Traveling Through The Four Corners and American Southwest by Ashwin Rao

It’s about time for another travel article and who better to give it to us thank Ashwin Rao? This time he takes us on his “American Southwest” vacation, in words and images. Thanks Ashwin!

Traveling Through The Four Corners and American Southwest – Camera in Hand…

By Ashwin Rao

Hi again, fellow Steve Huffites! It’s Ashwin, coming to you with another travel journal. Today, I bring you a setting a bit closer to my home, but seemingly a million miles away from everywhere else. The Four Corners is the intersection of 4 states: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. I have had the good fortune to visit this magical area multiple times already, and I already have plans to explore it further in the months and years to come. I first spent 5 days traveling through northern Arizona on my own with my first serious SLR, the Canon 5D, in 2006. It was there that I felt first swept away by the inspiring beauty of this land, which as cliché as it may sound, is lost in time…I have since been back several times, primarily to New Mexico and Navajo country but also through a large part of Southern Utah and Colorado. The area is beautiful, but also impoverished, and the culture that remains is often eroded by poverty, rampant alcoholism, and disease. So in some ways, I was happy to travel to the land of the proud Navaho, if only to contribute to their economy through my tourism.

Regardless, I wanted to bring you pictures of the region and encourage you to visit this magical place. It is rich in tradition, and brings you a slice of Americana that you’d never find anywhere else. I will bring you pictures that I have taken with my Leicas as well as other cameras, such as the Canon 5D. It really doesn’t matter what camera you bring. The beauty here is so vast, so inescapable, that even a point and shoot can easily be used to make wonderful captures. So without further adieu….. The Four Corners and American Southwest.

Beginning the Journey

There are many places where you can start your journey into this beautiful place, situated upon the Great Colorado Plateau in the heart of America’s Southwest. I have started travels into the region from Albuquerque, NM, Phoenix, AZ, and Salt Lake City, UT on different occasions. There is no immediate access, as whichever port of entry you chose, there will be several hours of travel to get to the heart of this country. For all of this travel, you will be duly rewarded with images that will last a lifetime! So buckle up, and let me take you for a ride.


Utah is typically known for its numerous national parks, and I have had the good chance to see many of these places. On my travels through the south of Utah, I have been able to see Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Arches National Park, and so many sites in between. Here is the heart of the Colorado Uplift Zone, which used to be the bed of giant sea that is slowly being elevated by time and the collision of tectonic plates. Let me break my travels there by site visited, though truth be told, there’s as much to see between the national parks as within them.

Bryce Canyon

All that I can say is that Bryce is epic. It is the one place in the entire region that you must see. Time, wind, and the elements have carves a sea of majestic spires in the hillside of this Southern Utah monument, which I consider to be the most beautiful natural spectacle that I have ever seen. While there, remember to wake up early and watch the sunrise light up the Canyon. All that I can say is: Heaven On Earth.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is one of the most famous of all of America’s national park, famous for the delicate stone arches for which it takes its name. It was here that Edward Abbey, the famous conservationist, gained an appreciation for the majesty of this land and its delicate balance and preservation. Arches serves as a wonderful introduction to the region, and it is close to the uber-cool city of Moab (land of many mountain bikes) as well as Canyonlands National Park. Here are some images taken from the region:

Canon 5D- Delicate arch, taken with a 400 mm f/5.6 with 1.4x and 2x extenders attached. Seriously this image was taken from ½ mile (over 1 KM) away….

Canon 5D- Double Arch

Canon 5D- Sheets of Walls at Arches NP

Canon 5D- Sunset at Arches and Balancing Rock

Canyon lands National Park

This AMAZING national park is often forgotten as it sits aside its more famous neighbor, Arches National Park. Canyonlands is known for its famous viewpoint at Mesa Arch. At sunrise, this arch glows bright read, casting a daunting spectacle upon the scene beyond. While at Canyonlands, I camped literally at a site on the edge of a Canyon, while eagles nested in a dead tree above me. At night, it is so dark here that you can see the arms of the Milky Way spread above you. If you are into Astrophotography, this may be THE place for ya! To be honest, Canyonlands is probably my favorite of all national parks in the region. It is so vast, so overpowering, that it is hard to escape the beauty of the region here. I just felt like taking deep breaths of clean air, keep my eyes open, and take everything in.

Canon 5D- Canonlands Viewpoint

Canon 5D- Mesa Arch

Canon 5D- Indian Ruins in Canyonlands National Park

Canon 5D- Sunset on The Canyonlands

Dead Horse State Park

This is one of those surprising detours that came upon our exit from Canyonlands National park. This beautiful vista is another ideal place to watch a sunrise. While there, my friend and I ran into this older gentleman shooting a large format Horseman Camera. He said that he came here once a month, just to shoot and remember what a joy it was to be alive. I agree:

On the Road Between National Parks

On the road, you will see many sites that you wish you could stop for. After a while, things seem to blur, but as I was traveling with a friend with equal photographic passion to match mine, We got to stop a lot ; ). Here are just a few images taken along the way:

Layers of Colors

Canon 5D: Gnarled Tree

Canon 5D – Going to Dust

New Mexico & Far Eastern Arizona – A Journey with the Leica M8

New Mexico is a quiet land of sleeping ghosts, a place where you can palpably feel the Wild West. I swear, I could hear Clint Eastwood’s footsteps in the distance, but that’s how New Mexico is…a land of subtle grandeur and timeless aging.

I have been to New Mexico now twice, the last time with the Leica M8, some CV and Leica glass, and a week-end to capture life there. Along the way, we visited many sites, including Sky City (America’s longest continuously-inhabited dwelling) and Canyon De Chelly. For those of you who like shooting ruins, both new and old, New Mexico is the place for you. I am lucky to have close friends in the region, and plan to visit again, to see the many sites that I have missed in times past. Here are a few places that I didn’t miss

Leica M8 and Summilux 35 mm asph- Canyon De Chelly

Leica M8- Ruins of Whitehouse Rock

Leica M8- High above

Leica M8- Canon de Chelly from Above

Leica M8- Friends Resting

Leica M8- Dramatic New Mexico Clouds / Abandoned Settlement

Leica M8: Sky City Ruins

Leica M8 – Dog on “leash”

Leica M8 – Needle of Rock


So Much to see, so much to do in Arizona, but inevitably, when you think Arizona, you think “GRAND CANYON”….the Grand Canyon National Park consists of 2 rims, to the south and to the north, and is a place of the grandest majesty present on this planet. This is the landscape photographer’s dream. I came here and last shot the Grand Canyon when I was first getting interested in photography, so some of the images presented to you are my earliest work in my current push…so excuse the oversaturated colors and hyped up contrast. I have always made a point to shoot and process how I feel as I see these images, and here, in the teeth of the Grand Canyon, I wanted to convey the scope and splendor of the place. The easiest access point to the Grand Canyon is probably via Phoenix, followed by a several hour drive north. It’s a pleasant and beautiful drive, and you can stop by the volcanic fields near Flagstaff, divert to Meteor Crater, and other natural beauties on your way there. Make sure to bring warm cloths and some hand protection, as sunrise and sunset can get quite cold.

Canon 5D- Sunrise in the Grand Canyon, North Rim:

Canon 5D- Horseshoe Bend

Canon 5D- Me at Meteor Crater, in the Heart of Navajo Country


During my time in the Four Corners, my time in Colorado was limited. For me, it was maily a pass through from Southern Utah back to New Mexico on the return arm of our trip. However, Colorado should not be discounted as a stop worthy of time spent. Durango is a charming town, and much of the region is taken up by the San Juan Mountain Range, with its old mining towns and snowcapped peaks.

Canon 5D – Storm clouds Gather In the midst- San Juan Mountains

Hopefully, I haven’t bored you with these images. My photography tends to be centered about the busy streets of our cities and my hometown. However, traveling to the Southwest offers a different photographic experience, and I hope that I have nudged you closer to a trip to this wonderful area. Thanks for taking this trip with me!

I am always traveling. You can view some of my travel sets HERE.

My blog is HERE!

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  1. Ashwin, this is a wonderful story and inspiring photos! I have been living in Northern NM for a while, and this land is in my heart. Thank you for this article!

    You have a picture of friends resting on the rock – the lady from the right is it Dung Vu? sorry for asking, but sometimes the World is so small 🙂

  2. You have tons of great pictures…but this one IS expressed to me sooooooooooo much, cannot explain.

    Hey, are you ever looking for a photo partner? a temporal thing for a trip or two, I’m from Mexico and I am never ever able to travel with anybody to take pics with (especially nobody that cares to spend some money on a trip to the US for photography), I am a good hiker and passionate about the trade.

    I’mk looking forward to spending some days in Arizona or Utah, I haven’t defined my schedule, if you’re interested please let me know!


  3. Ashwin, OMG! Those are beautiful too. I’m always amazed at your work. That square picture of the canyon is friggin’ gorgeous! I can’t believe how beautiful these pictures came out. Now what did you use for these? How did you carry all of your gear? Did you pack your clothes with the gear and backpack, or did you do day trips? I heard it’s quite hot, but a dry heat, and that people carry around bottles of water to mist themselves with to keep from getting heat stroke.

    I’ll tell you what, every time I see some beautiful photos in any of the magazines, it seems that a Canon 5D Mark II is the tool used to take them. Canon really nailed it with this camera. It’s making me want to switch from Nikon to Canon. LOL! My friend has one and the files that come out of that camera are amazing.

    Terry: I would love to RV across country and take pictures like you will be doing. I read a book by John Steinbeck, “Travels With Charlie”, and I would have to bring my dog with me if I were to do a RV trip. Well, first I’d have to buy a RV! I would like to get a small vehicle that was used and cheap though. Rvs are expensive! LOL! What a way to travel though. You take your time, and drive along from state to state. The light in the west and southwest is quite beautiful, and I’d love to visit there someday.

  4. Hi Ashwin, great set of photos, thanks for sharing, I can barely bring myself to look at “Needle of Rock” for too long with fear of falling in, love the colours in “Horseshoe Bend”


  5. A couple more to share







  6. THanks again to everyone. I just got back from a whirlwind tour of the Oregon Coast and wine country (if Steve lets me share, I’ll be writing an article on this amazing part of the country soon as well). I very much appreciate the comments. The images taken were done so over a 3 year period of several visits to the region.

    @ Tyson and Pete: Common guys, you are so close ;)….seriously though, it’s funny that at times, we visit far away lands rather than the beauty that’s in our back yard. For example, it has been 3 years since I have been to the Olympic Peninsula, one of the most magical places on the planet, and a place that’s nearly at my doorstep…

    @ J: Enjoy Yosemite. I am sure you’ll come back with plenty of keepers.

    @ Steph: Thanks so much. Your words are appreciated. Steve’s site has allowed me to share images with a wide audience, so thanks to Steve!!!

    @GRC: I know what you mean…but I do love living near water, so that rules out living in the Southwest, to some degree

    @ Armanius: Horseshoe Bend is spectacular and can be paired with the Amazing Antelope Canyon and Coyote Buttes, which I have never been to, but will be my next trip down south!

    @ Elaine: are so right. Even the gentle breeze of the day was causing a bit of blurriness. I had to take a bunch of shots to make it lovely…..

    @ Terry: What a lovely retirement plan. I can see myself getting a RV someday and cruising around the region for months…would be awesome!

    @ Sarath: I have and used a wide variety of lenses on my travels, ranging from the 24-105L to the 400 mm f/5.6 L. Most of my captures were with a 70-200 f/2.8 Mark I, and the 35L, 135L, and 85L, which I consider to be the 3 best lenses in Canon’s repertoire, along with the magnificent 50L

    @ Jonah and Cindy: Thank you so much for both of your kind words

    @ Elaine. Yes, the M8 is one heck of a camera! It is sharper than the M9, to my eyes, but the M9’s files have smoother transitions and a creamier, more “filmic” look….the M8 is a very worthy camera, especially now…First shots were with the Canon 5D. I agree with you that the 5DII is the best Canon camera in its midrange….and the best combo for size, ISO performance, portability, and IQ/price….it’s what I have now, along with a 1DIII

    @Leicamonster: Thank you as usual!!!

    @Beau: I will definitely be seeing Zion soon as well. One place I was sad to miss on prior trips, but I will get there. I have heard that the Narrows are mesmerizing!

  7. I was really amazed at the quality of the M8 photos. That impressed me a lot. Love the Canon stuff too. Were the first shots with the M9 or Canon? It doesn’t say. I think the Canon 5D Mark II camera is the best of all the canon line in mid-range.

  8. Greetings from the Oregon coast, everyone! Thanks for the kind words! I will write more soon!

  9. Ashwin, great photos ! What lenses did you use along with the 5D. The photos are as good as any I’ve ever seen from any camera…

  10. Ashwin, thank you for these images. I have been to several of these areas, and I am always amazed how different images are developed by different photographers. I retire in a few years, and I plan on spending lots of time in there areas. They are truly areas that demand the best of our skills to truly understand the incredible nature of our world…..or at least we keep trying.

  11. Ashwin, I enjoyed this piece very much. The photos are all spectacular. Did you use a tripod on any of these shots? Just curious. I want to check this out. What a beautiful part of the country! The lighting is amazing.

  12. Love the Bryce Canyon photos , nice article and I had a bit of a laugh at the 2x and 1.4x on a 400mm lens, that thing must have been a pain to carry around and focus.

  13. Spectacular photos and great commentary Ashwin. I only wished I lived closer but then again these photos make it like I was there.

  14. Another terrific set of photos. Off to Yosemite in a couple of weeks. Not expecting to do anything that touches your photos, Ashwin, but I shall look at them as an inspiration and as setting a standard of beauty to which I can aspire (however unlikely I am to achieve it).

  15. Ashwin, If I was bored I wouldn’t have made it down to the comments section. Thanks again for another wonderful journey. As you know I live here in Az and am always amazed at the beauty of this state.

    Ha ha Tyson, I have no excuse either…need to get out…but summer is coming and I become a mole. Thanks Steve for having Ashwin agin. Hey Ash, have you been to Tahiti? would love a story about that place 🙂

  16. Great set of images. I have explored Arches but not many of the others. I have no excuse as I live near Salt Lake City. This is great motivation.

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