Zion

I’ve done a fair amount of world traveling, but nothing i’ve seen matches the beauty and grandeur of Zion National Park.  The massive sandstone cliffs, shimmering cottonwoods, and abundant wildlife make it one of my favorite places on Earth.  I was lucky enough to arrive there just before a powerful winter storm hit the area, dumping a foot of snow on the park.  Out came the chest waders again and I headed out in search of Desert Bighorn Sheep.  The are estimated to be just 20,000 of them in the entire Southwest, but in Zion they are plentiful, and I never went a day without seeing them if I put in a little effort.

After parking in a turnout near one of the tunnels I got out to arrange my gear for a hike, when I suddenly heard a loud crack.  Although I had no idea where in the vast landscape around me it had come from, I knew instantly what it was; two males battling for a female.  I stood stock still, trying not to make a sound….crack!, I heard it again and after looking around, spotted the two males about 1/2 mile away on a mountainside.  Half a mile isn’t very far, but if it’s filled with canyons and ridges it sure can be.  After a lot of scrambling and climbing I made it to the same rock face as them, and looked up to see something that stopped me in my tracks.  From high above me, one of the males was running down the mountain full tilt in my direction, glancing up at me every couple of seconds so there was no mistaking that he knew I was there.  Naturally I put down my backpack and prepared for apparent battle, with a sheep.  I’ve often thought it likely that I’d run into an aggressive animal at some point and have to defend myself because of the amount of time I spend in wilderness, but a bighorn sheep was never my imagined adversary.  I hiked 4000 miles over 10 months on the Pacific Crest Trail and ran into 15 black bears in that time, but not one was aggressive.  I’ve been nearly attacked by a pack of javelinas on the Arizona Trail, chased by a surprisingly fast venomous snake in Peru, and bellowed at by a really pissed off Tapir in Costa Rica, but this was my time of reckoning, and my adversary, apparently, was a sheep.

When he got within 50 feet, still running, I assumed a fighting stance with my left foot forward and hands up, which registered as ridiculous even though I was pretty distracted.  I studied his horns, which can weigh up to 30 pounds on mature males, and didn’t think I could compete.  My heart was pounding, my fists clenched, my body tense… and then he ran right by me.  As I watched him heading down the mountain, I figured he must have just lost the battle and was high-tailing it out of there.  I felt exhilarated and a little silly, but mainly unnerved that he paid me no mind.  The presence of humans seems to frighten animals that could squash us like bugs, and when that illusion is shattered for whatever reason, it always makes me uneasy.

The winning male and the female with him had moved higher up the icy mountain, beyond where I could manage, but I did get this shot of him through the branches of a juniper tree taking a last look at me before disappearing.

 

bighorn_silCanon 5d Mark iii, 300mm f/4 lens, 1/250 sec at f/4, ISO 250, handheld

I really love this photo, mainly because of how unique it is.  I’m shooting through the sun-lit branches of a juniper tree, and the sun is just hitting the edge of the lens glass, causing the half-moon shapes on the right.

 

After my run in with the sheep, I spent about a week in Zion.  Other than a two day hike on the East Rim Trail, I mostly explored within the valley and the slick rock near the east entrance.  If you ever get the chance to see Zion I highly recommend it, and I can’t wait to go back.

 

bighorn_portrait

 

Canon 5d Mark iii, 300mm lens, 1/500 sec at f/4, ISO 200, handheld

No I didn’t mount a stuffed Bighorn on a rock!  This female suddenly scampered up on a rock spit above me and seemed to be basking in the warmth of the just-risen sun.  It was probably around 5 degrees outside, so I don’t blame her.

 

bigtwoCanon 5d Mark iii, 300mm f/4 lens, 1/60 sec at f/4, ISO 400, handheld

I followed a group of 6 or 7 sheep for awhile one morning as it snowed heavily, and got these two looking back to check me out.

 

Zion_kingCanon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/20 sec at f/11, ISO 100, Gitzo Tripod

When I noticed the lone white cloud drifting towards the center of these massive cliffs I got set up, so I was ready when it got to just the right spot.

 

PondosCanon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 1/50 sec at f/11, ISO 250, handheld

I had just returned from my overnight trip on the East Rim and was heading back to the valley when I saw this scene and was struck by the contrast between the cool tones of the snow and the warm sandstone.

 

PondoBlurCanon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 30 seconds at f/22, ISO 50, Gitzo Tripod

These clouds were moving overheard very quickly and symmetrically around this tree, so I decided to use a long exposure to create a more dramatic scene.

 

cottonwoodsCanon 5d Mark iii, 70-200mm f/4 lens, 1/80 sec at f/4, ISO 250, handheld

I spent quite a while exploring these cottonwoods, trying to find a scene that would do them justice.  They seemed to be almost shimmering in the midday sun, and the huge canyon wall in shadow behind them only added to this feeling.

 

Zion_riverCanon 5d Mark iii, 16-35mm lens, 30 seconds at f/22, ISO 50, Gitzo Tripod

An often-photographed scene from a bridge over the Virgin River.  I find it difficult to go where all others have gone before, so I tried to get something different by using a neutral density filter to darken the scene and allow me to use a really long exposure to get some blur from the slowly moving sunset clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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