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The Endless Variety of Cottonwood Canyon Road

Updated: Jun 25

A day of scouting turned into a surprisingly productive day of photography in southern Utah

Candyland, a colorful area along Cottonwood Canyon Road in Utah
An area known as Candyland along Cottonwood Canyon Road

My second day in southern Utah was intended to be spent simply - and somewhat lazily - scouting out potential compositions and campsites along Cottonwood Canyon Road as I sought to clear my mind from the stress and worry caused by my mom's recent cancer diagnosis.

Not long after I left my campsite, though, I couldn't resist pulling out the camera and I soon found the peace of mind that comes to me so often through the act of making photos while immersed in nature.

Dappled sunlight on the rugged landscape of southern Utah along Cottonwood Canyon Road
Layers of land and light as heavy clouds drifted overhead further north along an offshoot track from Cottonwood Canyon Road

Opting to skip Cottonwood Narrows, a small canyon along the road that I've visited several times in the past, I made my way further north and ended up heading down a sidetrack on a whim.

Off to the left of the above composition was a (very) distant view of Bryce Canyon National Park - I was treated to a great vista of park coming down a steep, winding portion of the Cottonwood Canyon Road before I turned off - but I stood set up for the above composition for quite a while, waiting for the light to fall on the landscape "just right."

I was intrigued by the broken sunlight's mimicry of the geological layers of the land as the gathering clouds drifted overhead.

Brilliantly lit bare, white branches of cottonwood trees in the afternoon sun along Cottonwood Canyon Road
Brilliantly sunlit trees caught my eye as I headed back south

The clouds moved out as the day progressed towards late afternoon. As I was heading back to the campsite I was hoping to secure for a second night, some amazingly lit trees compelled me to pull over.

I believe I ended up spending an hour parked along the side of the road, letting the few remaining clouds move on to get stronger light on the above grouping of trees. I'm always amazed at how beautifully bare trees - especially with light bark like this - come to life with the right light.

A giant, old cottonwood tree in soft light along Cottonwood Canyon Road
Cool shadows bathed this old, gnarled cottonwood as the sun was briefly diffused by passing clouds

I'll wrap up this collection of photos with this one: I have two takes on this scene, one with strong light and the one shown here, taken when a cloud softened the sun for a bit. I really cannot decide which version I like better... watch the behind-the-scenes video to see the other, along with several more photos from this day. Leave a comment on YouTube to let me know which you prefer!

Join Me Behind the Scenes


The second and final installment in my latest Utah video series is now available to watch on YouTube, featuring the photos shown above along with several others. Beyond scouting along Cottonwood Canyon Road, I wrap up the series with some wandering and ruminating along the Paria River as I share some thoughts on the impact of stress and emotion on one's creativity.

If you missed the first episode, you can catch up here. All my videos from Utah can be found in this playlist, as well.


Michael Rung

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