A few years ago my father and I started talking about taking a long trip somewhere to take photos instead of our day trips whenever I’d go home to New Jersey, or when my parents visited us in Texas. And for a few years, it was just talk. It was something we decided to do, but we never actually made the decision on where or when to go. A little later, we decided where to go – but not when. Earlier this year we finally made the decision and actually booked travel to Phoenix where we would drive north and go on a Grand Canyon photography trip and explore the amazing landscape of northern Arizona.
Day 1 – Flying into Phoenix and Driving to the Grand Canyon
We started our trip by flying into the Phoenix airport to meet up – me from Austin, my father from Newark – and then drove roughly 4 hours north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon where we stayed for the night at the Yavapai Lodge in the park. We did go out to see some of the Canyon before the sun set too much, and then grabbed dinner before heading back to the room to rest up.
Day 2 – Exploring the South Rim
The change in elevation from home in Austin or Newark for my father was intense. I’m used to 400ft above sea level, my father about 20ft. We were between 5,000 and 7,000ft above sea level for majority of the trip. The thin air slowed us down a bit, but not as much as the rain did on what would turn out to be our only full day at the Grand Canyon. We were driving on the east side of the South Rim that day, and when we got to each overlook we just waited five to 10 minutes for the rain and then the fog to pass, hopped out, took our photos, and moved to the next spot. Wash, rinse, repeat. We did get some awesome shots, though – the sky just wasn’t as blue as we would have liked.
The Grand Canyon was simply stunning. There really aren’t any words to describe just how incomprehensible the sheer size of it is. You can try to guess the distance from your position to a ridge and I bet you’d be off by a lot.
We spent about six or seven hours driving through the South Rim, and decided to hit up a Park Ranger for advice on our second day in the canyon and that’s when our plans went up in the air. Apparently the North Rim road is closed until the middle of May, something I didn’t notice during our planning. We then asked the Ranger if it was worth it to do the other side of the South Rim, and he literally said “well, if you’ve seen one giant hole in the ground you’ve seen them all.” – which sounds really jaded for a Park Ranger, but it helped us decide not to drive *back* to the Canyon the next day since we had to drive three and a half hours east to our next stop.
Day 3 – Horseshoe Bend and Page, AZ
We got an early start at Horseshoe Bend to beat the crowds because in the past few years this spot has really become well known and the parking fills us quickly. And on top of that, we wanted shots without a bunch of other tourists in the way. Mission accomplished.
It was such an amazing view – it made the very difficult hike back up to the car very worth it.
Since our plans for the rest of the day were unknown, we went back to the hotel to rest up after the hike.
We decided to drive to Marble Falls, to check out twin bridges over the Colorado River, did a little souvenir shopping, and then headed back to Page where we were staying and took the sites in there. We tried to do a tour at the Dam, but they were all booked up – so we grabbed a map from the Ranger there and stopped at all the overlooks in Page. It wasn’t the day we planned, but we made the best of it.
Day 4 – Monument Valley
We woke up early on Wednesday and headed northeast to the Arizona/Utah border to go to Monument Valley.
This was the day when the trip started to get complicated. We flew into Phoenix, which is in Mountain Standard Time this time of year. However, Monument Valley, and our destination on Thursday where both on Navajo land which is on Mountain Daylight Time. So we were leaving MST, driving through MST, entering MDT for a tour at a specific time. We were nervous we were going to miss the tour. We could have toured through Monument Valley ourselves, but the guided tours by the Navajos bring you to sections of the land where you can’t go by yourselves.
The land, the buttes, everything was breathtaking. Like the Grand Canyon it was impossible to gauge the scale of what you were looking at, only that you felt incredibly tiny – a spec of dust in a giant universe.
In the photo above you can see a road with trucks on it which can help give you the scale of the buttes.
We spent about 3 hours touring the park, seeing some amazing sites and getting some great photos.
We ended the day by driving into Utah to get the “Forrest Gump” shot of the landscape, but I don’t think it worked out too well for either of us.
Day 5 – Antelope Canyon
This was our last day before flying home – and the day we were most nervous about. The hotel we were staying at was technically still on Navajo land, and we were driving to Antelope Canyon on Navajo land but we couldn’t get clarification if the pick up point was in MST or MDT and what time the Navajo tour guides were on. We were either going to be two hours early, or an hour late. We couldn’t figure it out – and were were doing the math on paper.
We ended up being three hours early.
But it was worth it.
I was nervous about being claustrophobic in the caves because they are tight and they cram a lot of people in there at a time for the tours but it was a breeze. Our guide was awesome. He know exactly where to take the best photos, and offered suggestions on how to shoot and process, both on our DSLR cameras, and the iPhones everyone else had. My father and I got some amazing shots.
We ended the day by driving the five hours or so south back to Phoenix to fly out Friday morning.
Day 6 – Heading Home
Fly home. It was a long, tiring trip. It was and wasn’t a vacation. It was a lot of walking, a lot of climbing, hiking that we both were and weren’t prepared for.
Besides some rain the first two days we had mostly beautiful weather. It didn’t get warmer than 68° when we were touring the Grand Canyon and other sites (Phoenix was in the 90°s).
It was a good time for my father and I. He retired late last year, work is hectic for me, and we both needed to get away for a bit.
- 6,010 miles flown total (872 from Austin to Phoenix, 2,133 from Newark to Phoenix one way)
- 1,085 miles driven
- 6,860 ft above sea level was the highest point along our northern Arizona trip (this is hard to say for certain in the park, but the elevation was between this and 7K. Driving back to Phoenix we hit 7,283 or so)
- 52,854 steps taken (this number is roughly normalized because one day our pedometer was counting travel time in a bumpy Jeep as steps)
- 20.6 miles walked (this number is roughly normalized because one day our pedometer was counting travel time in a bumpy Jeep as steps)
- 1,543 photos taken (790 by me, 753 by my father)
- 68° was the highest temperature we experienced in the high elevation