Valley of Fire – Zion – Bryce Trip

This is a trip I’ve been longing to do ever since I took the Route-66 drive a while back. I knew I had to plan this over a long weekend and as much I hated myself for planning it during the weekend of July 4th, I didn’t have much of a choice.

Here is what I planned and figured I’d be able to cover in this 5-day trip of mine.,

IMO, except for Valley of Fire… the rest of them are destinations on their own. Which basically means, you can spend weeks exploring these national parks and no other time than the summer.

I flew into Vegas and as much as I wanted to hit those blackjack tables, sipping 2for1 Jello shots and also probably throwing up on a shrimp buffet.. I decided that’s for a different trip and drove up to Overton-NV, which is the closest city to Valley of Fire State Park.

Valley of Fire – If you are visiting this park during summer, plan a visit early in the morning. It gets so hot, so soon thus reducing the possibility of exploring the park. The park had enough warning signs for hikers to avoid day hikes and if they did, to carry lot(a lot) of water. The day I visited, mercury found its way all up to 105 deg F. From Overton to the park, the road takes you on a very quite and breath-taking scenic drive which loops till the end of the park. In this park, you will get to see rocks that glow with an unusually bright crimson color. The area offers some of the vivid colors splashed on some of the oldest natural rock formations.

The rough floor and jagged walls of this park contain brilliant formations of eroded sandstone and sand dunes more than 150 million years old. These features often appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays, hence the name. There are a few short hikes if you want to check out those cool rock formations and such, up close. The visitor center which opens at 8.30a.m has some nice information on the surrounding geology and you can fill up your water bottles too. The first picture in the collection below is from this park.

I drove upto Springdale in Utah from here, which is where I was going to setup shop for the next two days. Springdale, Utah is the place I’d suggest if you are planning to explore Zion National Park. It is a tiny town with a lot of great accommodation options.

Zion National Park - “Enchanting” is the word I used to describe as my eyes raised to view the elegant monoliths of this park. This park reveals its eight layers of sandstone, displaying what has taken two-hundred-million years to carve and mold. A masterpiece of towering cliffs, deep red canyons, mesas, buttes and massive monoliths. Describing how great this park is, wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention about its lofty peaks.

This Park, where plentiful beauty would stop you in your tracks and leaves you gaping in awe. The severe violence of Mother Nature has created perfection here, where years of raging storms have pit water and winter’s ice and snow against rock, producing astounding formations which are now protected by the National Park Service(NPS) and kept pristine for all the world to enjoy. The park offers plenty of campgrounds and atleast one of them is on a first come basis, if you hate the habit of reserving camping spots online. Also, there are other private camp/RV parks which offer facilities.

In the collection below, Pictures 2 though 8 were shot in Zion.

The NPS,  to preserve the fragile eco-system and control the overwhelming visitor attraction to this park, The Scenic Drive is only accessible by shuttle bus till October. The shuttle service leaves from the Zion Visitor Center and is available in plenty. The visitor center mentioned that this park, on an average attracts 3-4 million visitors a year and I kept thinking if all those 4 Mil visitors picked this specific July 4th weekend(!). Because that’s how much crowded it was. One thing to keep in mind, if you want to explore this park and sink in its beauty.. Start early and stay late.

If you are looking for short family-friendly hikes or a fit hiker who wants to do a longer strenuous day hikes, the park offers a wide range of hiking opportunities. The two most famous hikes: Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows. Beyond that, there are still many more prospects to explore. Incase you decide to do just one hike, pick the Zion Narrows. Hiking The Narrows means hiking in the Virgin River. Most the hike is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the river. Please don’t look for a maintained trail because the route is the river. Here, the magnificent walls of the main canyon close in to form a tall and narrow canyon with beautiful dark corners and the Virgin River flowing around you. With beautiful flowing water and barely any direct sunlight reaching the bottom, this is the slot canyon that all other slot canyons are compared to. Picture 8 is from the Zion Narrows.

The reason I mentioned ‘stay late’ is because Zion has one of the darkest skies and there is so little light pollution, you get to see an amazing view of the night sky which is well worth staying up at night.

The starry sky shot shows the ‘Milky way’ rising above the Zion’s Watchman peak. This was shot on a no cloud night which helped so much in getting the shot. The light on the peaks is from the lights of Springdale which kind of adds as a nice contrast to the picture. You might ask, “Is that how the Milky Way looks like, when you look up the night sky? Can you really see that many stars?” My answer is, “Yes and No.” You really can see it quite clearly with your eye (if you are in a place like Zion), it’s just not as bright as I can see with my camera. The reason is because my camera is manually controlled to take the images at a longer exposure (typically 8 to 30 seconds), so it gathers more light for its sensor than my eyes can.

After two days of exploring Zion, I started to Bryce Canyon which is a 60-mile drive, to spend the next 2 days of my trip.

Bryce Canyon National Park - This is not one main canyon, but rather a dozen smaller gorges eroded into the east side of a ridge running approximately north-south at the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southwest Utah. This erosion has resulted in thousands of strange and flimsy rock formations, large and small, in many subtle shades of pink, white, yellow, orange and red, extending in quite a narrow band for over 25 miles along the plateau rim.

This park offers a lot of different view points(Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce).  I think, Sunset Point has perhaps the finest views of all, as it projects out a little from the rim and is situated in between the 2 ravines that run through the hoodoos – Campbell Canyon in the north and Bryce Canyon in the south, at the center of Bryce Amphitheater

Bryce also has very dark night skies and staying late will be an awesome experience if the skies are clear. Both the nights I stayed here were cloudy and I didn’t get to take a shot worthy of posting it. If you are not into camping, the Bryce Canyon lodge would be a perfect place to stay here.

In the collection below, Shots 9 through 13 are from Bryce Canyon.

Gear Used: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 5D MII, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, Manfrotto 055MF3 MagFiber Tripod + Manfrotto Q5 054 Magnesium Ball Head.

Here are the shots,

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Thank you for stopping by…:-)

Pure Michigan – It is!

“The perfect trip begins here. Your perfect trip begins at Pure Michigan”- sound familiar? Yes, it is the infamous Pure Michigan Commercials. The magical voice of Tim Allen, trying to attract you by Michigan’s beauty and it’s hard not to get sucked in. And yes, that was the destination on my recent road trip. More specifically, the Upper Peninsula. As it’s even more north(I meant, from where I’m at now!), it’s early spring there still or more like.. end of winter. The trees, shrubs and the grasslands are yet to wrap themselves totally in green. As some of the major news outlets reported… The Lake superior is still partially frozen. This should give you a perspective on how far north this place ought to be.

Chicago to Upper Peninsula, the drive was a pretty decent one and it took me 8 hours(ish). There is construction going on at so many more places with new traffic patterns and this slows down the traffic more than anyone wants to deal with. Plus holiday season adds up a bit more frustation to this traffic situation.
I decided set shop at Houghton, MI and drive to get to the places I had in my destinations list. One primary reason to choose Upper Peninsula is to see more waterfalls and drive the Lake Superior shore drive up north from Houghton.

Places around here offer lot of  outdoorsy entertainment activities. One of my favorite, ATVs.. Yup… These are super fun to ride and there are a boat load of places that will rent you one. These ATVs have become fancier and easier to handle. If you ever get there and into ATVs, give them a try for guaranteed fun!

The water fall shot below (Picture # 5), is of The Bond falls which is in east of Paulding, MI in western part of the Upper Peninsula. This waterfall is very impressive and if you get there early, you would get to see the falls with much less distraction. There is a deck that takes you semi-circle around the waterfall to watch it from and is very easily accessible after climbing down a couple dozen stairs. The Michigan State Park Recreation Passport will get you at a parking spot very closer to this falls.

Next on my list, The Lake Superior shore drive which is such a feast to the eyes and there are several spots all along that will take your breath away.
One such place to visit in this route is, the McLain State Park. With Spectacular scenery, beautiful ice formations, sand beach and the striking Keweenaw Waterway Lighthouse (Picture #12). If you have a Michigan State Park Recreation Passport (which I mentioned earlier), I believe the entry is free to this state park otherwise you have to pay 8$ and it is well worth it.

The more north you drive, the beaches along the lake shores are less crowded. If you decide to walk on the pebble beaches or take a dip (if you dare the cold water) or just lay down on the beaches or simply unwind with a short picnic or fire up the grill with an awesome view of the lake, there are a lot of places all along this drive.

Another hidden place which is a little off road is Hunter’s Point Park (Picture #7) and located a little ahead of Copper Harbor, offers a very unique view of the lake. This place is barely crowded. Keep in mind, that a considerable amount of road which gets you here is unpaved. I drove there in my sedan and got there Ok without any issues. I’m saying this to give you a heads-up!

One more place which is hard to miss along this route is, Eagle Harbor Lighthouse (Picture #10). This red brick light station also has a Maritime Museum which contains details of some of the many Keweenaw shipwrecks.A lot of fascinating shipwreck artifacts and marine exhibits are on display here. This museum is open Mid-June till October. Also, if you end-up staying closer to this place, don’t miss the sunrise view by the lighthouse which is simply astounding (Picture #10).

The rest of the pictures are a result of more driving around, prior location scouting and pissing off drivers behind me with sudden stops, detours and such.
Here are the shots…

Gear Used: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EOS 60D, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, Manfrotto 055MF3 MagFiber Tripod + Manfrotto Q5 054 Magnesium Ball Head.

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Thanks for stopping by…:-)

Milwaukee Trip

I’ve lived in Chicago for the past 6 years but never been to Milwaukee once. The reason I wanted to start with this statement is simple, I didn’t know what I was missing in till now. A colleague of mine suggested this to be a great place to chill out on a weekend. He was right.

I drove up there during there the first weekend of April, was a real beautiful Saturday in its high 50s. It’s an hour and a half worth drive… Well, could have been just an hour but guess what.. It’s not winter here in Chicago and all of us know what season it is here… Yup.. Construction season. Road work… all the way, delayed(only sorta!) the travel but not so worse to make me whine about it.

When I planned for the trip, these were the places I figured I’d cover in a day.,

 The Miller tour, I’ve been to the one in St.Louis, MO couple years back. Honestly, I think that one was way cooler. Because, they had more access to visitors to see interesting production lines up close and such. But again, I’m not complaining here because they offer you at-least three different choices of their beer to taste(with pretzels) and the entire tour is free of cost. Also, the first picture in the series below is the historic Miller Caves, at 60 feet below ground level, which were created in the late 1840s to keep beer cool prior to distribution.

The Harley-Davidson Museum, A 20-acre campus on the riverfront and it houses more than 400 motorcycles and artifacts, dating back to when Harley-Davidson began to exist. If you are interested in motorcycles, it’s place to be and you cannot afford to miss it.

The art museum, I went there to see the exterior architecture and also I was running out of time as I had to spend time shooting The Basilica of St. Josaphat.

After a short talk with the staff there at the Basilica, I learnt that it was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, it features one of the largest copper domes in the world. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are some renovation activities going on here but trust me, If you ever visit Milwaukee.. have time to stop by this place.

Gear & Setup: Canon 5D Mark III + Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM.

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Thanks for stopping by..:-)

Nithilan

Why isn’t this blog more active just like it used to be before…well.. I can answer it in a word.. NDA(I hear ya’ll smart mouths..it’s an acronym.. not a word.. I know.. :-P). For now, I’m bound by half a dozen of them which will immediately get me into trouble for sharing any of my commercial work on here. So, there you have it.. the reason why I’m laying a bit(!) low these days.

Anywho, My dear friend Senthil was in town earlier this month to welcome a new member to this family. To be honest, we both were planning on this shoot for months together and apart from my messed up travel plans, I was able to make time for this shoot.

Nithilan.. a quick Google search told me the name means “Brilliant like a pearl”. I don’t believe there would have been a more appropriate name for this cute little kid. I wish this little guy good health for now and ever.:-)

Gear & Setup: Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 100mm f2.8L combo. One Canon 580 EXII with a Bounce Flash Diffuser. I didn’t want the light flashes on him directly. Instead pointed the flash upwards and all these light on him are bounced back from the walls.

Here are the shots.,

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Thanks for stopping by..;-)

 

Mahesh + Swathi Wedding

Indian weddings…. No matter which part of the country it happens, it’s all about colors. Before you can even catch a breath, there is a ritual happening which you cannot afford to miss from clicking. The one wedding which I shot earlier was a video project and never got a chance to shoot pictures but this time, it’s all about pictures.

My good friend Mahesh invited me to his wedding which happened in Nellore and I did make it point to carry some minimal gear to shoot the wedding. Well… You know… that minimal gear(MIII+Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II combo) was already pissing off the photographer(Stare straight at the camera and smile when I end the count till ’3′ breed) who was hired to shoot the wedding. Nothing wrong with this kind of photographers and trust me, they cannot be replaced. The reason, as I said earlier.. the number of rituals involved and making sure every relative who attended the wedding was captured once to the least. No… Photo-booths don’t work here, unless if there is some super fancy insurance that can cover the gear. The only issue I have with these photographers, they just kill the natural emotions in people (especially in Bride and Groom…Duh!) and make them look like deer(s) stuck in a headlight.. No offense.:)

That being said… After I got to India, I have already turned down a dozen requests to shoot weddings but from now on, I’m open to these requests and If there is a wedding coming up that you want me to shoot… Send me a note to discuss the terms. Please use my Contact page or buzz me on Facebook.

The couple – Beautiful
The wedding – Every aspect already thought of and perfectly choreographed

My best wishes to the couple and wishing them a healthy married life.

Here are the shots…

Thanks for stopping by…:-)

F o l l o w   M e !