Wild West Adventure

June; here and gone, but certainly not forgotten. I’ve been on the move, and last month proved to be absolutely incredible with an epic photography trip through the Midwest. Our trip consisted of a 1500 mile loop covering the national parks of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Our group was comprised of 12 photographers from around the world: United States, Canada, and the UK, including 2 British models, 2 spouses, and 2 instructors. We arrived in Las Vegas for a weekend of fun before the official start of our trip. We took in the beautiful sights of Red Rock National Park, Valley of Fire, Hoover Dam, and the Las Vegas Neon Sign Museum and then met up with the rest of our group to begin our adventure.

Day One: We kicked off our trip by heading to one of the most iconic highways in the country, Route 66. We split into two groups to photograph each of our models at nearby locations: a local park with an abandoned train, and a classic car shop. Both were perfect locations to adjust our cameras for shooting with flash. Our second shoot location was at the Hackberry General Store where we photographed classic cars, vintage signs, and an old police car (my personal favorite). A grand total of 250 miles, we checked in for the night at The Grand Canyon Hotel in Williams, AZ. I highly recommend Mr. D’s Diner in Kingman, AZ if you’re looking for a food recommendation on this stretch of Route 66. Incredible food and atmosphere!

Day Two: Promising to be an even busier day, we arrived at the Grand Canyon for some landscape shooting. At 277 miles long and 18 miles at it’s widest section, I always forget just how vast and unforgettable the views of the canyon truly are. After a brief stop to drop off luggage at Tuba City, we headed through the beautiful Navajo Reservation toward Blue Canyon. With little to no cell phone service, and roads more like paths, we ran into a minor snafu and found ourselves lost for the better part of two hours. Two Navajo members graciously came to our rescue and led us to the canyon, which we would all probably agree we would have never found without their help. Blue canyon is equally as beautiful and we stopped to photograph the scenery with and without models. Arriving back to civilization after dark and a late dinner, we clocked 250 miles (sans our Reservation fiasco) on day two.

Day Three: By far my favorite day. We had two great shoots at Coal Mine Canyon in the Navajo Reservation first thing in the morning. With temperatures quickly rising, we then continued to the Hopi Indian Cultural Centre for lunch and on to The Little Painted Desert Overlook. The overlook was fantastic, and with such an incredible view, we decided to have an impromptu model shoot with our model Claire waving the Stars and Stripes. We finished the night at our hotel in Holbrook, AZ, right next to the iconic Wigwam Motel.

Day Four: We began the day with a morning shoot at the Wigwam Motel where we were lucky enough to learn about the history of this legendary motel and the classic cars parked there from several locals, whom also invited us to the Route 66 festival that afternoon. I think it’s fair to say that most of the group (save for us few “southerners”) witnessed their first burnout contest which invoked the question “why?” on more than one occasion. For the afternoon, we ventured out to the Petrified Forest National Park. I’ve been fortunate to visit many of our nations parks, and while the Petrified Forest is pretty, I don’t know if I will ever need to go back. After spending time at The Little Painted Desert Overlook, we were quite spoiled with the views, but enjoyed ourselves regardless.

Day Five: Saying farewell to Holbrook, we continued to Canyon de Chelley. The views of Spider Rock were unbelievable and to make it even better, we had the overlooks all to ourselves. Next on the list was Monument Valley, which was everything I imagined it would be and more. One of the most iconic (and crowded) views of “The Mittens” can be seen when you park at the visitor center. Once we hit the trails in the SUV’s, the crowds thinned dramatically and we felt like we had the park to ourselves. The group then decided to split up to take in the sunset at either Monument Valley or The Valley of the Gods. We concluded the night with all of us gathering at The Swinging Steak for dinner.

Day Six: That morning, in a foggy, lack-of-caffeine haze, I broke one of my major rules: NEVER delete images in the field. Not paying attention, I formatted the wrong SD card about twenty minutes before our tour was due to start in Upper Antelope Canyon. That sickening feeling that comes over one when such a tragedy strikes can make a grown man cry. Nonetheless, I forged on with our tour offered by the Navajo. This was one of the busiest locations on our tour. Due to the crowds, the guides would clear an area for us and then start a 2-minute timer in order for us to shoot and go, so fast shooting and choosing the proper settings were crucial. Due to the high winds, dirt and dust are inevitable so I would recommend if you choose to go to take a weather sealed camera and prepare to embrace and endure nature. Once we returned, I chose to stay in while the rest of the group went out for another shoot. After a shower and a quick rest, I’m happy to say that my digital forensic expertise came to my rescue and I was able to recover my (accidentally) formatted SD card. Upon everyone’s arrival back, it seems I missed quite an eventful evening which included a stuck SUV, a rescued motorist, and not much in the way of photo ops.

Day Seven: With 40 MPH winds and a 20 minute hike through a sand storm, we arrived at Horseshoe Bend, which we had to belly crawl to the edge for fear of being blown off of the side. The views were fantastic, but everyone (and everything) took a beating by the sand, including the front glass element of my XF 10-24mm, but it served its purpose and I got the shot! We then drove to Marble Canyon to take in the sites before heading on to Zion National Park right before sunset. A group of us set up and photographed the famous “Watchman” (one of the most iconic views of the park) before meeting up for our last group dinner.

Day Eight: Our last day of our trip, we arrived at Grafton Ghost Town for a quick model shoot before departing to the Valley of Fire State Park. Since everyone in our vehicle had seen the park previously, we separated from the group and headed back to Las Vegas to purchase a few necessary items at Fry’s Electronics and B&C Camera. We then dropped off our rental and said our goodbye’s. With so many amazing memories, and new people whom I can gratefully call friends, I can’t help but think about new adventures in the future. If you are interested in this incredible opportunity, please visit Damien Lovegrove’s website for next year’s trip!

Keep Exploring - Trey

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