Paria Canyon – Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, USA

In this image I captured one of my favorite plants, manzanita, at one of my favorite locations, Coyote Buttes, Utah. Manzanita grows widely in my native California and throughout the Colorado Plateau. There are fifty different species in these two regions; I believe this is Arctostaphylos Patula. This specific location is a remote area within the Paria Canyon–Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. It is far less visited than the justly famous, nearby ‘Wave” formation (featured in another of my postings several months ago), yet permits are more easily obtained for the rest of Coyote Buttes than for the Wave. The other locations have equally colorful, highly-striated sandstone formations. This one is called ‘The Control Tower’. See more images like this and of ‘The Wave’, in my Southwest gallery on my website.

I have been to this area multiple times and shot this formation previously, but usually at or near sunset. I looked at the formation with ‘fresh eyes’ during a recent visit and realized I prefer this side of the formation; it allowed me to isolate the hoodoo on the left side and gave me raking side-light and long shadows for the foreground manzanita. Early morning light is possible only by camping nearby at the edge of the BLM wilderness area. Be forewarned if tempted to go here; the road goes through deep sand, 4-wheel, high clearance vehicles are a necessity, as are off-roading and route finding skills. I usually visit Southern Utah in August or September for the monsoon season and clouds. This can mean big heat, but rarely over 100 degrees F at this higher location, about 3500′.

For this composition I placed the ‘Control Tower’ offset right, allowing the purposefully out-of- focus background hoodoo to hold the left side, giving the composition depth and additional interest. I was tempted to focus stack (combine two images with different points of focus), in post-processing. But I like it better with selective focus. I also positioned the frame to show the side-lit manzanita plant popping out of that wonderful red Plateau sand in the foreground. Philip Hyde is my favorite master photographer for these ‘near-far’ compositions, as we older US landscapers know. The final composition decision was to lower my tripod to allow a sliver of blue sky underneath the top plate of the Tower, to separate the ‘Control Tower’ from the background vista. 

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