Travel: Zion National Park in Autumn

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Virgin River From Canyon Junction Bridge – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Zion National Park was the third most visited National Park in America in 2017, right behind the Grand Canyon. Utah has five National Parks–only Alaska and California have more–and of the five Zion is by far the most popular, with Arches National Park a distant second. It’s no surprise that Zion is usually quite crowded. I was surprised at just how packed it was when I visited in the middle of the week in the middle of November. Isn’t this supposed to be the off-season when fewer people are there?

I arrived with my family in the morning about an hour after sunrise. We waited in a somewhat short line to get into Zion. Once inside we found the parking lot at the visitor’s center to be completely full, with a number of cars circling hoping that somebody would leave. We decided that we’d explore what we could of the park by automobile and hope that the parking situation would be better a little later.

This was our first time to Zion National Park and we really didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t anticipate the gobs of people and we didn’t expect that there’s not much one can see of the park from the car. There is the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which is over one mile long, and a few pullouts along the road that were packed full of cars (I illegally parked to get the photo at the top of this article). There are some things that can be seen and experienced from behind the wheel, but most of the park is accessible only by the park’s bus system or by foot. Once we figured this out we put a more serious effort into finding a place inside Zion to park the car. Unfortunately, parking was still scarce and we were lucky to find a spot in an overflow lot that required a small hike to the nearest bus stop; however, we soon discovered that we left the kid’s sweaters at the hotel and it hadn’t warmed up enough yet to be out without them.

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Vista From Mount Carmel Tunnel – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

We left the park feeling a bit defeated and disappointed. We found a combination coffee shop and gift shop in Springdale, which is the small town right outside of the park entrance, and purchased some warmer clothes for the kids and the wife and I sipped on some coffee. We decided to park in town and take the free shuttle to the park. This turned out to be a much better way to get into Zion. The bus dropped us off right outside the park, and a quick walk across a short bridge brought us to Zion’s shuttle stop. Unfortunately, the line for Zion’s shuttle was about 400 people deep, but thankfully there were a lot of buses running and the line moved surprisingly quick.

The bus was completely packed. We rode it to the end, which is where the Riverside Walk trail is located. This trail is about two miles round trip and very easy, even for the kids. It’s also extraordinarily scenic! The draw to this place is quite apparent. It’s a landscape photographer’s playground. It was also packed with people and at times felt like we were strolling through New York City and not a canyon in southern Utah. Even so, we had a good time enjoying the amazing natural sights around us.

After our hike we got back on the bus, which we had to wait in a line for and was again filled to the brim. We had intended to stay in the park longer, but we dared not get off the bus at a different stop because we might not find seats on another bus. So our stay in Zion was short. There is no doubt that this park is one of the most beautiful, but it’s too crowded. Next time I will have to ensure that it’s a less busy time of the year for a visit. I hear the park is beautiful dusted with snow.

For these pictures I used a Fujifilm X100F, a Fujifilm XF10 and a Fujifilm X-T20 with an Asahi Auto-Takumar 55mm f/2.2 lens attached using an M42 adapter. The Asahi lens is fantastic, with just a little corner softness that improves as you stop down, and I paid only $30 for it (and it came with a camera). Despite the crowds, Zion is incredibly beautiful with photographic opportunities literally everywhere. I spent a partial day there and came away with these pictures. I felt like I left many great photographs behind. Zion National Park is a magical place for photography, but it’s not a very good place to find solitude, at least not when I was there.

B&W

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Virgin River Through Zion Canyon – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Rocky River – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Sun High Over The Canyon – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Zion Canyon Sun – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Sun Over Bridge Mountain – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Amanda & Johanna Asleep – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Rock Wall – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Trunks & Leaves – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Monochrome Vista From Mount Carmel Tunnel – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Color

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The Family, Zion Bridge In Autumn – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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A Pine Among The Rocks – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Mount Carmel Tunnel & Chevy – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Autumn River – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Virgin River In November – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Strolling Through Zion Canyon – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Rock Ledges – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Yellow Tree Against Red Rock – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Yellow Trees Below Bridge Mountain – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Rocks of Zion – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Desert Juniper – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Virgin River Through Zion – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Yellow Tree, Zion Canyon – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Canyon Tree in Fall – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Yellow Leaves in Zion – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Autumn Tree & Rock – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Sunlight Through The Trees – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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The Yellow of Autumn – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Autumn Along The Virgin River – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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River Along The Autumn Path – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Flowing Through Zion Canyon – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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River In The Canyon – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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River & Canyon – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Rushing Virgin River – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

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Vibrant Autumn Forest – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Photoessay: Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park

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Kolob Canyon Road – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

In late December, just a couple days after Christmas, I had a chance to visit Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park. Zion is the sixth most visited national park in America and is the most visited national park in Utah. Kolob Canyon is a lesser known section of the park that’s isolated from the rest. We found a little snow on the ground from a storm the week before.

Access to Kolob Canyon is easy because it’s right off of Interstate 15 between St. George and Cedar City. A quick five-mile dead-end road curves through the scenic canyon. Because those on the freeway are just passing through and it’s a bit out of the way for those visiting the main part of the park, it just gets overlooked. It really is a hidden gem!

Kolob Canyon is full of impressive red-orange cliffs, finger canyons and sweeping vistas. It’s higher in elevation than the more-visited sections of Zion, so the landscape is little more green and a little less desert. It’s easy to see why this area was included in the national park, it’s just chocked full of natural beauty!

My short visit to the park was not during ideal light conditions for photography. The sky was a deep blue, but the sun was harsh and nearly overhead. My family and I arrived at 12:40 in the afternoon and we left about an hour-and-a-half later. Undeterred by the problematic light, I used my Fujifilm X100F to capture the grand sights that were before me. I used my wide-angle conversion lens for many of the exposures.

All of these photographs are camera-made JPEGs; however, I used Fujifilm’s X RAW Studio to process the RAW files (click the link if that statement is confusing to you). I used my Velvia Film Simulation recipe, but adjusted shadows to -1 and sometimes -2 because the shadows were harsh. I adjusted highlights to -2 in a few of the images, as well. In retrospect, I wonder if using DR400 would have worked better. Either way, I’m pretty happy with the results, all things considered.

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Beatty Point – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Paria Point – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Paria & Beatty Points – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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The Zion Desert – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Timber Top Mountain – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Old Log In Zion – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Sunlight Over Shuntavi Butte – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Orange Cliffs – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Kolob Canyon In December – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Trees, Rocks, Canyons & Hanging Valleys – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F