Ever get frustrated because your good sense tells you not to take your new passenger car on a jeep trail, but you just know the best scenery can be found ten miles down a road that looks like an old crunched and crumpled washboard? Before you race out to buy a four-wheel wonder designed to take you absolutely everywhere, try out the “jeep experience” in Sedona, Arizona. It’s an affordable solution to your yen for adventure, and Sedona is a great location for photographers.
Marla Meier, the Marketing Director of Apogee Photo Magazine, and I decided to meet in Arizona and experience the photographic beauty of the area firsthand. We wanted to bring something special to our readers. We chose our jeep company based on word-of-mouth. We called several local establishments and asked whom they would recommend. Earth Wisdom Jeep Tours got high marks. Then we looked on their web site (http://sacredsites.com/earthwisdom.html) to get more information and to make advance reservations. We told them we wanted our tour to include the ten most photogenic places in the area plus a driver knowledgeable in the history and the flora and fauna of the region. We were specific about our requirements when we asked them to design a tour for us. It was a great way to start.
What a trip we had! Come to find out, we highly over estimated our wish list. The photography was so good that we could only begin to absorb and photograph the beauty that surrounds Sedona in a half-day trip.
But let’s back up a bit. Sedona is a lovely area in Arizona, approximately two hours north of Phoenix. Vibrant red cliffs and sandstone formations surround it. Portions of these cliffs are the Arizona extension of the Colorado Plateau. Bands of color, majestic spires, and unusual rock formations are all part of the surrounding landmarks. The beautiful Oak Creek Canyon lies to the north of town and will take you climbing towards Flagstaff. Jeep touring is a wonderful way to access some of these scenic wonders and a great way to have a delightful adventure. As a photographer, you’ll find that the land is rich beyond your wildest expectations.
We met Steven, our Earth Wisdom driver, in town. We packed his jeep with photo gear, water, and snacks. Then, within a short ten minutes or so, we were parked on a small vista point where we could enjoy a grand view of part of the horseshoe-shaped plateau that surrounds the town. We got an orientation to the kinds of flora and fauna in the area and an understanding about how the land was formed. We learned about the early people who inhabited this land and how different their lives must have been from our own. We discussed the animals that roam the near-by wilderness. Always the optimist, I searched carefully for cougar, bobcat, deer, elk, hawks, and other critters that make this area their home. Jeep tours aren’t well suited for animal photography because of the noise of the vehicle and the activity of people. Also, many animals are nocturnal. Probably your best chance to see any animals would be early or late in the day, and you’ll have to sit quietly and wait for them–an iffy proposition for a photographer, but delightful to dream about.
Stop after stop provided nothing short of photographic wonders: Teapot Rock, Camelback, Indian Head, CoffeePot Rock, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, Red Rock Crossing – the list just goes on and on. The time passed quickly, and all too soon we were back in town. We had spent some six hours in total pleasure while catching only a small portion of the stunning scenery of Sedona offers the photographer.
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC JEEP TOUR:
1. Consider splitting your jeep tour into a morning and then a late afternoon excursion to take advantage of the light. While doing a long tour is great and gets you to more distant locations, it can be exhausting.
2. Be sure to do some reading about the area before you go. Then you can ask your driver more informed questions.
3. Don’t try to do too much. As a photographer, it’s better to cover less territory and capture better and more thoughtful shots.
4. If you need to share your tour with others, be sure to ask if they are photographers or if they mind waiting. Make arrangements ahead of time, and tell your driver what you’ll be doing and why. It’s better to do one short tour by yourself and, if necessary, pay a little more, than to take a long tour and be frustrated by others who don’t share your interests.
5. Be firm about asking your driver to stop when you see something you want to photograph. She will do her best to accommodate you, but she can’t read your mind. Be open to her suggestions. She knows the land and can help you find good subjects.
6. Go in the spring or fall for the best picture opportunities or when the tourist season isn’t at its height. Drivers are not booked as heavily, there’s more time for your driver to give you personal attention, and the areas aren’t over-filled with tourists.
WHAT TO TAKE AND HOW TO PROTECT YOUR CAMERA GEAR AND FILM ON A JEEP TOUR:
Dust will not be your friend here. Take only the camera equipment you’ll need–nothing extra. I used a wide-angle (20mm), a short zoom (28-80mm), and a telephoto (100-300) zoom. I also carried a 1.4 tele-extender, a polarizer, and two neutral density filters in my vest–more than I really needed or used. The short and long zooms plus the polarizer and two neutral density filters would have been adequate.
Take some small bungee cords with you to secure your tripod and/or camera bag to the jeep. Even if your driver is taking the road slowly, you’ll still bounce around. (I forgot to strap my gear down and had a handle on my tripod snap when it bounced across the floor of the jeep.)
Protect your gear and film in plastic bags. Keep your camera bag closed at all times and in the plastic. If the weather is warm, put your film, a snack, and your extra camera gear in a small, hard-sided cooler instead of in a camera bag, and bungee the cooler down.
Take a hand blower or soft brush as well as a clean soft cloth to take dust off your lens. When you load your camera, take care that dust from your clothing and hands doesn’t get on the film or on the pressure plate inside the camera. There is nothing more frustrating than a beautiful shot with dust scratches running across it.
Take extra batteries for your camera and lots of film. You may be traveling reasonably close to town, but you won’t want to go back to buy anything.
OUR TOP PICKS FOR LOCATIONS (BUT ASK YOUR GUIDE FOR OTHERS):
Red Rock Crossing
was our favorite location. There’s a beautiful view of Cathedral Rock with Oak Creek in the foreground. Be sure to take a trail from the end of the parking area along the river edge. When the water level is low (as it was for us), there are lovely reflective pools on the rocks. We visited in the spring, but I would love to return in the fall when the trees turn colors.
Schnebley Hill in the Wallow Canyon
section was voted our second favorite location. Here the spires and formations are breathtaking. First, take the overall shots, but then take the time to use a long lens to find the most graphic shots. It’s a great exercise in seeing, and the minimal photos were terrific. Schnebley Hill continued to be great as we drove toward the Schnebley Vista Point. You look down on a formation called the Merry-Go-Round and can see Sedona, Bell Rock, the Courthouse Butte, and Cathedral Rock in the far distance. We were there in the late afternoon, and the air was hazy with the sun coming right toward the camera. I think I would prefer to do the upper portion in the early morning.
The Vista point just off Dry Creek Road came in third. I don’t believe the area in which we stopped has an official name, but anywhere along this road is a great stop. We looked at Chimney Rock, Capitol Butte, and found the little teapot formation. We also had an opportunity to see the cliffs, canyons, and formations that are a part of the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.
is a small hill located somewhere near Fay Canyon. From here we also got a closer look at the canyons and the cliffs of the wilderness area. We took the time to climb this hill, and I found some interesting trees as well as cactus that made nice foregrounds for some wide-angle shots.
In addition to these great locations, be sure to take the time to visit the Church of the Holy Cross in Sedona proper. It’s an unusual piece of architecture as well as being nestled among some lovely spires called Madonna and Child and the Nuns. Use foliage to hide the nearby homes, the road, and parking lot. You don’t need a jeep to make this stop.
SOME ADDITIONAL TIPS:
If you have the time, the numerous hiking trails are pretty special. There’s a variety of things to see and do. Check out Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock for great hikes, and some of the canyons off Boynton Pass Road looked interesting to us, as well.
Be sure to make reservations in advance for your accommodations. There are many terrific places to stay in a variety of price ranges. However, the town fills up quickly in most seasons, and you don’t want to be disappointed. We stayed at Canyon Villa Inn in the Village of Oak Creek, a community just south of Sedona. It was a lovely place to relax after our busy day. When planning your trip, we suggest you stay several days. You want to have time to enjoy all this area has to offer.
After our wonderful experience with Earth Wisdom Jeep Tours, we stopped for dinner at Maria’s near the Canyon Villa Inn. The food was terrific, and the service was great. The night we ate at Maria’s, John Spannagel was singing. He’s a local artist and entertainer. His music made for a great evening–a perfect ending to an eventful day.
Thanks for coming along on our Sedona adventure. We hope you’ll try a Sedona jeep tour on your own. We had a great time and plan to return. There are too many things we still want to see and do. When you come to this country, its beauty moves you. Our Sedona adventure was an experience that will stay in our memories for a long time.