Zion National Park may get all the press when it comes to photographing fall colors in the desert, but it isn’t the only hot spot that offers brilliant foliage and striking panoramas. The high desert landscape around Moab isn’t lacking for colorful trees and plants, nor is it void of dramatic scenery. What it does lack during the autumn season is tourists. Unlike Zion, where you’re likely to compete with many others for compositions of the iconic locations, Moab is a virtual ghost town. Sound inviting? Read on to learn a few of my favorite locations for fall photography in Moab.
Kane Creek Road
Kane Creek Road starts out paved and turns to good, graded dirt after a couple of miles. It is easily navigable by a 2 wheel drive passenger car when dry. The road enters a canyon as soon it turns to dirt and views of ominously named but impressive Tombstones immediately come into view on your left at a right bend in the road. Below on the right, lining Kane Creek, are colorful cottonwood trees that make a fantastic foreground. You’ll also find tamarisk mixed in with the cottonwoods and the combination makes for some fantastic intimate landscapes (image above).
Farther down the road you’ll find Hunter Canyon (image at left). Hike up the canyon and you’ll find cottonwoods and gambel oaks lining the small creek. Look for reflected light illuminating sandstone spires above the colorful foliage. There is no real trail in the canyon but if you follow the creek you’ll never have to worry about getting lost.
Inside Arches NP is a lovely little canyon hike alongside a small, perennial creek supporting an abundance of cottonwood trees. I recommend arranging for a shuttle and hiking from the bridge inside the park to Highway 191 along the creekbed. You’ll have to cross the creek several times and you may even discover some quicksand along the way, but the colorful single leaf ash, cottonwood trees, poison ivy and gambel oak you’ll photograph will be well worth the effort.
Negro Bill Canyon
Never mind the seemingly derogatory name, this is one of the prettiest canyons in all of Moab. A perennial creek flows below the towering walls of sandstone beautifully streaked with desert varnish. In the canyon you’ll find cottonwood trees, abundant poison ivy (which turns vibrant shades of red and orange in autumn) and some other trees I’ve yet to identify. I’ve heard them referred to as water birch but haven’t confirmed this. At any rate, you’ll find some lovely little cascades, plenty of colorful foliage, relative solitude in autumn and if you’re good at blending exposures, some nice scenes of colorful foliage with the aforementioned walls of sandstone looming overhead.
The La Sal Mountains
Saving the best for last, the La Sal Mountains are filled with aspens, a few maples and an abundancy of gambel oak rivaling anything you’ll find in the Rockies. Intimate scenes are most popular here as there is rarely snow on the peaks and they’re just not all that attractive when they aren’t snowcapped. You’ll find massive aspen stands around Warner Lake and along the Geyser Pass Road. Hike from Oowah Lake to Clark Lake and you’ll spend most of the trip scraping your jaw off the trail as it’s nothing short of stunning. Plan a lot longer than you think you’ll need for the short hike because you will be stopping often to make photographs. A wildfire in Miner’s Basin a couple of years ago left behind charred areas that are now recovering. You’ll find colorful gambel oaks and aspens mixed in with the black landscape and the contrast is striking.
And now you know a few of my favorite spots around Moab for autumn color photography. Thumb your nose at Zion and head to Moab this year. You won’t regret it!