Trip Recap: American Southwest 2017 with PODAS
Written by: David Gaiz, December 7th, 2017

In early November we wrapped up a fun-filled trip with Phase One and their photo loving guests. We setup and ran a series of trips this past fall for Phase’s PODAS program. Phase One does a fantastic job of taking care of their guests on their PODAS trips and including everything from hotels to meals to transport, they even bring some of the best photo instructors in the industry and Phase One equipment for all guests to utilize for the duration of the trip.


For our 2017 trips in the American Southwest, Phase sent master photographers Steven Friedman and Tim Wollcott to help the guests take amazing shots of the breathtaking scenery. Phase wants to ensure their guests are well looked after and also sent their Manager of Educational Services Scott Nidermaier who went out of his way to make sure all the guests were well looked after and always had the equipment they needed every step of the way. We ran two trips in the southwest, the first a 9 day, 8 night trip that started in Salt Lake City and visited Moab, Bryce Canyon, Page, Monument Valley and ended in Sedona. The second trip was an 8 day, 7 night journey that began in Sedona and moved on to the Grand Canyon and Zion before finishing up in Vegas.



We started off the first half of our southwest journey together with an orientation and get-together in Salt Lake City. We chatted about the upcoming trip, started making connections and had dinner together before getting ready to head out to Moab the next morning. We hit Moab around mid-day, and after a quick bite for lunch we got the photography started with a visit to Arches National Park.

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Turret Arch & The Windows - Arches National Park, Utah

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Vista of Arches National Park from the Fiery Furnace Overlook
Everyone was eager to pull out their 100 megapixel Phase One camera systems and start shooting, so we hopped off the bus at Park Ave. The group shot their way through the mile long trail, passing the Three Sisters before ending up at the Courthouse Towers. When we were driving into Moab earlier in the day there were barely any clouds to be seen. By the time we were starting the Park Ave walk, we had huge banks of clouds making their way above us and further into the park - perfect timing to add some extra drama to the sky for everyone shooting.

Next up - a stop at Balanced Rock. We gave the group a chance to shoot around balanced rock and create some panos that included the La Sal Mountains in the backdrop. The wind picked up pretty substantially after just a couple of minutes of shooting, so we packed up and headed out to our last location of the night. We opted for the Fiery Furnace Overlook rather than joining crowds heading up to Delicate Arch. The clouds were lining up nicely, but were also getting pretty thick along the horizon and we knew there would be a chance the light wouldn't sneak through and light up the arch. Our decision paid off as the light didn't fully get through, but we still had great photo ops at the furnace overlook and basically had the spot to ourselves away from the crowds. Our guests got to pick Tim and Steven's brains about panos and different compositions and ask any lingering questions about how to use the amazing Phase One cameras.

We wrapped up a long, but very productive Day 2 with pizza and beer back at the hotel - allowing everyone the chance to relax, hangout a bit more and get to know one another.

On day 3 we got everyone up early and headed to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park for sunrise. If you're a photographer, you've probably experienced or heard about the experience of shooting Mesa Arch for sunrise. For many of our guests, this was their first opportunity to shoot Mesa at sunrise. We gave everyone the rundown of how the spot tends to turn into a zoo, and everyone was game to give it a try. When we pulled up in the parking lot it was almost 2 hours before sunrise - and there were already a handful of cars in the lot. We hustled down to the arch to find that there were around 12 people there already, we squeezed in and by the time we were an hour and a half before sunrise, the shooting spots were all gone and the arch was jam packed. It was a cold, slightly windy morning, and that cold bit through the jackets and hats for the first hour or so as everyone stood waiting for the light to hit. Despite the crowds & the cold, it was a successful morning of shooting with the underside of the arch glowing a brilliant orange as everyone hoped.

After sunrise, the group opted for breakfast and coffee so we made our way back to Moab for some food and a break. We got together again in our classroom that we had setup at our hotel for instruction in using Capture One and some time to edit photos that had been taken on the first day and a half of our journey. Following lunch, it was time to hit the trails again and snap away. We went back into Canyonlands National Park and spent the afternoon shooting at various view points before wrapping up at Green River Overlook. We didn't have clouds, but the light was still great and with so many different compositions available to find, everyone had plenty of opportunity to create great shots to wind down the day. We wrapped up day 3 by visiting one of the best restaurants in Moab - Jeffrey's Steakhouse. Everyone was happy to have great food and delicious wine after a long day of shooting.

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Green River Overlook - Canyonlands National Park, Utah

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Mesa Arch - Canyonlands National Park, Utah

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Green River Overlook - Canyonlands National Park, Utah
We started off day 4 with a sunrise shoot in Arches, this time we visited the Windows and shot Turret Arch through the South Window. The light was good, the shooting was good, guests were happy and we left Moab with tons of great photos to process as we made our way over to Bryce Canyon National Park.

We traveled in style, our mini bus had reclining leather seats, an entertainment system that we could hook laptops up to for presentations and processing, and each seat had it's own charging ports underneath so everyone could keep batteries topped up throughout the day. We took the scenic route and drove through Capital Reef National Park and saw some amazing fall color on display with the cottonwoods glowing bright yellow. We stopped a couple of times to shoot the colors and grabbed Mexican food for lunch before finishing up the drive to Bryce.

On the way in, we didn't have a lot of clouds in the area, but by the time sunset rolled around clouds had rolled in and our guests got to enjoy a great first afternoon of composing the hoodoos and snapping tons of photos. After dinner together, everyone got a well deserved rest.

Day 5 brought us a whole day of Bryce exploration. We took the group out for sunrise, took a break for presentations and post processing instruction coupled with lunch, and then back out to the amphitheaters filled with hoodoos in the afternoon. During our afternoon session we had amazing looking backlight on some of the hoodoos. We spent hours exploring and shooting at Sunrise, Sunset and Bryce Points. Tonight the group dined at the lodge in the park enjoying great meals coupled with a few drinks to end the day.

On Day 6 we left Utah behind and headed into Arizona for an overnight in Page. After lunch in Page, we spent the afternoon exploring Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon which everyone really loved. We bought out the canyon to maximize our shooting time and possibilities without having loads of other people in there with us. Our guide was wonderful and gave us extra time in the canyon before driving us over to Horseshoe Bend to take in the sunset. After hours of great shooting we went to Big John's Texas BBQ for live music and great BBQ food to feast on.

On Day 7, we maximized our time in Page by exploring 3 more slot canyons before heading out of town. We started early and shot in Owl, Rattlesnake and Upper Antelope with Rattlesnake being the highlight. Upper Antelope is a different kind of slot canyon experience due to it's popularity, and after experiencing it once I think it's safe to say most people have their fill - especially if you're a photographer. After lunch in Page we hit the road and made our way to Monument Valley. We arrived at the tribal park just in time to grab shots of the setting sun lighting up the Mittens and casting long shadows across the valley. We had dinner at the View Restaurant before heading back down the road to call it a night at Goulding's.

Day 8 was our last full day together with our current crew. This trip was split into two sections, some guests joined us for the 1st half, some for the 2nd, and some traveled with us the whole way. We spent the day exploring the back country of Monument Valley with our local Navajo guides. Our first shoot included pre-sunrise silhouette's of the totem poles before heading over to Artist's Point and a few other locations to catch the rising sun lighting up the buttes and mesas. Overall, it was a great morning of shooting with lots of different views and comps available to everyone.

After a mid-day break for rest, editing and lunch we hit the valley floor again with our local Navajo guides and spent the afternoon shooting various spots around the valley including the sand dunes and the totems towards the end of the day.

After breakfast and final sunrise shoot at Monument Valley we kicked off Day 9 with a road trip to Sedona. After arriving in Sedona we unfortunately had to say farewell to Bill and Frank who weren't joining us for the 2nd half of the trip, but we got to welcome Mike to the crew for the 2nd half of our southwest adventure. Our first shoot in Sedona was up at the top of Airport Saddle, which provides 360 degree views of the gorgeous red rocks Sedona is known for and also unique views of the town of Sedona. We had a group dinner at Salt Rock to wrap up the day and the food was fantastic.

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Bell Rock - Sedona, AZ
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Cactus - Sedona, AZ
Day 10 gave us a full day to explore Sedona and enjoy the beauty of the towering Red Rocks. We started with a sunrise shoot at Yavapai Vista. We didn't get lucky enough to have clouds roll in at the right time today, but the light hitting the rocks in the early morning still provided opportunities for shooting. We made a stop at Bell Rock next, with Scott pulling out an Achromatic Phase One back and Steven showing the group how they could get amazing shots in black and white even in harsh light.

After downtime for editing and rest we spent the last few hours of the day shooting at the Crescent Moon Picnic Area along Oak Creek. This gave everyone chances to take shots of well known Cathedral Rock and find more intimate landscapes along the river and amongst the trees. We took the group to dinner at Picazzo's for great pizza and pasta after a day filled with shooting.

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Cathedral Rock - Sedona, Arizona
On Day 11 it was time for us to hit the road again, this time for a short drive up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We shot a final sunrise in Sedona at the top of Airport Saddle and made our way up the scenic drive on the 89A through Oak Creek Canyon before arriving at one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World - the Grand Canyon in time for lunch.

With some of the guests having never seen the canyon, we wanted to get everyone out to the rim as soon as possible after arriving. We walked down to the rim from our home for our 2 night stay - Maswik Lodge - and gave everyone time to walk the rim trail and take shots at leisure. There was a big fire in the area and lots of smoke around leading to fairly hazy conditions at the canyon. We decided to head out to Hopi Overlook for sunset and it was absolutely amazing. The smoke from the fires had filled the canyon in a similar fashion to a massive cloud inversion. It added drama to the shots and everyone had a great time shooting the canyon with the smoke inversion and dappled light over the last couple hours of the day.

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Day 12 brought us a full day to explore the south rim and shoot as much as possible. We started off with a sunrise shoot at Yaki Point and the conditions in the morning didn't disappoint! We had lots of clouds and a good amount of color in the sky as the sun rose and started to light up the ridges of the canyon. After a solid morning shooting session we headed back to Maswik for breakfast and a short break before heading out to shoot for the rest of the day.

We spent most of the day exploring the eastern half of the south rim making numerous stops at various overlooks to shoot the canyon from different angles. Our final stop of the day was Lipan Point. We got lucky and had some color in the sky to go along with the chilling wind that kept everyone bundled up during the shoot. We wrapped up the long, fun, productive day with a dinner at the oldest hotel in the south rim, the over 100 year old El Tovar. Dinner was outstanding and hit spot for everyone after a great day of shooting.

Day 13 started with an early start and sunrise shoot at Lipan Point. The clouds didn't fully cooperate this morning and were too thick to let the sun shine through and light up the canyon, so we left and made our way to Cameron for a hearty breakfast.

After leaving Cameron we hit the road for a drive back in to Utah and our last main stop for the trip - Zion National Park. As we drove into Zion we were excited to see the fall colors were close to their peak and we spent the first afternoon shooting the vibrant colored trees down near the Riverside Walk. After the light disappeared for the day we made our way to Springdale to get fitted with gear for our Narrow's hike the following day.

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Temple of Sinawava - Zion National Park, Utah
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Temple of Sinawava - Zion National Park, Utah
Day 14 was the Narrows day for us! We caught the first park shuttle of the day down to the Temple of Sinawava and began our trek into the river and started our full day of shooting. Our guests spent about 8 hours in the Narrows shooting the gorgeous cascades of the Virgin River, towering rock walls and brightly colored trees in an experience they'll never forget. Hiking the Narrows is a great experience, and one we highly recommend to photographers and non-photographers alike as long as you're properly prepared.

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The Narrows - Zion National Park, Utah
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The Narrows - Zion National Park, Utah

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The Narrows - Zion National Park, Utah

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The Narrows - Zion National Park, Utah

Our last full day together was Day 15 and we used it to keep grabbing as many fall color shots as we could around Zion. We visited the Towers of the Virgin for sunrise and caught a few minutes of light peaking through the clouds and hitting the towering rocks in front of us. We spent the bulk of the day down towards the end of the canyon shooting the colorful trees near the Temple of Sinawava & Big Bend. We finished off the full day of shooting with a shoot along the Virgin River & Pa'rus trail to capture photos of the Watchman being lit up by the setting sun. We had a farewell dinner at the Spotted Dog in Springdale to cap off an amazing 2+ weeks together on the road shooting some of the best the American Southwest has to offer.

The last half day we had together on Day 16 started with another sunrise shoot at the Towers of the Virgin. We got lucky to have good light come through again for a few minutes and worked on creating panos together one last time. After a final successful shoot, we loaded up the gear and hit the road for a final drive to Vegas. After arriving in Sin City we said our farewells and headed off in different directions, full of great memories, experiences and with tons of new photos to process and share.

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Towers of the Virgin - Zion National Park, Utah
A big thank you to Gary, Henry, Dave, Frank, Bill & Mike for coming on the trip! We hope to travel with you again in the future! Also huge thanks are due to Steven, Tim and Scott for their efforts in putting on such a fantastic trip for everyone.

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