Bububu and M’Kokotoni

BuBuBu, Kikaangoni
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9M2 | Date: 06-12-2023 09:08 | Resolution: 5911 x 3694 | ISO: 100 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/400s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 13.0mm (~27.0mm) | Location: BuBuBu, Kikaangoni | State/Province: Kikaangoni, Zanzibar Urban/West | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8II

I eschewed the opportunity for a 4.30 start. Instead I took advantage of the lack of an arms race between the various religious factions regarding who can wake up whom earlier, and had a bit of a lie-in. After a more gentle awakening I wandered down to the equally beautify and empty beach below the Fun Beach Hotel, and got some nice early morning shots although the cloud cover prevented a full sunrise.

On my way back I stopped at the bar and managed to get a very tasty latte. However it appears that "make coffee" and "operate till" are different modules in the hotel’s training course, and a succession of four bar and support staff were unable to print out a bill for me to sign. Never mind, it was still a very nice coffee.

After breakfast we packed up and set out on the next leg of the tour which would take us from near the south east tip to right at the northern one. Our first stop was the splendidly-named Bububu. Apparently this dates back to the building of Zanzibar’s one railway in 1905. The locals who lived near the northern terminus vocalised the sound of the steam trains as "Bu Bu Bu" and the name stuck.

When Lee scouted out this trip in 2019 Bububu was working hard as the temporary main fish market, the large market in Stonetown being closed for extensive modernisation. In the 4-year interim that business has moved back to the new buildings at Malindi, and Bububu has reverted to a quiet stretch of beach hosting a handful of fishing boats and not much else. We spent a pleasant half an hour wandering along the sand, but it was not quite as billed.

BuBuBu, Kikaangoni (Show Details)

Lunch was taken at a large, spacious, well-equipped but almost empty hotel a mile up the road. It’s not obvious what their target market is: they are too far out to be genuinely convenient for Stonetown 7 miles away, and they don’t have the extensive beaches and other tourist services of the Jambiani and Nungwi areas. Maybe there is a market for an out of town convention centre, but it’s not obvious. The arrival of 10 hungry and thirsty photographers obviously threw them completely and they couldn’t even supply beer, but we did get a tasty if slightly overpriced vegetable curry to keep the wolf from the door.

The next stop was Mkokotoni, on the Northwestern coast. This had distinctly more going on, as it’s the terminus for the ferries connecting the adjacent small islands. Traffic was high, apparently because a local character had died and a large number of locals had been to the funeral on the island. The sea floor is very flat, which leads to an interesting loading and unloading process. The ferry brings the people and goods to within about 100m of the water’s edge, at which point they transfer to a smaller boat pushed through the water by another ferryman. About 10m out they disembark and wade through the remainder until it’s dry enough to put shoes on.

Ferry to the ferry at Mkokotoni (Show Details)

We were also treated to the spectacle of a boat being burned. Less dramatic than this sounds, it’s the standard way to prevent too much algal build-up on the wooden hulls. A few times a year they haul the boat out, set a fire of coconut matting around it and burn off all the algae before re-sealing the wood.

Re-sealing a dhow, Mkokotoni (Show Details)

Re-sealing a dhow, Mkokotoni (Show Details)

Back in the bus we headed the short distance to our final stop, the Z Hotel in Nungwi. It’s a smart hotel, but the beach is very busy with both six-legged and two-legged pests – you can hardly move for hawkers. I have to admit I was expecting something more like Jambiani: open and largely unoccupied, but apparently not. Fingers crossed that it works.

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From Jambiani Beach
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9M2 | Date: 05-12-2023 09:54 | Resolution: 4829 x 3018 | ISO: 100 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/320s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 64.0mm (~139.0mm) | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

We made an early start and headed for Zanzibar’s South East coast. The trip took a bit longer than expected, but at least we were in a comfortable air-conditioned bus. After dropping our luggage at the hotel we headed for the local village, where a guide took us to the school, and then demonstrations of making rope, grated coconut, coconut milk and woven elements all from the same tree. I had a go at the coconut scraping machine, which consists of sitting on a low stool with a very sharp blade between your, er, coconuts, and trying not to scrape anything other than coconut. Ooh-er.

Making rope from coconut husk (copra) (Show Details)

Scraping a coconut, not your nuts! (Show Details)

Weaving a coconut frond (Show Details)

It was very, very hot and by the end of the demonstrations we were all flagging a bit and headed for a slightly early lunch. I was focused on food and beer. However as we stepped out of the alleyway onto a beach all that evaporated at the sight of dozens of an aquamarine sea in amazing pre-storm light dotted with beautiful old dhows. I was in photographic heaven all the way for the long walk down the beach to our lunch venue.

Boat off Jambiani Beach (Show Details)

After a very good lunch with, for a very welcome change, copious quantities of water (but sadly no beer) we waded out after the receding tide for a demonstration of seaweed farming, and photographed some women collecting shellfish. While we were drying out we were entertained by a tumbling act.

Tumblers on Jambiani Beach (Show Details)

Back at the rather excellent if misleadingly named "Fun Beach Hotel" we spent the last couple of hours sitting around an enormous pool with pina-coladas. That’s more like it!

Dinner experienced a failure none of us had previously encountered. The food was tasty, well-cooked and accurately served. The drinks were another matter…

I had a fore-taste when the collective bar staff failed to comprehend the following related concepts:

  • Yes, I did want to order 4 pina coladas, to be delivered to my cabin by the pool
  • No, I was not going to drink them all. Other people would drink 3 of them
  • No, I did not need to provide their room details. I was happy to pay for all 4 on my bilk

The first inkling of a problem surfaced when they served pre-dinner beers with what looked suspiciously like tooth mugs. Mine tasted as if some of the toothpaste was still there.

Several of the group ordered water (yet again not a default…) They received a large bottle of water and a shot glass.

Mark ordered a bottle of wine to share with me. The bottle turned up, but no glasses. We asked for glasses.

Two pina colada glasses turned up. We sent them away.

Two shot glasses turned up. In desperation we accepted them and started doing Merlot shots.

The general manager was consulted. Two wine glasses arrived, but one was immediately taken away to provide a glass of wine for Louise.

A few minutes later a third wine glass was located, and Mark could finally get the full benefit.

One wonders if this is a regular occurrence…

Sunrise at Jambiani (Show Details)
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Market Forces

Welcome to Zanzibar!
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9M2 | Date: 04-12-2023 13:30 | Resolution: 5626 x 3516 | ISO: 640 | Exp. bias: -1 EV | Exp. Time: 1/500s | Aperture: 13.0 | Focal Length: 20.0mm (~40.0mm) | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8II

Night 2 was an improvement on night 1, but I was awoken by an unfortunate combination of back-ache (something to do with all the steep stairs?) and a very early Muslim call to prayer.

We started at the big Malindi fish market. I’ve been in fish markets before, but never anything on this vast scale. Zanzibar has a separate government ministry for the "blue economy", and you understand why when you see the amount of fish being landed and traded, twice daily, at Malindi. Photographically it’s a good location, with a lot of activity and interesting characters, both human and piscine. As you’re not either involved in or impeding the commercial activity there’s no great issue with taking photographs, although you do have to honour the wishes of anyone who indicates that they don’t want to be photographed.

Landing the catch, Stonetown
(Show Details)

After breakfast we hit another large market, an indoor one focused mainly on foodstuffs. The contrast couldn’t be greater. The spice stalls might be colourful, but the vendors are competing very aggressively for your attention and don’t easily take no for an answer. Other stall-holders are less obviously in line for your business, but many of them either say "no photo" or demand money. Given the relatively limited light as well, I tired very rapidly and beat a retreat, to find most of the rest of the group had done the same. We did have a pleasant wander through the streets back to the restaurant booked for lunch (another excellent meal, I had coconut lobster), but I didn’t get much in the way of images.

Street tailor, Stonetown
(Show Details)

Later in the afternoon we wandered back down to the harbour, to find it much less manic than on Sunday, and with a couple of groups of lads doing dramatic jumps into the water. I was particularly taken by a group dressed in honour of the Cameroonian football team, one of whom was wearing a proper superhero outfit including cape. Great fun.

Welcome to Zanzibar!
(Show Details)

Go the Cameroons!
(Show Details)

Toward sunset we wandered back to the supposed sunset location. The beach was busier, the riff-raff ban presumably lifted, but still no dhows. We baled early – let’s hope it works at Nungwi.

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The Zanziblog

A smart Stonetown street scene
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9M2 | Date: 03-12-2023 13:36 | Resolution: 6188 x 3867 | ISO: 800 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 9.0mm (~18.0mm) | Lens: LEICA DG SUMMILUX 9/F1.7

No sooner is the Red Rock Blog committed to the Internet, then I’m off travelling again. This is yet another catch-up multiply deferred due to the pandemic. While all the travel this year has been great, it’s been a bit manic and I won’t mind if 2024 is a bit more measured.

The destination this time is Zanzibar. I thought it would be a really exotic and unusual target, but in the last two weeks I must have talked to four people who replied either “been there” or “it’s on my list”, so maybe it’s not.

The flights were smooth and uneventful, except both legs ran about an hour late, and we had to get on a bus in Dubai. At least I didn’t have a missed connection like Lee and Ann, the tour leaders. Emirates seem to be operating on the same basis as Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia and training their guests to operate on the same amount of water as a determined Bedouin tribesman. Fortunately I had bought a bottle, otherwise I would have been gasping.

It is a bit disconcerting when the crew are making an announcement in Arabic and you clearly recognise the words “Marburg Virus”. I’m old enough to remember when the shorthand for haemorrhagic fever was the name of that unfortunate town in West Germany, not a small river in the Congo. When Jim Bergerac and his colleagues had to deal with an outbreak in Jersey it was Marburg not Ebola. Just for balance a notice at the Zanzibar airport mentioned the Congolese name as well. None of that was mentioned in anything I saw before I travelled, but hopefully any real problem is a long way from the tourist centres.

The Emerson Hotel is a posh Victorian colonial home converted to a hotel, obviously under the Tanzanian equivalent of grade 3 listing. Sod’s law my room is at the top of 6 flights of what may be the steepest stairs I have ever encountered. The compensation is a roof-top view of the harbour area.

Local lads outside the House of Wonders
(Show Details)

The sleep deprivation experience is not quite as marked as some photographic trips, but they are trying hard. I slept through from about 9pm to midnight, at which point there was an enormous clap of thunder about every 15 minutes. That went on for a couple of hours, then subsided. I was just getting back to sleep and the rain started hammering down. As my room is on the top floor directly under a tin roof I got the full “benefit”. The rain lasted at least half an hour, after which I drifted off again, to be awakened at 6am by someone banging out a crude repetitive rhythm on a anvil (or maybe a particularly tuneless bell). It’s not clear whether that’s a standard feature or a Sunday treat. So much for a lie-in!

New one for the dysfunctional hotels blog. During the rainstorm some water came in and ran down the rope holding both active and spare toilet rolls, both of which are now soaked!

After breakfast I moved from the rooftop room to a larger one lower down as per the original allocation plan, so hopefully night 2 will be more peaceful.

We were let out on our own before lunch. I visited the Freddie Mercury museum (he was born to love you in Zanzibar) and managed to buy two T shirts which is close to a personal best. Back to the hotel and everyone had finally arrived despite an impressive combination of flight delays and re-routings.

We spent the afternoon of the first day wandering the streets in a slightly more structured way with Alawi our guide, but sunset was a wash-out as all the locals had been chucked off the beach to avoid a visiting dignitary having to look at riff-raff, and there were no dhows coming and going. Maybe tomorrow.

A happy Zanzibarean family
(Show Details)
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Red Rock Retrospective

Desert View Panorama
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 02-10-2023 12:15 | Resolution: 13416 x 3742 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/640s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 18.0mm | Location: Desert View | State/Province: Vista Encantada, Coconino, Arizo | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8II

With our trip now firmly in the rear-view mirror, I’ve looked back and tried to condense what we experienced into guidance for future visitors and photographers.

The primary purpose of our Red Rock Trip was very definitely to look at the rocks and take pictures. On that it scored 100%. The scenery of Southern Utah, Northern Arizona and the adjacent bits of Nevada is as stunning as it always has been – “always” in this case being as long as sentient beings have been there to look at it.

Devil’s Garden (Show Details)

We finally hit the sweet spot in terms of the time at each location. A lot of Grand Circle Tours, and similar jaunts through this area, are predicated on spending a day or so at each stop, aiming to tick off all the well-known sites on a whirlwind tour. That’s what we did back in 1994. Our 2007 trip was a bit more relaxed, but we still covered a lot of ground and left some places feeling we hadn’t done them justice.

At the other end of the scale, if you are a keen hiker or off-road driver you could spend a week or more at some of these locations and not repeat yourself, but that’s more of a challenge if you’re focused on the readily-accessible parts. The sweet spot, at least for us, seems to be about three nights, with two full days plus maybe a late afternoon wander on arrival, and a sunrise before departure. If you need to allow for the possibility of poor weather then make it four nights, but be prepared for a bit of repetition if the skies stay as you want them.

The exception is Kanab. Like Moab, at the opposite end of the Great Circle route, it’s a wonderful base for exploration in all directions. It works for daytrips to all the great locations on the Paria Plateau, the Grand Canyon North Rim and Zion. With an early start it would even work for Bryce Canyon. Some of the local spots, such as the Toadstools and Peekaboo Canyon, are also excellent, but don’t waste your time on Johnson Canyon! We spent 5 days, but could have filled one or two more.

As in many things, there is a bit of a Law of Diminishing Returns, and you may get to the point of being “Canyoned Out”. If you can afford to do so, consider a couple of shorter trips rather than one long one. Alternatively do something similar to what we did, and build progressively to the most dramatic locations near the end.

Pastel Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park (Show Details)

Cost, Accommodation and Food

The days when a US fly-drive was a relatively inexpensive holiday are long gone. I complained about the expense of our Hawaii trip in 2019 compared with other travel that year, but this year was much worse, and in money terms easily doubled the expense of any previous holiday except the Hawaii one.

There were a number of contributing factors, some under our control, others not. We opted to spend a few more days than usual, just over three weeks rather than just under on previous trips. After bad experiences with some very poor alleged “hotels” in Hawaii (one of which was just a step above “doss house”) we went up a notch in some cases, although not always successfully. We went to Hertz for the hire car, and deliberately chose a mid-range SUV with four wheel drive, but we could probably have done most (but not all) of the driving in something a bit cheaper. We took a hit on the 3rd night’s hotel booking in Las Vegas, choosing instead to get out of town and on with the more enjoyable part of the trip.

However beyond that things were outside our control. An element of the change was due to inflation, and it didn’t help that the pound was weaker against the dollar, ironically for a short period almost exactly coinciding with our trip.

The travel and hospitality sectors are desperately trying to recoup their losses during the pandemic. Some of this shows up in reduced service levels, expecting the customer to do something the provider traditionally did, like making the bed on a daily basis, but more often it results in higher prices. We stayed in a couple of hotels we had visited before, but the price had not far off doubled since 2007. In other cases, like the hotels near Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, there was blatant price gouging, admittedly supported by high demand.

That said, all the hotels were good, with spacious rooms in which things worked correctly, and mostly quiet once you’d unplugged the fridge and turned off the AC. However I’d give most of the hotel restaurants a wide berth.

You don’t visit the Desert Southwest for the gastronomic experience, or at least not in a good way. At best the food is basic but good, more often it’s just basic, occasionally (the Cameron “fine dining” encounter springs to mind) it’s actively bad. However in previous years this was compensated by low prices. No longer. Every “decent” meal cost over $100, typically for one shared course, one course for two, and a couple of drinks. Breakfasts were $50. There were a few honourable exceptions, like the Mexican restaurant in St. George, but few and far between.

Grosvenor Arch (Show Details)


In previous years I have leaned heavily on my US holidays to top up my wardrobe. American shopkeepers understand that people with a waist of 40″ and inside leg of 32″ are equally likely, if not more so, to have money to buy clothes as those the other way around. UK shopkeepers are blind to this, and keep stock only for men whose careers are either in modelling, or cleaning pipes. Furthermore in the past the US has been a reliable source of colourful T-shirts and sweatshirts with designs featuring great scenery, charismatic megafauna, or native American designs.

But not this year. The merchandising in and around the parks was, frankly, appalling, mainly “lowest common denominator” graphic designs which looked like they came from the pen of a capable 8 year old. I only found a couple of suitable T-shirts, and those were in “last season’s stock” sale in a small campsite shop. I bought a sweatshirt and hoodie, but they were generic items from big manufacturers. And that was about it. Frances fared slightly better, but only just.

I appreciate that fashions change, and some of my favourite items are now quite long in the tooth, but it seems odd that a lucrative market is being served so badly when it was previously served so well. Disappointing.

Peekaboo Canyon Kanab (Show Details)

Organised Trips

This is a positive story. I did three jeep tours: one with Backcountry Safaris in Capitol Reef, and two out of Kanab with Dreamland Safaris. All were excellent, well driven and guided (even if young Alex’s driving style on the highway took a bit of getting used to), got me close to scenery I would not otherwise have reached, and in the grand scheme of things good value for money. If you want to go beyond the areas which are a short walk from the public car park, I strongly recommend a jeep tour.

The Grand Canyon flight wasn’t quite such a resounding success, especially compared with my helicopter and microlight flights back in 2018 and 2019. It was well-enough done, although given that I had explicitly requested a good seat for photography shunting me into the rear seat with scratched windows wasn’t the best, and I’m not sure I would recommend Grand Canyon Airlines. If you want to get close to the action, choose a helicopter over a fixed-wing flight.

White Pocket (Show Details)

Photography: “f/8 and be there”

Technically, getting good photographs of a trip like this is not a challenge. Get yourself to the right place, at a reasonable time, and you can’t go too far wrong. There were plenty of visitors shooting with their phones who will probably get acceptable results in most cases. While I am sure there will be purists/snobs who say different, I’d say almost any interchangeable lens digital camera with a couple of zooms, used properly, should give great results.

In terms of getting to the right place I continue to recommend the Photographing the Southwest series by Laurent Martrès*. The books were updated fairly recently, and are now available in Kindle format which means you can check detailed instructions on your phone. I’d have never found “Photo Point” in Zion without it (“40 feet to the south of the un-named car park between stops 7 and 8”).

Yet again the Panasonic G9 proved a reliable workhorse, used for all but a few evening shots. Although the 12-35mm standard zoom did most of the work I used almost my whole range of lenses from 9mm to 300mm, however I don’t think I got anything useful with the heavy and flare-prone 7-14mm. (Although given that I missed it in Patagonia when I didn’t have it with me, I don’t regret carrying it.) A couple of “birds in flight” shots weren’t great, but that’s not the G9’s forte – otherwise it delivered on almost every image. The G9’s mk II successor is now in my hands, but it’s got an impressive record to live up to.

Mohave Point (Show Details)

I came back with 86GB of images, a total of 3236 shots on the G9 plus a handful each on the Sony RX100 and Panasonic GX8. As there wasn’t much “action” photography the initial discard rate was quite low, so I have a lot to get through. I did do a lot of panoramas, so many so that I have had to develop a new workflow process to triage them, but otherwise this trip was light on multi-shot images, with only a handful of HDR and focus blend shots.

The only real challenges were dynamic range, especially in the slot canyons, and flare. The simple solution for dynamic range is to turn on all the camera’s over-exposure warnings and dial in sufficient exposure compensation to avoid badly blown highlights. As long as you’re shooting RAW you can then usually tweak highlight and shadow recovery to bring the image back into range. In extremis you can also do an HDR bracket, which should be easy given the static nature of most subjects, but I would be surprised if I have a handful of images for which this is really necessary.

Flare was more of an issue. Some of the obvious sunrise and sunset shots meant shooting into the sun, but there was also an issue shooting near mid-day when direct sunlight was hitting the front of the lens at a very shallow angle. I’m very bad at remembering my lens hoods, but quite good at taking a shot with one hand while suitably positioning my hat with the other. I think this is a case of “do what I say, not what I do” and remember your lens hoods!

I’m not sure I actually took my tripod out of the suitcase. With the G9’s amazing dual image stabilisation I can hand-hold down to about 1/4s, and with a moderate-fast ISO and a fast lens that is adequate for even pre-dawn shots. However this is definitely a case for personal preference and knowing the limits of your camera and your hands.

Many of these locations are really wonderful at golden hour, if you can make the timing work. The Devil’s Garden is a case in point, just remember it’s where the map says it is, not the car’s satnav! However other locations are actually better during the day – Sunset Point at Bryce Canyon only really works until about 5pm in early October, and many of the other Bryce locations are best shot in strong late morning light. That’s good news for practical travellers, who have to take their photographs during the daytime. I’m very happy with what I got in most cases, but I did run with polarising filters fitted to all the lenses almost permanently, except for a few pre-dawn shots, to reduce specular reflections and deepen the colours.

We were lucky with the weather, with brief rain only a couple of times, and most days were sunny and bright. We had our share of fluffy white clouds, but I’m also OK with “picture postcard” blue skies. If that’s what you get and you don’t like it, at least an even blue makes “sky replacement” easy 🙂 .

More tricky were the handful of days when it was overcast and dull. We suffered that on our previous drive through Capitol Reef and didn’t even realise what was there. However if life gives you lemons, then crank up the contrast using the dehaze and curves tool in your chosen image processor, and you should still get an acceptable result.

Sunrise from below Sunrise Point Overlook (Show Details)

One Line Summary

People very friendly, rocks very pretty, avoid almost everything that says “fine dining”!

Bryce Natural Bridge (Show Details)


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Second Time Lucky

Bryce Natural Bridge
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 06-10-2023 11:37 | Resolution: 8528 x 3567 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/320s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Location: Bryce Natural Bridge | State/Province: Bryce Canyon City, Garfield, Uta | See map

I made an early start and made the short drive to Sunrise Point. This one is aptly named – you see the sun rise over the distant plateaus, and then a minute or so later the rocks in the amphitheatre are progressively lit with strong, glowing light. However unlike some locations the show is over quite quickly with everyone departing within about 15 minutes.

Sunrise from Sunrise Point Overlook (Show Details)

After breakfast we had a second go at the viewpoints along the Scenic Drive. Second time lucky – it all worked perfectly and we saw stunning scenery in great light. Our favourite is probably Paria Views – a very wide gap in the Rim with cliffs pointing in several different directions.

After a few hours in the sun I decided to try Sunset Point at sunset. Plan A, to use the shuttles and avoid parking problems failed when I realised the last buses run well before sunset. I jumped in the Ag-war, and managed to get parked, but needn’t have bothered as most of the amphitheatre was already in deep shadow. Sunset Point should really be renamed Late Afternoon Point.

Fortunately I had a detailed National Geographic map, which confirmed my suspicion that part of the cliffs at Paria Views should point the right way. A few minutes later I was able to confirm this and spent a pleasant half an hour watching the last rays gradually leave the rocks.

Sunrise from below Sunrise Point Overlook (Show Details)

Heading Back

For sunrise I headed back to Sunrise Point, but this time took up position a few hundred meters down the Queen’s Garden Trail for a different perspective.

Sunrise from below Sunrise Point Overlook (Show Details)

After breakfast we packed up to move on, and tried to do a couple of remaining viewpoints with mixed results. Two were fine and at least Frances got to see the amphitheatre, but parking was already impossible at the others. The cause seemed to be the issue of America’s National Parks becoming completely overloaded at the weekends, a hypothesis we later confirmed finding Zion completely over-run with no possibility of repeating our successful viewpoint by viewpoint tour of the Eastern park, for example.

We gave up trying to get a coffee in Springdale as almost every parking space was full and all are charged for, the consequence of shifting the parking problem from Zion Park to the town. Instead we found a decent stop back in La Verkin, albeit a somewhat Bohemian one.

The Ag’s satnav got a bit confused in St George and we had to get the address of our hotel from a different one, but we eventually reached our destination. Dinner was at the nearby Mexican, with a highly entertaining Scottish/Korean waiter who quizzed us on all manner of topics including the perennial question of our favourite Premier League team. I chose exactly right with Liverpool – good guess!

Alleged Shopping

Nothing exciting was meant to happen today…

Our last full day in the US was set aside for shopping, but as usual Field Marshall Moltke was proven correct and our plan did not survive contact with the enemy.

We had a lie in, breakfast, and an hour in the sun, and then set off with our shopping list and addresses of the main malls in St George.

Our first stop was the Eddie Bauer store. We failed miserably to get a direct replacement for our favourite soft bag, but in their defence we did buy the original on our honeymoon in 1993! We did identify a possible replacement, and I found a very warm, very orange hat in preparation for my Iceland trip. Frances had hoped to keep it hidden from me, but reckoned without my skills to find the least tasteful but weatherproof item in any shop.

We reached the next mall a few minutes after its opening time, to be informed, by another customer, it had been evacuated due to a bomb threat. Quite who was threatening whom in Southern Utah was not clear, unless it was a protest at the licensing laws.

Back to shopping centre A we were becoming slightly desperate for a coffee and sandwich, but the best offer appeared to be fried chicken and frozen custard, hopefully not on the same plate. We were just about to abandon when Frances caught a glimpse of the Starbucks maiden hidden behind the chicken and custard joint. The only problem with the Starbucks was that the bright young lady on the till could take about one order a minute, and the bright young lady on the drive-in reception could take about one order a minute, regardless of complexity, but the bunch milling around inside could fulfill about one order every five mins. Our coffees took some time.

Delayed coffees imbibed, back to mall B. Sadly this was a bit of a wash-out against our list. The greatest success was at Buckle, where the state of the merchandise suggested the aforementioned bomb had gone off inside, but a rummage found a poncho for Frances and a great leather jacket but sadly not in my size.

We also found a bag for $300, so popped back to mall A for the Eddie Bauer version at $73 in their sale.

We then decamped to the local Cinema, where another helpful young lady, in a Halloween costume, drove the machine to dispense our seniors tickets, and we finished the afternoon with an almost private showing of the excellent A Haunting in Venice.

Last Day

The flight back suffered from similar stupid timing to the flight out, so we had a day to kill albeit with the 120 mile drive from Las Vegas to St George in the middle. After a lazy morning we checked out and decamped back over the road to the Mexican restaurant for lunch, where a very enthusiastic waiter was obviously in training as a concierge. He pointed out we were only a few miles from Snow Canyon, and could easily fit in a short visit, so we did. What was interesting was how the area around Snow Canyon has become a haven of multiple "weight loss institutes", but I suppose they have to go somewhere to work off the carb-heavy food. After all the amazing scenery of the last few weeks the canyon wasn’t jaw-dropping, but worth the short drive through.

Snow Spring, Snow Canyon (Show Details)

The drive back was uneventful, although we did get a bit desperate for a stop at one point. We eventually found a Starbucks just over the state line into Nevada, and were able to use a couple of vouchers I’d received the previous day as an apology for the much-delayed coffees.

Las Vegas airport is an exercise in usuary. We had to get a taxi from the car hire terminal, as it’s now miles from the passenger terminals. She dropped us right at the kerb, but a luggage cart to get our stuff the 100m from the kerb to the bag drop desk cost $6. Once inside a burger and a couple of drinks cost $100, and a couple of bottles of water were another $6 each. Mysteries of the Argentinian exchange rate aside, this is common to many airports, but Las Vegas was definitely that extra bit eye-watering.

Cost aside, everything worked smoothly, including the flight back, until we reached Heathrow where after a 10 hour flight the British Airways bus company parked us in a field so we could admire the Middlesex scenery on an extended ride to the terminal.

Home at last!

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Looping Back to Bryce

Sunrise from Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 04-10-2023 07:33 | Resolution: 5176 x 2915 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/200s | Aperture: 5.6 | Focal Length: 35.0mm | Location: Yavapai Point | State/Province: Grand Canyon, Coconino, Arizona | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8II

I started the day in Grand Canyon with a third sunrise shoot, this time at Yavapai Point. I was almost first there and could choose my spot, but it soon got very busy. What was interesting was that in the dark we could see a long line of head-lights descending below Yaki point, so that explained the empty bus the day before. The sky was much clearer making for a different experience and a good farewell to the Canyon.

Sunrise from Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon (Show Details)

In an ideal world we would have visited Bryce Canyon much earlier in the trip, but we simply couldn’t get accommodation, so we had to loop back after Grand Canyon. This added a 300 mile drive, but the roads are good and Cameron, Page and Kanab are almost exactly at the 75 mile points.

Page has changed almost beyond recognition since our last visit. It’s much larger, with the section we recognised just a corner of the new town. The scariest part was "church row", with well over 20 religious meeting houses of all denominations one after the other.

Everything is on a much larger scale. When we visited Horseshoe Bend in 2007 it consisted of a few gravel parking spaces off the side of the road, and a path up to the viewpoint. Now it has a massive visitor centre and car park and people actually run organised tours from the town.

The other scary thing was the height of the water in Lake Powell, or more accurately the lack thereof. Apparently this year they have been within a few feet of having to stop generating power at the dam. Let’s hope for a wet winter.

Lake Powell (Show Details)

On the Trail

We had a somewhat interrupted night’s sleep. The new hotel at Bryce Canyon is well appointed with large rooms, but half face inward to a common courtyard and pool area, so if anyone has a noisy air conditioner or even fridge you all hear it.

As a result we got up slowly and almost missed breakfast, but the staff took pity and served us just before they cleared away.

We planned to drive into the park, to the end of the Scenic Drive, and then work back viewpoint by viewpoint. Unfortunately Frances took a tumble on a rough bit of one of the trails, and we had to retire back to confirm no major harm done.

In the afternoon I went up to Inspiration Point and hiked down to Sunset Point, and then did part of the Navajo Trail to photograph Thor’s Hammer, in great light. I decided to try and get the bus back to the Inspiration Point car park, to discover that the Bryce Canyon shuttle system is considerably more arcane than those in either Zion or the Grand Canyon. The most puzzling element is that the maps and timetables use the name "Sunset" for both Sunset Point and Sunset Camp, which are in different places about 1/4 mile apart on different bus routes. Fortunately I found a helpful ranger, otherwise I might still be there.

Silent City, Bryce Canyon (Show Details)

Thor’s Hammer (Show Details)

In the evening we drove a few miles to the puzzlingly-named town of Tropic and had dinner at the Stonehearth Grille. Getting there is a bit disconcerting as it feels you’re driving miles into the middle of nowhere, but it’s worth the trip. It’s a bit lacking in ambiance, but has excellent food and service, and great views of the sun setting on the Bryce Cliffs.

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In Which Andrew and Frances Solve the Problem of Food in the Grand Canyon

Sunrise at Yaki Point
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 03-10-2023 07:33 | Resolution: 5189 x 3243 | ISO: 800 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 24.0mm | Location: Yaki Point | State/Province: Grand Canyon, Coconino, Arizona | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8II

Tuesday started with another dawn shoot. I caught the 5.30 shuttle bus to Yaki Point, which was full, but to my great surprise almost everyone got off at the prior stop, and I had the sunrise spot almost to myself. Initially I thought this might be a mistake caused by poor announcements on the bus, but the following day another possible explanation presented itself. Either way I got some great sunrise shots, in near solitude.

Sunrise at Yaki Point, with a fortuituous vapour trail (Show Details)

After breakfast we headed to the village, the old centre of Grand Canyon activities. Nowadays with the newest lodging and market a couple of miles away and the main visitor parking and visitor centre at twice that distance there’s no longer such a single focal point, but it’s still the start point for the shuttle-only Western Rim route.

We worked our way Westwards stopping at most of the viewpoints, ending up at Hermit’s Rest in nice time to have our picnic lunch. This was accompanied by a "hermit mocha", (coffee with some hot chocolate mixed in), but the latter was somewhat delayed by a camera crew who had temporarily taken over the cafe window and kitchen.

Pima Point (Show Details)

We then worked our way back through the viewpoints accessible Eastbound, but we were clearly going to be far too early at our target for sunset. We therefore stayed on the shuttle all the way back to the village, and went in search of a latte. We reached the cafe at the Bright Angel Lodge, and were shown to a table in an almost empty room and handed a dinner menu, at just before 3pm. We had broken the system! Not looking a gift horse in the mouth we ordered pulled pork and prime rib "sandwiches", wine and beer and had an excellent "tunch". The friendly young staff were lusting after our colourful clothing, so maybe we still have some style…

Appetite sated we got back on the bus to Hopi Point, and watched the sunset combined with photographing large raptors, eagles or maybe even Californian condors, and having a delightful chat with a retired American teacher.

Mohave Point (Show Details)

More like it.

Desert View Panorama (Show Details)
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So Much for That

Desert View Watchtower
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 02-10-2023 12:56 | Resolution: 5247 x 2623 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -233/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/320s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Location: Desert View Watchtower | State/Province: Vista Encantada, Coconino, Arizo | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8II

The Jag-war is now officially an ‘Ag-war, the J having either detached itself from the boot-lid somewhere in the desert Southwest, or having been detached by someone else suffering from the aforementioned. ‘Opefully ‘Ertz understand.

I got up early and joined the crowd watching sunrise at Mather Point. The light was intermittent due to the heavy but broken cloud cover, but when it broke through we got nice splashes of colour on the rocks. It was bloody cold – even with my heaviest available hat and coat I was suffering a bit by the time the sun was fully up.

Mather Point Sunrise (Show Details)

Mather Point (Show Details)

After breakfast we set off back down the East Entrance Road to the Desert View area. This time the light was good and I managed to get up the Watchtower, a great brick folly on the wall of the Canyon with wonderful views outside and great recreations of native art inside.

Desert View Watchtower (Show Details)

At the next stop back towards the Lodge we were treated to a wonderful display, a rainbow forming underneath us, inside the Canyon.

Rainbow below Zuni Point (Show Details)

In the afternoon I took a sightseeing flight over the Canyon. We were a bit dubious of the safety record of the helicopter operator, so I opted for a fixed-wing flight. As a way of getting a fresh perspective it was fine, but as a photographic platform it was pretty useless, and I was battling a combination of odd angles and a dirty and scratched window. Next time I will be brave and stick to the helicopter.

Flight over Grand Canyon (Show Details)

After frankly disgusting food at Grand Canyon’s other outlets we had great hopes for our dinner booking at El Tovar, but we were sadly to be disappointed. Things didn’t start well – we arrived a few minutes early to be told our table was not yet ready, fair enough, and to come back nearer the exact time. We sat down about 5m from the person managing admissions. The next thing we knew I received a text, at international rates, saying the table was ready, only to be told again at the desk that it wasn’t.

We were eventually admitted, and shown to a cramped corner table with a view of the car park and a strong cold draught. The latter was so bad we eventually had to move ourselves. Our server turned up and was very helpful, but was unable to offer any alternative to sprouts as the vegetable accompaniment to roast duck! We tried to get on the Wi-Fi, but failed and the water boy appeared to take some delight in confirming that access was only available to residents, not restaurant customers.

The food was mixed: the soup, Elk Bolognese and the duck itself were good. The sprouts were like bullets and the rice pilaf was dry and inedible. Overall it was nowhere near the standard which should have been delivered for the very high prices being charged.

Back at the lodge we attempted to plan better catering for the next day, but literally every catering outlet in Grand Canyon Village and the gateway town of Tusayan gets, at best, very mixed reviews and many are downright appalling. The statistical distribution of TripAdvisor reviews is a whole topic for another blog, but we essentially gave up and decided to stick to sandwiches until we’re back in Utah.


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A New Nadir

Desert View, Grand Canyon
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 01-10-2023 16:53 | Resolution: 5184 x 3240 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/250s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 35.0mm | Location: Desert View, Grand Canyon | State/Province: Vista Encantada, Coconino, Arizo | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8II

We got on the road early to drive down to the Grand Canyon. The first segment went very well, with a quick drive to Jacob’s Lake, a pleasant coffee and cookie stop, and some wonderful scenery in great broken light as we followed the 89A underneath the Vermilion Cliffs.

Vermillion Cliffs from Cliff Dwellers Lodge (Show Details)

That route ended at the Navajo Bridges. While these are still majestic with great views from the old bridge into the Colorado, they’ve changed the layout of the parking and viewing areas somewhat since our last visit in 2007 and I found it impossible to recreate my favourite shot with both bridges in the frame.

Vermillion Cliffs from Cliff Dwellers Lodge (Show Details)

Once over the bridge you are in the Navajo Nation, and there’s essentially nowhere for a stop until you reach Cameron, an hour down the road and only a mile before the turn off into the park. We were sufficiently desperate that we went into the Cameron "Trading Post" and opted for the "fine dining" option although we only really wanted a sandwich. Let’s put it this way: Michel Roux has nothing to worry about. Put another way, Frances described her toasted cheese sandwich as possibly the worst meal in recent record. My "chicken club" (burger) was marginally better, but came swamped by about 2000 calories of disgusting carbs. The main course was followed by a latte so strong Frances claimed she could taste it in her ears!

Lunch "dealt with" we drove into the park via the Eastern entrance which both saves about 100 miles driving and provides direct access to a number of viewpoints. At this point we encountered a new challenge – the temperature was dropping like a stone, and our "hot desert" outfits were woefully inadequate. I don’t think you can get pneumonia via the knees, but it’s just as well. That said the scenery was absolutely stunning, as ever, but between the temperature and tricky cloudy light we worked quickly and moved on promptly from each viewpoint.

Lipan Point, Grand Canyon (Show Details)

Once we’d booked into the Yavapai Lodge and settled into our room we went in search of sustenance. The Yavapai Tavern is a bit basic and produced a remarkably rubbery Elk burger, although for a change Frances’ chilli was OK. They do have one of the best beer menus I have seen in a long time, but that doesn’t fully compensate for an inedible meal.

Things can only get better. Tomorrow we’re on sarnies for breakfast and lunch, but we have dinner booked at the El Tovar restaurant. Fingers crossed!

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To T’North (Rim)

Temple of Vishnu and Wotan's Throne from Cape Royal
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 29-09-2023 14:57 | Resolution: 9744 x 3058 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/500s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Location: Cape Royal | State/Province: Vista Encantada, Coconino, Arizo | Caption: Temple of Vishnu and Wotan's Throne | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8II

Kanab is probably the best base for a day trip to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. We’ve had some aspiration to do such a trip since our first visit to the region in 1994, but each time it’s been prevented by the early closure of the North Rim after the first snowfall. Fortunately there was no such issue this time, and today we set off for our visit.

From Kanab it’s a very easy drive, albeit about 90 miles. The first section through Fredonia is a bit boring, but you have to watch the speed limits and Frances was battling with an odd road surface which while smooth had a pattern of shiny stripes reflecting the early morning sun. Fortunately the straight stretch quickly gives way to the climb onto the Kaibab Plateau, and the "almost mandatory" coffee and cookie stop at Jacob’s Lake provided for a quick recovery.

From there it’s a very pretty drive down to the North Rim, especially with the gathering Autumn colours, although you have to keep your eyes peeled. At one point we had to jam on the brakes to avoid a group of deer crossing the road, and the possibility of a bison or cattle encounter was signposted.

At the Rim our interaction with the Ranger at the visitor centre focused on the pending US government shutdown and the potential impact on the rest of our trip. However we decided not to worry about that, and had a nice walk around Bright Angel Point, followed by a picnic lunch.

The Temple of Vishnu (Show Details)

In the afternoon we drove the scenic drive down to Point Royal and back. This provides easy access to a range of the North Rim’s best viewpoints. It’s a very different experience to the south, where you’re looking across to the higher North Rim. Instead the Marble Plateau, itself at over 7000ft, stretches out below you. What is similar is that when you are on the road you can be 50m from the Grand Canyon, and be completely unaware it’s there.

We got back to Kanab a few minutes late for our dinner reservation, but needn’t have worried as unusually Adria’s was almost empty. However the food, beer and service were excellent and we’ve been promised live music for tomorrow, so we’ll pay them a repeat visit.

Minor Tribulations

We spent the morning on laundry and admin. The first source of minor panic was the near miss on the US Government shutdown. This might have significantly impacted our trip, although it appears that the governors of the states with multiple National Parks have got tired of the federal government screwing up a primary income stream at random intervals and now have appropriate Plans B in place. In the end the shutdown was narrowly averted, but one continues to be bemused by a system of government in which the three main legislative branches are frequently working to not only different but actively opposed agendas.

With CNN on in the background I was also trying to make sense of the position on our credit cards. In the old days every transaction generated either a paper or email receipt, but it’s suddenly a lot more complicated. Hotels and tour companies take part payment at booking and part later, but you don’t necessarily get details of the second charge. A lot of minor transactions don’t generate a receipt at all. To further complicate matters Kanab appears to be a wierd twilight zone where they don’t get chip & PIN and resort to swiping, signing and multiple random variants thereof.

Admin completed we visited the movie set museum, and set about trying to find a light lunch. Although it was still about a month from the end of the season, and all the hotels were full, almost all the coffee bars and cafes were shut. We settled for soup and a cheese sandwich at an odd vegetarian cafe, but something less dairy focused would have been better for my digestion.

The Rimrocks (Toadstool Hoodoos) (Show Details)

In the afternoon we did the drive to the Rimrock Hoodoos, also known as the Toadstools. These are set in a small plateau within a mile of the highway. Unfortunately it had clouded over and I was battling the light, but hopefully I have some workable shots. While she was waiting Frances was watching the activity of an enormous tarantula scuttling over the rocks, but sadly just as I got back to her some other tourists spooked it and it went to ground.

The Rimrocks (Toadstool Hoodoos) (Show Details)

We took dinner at Adria’s, accompanied by live music. The band insisted on starting by each playing their own solo compositions, and initially we thought we might be making an early exit, but eventually they all got on stage together and did a set of energetic crowd pleasers covering The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival and similar and a good time was had by all.


Adria’s, Kanab (Show Details)
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White Pocket

White Pocket
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-09-2023 11:50 | Resolution: 5141 x 3213 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/1300s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 17.0mm | Location: White Pocket | State/Province: One Mile, Coconino, Arizona | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8II

Everyone knows The Wave, that curling saddle of twisted colourful layers of rock, and everyone wants to get to The Wave, but access is strictly controlled via a tight lottery, and only a few pull it off. However the Coyote Buttes area contains several similar formations, for most of which access is still straightforward, and the best known is White Pocket.

White Pocket – Across The Wormhole (Show Details)

It’s another destination for which you need an appropriate vehicle and guide, and I had again signed up with Dreamland Safaris. When I arrived at their office I was somewhat surprised to find about 10 other punters all going to White Pocket in three separate jeeps, but it is their most popular tour. However this does suggest that some form of access limitation may be on the way.

The drive in takes about 2.5 hours, with paved road giving way to good unpaved road, giving way to rough unpaved road and finally thick, deep sand. Fortunately our guide Maddi made it look easy, but I suspect it really isn’t.

White Pocket (Show Details)

White Pocket is a big area, bigger than The Wave, covering about 7 square miles and a typical route taking in the well-known and most dramatic formations is a 2-3 mile hike/scramble of 3-4 hours, if you’ve got and are used to photographers, which fortunately Maddi was.

White Pocket (Show Details)

There’s no single signature formation like The Wave itself, although The Wormhole comes close, but instead you have a procession of impossible looking rock loops and swirls, and waves, linked by white "brain rock" which is very easy to walk on.

White Pocket – Into The Wormhole (Show Details)

My advice is simple: if you can do this, do it before it also becomes inaccessible to all but a lucky daily few.

Obligatory White Pocket reflection shot! (Show Details)
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