Southwest USA: images revisited


It’s been around a decade since a friend and I embarked on an unforgettable road trip through the beautiful landscapes of Arizona, Nevada and Utah in southwest USA.

This was long before I had taken up photography as a hobby. We only took a few pictures to document our adventure in a typically tourist point-and-click fashion. Thankfully we were lucky enough to get a few decent shots.

I recently decide to revisit these images to see if could improve them digitally. Unfortunately the images were only available in poor-quality low-resolution JPEG files, but I was able to achieve some reasonable results using Lightroom. I hope you enjoy them.

Our starting point for the trip was Las Vegas. The Bellagio resort, situated on ‘the strip’ and named after the picturesque town on Lake Como, northern Italy, is most famous for its dancing water fountains. The fountains (containing 1,200 nozzles and 4,500 lights) perform dramatic ‘dances’ to music once every 30 minutes during the evening, entertaining hundreds of visitors. We enjoyed about three separate shows, ending with a genuinely moving display set to Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli’s Time to Say Goodbye. For me, the fountains are easily one of the highlights of Las Vegas.

New York, New York is one of the most visually striking of Las Vegas’s megaresorts (and in a city of such remarkable buildings, that is saying a lot). The city-within-a-city is a recreation of Manhattan’s skyscrapers and landmarks, and includes a rollercoaster which rises 203 feet above the strip.

We spent two days traveling from Las Vegas to Sedona, stopping off at Hoover Dam and some small towns on Route 66 along the way. Sedona is considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the United States, and that is certainly something I can believe. The town, surrounded by green forests, canyons and red-rock buttes, is known for its strong community links with the arts, well-being and spirituality. Whilst I enjoyed my one-night visit to Sedona, it simply wasn’t enough time to get to know the area properly. I can’t wait to go back.

We entered Grand Canyon National Park from the east (we were advised this would be the quietest way in – avoiding the busy southern entrance closest to Vegas). The first viewpoint we came to was Desert View, and we took this photograph just before a heavy storm.

The busyness of the South Rim campsite was both a blessing and a curse. As the sun set over the canyon, the magical atmosphere generated by the throngs of visitors intensified. As the sun disappeared under the horizon, the crowds broke into electrifying cheers and clapping, a magical experience which would have diminished with fewer numbers. The downsides to sharing the campsite with so many people are obvious. However, the park is large enough that it was not too difficult to escape the crowds and find our own slice of solitude.

If there is one piece of advice I would give anyone visiting the Grand Canyon it is this: stay at least one night. Many people visit on day trips from Las Vegas and miss the beauty of the canyon at sunrise, sunset, or under a star-filled sky.

Whilst the Grand Canyon is a natural attraction which most people view from above, Monument Valley (Navajo: Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii) is an equally impressive vista usually viewed from below. The valley is located within the Colorado plateau, and is characterized by vast sandstone buttes. The area lies within the Navajo Nation reservation, and has been used by various Hollywood studios as a backdrop for many western movies.

Thirteen miles north of the Utah-Arizona border lies the unofficially named ‘Forest Gump Point’. This iconic spot along US Highway 163 is where movie character Gump decides to finally stop running after his lengthy trek across America. In the distance rise the vast mesas and buttes of Monument Valley. For me, this view epitomizes the freedom and wonder of the American open road.

If Monument Valley was flooded with water I imagine it might look something like Lake Powell, a huge recreational park in southern Utah. The manmade reservoir was formed after the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam along the Colorado River. The lake is a popular summer destination, and is named after explorer John Wesley Powell, an American Civil War veteran who used three wooden boats to explore the river in 1869.

The campground on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was considerably quieter than the one on the South Rim (due, in part, to the greater difficulty accessing it from Las Vegas).  We spent three nights camping here in order to relax, read and hike some of the trails available.

Even though the North Rim and South Rim camping grounds are only 11 miles apart (in a straight line), walkers are advised to allow at least three days to hike between them due to the significant elevation changes when traversing the canyon. A permit is also required to spend a night ‘under the rim’.

We spent a night camping in stunningly beautiful Zion National Park in Utah. Pictured here is the river which cuts through 15-mile long Zion canyon, a truly beautiful location.

After the peace of Zion we returned to the bustle of Las Vegas for one final night before heading home to the UK.

This is just a very brief summary of our trip, an adventure I would encourage any landscape photographer to consider. I hope to return again some day.