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National Parks of the West: Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Capitol Reef, Great Sand Dunes, Great Basin

Last fall I took a trip out west to photograph a few of the incredible national parks of the west….and one castle built by one man. It was an amazing trip that took ten days, through three states (Colorado, Utah, and Nevada) and seven nationals parks. We captured some of the iconic and also some of the lesser known views that these national parks have to offer as well as a few other stops along the way. This trip was part of my larger project to visit all 59 National Parks and with my recent trip to Death Valley National Park, I’m currently sitting pretty at 31. Enjoy!

Arches National Park: As its name suggests, this park showcases thousands of natural arches. The most famous of these formations is likely Delicate Arch, pictured here at sunrise. In order to get the reverse angle, it required some nimble scrambling along the face of a harshly sloped rock wall that had me appreciating the traction on my new hiking shoes. We also photographed the Skyline Arch and a few of the lesser known but equally as beautiful monuments.delicate arch in arches national park at sunrise

a reverse view of delicate arch in arches national park. Image by Ben Weldonskyline arch at sunset in arches national park. Image by Ben Weldon

Canyonlands National Park: Canyonlands is essentially right next door to Arches in Moab, Utah. Canyonlands requires a few days to truly explore the canyons themselves versus simply seeing them from the vistas along the road. Make no mistake, the vistas are beautiful, but we only spent a day at the park and I’d really love to visit again to hike down into the canyons to see the views…and retrieve the lens cap I dropped by accident.

a visitor appreciates the view atop mesa arch in canyonlands national park. Image by Ben Weldona vista at canyonlands national park after sunset. Image by Ben Weldoncanyonlands national park at sunset. Image by Ben Weldoncanyonlands-national-park-02

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve: So the most interesting thing about the Great Sand Dunes is probably how the sand got there and is still being studied. These are colossal mountains of sand that have built up over thousands of years as grains of sand blew east from the southwest and came to rest at the base of the Rockies in Colorado. Pretty darn cool.

the sun rising over great sand dunes national park and reserve in the fall. Image by Ben Weldontwo visitors walk towards the giant sand dunes at great sand dunes national park. Image by Ben Weldon

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: An impressively deep canyon that was carved out by the Gunnison river. Like Canyonlands, The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is more of a stop-and-see park unless you have a few days to spend hiking into and out of the canyon. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to hike into the park but we did get to appreciate the view from the top.

a view from the top of the black canyon of the gunnison national park. Image by Ben Weldon

Capitol Reef National Park: West of Arches and Canyonlands, Capitol Reef is made up of a more diverse set of rock formations than the other parks of the area that tend to have one prevailing type of feature. An excellent park to be sure and one that I will definitely be visiting again.

red rocks at capitol reef national park. Image by Ben Weldoncapitol-reef-national-park-02a reef looking rock face at capitol reef national park. Image by Ben Weldon

Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Canyon is hands-down my favorite National Park and I will never be able to photograph it well enough. Call me Ishmael. Despite the fact that it is along the way to nowhere, I’ve been to Bryce 3 times. It is literally breath-taking. This is the closest I’ve come to capturing the park the way it looks in real life but it still doesn’t compare to seeing the park in person. We woke at 4am to get set up and ready for the sun to rise.  I will work the rest of my life to capture this park the way it should be captured, but I suspect I will never be successful and I like it that way.

bryce canyon

Great Basin National Park: So, Great Basin is awesome for a number of reasons. Firstly: It’s a lush mountain in the middle of a desert. I can’t stress enough how weird that is to see. Second, none of the water that drains from the top of the mountain ranges in the Great Basin area drains to the ocean. The Great Basin is one of the only places in the world where that is the case. Finally, just outside the park is the almost ghost town of Baker, Nevada and along the road leading up to the Park are eery art displays created by the locals. If we heeded the warnings of every horror movie ever, we would have turned around immediately, but we did not, and fortunately we emerged from the park unscathed.
road side art of a model t ford near great basin national park in nevada. Image by Ben Weldonroad side art on the way to great basin national park. Image by Ben Weldonstella lake and wheeler peak in great basin national park. Image by Ben Weldonwheeler peak in great basin national park

Finally, a few of my favorite images from this trip were created at stops not in National Parks, but along the way. Here are a few of those scenes as well as a few images from Bishop Castle, a castle built by one man over the course of forty years. It was really interesting and though the history is too much to write about here, take a look at the images and swing on over to their site to read more about the man and his castle.

curecanti national recreation area in the fall. Image by Ben Weldonu.s.-national-parks-03
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