Cottonwood Trees and Red Rock Cliffs

Cottonwood Trees and Red Rock Cliffs
A small grove of tall cottonwood trees beneath a red rock cliff, Zion National Park.

Cottonwood Trees and Red Rock Cliffs. © Copyright 2021 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A small grove of tall cottonwood trees beneath a red rock cliff, Zion National Park.

Because Zion National Park is so popular, especially the main Zion Canyon along the Virgin River, the Park Service has instituted a shuttle system to carry visitors in and out and from place to place within the canyon. Like all such systems, it has it flaws — hard to get a seat going into the park early in the morning or late in the day leaving, hard to schlep camera equipment in and out — but on balance I think it is a good thing. I’ve been in Zion when the place was crawling with cars — cars on the roads, cars parked everywhere, cars waiting for parking spaces. The bus system improves on that, and I think the inconvenience is worth it for the most part.

We took a very early shuttle all the way up to the entrance to the narrows, the last stop on the route. My photographer instincts said, “Get there early!” These instincts are good, and there is a lot of interesting work to be done in the soft morning light. But photographing in these canyons isn’t the same as photographing, for example, in the open spaces of the Sierra or the desert. In red rock canyon country, the best light often comes later in the morning and well before sunset, when the sun is high enough to directly strike the red canyon walls and reflect that soft, warm light down into the lower reaches of the canyons. With this in mind, we took our time after photographing below the narrows, and rather than getting back on a shuttle we started walking down canyon, enjoying the variety of reflected light… and we repeated the process once again later in the day. I first saw this group of trees very early in the morning, and I made a point of coming back to them later in the day when I knew the reflected light would appear.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books, Amazon, and directly from G Dan Mitchell.

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Cottonwood Trees and Red Rock Cliffs