Cottonwoods and Red Rock Canyon

Cottonwoods and Red Rock Canyon
An old cottonwood and a grove of smaller trees in front of the sandstone walls of Zion Canyon.

Cottonwoods and Red Rock Canyon. © Copyright 2021 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An old cottonwood and a grove of smaller trees in front of the sandstone walls of Zion Canyon.

There are at least two stories behind this photograph — maybe more. The first one involves a situation familiar to many photographers. When we go into these places carrying a backpack of gear, with a big camera on a tripod hanging over our shoulder, we aren’t exactly in stealth mode. And because lots of people in such places are trying to figure out how to make photographs to record their wonder… sometimes our presence draws them in our direction. I had wandered over to the bank of the Virgin River to photograph something and, sure enough, lots of other folks started showing up in what had been a pretty empty spot. I finished photographing there and headed back toward where I came from, looked back, and saw this big old tree towering above and decided it was worth a photograph. But now there were a few dozen people among those trees!

I made a mental note to remember the tree and come back to it later on as I continued up the canyon. When I did return the crowd had departed and I was able to get the scene I wanted. I’m generally not big on shooting with wide angle lenses, often preferring to limit the composition by using longer lenses and their narrower angle-of-view. But in the confines of a red rock canyon, a large tree like this cottonwood often towers above you, even if you have some space to move back. These big, old cottonwood trees fascinate me, and their varieties of form and setting seem almost infinite.


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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Cottonwoods and Red Rock Canyon