - 9000' elevation and COOOOOOOLLLLLLLD! In May!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Grand Staircase - Escalante National MonumentClick thumbnail to view full-size
The first photo is actually of the gorge containing Salt River Canyon. It's on Apache land, in the vicinity of Tonto National Forest. This is considerably south of Canyonlands, and it's in Arizona, but it's on the road up there for me.
The remaining photos are just a few of the ones I got there. There will be more in the lens on Utah.
If you want to see spring flowers, visit in August. I went there in August on purpose.
There are two main roads into Canyonlands. The next three photos on the south road, and the final photo on the north road.
Canyonlands PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Transitioning into Arizona
This is a tribal park owned by the Dineh Indians (Navajos). I put it here because you have to go into Utah to get into the park, but most of the park is actually in Arizona. They have a booth for selling tickets that they man, and there is a parking lot. I don't remember if there was a building there (i.e. a gift shop) or not, but probably. I was too busy looking at the scenery.
The road is completely dirt. You learn to roll up the window when there is an oncoming car, and then roll it back down if you want to take a picture from the car. I do a lot of safari photography. This is where I drive to a scenic spot and take a picture from the car without ever getting out. My time is always very short, and I simply wouldn't be able to make it through if I didn't do that. Sometimes I do get out, depending on whether I can stop near the point where I want to take the picture.
I actually made several trips into Utah. The first was for Zion and Bryce. Next was Monument Valley, and last was Canyonlands.
I try to plan my trips for best photography conditions. This time, I wanted nice clouds. I got nice clouds until shortly after I entered the park, and then it became positively overcast. Bummer!
Now fully in Arizona for the remainder of our journey
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon near Page, Arizona. It is also a Dineh tribal park. The whole area is riddled with these slot canyons, but this is the only one I have visited (it has two parts, and I have been in both numerous times). Most of the canyons are off limits to non-residents.
These canyons are carved out of sandstone by monsoon rains. They're deep and narrow, and in most cases, sunlight rarely reaches the ground. In order to get the prized sun ray photographs, you have to go in summer, during the middle of the day, and there has to be dust in the air. When I got my best pictures, it was a windy day, so there was plenty of dust and sand. And it destroyed two camera bodies. But it was worth it for the results I got.
The colors are determined by light and shadow. In the early morning and late afternoon, colors tend to be dull and grayish. As the sun illuminates the interior more, by light cascading off the rocks above, the colors brighten. Some people enhance the density of color for special effects photos they sell, which are very popular. I have only done that once or twice.
Antelope Canyon was a place I longed to visit for many years. It has been a blessing that I have been able to go so often. I think I've been around six times altogether.
People love the abstract nature of the landscapes these form. If you like abstract things, this will be a special delight among natural places to visit.
My Prizewinning Photo - The one that cost me two camera bodies
After good winter rains, we get carpets of color in certain places in Arizona. You have to know where they are. DesertUSA publishes reports from people who have photographed the latest color, with photos, that tell you where these places are located. If there are poor rains, there will be few flowers.
We got nearly two inches in November. No rain since then. The brittlebush is popping out. However, if we don't get more rains, there will be no wildflowers to speak of this year. Two inches is enough to cause mudslides, and we lost some rocks that way. Usually the first rain, after some sunny days, will soak into the ground. The next rain or the one after that will run through the washes. This is when damage occurs, usually to roads.
Do not try to drive through any running water in Arizona! You may well get stuck. I've been stuck twice that I can recall. The first time, someone with four wheel drive got me out. The other time, I had to call a tow truck. If the water is deep enough, it can sweep your car away (or you, if you are on foot) and you may lose your life. If it says "do not enter when flooded", HEED THE WARNING. Lots of people have lost their lives.
But the spring flowers are gorgeous. The next photos are a few of the ones I have gotten. More are in my lens on Flowerscapes, linked below.
Spring Flowers in ArizonaClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Grand Canyon
This spectacular canyon has few rivals in the world, though there are a couple of competitors in some obscure places. It is a favorite with folks from Japan and Germany in particular, and you can hear these languages spoken here and at other scenic places in Arizona. I like to greet people in their own language when I hear them speak. The surprise on their faces is worth it! One time, I got a twofer. Two women, one Japanese and one German. That was fun!
I have been to the Grand Canyon three times. Twice was while I was a kid, and I have no personal pictures from those trips. The third time was a few years ago, and unfortunately the day I went there was a forest fire in the area. The smoke made it hazy and dulled the colors.
I was also able to fly over the canyon a couple of times, and get good pictures that way.
There is another canyon to the east, not quite as spectacular. I didn't realize it was there until my last trip. I took a few pictures there as well. If you visit, don't overlook this canyon. It has some nice features.
Because of the many side canyons in the Grand Canyon, it is obvious to a logical person that the Colorado River didn't carve it. The best theory I have heard is that at one time there was a huge body of water with a side that collapsed, allowing the water to flow over some soft sandstone, and it is this that carved the canyon. A similar canyon was formed by similar means when Mount St. Helens erupted a few years ago. It has a canyon which is 1/40th of the depth of the Grand Canyon, which formed in days.
Since I have quite a few photos of the Grand Canyon in my lens on Northern Arizona, I'll try something different here, for a change. This is a collage of some of my Grand Canyon pictures.
Poll about the American Southwest
Poll about the American Southwest
Painted Desert and Petrified Forest
These two are right next to each other. Arizona being the wide open spaces it is in some places, these can be seen as far away as Lockett Meadow in the San Francisco Peaks!
Petrified wood is formed when hot mineral waters replace the wood with stone. Contrary to popular opinion, wood can petrify very fast. They put a piece of wood into a hot mineral spring at Yellowstone. Within four years, the wood was partly petrified, and the rope holding it in the water was completely petrified.
Logically, the tree would HAVE to be buried in mineral-rich material quickly and turn to stone quickly, because if it weren't, it would decay. Yellowstone asked some people who postulate the quick formation of petrified wood to make new signs for their petrified trees, after observing what happened at Mount St. Helens.
The Painted Desert gets its color mainly from rusty iron in the rocks.
Sedona is noted for its red rock formations. It is also noted as being an artist town, and of having "vortexes" in certain locations in the area. As near as I can figure, there is no substance to this, but it makes a lot of money for the town to allege they exist. Do some people feel anything special in certain locations? DernedifIknow. So I just ignore that stuff and enjoy the scenery. And the art.
Here are a few photos; there are more in my lens on Sedona.
When I can't go where I want to, sometimes I get a terrain from mapmart.com and use it in Terragen to create a digital landscape. These are a few I have made with terrains from the southwest.
Sometimes I try to be realistic, sometimes not.
Whoever heard of a tropical rainforest in Utah?
The final image was made from a terrain in Utah (forget which one) modified by me. It is inspired by a photo made by Art Wolfe. I showed him my image and told him why I made it. He liked the image.
Digital Landscapes from TerragenClick thumbnail to view full-size
Think of Sunrise in Argentina
Scenery isn't the only thing of beauty in the American Southwest. There are also the plants and animals. In the gallery immediately below, we show you a few birds. They range from the commonplace to the very rare.
I have many more bird photos in various lenses about birds. Please take the time to enjoy them.
My computer is tired of working on this, so I will wrap it up for now. But I have much more to add, so please come back later. In the meantime, just think of the beauty of the southwest. We'd love to have you visit. They say if you wear out a pair of shoes here, you will never want to leave. Hope you wear out at least two pairs. ;)