Monument Valley

Right on the border between Arizona and Utah, lies a vast region with a plethora of sandstone rock formations, known as Monument Valley. The scenery is easily identifiable – the movie set for many Hollywood western productions and blockbusters such as Back to the Future III and Forrest Gump. Today, this region is inhabited in majority by the Navajo Native Indian tribe. This tribe made history in World War II, as the Navajo language (due to its uniqueness and complexity) was adopted for radio communication by the US forces.

The Valley was the first overnight stay on our 2-week US roadtrip. Naively, we did not make any hotel reservations, thinking perhaps that there would have been plenty of last-minute accommodation available in the area. Much to our surprise this wasn’t the case; in fact, we realised at 11pm that not a single room was available within a 2-hour driving radius! After many failed attempts talking to operators and researching online, the front-office manager at the Hampton Inn felt sorry for us and suggested that a friend of hers might have a room for the night at her B&B home.

In a scene that resembled nothing less than a move thriller, we drove to the Navajo reservation camp at midnight, in the middle of a rain storm. Looking back through the rear-view mirror, I could see the sign of worry drawn on everyone’s faces, as we drove in muddy roads through a bunch of old trailers and makeshift shacks.

Worry turned quickly into a smile and a sigh of relief, once we were greeted by a friendly Navajo lady, who welcomed us in her pyjamas to her recently renovated home. After giving us a short tour, she mentioned that she had to leave early in the morning to go to work. Worried not to wake us up, she politely asked us to leave the money on her kitchen table and lock the door behind us on our way out. She had known us for less than a few minutes, yet she was kind and courteous enough to treat us like family – a trait that one doesn’t come by often and a gesture that I will never forget.

Monument Valley - 1920c

Shot with my tripod mounted Canon 60D and my Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F8.0, at 1.6 sec, exposed at (-2/0/+2).


Silhouette Trees

Any nature photographer will attest that the “golden hour” is the best time to go out and photograph. Also known as the “magic hour”, this is roughly the first hour after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. The reason for that is because during that time of day the sun is fairly low on the horizon, producing more diffuse and flattering light, as opposed to the hard shadows cast during midday.

Travelling however with company, gives you little flexibility to being in a particular spot during those times. That was the case when we visited the Arches National Park, home of 2000 or so sandstone arches in eastern Utah near the small town of Moab. A simple image search, will bring up hundreds of images, some depicting the sun casting a beautiful orange glow on the rock formations, others showing the sun rising or setting while being framed within the sandstone arches.

Unfortunately we arrived there just before lunch time, when the hot scorching sun was already high up in the sky. I felt disappointed because there was no way for me to take the particular picture that I had in mind. Just as I was about to give up, I noticed a bunch of dried up trees that had a very compelling shape. I veered away from my friends and started working the scene, trying to take a snapshot that would tie together the deep blue sky, the sun and the shape of the trees. After trying out multiple exposures from different angles and varying backgrounds, I ended up with the following picture, which surprisingly didn’t turn out that bad!

Tree Silluette - 1920c

Shot with my Canon 60D and my Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F18, at 1/80th of a second.

Breathtaking Bend

Just south of the small town of Page, Arizona, a small inconspicuous sign on the US-89 freeway reads “Overlook – Horseshoe Bend”. What awaits is a spectacle like nothing I had ever witnessed in my life.

If I was to use one word to describe the theme of this road trip, that word would be “nature”. One would surely say however that nature is abundant when you decide to cross any part of the continental US. Our route however was carefully planned, to visit as many national parks as possible and other natural landscapes. That route took us through Sedona, Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon, Zion National Park, Arches National Park and of course the famous Yellowstone.

The Horseshoe Bend however, truly stole the show. It was hands down the highlight of the trip. Maybe it was my low expectations or the fact that prior to researching our trip route, I for one had never heard of this place. Once  you stand however at the overlook and stare 300m down towards this sight, this wonder of nature truly takes your breath away.

Horseshoe Bend - 1920c
 Shot on my tripod mounted Canon 60D and my Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F22, 1/15 sec and bracketed at -2/0/+2.

The Big Apple

Back from a long and much needed vacation, finally realizing one of my life-long dreams – driving 6.000 Km from the south border of the US, through deserts, mountains and canyons, national parks and grand lakes, all the way to Canada (map link). Not surprisingly, I am physically exhausted but that was very well anticipated. I am back though mentally rested, with some great memories, 3Kg of extra weight around my mid-section and nearly a thousand pictures evidencing this once in a lifetime journey!

No one can claim though that they have visited the US, unless they’ve been to New York City. The iconic Big Apple, is a city that many of us choose to either love or hate. A concrete jungle full of energy, great architecture and amazing restaurants, shadowed by its unending road construction, constant smell of garbage and sheer number of homeless people.

Although the road trip officially started in Phoenix, we all decided to start our journey together by spending 3 nights in NYC, visiting various sights and museums and obviously getting “some” shopping done. I’ve been to NYC many times before, but apart from a bunch of touristy photos, I’ve never managed to take a decent picture that captures the essence of this great city. This time around, I was lucky and grateful to convince everyone to walk with me across the Brooklyn Bridge, with the aim of taking a shot of the skyline at sunset. Big thanks to Vasiliki, Christos and Yianna for being so very patient with me. This picture is dedicated to you!

Brooklyn Bridge - 1920c

Taken  with my Canon 60D and Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F8, 1sec,and bracketed at -2/0/2.