Images from the Film Archives — 1999
Young Cottonwood – Zion National Park, UT © jj raia
After several years of taking one week autumn trips within shorter driving distances from my home, the drives eventually lengthened to 8-plus hour drives to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and to Maine’s Acadia National Park. It dawned on me later that I could fly somewhere out west in less time, without losing two days of photography driving. Flying east to west, I could arrive mid-morning and have plenty of time to get to the first destination for sunset. So in 1999, not having researched much for the usual annual autumn photo trip, I tried my luck with Priceline, and actually had my offer accepted!! I had to pack fast because the very next night, I was off to Las Vegas for 9 days of photography in my first revisit to America’s southwest since 1982, when my wife and I made a cross country trip in a jammed packed tiny Datsun (for those old enough to remember, Datsun changed their name and is now Nissan).
It looked like the trip would start off great, arriving in Las Vegas around midnight, I would have plenty of time to get to the Grand Canyon for sunrise! NOT!! The connection in Atlanta was over two hours late, and by the time I got my bags and rented SUV, it was a little after 3am. Add getting a little lost (this was before navigation appeared in most cars), finding myself in some town instead of a highway, and sunrise ended up being about an hour from the south rim. It was a great trip though, revisiting the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, seeing Antelope Canyon and the Paria Canyon for the first time, and finally getting back to Zion after 17 years.
Wanting to explore outside Zion’s main valley, I drove through the tunnel to the high country where sandstone cliffs, checkerboard eroded mesas and narrow canyons awaited. I explored one of those narrow canyons that I would later learn was Pine Creek Canyon, a dry wash with water only when it rains, that flowed into the Virgin River that runs through Zion. Wandering through the narrow canyon during an afternoon, I found a young cottonwood growing out of a crack in solid sandstone. The orange rock face behind it was crusted with lichen and had a dark erosional depression that, by positioning the tripod, fell directly behind the tree framing it, and made the yellow leaves pop a bit more. A simple, straight forward, normal (80mm) lens shot, with no breeze to blur the leaves; and so quiet, I could hear my own breathing.
The following year, to celebrate my half century on the planet, my wife suggested I actually plan another trip of two weeks, to a destination of my choice. And so began an almost ten year string of trips to some of the most beautiful parts of our country, where much of my photography took place, in addition to the usual day trips and family vacations in and near NJ.