We were off and heading north to spend the long memorial day weekend at the Valley of the Gods in Utah, just north of Mexican Hat. It was a beautiful day, nice and sunny, but with a wind blowing in from the west, but not too bad.
The plan was to camp out at Valley of the Gods as it is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and camping on BLM land is free. So we arrive late afternoon and begin our drive around the Valley looking for a camping spot.
The drive around the Valley of the Gods is about 17 miles in length, and is mostly a well cared for dirt road with a few rough spots that you need to drive carefully. But I was able to drive it with my Prius.
We finally found what looked like a great spot near the back of the Valley by the edge of Cedar Mesa, the location of a number of buttes that are worth photographing. We began to put up our tent.
What I hadn't planned on was the wind. The gentle breeze at the beginning of our day turned into gusts of 25-30 MPH. We had a four man tent, and just as we were putting the fly on a gust came through and in just a second or so, bent some poles and ripped a huge tear into the roof of the tent. Our camping trip was over before it even began.
So we took down the tent, and picked up the campsite and headed into Mexican Hat to see if there was any room. We found a room available at Canyonlands Motel.
I had stayed here before, and they had one available room, so we took it. It's not the greatest motel, but it does have character.
And we made it 'base camp' for our trips to the Valley of the Gods, the Moki Dugway, the top of Cedar Mesa and of course, Monument Valley 20 miles to the south in Arizona.
The 'Joy' Continues
I had rented a Sony A7RIII for this trip, and using a Metabone adapter was all set for some great photography. But the issues continued on this trip. It seemed with the latest firmware of the Metabones adapter left it unable to autofocus my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS lens, which is my goto lens for a lot of my landscape photographs.
I discovered this issue at sunrise, as we were parked in the Valley of the Gods and had hiked on some trails and found several locations to photograph near some washes back in deep in the Valley of the Gods.
Trying to manual focus a lens in low light is not fun. But thankfully I did have focus peaking which did help some. So I ended up with fewer keepers using my 70-200mm, and this is a large reason why I haven't moved to Sony and still keep using my Canon 5D Mark II - yes, that is not a mistake, I wrote 5D Mark II - still a great camera!
My Luck Turns...For the Better!
But the afternoon was much better. The morning sky had no clouds, and my motto is no clouds, no great shots! But by the afternoon, the clouds began to roll in and provided some visual interest in the sky. Overall, it was one of my more successful photo shoots of the Valley of the Gods. I have now been there three times over several years.
And I have learned that often it takes multiple visits to a location to begin to grab some great shots.
Rarely have I been able to walk away with keepers on my first visit to a location. But I need to revisit and revisit and as I begin to explore an area, I find great vantage points and compositions that I otherwise would have seen or found.
On this trip, I found some old ruins (actually, my wife spotted them, so kudos to her for finding them) from which I was able to take several photographs, and in the morning I found an old backend of a pickup truck which lent itself to a wonderful composition with the buttes in the background catching the light of the rising sun.
I was also able to find a great spot near Sitting Hen Butte to take a panorama of the back buttes of Valley of the Gods during sunrise. Its a great spot, and an OK panorama, again, no clouds so the focus is more on the buttes with little sky in the photograph. But the color of the rocks is really beautiful!
Moki Dugway and the Top of Cedar Mesa
Valley of the Gods is just north and east of the San Juan river, and backs up to the edge of Cedar Mesa which is 1200 feet above the valley floor.
There is a dirt road, complete with steep accents and switchbacks, built for ore trucks back in the day called the Moki Dugway. There are a number of pullovers along the way up where you can pull over and ohhh and ahhh over the expanse below. However, because of the expansiveness and openness, it is difficult to get a great shot. But it is worth the stop as it provides great views of the Valley of Gods as well as distant views of Monument Valley in the distance.
Once at the top of the dugway is a dirt road on the left, Muley Point Road, that heads over to an overlook that is around 6 miles distant. The road is fairly well maintained and you will see signs of cattle, such as dropping in the dirt road, if you don't actually see any grasing the area.
But once you arrive at Muley Point overlook, the views are amazing. I was able to capture a view of the goosenecks of the San Juan River below with Monument Valley in the distance.
And nearby the Valley of the Gods is Goosenecks State Park. This state park is along the edge of the goosenecks formed by the San Juan River and is a unique location to visit. It isn't that photogenic, but still worth a shot just to remember the neat goosenecks carved by the river.
All in all, a very good trip, even if we lost our tent and the camera and adapter didn't work out as planned. I still was able to get some decent photographs, although as noted above, it is hard to get keepers and this trip was no different. I made some good photographs, a few keepers but no portfolio quality photos. But I do have some new spots to revisit and hopefully get the shots I know can be had in this beautiful and rugged location! And we also made several visits to Monument Valley, but that will be fodder for another post.