Autumn at Zion; In Pursuit of Colors
It’s no secret that Zion National Park is a photography and adventure paradise. Zion is nothing short of a fantasy-like desert dreamland chock-full of dramatic views, bizarre rock formations and seemingly endless amounts of scenic waterways. Another thing to note about Zion is that it boasts incredible displays of vivid and unique colors. Throughout the photos I have seen from Zion over the years, I have become keen to the fantastic colors that can be found there and this Fall I sought out to capture them. I’ve become quite enthralled with water lately and wanted this to be another area of focus in my recent trips to Zion over the last month.
On my first trip, a group of my friends and I were planning to run a technical canyon that we had in mind, but unfortunately we did not get the permit for that. Instead we were able to get permits for the entire Subway section. It ended up being a blessing in disguise though because we had a great time. We did not get through the entire Subway system due to time constraints, but we got our fair share of adventure and thrill in the first section of the Subway in Left Fork (Das Boot). Because we could not do the full Subway and I was really looking forward to it, I decided that I needed to go back. Before we even finished the hike I was mapping out plans for the next Zion visit in my head which was 2 weeks out from that point. Luckily the timing coincided with a great time to catch Fall colors in the Narrows. Pictured below is Anna Ungerman navigating through a cold and dark cave-like slot canyon. The deep, earthy and rich grays & greens were so fascinating to me.
Fast forward to 2 weeks later – myself and three friends (Nick Reedy, Wes Hawkins and Chris Lewis) are driving down Friday after work in hopes of getting to the permit office to try and secure a Subway permit. We made it just short of Visitor Center closing on Friday and bustled through the village to the backcountry permit office. I told the ranger that we were looking for 3 permits for the Subway bottom up hike. Her initial response was “We’re actually all out of Subway permits for tomorrow, but let me double check the system.” My heart sank a little into my stomach, but I held onto the last shred of hope that there might be some permits available… “Oh, look at that. There are actually 3 available.” .. We got the permits and were on our way with unparalleled levels of stoke!
About the hike…
Hiking the Subway from the bottom up is not a technical endeavor by any means, but it is somewhat of a long hike that takes at least 5 hours. The there-and-back hike is around 9 miles, and nearly the entire way is scenic and pretty. The beginning of a hike takes you to the rim of a large canyon with a nice view of the river below coming from the Left Fork. You’ll work your way down the side of the steep cliff/hillside and then left (North East) to a trail that parallels the river. The trail constantly cuts back/forth over the river to change sides of where the trail is. On the way back we made a bet (thanks for the beers, boys!) about how many times we would cross the stream, and it was 29 times! As for gear, you really don’t typically need more than standard hiking clothing and potentially some neoprene socks in case you end up walking through water.
Here is a map of the subway from the bottom up, credit to canyoneeringusa.com! You will begin the hike at the Left Fork Trailhead (make sure to have your permit sticker in the car window). The “Red Waterfalls” section is where you can find Arch Angel Falls and the Waterfall Crack.
My recommendation would be to start the hike just after sunrise so that you will have time to photograph Arch Angel Falls before the light hits it, which is a nice cascading waterfall just before the true “Subway” section. Don’t forget to stop at the famous waterfall crack!
We ended up catching some AMAZING light in the Subway. It was so stunningly gorgeous and truly some of the best light I have seen. Reflected light in slot canyons never seems to stun me. Below are two of my favorite photos from the Subway. “The Explorer” pictures myself as the subject, and “Teardrop” pictures my friend Wes Hawkins.
We were all very stoked on the adventure through the Subway! We had a celebratory meal at Oscars (sooo good!) and then went back to the campsite to have a few beers and relax. We went to bed early and set out at 5 the next morning to pack up and then explore The Narrows. My recommendation as a photographer in the Narrows is to catch the earliest buses out in order to beat the crowds and also get further up into the canyon where it is more scenic in hopes to get the good light.
I was very pleased and excited to find that there were nice Fall colors still hanging around in The Narrows. Pictured below is the first location Nick Reedy and myself shot at in the Narrows. I was really taken back by the beauty of this small scene. The blue and turquoise-like water really complemented the soft yellows of the leaves and the soothing golden glow of sandstone in the background.
At a certain point along the hike we decided it was best that we turn around as the good light started to become harsh or absent, but I was hoping that there would be something rad on the way out. Sure enough, we turned the corner to one of the last narrow sections of Wall Street to find some nice glowing walls at the end of a dark corridor. I was recently inspired by a photo from Dustin Lefevre that he released of a very dark section of the narrows with gorgeous, flowing blue water and an orange light at the end of the tunnel. I was really hoping to come across a dark scene like this and I was so excited to turn a corner and see one!
Our Zion squad. Chris, Wes, Nick and Myself.
I apologize that it has been so long since I have written, but I hope you guys enjoyed reading about my Fall trips through Zion!
I have a holiday special going on right now where I am doing 10% off of any order total and it will run through New Years. Please use code “happyholidays” in the cart before checking out.
Stay stoked my friends!