The Back Story
During pre-production we came to the conclusion that if we didn’t want to battle crowds of tourists for shots or end up with clichéd pictures of southern Utah, we’d have to go off the beaten path, literally. And to do so we would need guides and off-road vehicles as opposed to the large, lumbering SUV we had rented to move the crew and equipment from the airport to our home base in Kanab, Utah. Thank God for that decision. The guides were not only critical in getting us to the spots but also helped ease the load of carrying gear.
Fasten Your Seatbelt!
The first location of the shoot was Peekaboo slot canyon. Slot canyons form by flash floods that come into the area in the early summer. The floods carve through the soft sandstone moving everything in their path including boulders and trees while creating these unique and beautiful canyons.
To get to Peekaboo would require a relatively short drive on the highway and then a 20-minute off road trek that was quite the introduction to our trip. Full disclosure: I had never been off-roading so I was not aware that you needed to haul ass while driving through off-road trails of deep hot sand or run the risk of getting stuck. And haul ass we did! Saying it was a bumpy ride would be like saying that flying from Miami to Japan is a long flight. Once at Peekaboo, the hike out and back through the slot was relatively benign – about a quarter mile each way of mostly flat hard-packed dirt and rock. We got our shots and we were off to a great start. Day 1 morning session = success.
We left the slot canyons and headed towards the Cutler Point alcove, near the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument – a wind-blown dune and alcove combination near the peak of a sandstone mountain. The ride from Peekaboo to Cutler Point reinforced the importance of seatbelts and revealed that I have been severely underappreciating paved roads all this incline through the mountain equivalent of deep beach sand. The air was thin; the base of the mountain was at 6,800 ft above sea level and we were climbing. And everyone except model Abigail Zientek, who we wanted to keep fresh, was carrying some sort of heavy pack or case that now seemed 10 times heavier. I let myself fall into the sand three times just to catch my breath on the way up.
We made it to the alcove and although thoroughly exhausted, it was immediately evident why we had to work so hard to get here; it is a truly amazing site. I have to give the crew credit for even making it to the alcove and for not being mad at me for underselling the difficulty of the job!
Seven hours into the day, we were halfdead, covered in sand, and back in the Jeeps driving out to our final location.
The Old Paria townsite was once the backdrop for Westerns like Clint Eastwood’s 1976 classic, The Outlaw Josey Wales. But on this day its rainbow colored hills would be the backdrop for our cover shot.
New day, new model, and a different landscape. We loaded up the Jeeps and hit the road for an hour to the Crawford Pass Loop on the southwestern side of Bryce Canyon National Park, just outside of the park boundary in the Dixie National Forest. The area boasts impressive Bryce Canyon cliffs and giant hoodoos. These are the cool-looking spires of rocks that protrude from the bottom. We set off to hike the two and a half mile loop trail that runs along the forested ledge of a high plateau overlooking a massive valley. We picked spots along the trail to photograph model Allie Leggett so of course we had to trek through the forest with all kinds of equipment. About halfway through, the guides doubled back in a full sprint, got back in the Jeeps, rode them to the end of the trail, and sprinted back in the other direction to meet up with us. These guys were incredible. Hats off to Nick and Kaleb.
By the second half of the day it had all taken its toll. Most of the crew was either in some sort of pain or just flat out exhausted. None of us were accustomed to the altitude and more importantly everyone was out of shape. But we soldiered on to the Losee Canyon Arches Trail where, legend has it, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would hide out. The ground was sandy clay with tons of loose small rocks; couple that with the steep inclines and it made for a risky situation. What set this area apart was that unlike most photos of Bryce Canyon, which involve hoodoos far away in the background, on this trail you can stand next to, climb onto, and rest up against the hoodoos. And if you’re not afraid of sliding off a rock ledge, this trail has the added bonus of an arch that sits near the top of a particularly treacherous optional trail. Considering that Butch Cassidy was born not too far from this spot and it was a supposed hideout, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were shooting in the spot where Butch Cassidy first got to third base?