Spencer Millsap Photo Blog » WA state filmmaker and photographer

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On the high of Zion/Bryce we weren’t quite sure what to expect of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Everyone goes to the South Rim lookouts, the iconic staple spots of every westward family roadtrip, so what does the north side have to offer? A lot. The overall southwest feel is stripped away to dense forests with peaks of the rim, cool weather at around 8,000 feet of elevation, and a lot less people pushing their way for a selfie. It was glorious. We pulled into the back country permit office late in the afternoon to chat with Ranger Steve, who was fresh off a 10 day vacation. With our requests in mind, he actually sent us just out of the National Park, to the very much overlooked Kaibab National Forest, which ALSO sits right on the east rim of the Grand Canyon. With his outline we set off out of the park and about an hour’s worth of dirt road, crossing the Arizona Trail in the process. Towards what we hoped was the end at the national park and national forest boundary we found Saddle Mt. and the Nankoweap trailhead that snakes its way down into the canyon. We decided to park it and walk out to edge point off the trailhead, set up camp, make a little fire and chill with the amazing rim view right in front of us.

Making our way back into the park proper, we set off with backcountry gear for Widforss Point, named after Gunnar Widforss who painted along the rim in the 1920’s. It’s a ridiculously beautiful just shy of 10 mile roundtrip hike that meanders through the forest, along the rim itself, through patches of wildflowers, to snake up to the main point with great views of the canyon from a number of different sites. We set up camp, made dinner, had a little whiskey, and retired only to wake up to an array of colors hitting the rim from what felt like all directions. Right on the edge, it was tough to leave that campsite, but I made my way back up to the main point with Megan, to have some coffee, sketch the view, and make our way back to the car. We hit up the main Roughrider Saloon, which had perfect decor and the best tasting beer awaiting us. From there we gorged ourselves at the North Rim Lodge, frozen in time from the early 1930’s lodge days, with great details, warmth, grand spaces, and views of the rim. Well worth the time here and going back to.

SHM_0623 SHM_9442Spotted alone, we didn’t pick it up or stay around for too long.

SHM_9449The trailhead of the Nankoweap Trail / Saddle Mt. – and my perfect tent spot for the night overlooking the East Rim.

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Serious Revenant vibes

SHM_9519 SHM_9532 SHM_9563 dip 3Sunrise at 4:57 AM

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The view down to Nankoweap Creek, and ultimately, the Colorado River.

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brownie 1Mt. Hayden from Point Imperial

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oh boy…

vert 3 SHM_9695 dip 7Campsite at the bottom overlook of Widforss Point

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Roughrider Saloon. After asking the bartender this was apparently a multitude of different spots before ultimately becoming a bar. From barbershop, to post office, then a fire in 1932, the bones and air of the original 1927 structure are still here.

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Hat down, Grand Canyon Brewing Co. Pilsner

SHM_9845 dip 10Super cool history along the way. Crazy to think that the first mapping expeditions of the canyon were in the early 1900’s. This was some THIRTY YEARS after the classic John Wesley Powell excursions down the Colorado. So much was unexplored.

SHM_9852 SHM_9853 vert 2Loved the old school lodge design aesthetics at the North Rim Lodge, low lit reception, leather, grand rafter beams

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Elk Chili – After 2 days of freeze dried meals, this was heaven.

SHM_9871Onward

After leaving Valley of Fire, we made our way to the outfitter town of Springdale, UT, just outside of Zion National Park. We got settled in at a cramped and packed tent site behind a Quality Inn, found some dinner and passed out. We were up around 5:30 AM to break camp, park at the main visitor’s center and hit our early morning tram through the park getting glimpses of the peaks as the sun started to rise. All the way out to the very last stop at the Temple of Sinawava, out along a 1 mile Riverside Walk where we saw some grazing deer, to the start of the Lower Narrows. We made our way through ankle all the way to neck high water crossings, with only a handful of fellow hikers coming and going in the early shade of the canyon. It was a crazy beautiful, magnificent hike that I would recommend to everyone. It is an out and back hike that is nice if you just want to go a mile in, or 10 to some of the backcountry sites, which I would love to do next time from the top down. We made our way close to 5 miles in near the Big Spring campsite. The place turned into a giant pool party of families on the last few miles back out, so get there EARLY if you are looking for some tranquility in the scenery. This area, sadly, is where I got tripped up and dunked the left half of my body in the water, bricking up my iPhone that was in my front chest pocket, so all my shots for these posts are either my old Brownie or my main 5D MKIII.

SHM_9044 SHM_9050Riverside Walk with first light in the distance

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Bryce Canyon National Park

From Zion, we made our way to the lesser known Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s an amazing crescent shaped park that hugs the rim of the canyon, filled with breath taking scenic lookouts, hoodoos, or tall spires that have been eroded over time, great star gazing, and a handful of pretty awesome looking back country sites in the canyon. We made our way in, set up camp at #250 at the Sunset Campground in the park and hit the trails. Our loop was the figure eight Navajo Loop – Peakaboo Loop – Queen’s Garden – and back out to Sunset point. It was around a 9 mile, fairly strenuous hike down into the canyon, through some amazing formations, and eventually wove its way back out. After that we walked to a handful of viewpoints and drove to the very end of the park for some others. Settling in from the day hike, we cooked up some brats, had some beers, a crackling fire, and had some great luck to catch a ranger-led star watching event at the visitor’s center. With 5-6 telescopes pointing to different spots in the night sky, we saw Saturn, Jupiter and its moons, Mars, and a number of constellations before making our way back to camp to look up from our site to the night sky as the full moon rose overhead.

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View of Thor’s Hammer from the Navajo Loop Trail

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Our loop – in blue, Navajo – Peakaboo – Queens Garden

SHM_9319The Wall of Windows off the Peakaboo Loop

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SHM_9350 vert 3 SHM_9364 SHM_9372 dip 4Campsite #250 at Sunset Campgrounds

SHM_9422 SHM_9429Sunrise from Sunset Point, appropriate.

Starting off the trip, we were stoked. Megan and I’s correspondence was minimal which I’m sure on both sides, we thought was fitting to our loosely sculpted tour over the following 2 weeks. As the temps hit into the 100’s easily, we hit the road into the desert beyond Las Vegas bound for Zion National Park, however, only a short time into the drive Megan saw the sign for Valley of Fire State Park. “Wanna check it out?”, “Sure.” And off we went to stop 1, at 1 PM, on day 1, in 110 degrees. It was a pretty brutal awakening to the climate of dry heat, but the park is a site to see, well worth visiting at all times of year, but I would recommend the winter months for sure! We hit up the White Domes Trail loop, which was a great little 1.25 mile trail with a slot canyon, open rock formations, and even an old movie set. After that we went down to the Fire Wave Trail, a super short, but intense in the sun, trail that sweeps out onto amazing swirling formations in the rock, or as we renamed it – Bacon Rock.

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WPA_NP_BannerAs my time has recently opened up into a whole new world of exploring, friends, and new places, it was only appropriate that during the National Park Service’s centennial two friends were hoping to drive their way across the vast expanses of the U.S. in hopes of spending time in some of the most iconic parks out there. Of course I immediately said yes to accompany them. The parks, especially the classics, have always felt like postcard viewpoints, packed family road trip stop-offs, jam packed roads in and out of the visitor’s centers; It was time to change my mindset of that. I wanted to approach these trips with a new perspective of the off the beaten path spots, the backcountry gems, and of course, allow a proper amount of time in each for really enjoying what these spaces have to offer. During the first trip I picked up an amazing little item at Back of Beyond Books in Moab, UT. From 1853 titled Colton’s Guidebook Through the United States of America – it has some amazing commentary on the great west that was still very much an unknown at the time. Really amazing keeping in mind the U.S. was only 31 states back then, the west was “territories” including Utah, New Mexico, California, and Oregon, some just recently acquired.

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An excerpt – Territory of Utah, Pop. 11,381 – “The prospects of these [mormon] settlements are very encouraging. They are on all sides surrounded by a labyrinth of mountains, which are supposed to be very rich in mineral wealth. Add to these natural advantages the industry to appropriate them, which is a portion of the religion of the settlers, and what shall stay the onward progress of this colony, the location of which within a few years was scarcely known to civilized man?”

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To start this endeavor, I had the magnificent fortune to “plan out” a trip to the great National Parks of the American Southwest with my long time friend Megan, a fellow outdoors enthusiast based out of Austin, TX. Our trip was a bucket list of must-dos that we have been wanting to hit up for a while that turned into a loose structure, that went on to a sort of “Let’s just see what happens” kind of adventure. The perfect kind. The mixed framework had us tent camping at parks with a general plan of 12 days or so. I booked my ticket to Las Vegas, prepped my gear, flew out early, and landed knowing full well the area was at record temps. The scope of the trip was unknown and it was time to fill in the gaps. It was a fast moving, at the same time slow and immersive, with some pretty crazy ups and downs along the way. Here is the breakdown of the days that followed. I hope this can give you some resource for your next trip while providing a little visual zen in some of the most spectacular corners of the U.S. – enjoy!

American Southwest Trip

Katie and Dakota. I’ve known Katie for over 15 years, so this one was like photographing a family member’s wedding, which has it’s ups and downs! I wanted to capture everything I possibly could in a new way, especially since I grew up working summers at the Pecan Plantation Country Club, so it was quite a task to re-invent. I focused on the Texas-isms, since I’ve been in D.C. the last 4 years, it felt like coming home and looking for what makes the place so unique. Nostalgia, warmth, textures, and cool temp color contrasts were what I was looking for. The day was a lot more than I anticipated, but in a good way. It kept me working for perfect moments to show the close knit group Katie and Dakota share with their Camp Eagle friends, and all the relatives that feed off their energy. Thanks to the Capps family for everything and inviting me to cover such a special day in Katie’s life. Congrats to you guys and here’s to your next adventures! Katie_Dakota_Wedding-three2 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-2 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double1 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-6 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double2 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-9 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double3 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double4 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-16 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-three1 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-20 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-24 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-three3 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-28 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double5 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-31 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-32 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-33 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double6 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-36 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-37 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double8 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-47 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-48 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-three6 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-57 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-three4 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-58 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-59 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double9 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double7 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-41 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double10 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-65 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-66 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-68 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double11 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double12 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-73 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-76 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-77 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double14 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-81 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-three5 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-90 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-93 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double15 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-94 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-three7 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double13 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-98 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-99 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-100 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-101 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-102 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-103 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double17 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-106 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-double18 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-112 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-113 Katie_Dakota_Wedding-114