Travelling through red rock desert is something which brings millions of people to the Southwestern United States every year. It is truly a spectacular place to visit, and as varied as any region in the country. I don’t think I have ever run a trip through this region which didn’t leave people in awe. Until you have been here it's hard to understand just how diverse the desert can be. A complex geologic history, differences in elevation and the amazing forces of erosion have created vastly different landscapes all within a few hours of one another. We celebrate these different places by designating many of these areas as national parks and many more as state parks. These levels of protection are there to preserve these areas for generations to come.
As spectacular as this region is, each area has a time of day which showcases its highlights. With so much sunshine in the desert, it can often wash out the landscapes so it is usually at the beginning or end of the day when the colors are most vibrant. As a photographer, it's these times of day which we refer to as the “magic hours”. This is usually half an hour before and after sunrise and half an hour before and after sunset. Which magic hour is best depends on which direction these areas face, among other factors.
In Zion, both early morning and late afternoon bring vivid colors to the canyon. For me, I have always enjoyed the hour before sunset – it lights up my favorite areas of the park to photograph.
Bryce, on the other hand, is at its best early in the morning. Because it faces the rising sun, those first rays of daylight create a magical scene.
At Lake Powell, a sunset swim at Lone Rock is incredible. Cooling off from a day of hiking as the light brings the surrounding rocks to life is a moment you won’t soon forget.
In Monument Valley, sunset is my favorite time. I like scheduling a tour that ends right as the sun is going down. Here are some great scenes from that time of day in Monument Valley.
And at Grand Canyon, both early morning and late afternoon can provide epic vistas out over this Wonder of the World.
When you come to the desert, be sure you bring your camera and never forget to have it handy during these wonderful times of the day.