Seven Spectacular Southern Utah “Parks” in 46 Hours

Early Morning Snow at Bryce Canyon

Early Morning Snow at Bryce Canyon, April 25, 2001.

When I left home in the Midwest and headed for Northern California I had no intentions of being in Southern Utah. By the time I reached Denver, snow in the forecast for N. Utah, Nevada, and the mountain passes in N. California made a detour much more appealing than fighting snow on I-80, especially since I have never been to the spectacular parks and monuments in Southern Utah.

Originally posted April 24, 2013. As a result of a phone conversation today, I added more information and a lot more photos and re-posted this June 4, 2024.

I had four days to get to the San Francisco Bay Area from Denver so that gave me about 48 hours of photo time in Utah. (That’s not nearly enough time, but 48 hours is better than not being there at all.)

Arches at Twilight. Entrance to Park Avenue. Queen Nerfititi to the right.

Arches at Twilight. Entrance to Park Avenue. Queen Nerfititi to the right. April 23, 2011.

I arrived in Moab, checked in to my hotel and headed for Arches National Park. It was long after sunset and I took a few evening photos.  The next day would be my big photography day.

The Colorado River, Dead Horse Point

The Colorado River at Dead Horse Point State Park, April 24, 2011.

I left Moab very early to arrive arrive at Dead Horse Point State Park long before sunrise I was greeted by clouds and drizzle which turned into rain and then to pouring rain.

Dead Horse Point, Utah.

Dead Horse Point State Park, April 24, 2011.

It wasn’t the kind of light that I wanted but I took several photos before the rain became too big a threat to my camera circuits. Fortunately for me, I had another chance as you will see later in this article.

Canyonlands State Park, April 24, 2011.

When I arrived at Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky) early the same morning the whole place was socked in with clouds in the sky and fog in the canyons. I could see nothing from the classic view points except the swirling mists.

Emily, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. April 24, 2011.

Wonderful canyon photos just weren’t in the cards that morning, so I didn’t stay long. My only interesting photo at Canyonlands was this very cheerful person who greeted me at the park service entrance station. I had better light on a return trip, as you will see later.

Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. April 24, 2011.

It was bright and sunny at Capitol Reef in the afternoon and I spent two hours driving the north-south park road and photographing interesting view points.

Grand Staircase-Escalante

Grand Staircase-Escalante, April 24, 2011.

It was getting cloudy again late in the afternoon as I drove through Grand Staircase-Escalante, so I didn’t take many photos. I had hopes (admittedly slim) of getting to Bryce Canyon before sunset.

Bryce Canyon at Dusk

Bryce Canyon at Dusk, Utah. April 24, 2011.

I arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park after sunset and drove to Sunset Point to take the above early evening photo. If your time at Bryce Canyon is limited, I recommend Sunset Point as the place to be for both sunrise and sunset. If you have more time to spend, you can try sunrise and sunset at some of the other classic viewpoints around the canyon.

After a nice dinner at Ruby’s Inn (a great place to stay and eat just north of the park entrance), I checked the weather. Snow was in the overnight forecast so I went to bed looking forward to some great sunrise photos the next morning. I was not disappointed.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon, April 25, 2011.

The early morning light was quite beautiful and the snow really made the photos. I highly recommend you begin the day at sunset point, not sunrise point. After you photograph the sunrise, then go to sunrise point and the other scenic viewpoints.

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise, April 25, 2011.

The light was different but just as nice after the sun broke through the clouds.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce is a truly spectacular place. By late morning the snow was gone and I was on the road again.

Checkerboard Mesa, Zion National Park

Checkerboard Mesa, Zion National Park, April 25, 2011.

From Bryce I drove to Zion National Park. I was dealing with mid-day light by the time I arrived but I had no choice but to shoot then as I had to drive through Las Vegas and on to California by the end of the day.  If you have more time you than I had, you should definitely stay longer.

Petrified Dunes, Zion National Park.

Petrified Dunes, Zion National Park, Utah April 25, 2011.

Right across the road from the hoards of tourist at the justly famous Checkboard Mesa are the petrified sand dunes. No one was there and I has the place to myself.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

April is a great time of year to go to the Southern Utah parks. Much later in the year and the weather becomes quite hot.

I arrived at Arches at 5:20 pm Saturday afternoon and left Zion at 3:34 pm Monday. Seven parks in 46 hours and 14 minutes. Not nearly enough time.

After I did what I needed to do in Northern California I was supposed to go to Oregon. But that part of my trip had to be postponed. That gave me some extra time so I decided to go back to southern Utah on my way back home.

Salt Flats, I-80, western Utah. Snow covered Pilot Peak in NV is left of center. April 30, 2011.

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah. April 30, 2011

I crossed the salt flats of western Utah on I-40 and headed south for Arches. My first stop was Balanced Rock where I spent quite a bit of time.

Turret Arch at Dusk, Arches National Park, Utah

Turret Arch at Dusk, Arches National Park, Utah. April 30, 2011.

Then I went to Turret Arch to catch the colors at dusk.

The Three Gossips, Arches National Park. April 30, 2011.

As the light faded I headed for The Three Gossips.

Sunrise at Dead Horse Point

Sunrise at Dead Horse Point, Utah. May 1, 2011.

The next morning I was up early in Moab to make the 45 minute drive to Dead Horse Point before the sun came up.

Dead Horse Point, Utah. May 1, 2011.

The light was so much better than the rainy morning one week earlier.

Dead Horse Point, Utah

Dead Horse Point, Utah. May 1, 2011.

The light kept changing and I was in photography heaven. I spent a lot of time there.

Grand View Point

Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. May 1, 2011.

I went back to Canyonlands. At the entrance gate I said hello to Emily (she remembered me).  I drove to Grand View Point and this time I could actually see the canyons.

Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah. May 1, 2011.

I drove to Arches to take a more photos before I pointed the car toward home.

On my trip back to southern Utah I began taking photos on Saturday at 5:55 pm and left my last photo location on Sunday at 12:47 pm, another 18 hours and 52 minutes.

The national and state parks in southern Utah have some of the most spectacular scenery you can find. all within a days drive of each other. Ideally you will have more time than the 46 hours I had on my first trip.

Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Southwest Colorado

Mt. Sneffels, San Juan Mountains, Southwest Colorado. May 2, 2011.

On the way home I had one more added photographic treat. I stopped to photograph Mr. Sneffels, one of my favorite Colorado mountains.  Lots of professional photographers have stopped at this location to photograph this scene. It is one of the iconic photo locations in Colorado. This spot is 6 miles west of Ridgway Colorado on CO-62.