2011 Southern Utah Fall

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a new blog.  This summer, starting in Yellowstone in June, has just been off the charts in the number of safaris, shoots, and seminars I’ve been doing.  Family obligations and trips, as well as many personal shoots, have cut into my time and my ability to stay current … but I’m going to try to keep up.

My regular autumn southern Utah safari was Nov 4-6, just this past week.  Wow.  I got to Springdale on Thursday afternoon, the day before the safari, and on my initial run through Zion Canyon I ran across a Gray Fox.  Now, I’ve been shooting in Zion since 1985 – 26 years – and this is the first Gray Fox I’ve had an opportunity to see or photograph.  They are almost, almost, strictly nocturnal – so finding one in daylight, even poor light late in the afternoon, was rare.

My new Nikon D3s, that I started shooting a couple of months ago really paid off as I was able to shoot at ISO 3200, and with careful processing, capture a number of good images of the fox working the area around the Grotto, which is about 3/4 mile past Zion Lodge.

Gray Fox in Zion Canyon

For about an hour we had a cat and mouse game of hide-and-seek.  The gray fox would lose me, I would circle, and eventually find him again.  Four times he lost me and four times I found him.  We began in the meadow opposite the parking lot for the Grotto and ended with him on a rock ledge about ten feet up the canyon wall, curled up sleeping with his tail over his face.  He gave me four or five good encounters where he would stop moving and just watch me.

Hunting through the meadow.

I’ve photographed hundreds of red fox, and seen many kit foxes in the southern Utah and southern California deserts, but never a gray fox.  He was skilled at climbing logs of the fallen Fremont Cottonwood trees and the cliff face were he ended up.  It was a great encounter for me.  The next day I had another first when I saw a raccoon in Zion Canyon.  I’ve seen Ring-tailed cats before, but never a raccoon.

Gray Fox taking a break in Zion Canyon

The next day we began the safari by shooting sunrise images at the Towers of the Virgin viewpoint behind the old Visitor’s Center.  With the canyon still pretty dark we headed up to the top of Zion above the tunnels – which I call the “roof”.  A mile past the second, smaller tunnel we came upon a small herd of desert bighorn ewes in the company of a very large full-curl ram.  They were very close to the road and posed for us on the rocks many times.  As with the fox, I shot some hd video of the sheep as well.  I’m hoping to put together some footage from these encounters and create an interesting video.

Desert Bighorn Ram headshot

We captured as much of the sheep and their inter-actions as possible, then moved back to Zion Canyon to shoot some of the color.  We saw sheep a number of other times on other days, but didn’t run across any other rams to photograph.  They were all located in the same general area from the park’s east entrance to the smaller tunnel.  The rut was just beginning for the both the mule deer and the bighorn sheep, and should run through early December.

After returning to Zion Canyon we began to photograph the Maples, Gambel’s Oak, Fremont Cottonwoods, and Velvet Ash that were in their fall colors.  The maples with their bright red leaves always catch my attention first, but the others in yellow are photogenic as well.  You hardly know where to start.

Autumn Maple leaves in Zion Canyon

We spent each morning shooting up on the roof first, where the light was better, then we shot in late mornings and afternoons in the canyon.  Each day the colors got better, more vibrant, and more trees in full color.  I figured Nov 7-8 would be peak colors for the maples, maybe a couple of days later for the cottonwoods.  Last year the safari fell over those days and Nov 7th was peak color day last year.

The Pulpit and autumn colors.

On Saturday morning we headed over to Bryce Canyon National Park to photograph the morning light in Queen’s Garden.  Snow had fallen the night before and many of the park roads were closed, limiting our travels … but still the snow added an amazing counterpoint of color and brightness to the images.

Morning light on rock formations in the Queen's Garden.

While we worked the canyon we encountered many mule deer bucks.  On our first day in we saw a dozen bucks and maybe 35-40 does and yearlings.  After hiking the side walls of the canyon for color we spent some time Saturday afternoon shooting the muley bucks we encountered.  The largest buck we saw, a massive 4×4 34-36 inch rack (determined by how far the antlers are outside the ears of the deer, which are generally 22″ wide from ear to ear when alert) was in the ranger housing area, where when we stopped to photograph another large buck – we were promptly asked to leave.  Some things never change.

A nice 3x4 mule deer buck in Zion Canyon.

So in the late afternoons the mule deer were very active, and of course, I continued to look for the Gray Fox hoping for another encounter.  The canyon, but also the campgrounds near the park’s entrance, have been traditional mule deer breeding grounds over the past quarter century that I’ve photographed the park.  The largest bucks I’ve photographed have been in the 5 and 6 point class, mostly in the 30″ width range in Zion.  This year the rutting activity seems to have started fairly early.  I thought the deer looked very healthy and sleek.

One animal that I’m used to shooting there are the wild turkeys.  This year we only saw a handful, so maybe the foxes or coyotes are making in-roads in reducing their population somewhat.  On Sunday storm clouds began to move in and thicken up, darkening the park considerably.  If you have time, the park should still have good color and lots of wildlife opportunities for another ten days, then the color will fall to the ground.

About brentrpaull

Professional Photographer
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1 Response to 2011 Southern Utah Fall

  1. Allen Round says:

    Wow! Great photos!

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