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Having been on vacation already a week, or as I like to call them “photographic journeys” we left the amazing Armagosa hotel in Death Valley Junction and pointed our Yukon in the general direction of home. We consulted our map with all the roads we have traveled highlighted in yellow or blue, and determined that if we headed toward St George, Ut and hang a right on 89 toward Page, Az we would travel in new and un photographed territory.
Although sad the end of our adventure was drawing near, our choice in routes did not disappoint. We enjoyed a stay for the night in Fredonia and stopped several times as we traveled along the Vermillion Cliffs. As we were nearing Page I noticed several cars off to the left and a small sign informing me that the turn off I had just flown past was the entrance to Horseshoe Bend. Now having photographed much of the west I am just a bit ashamed that I have gazed at many a wonderful photo of this marvel but had not a clue as to where it was located. Needless to say as it all started to register in my mind, I flipped a U turn (as soon as it was safe of course) and exited right which led to a parking lot that was surprisingly full of vehicles from almost as many states as there were cars.
Now there are many great articles here with tons of great advice from a lot of great photographers on what lens to use at what speed for different times of day and so on. My story is quite literally all about a different perspective. This story began about a year ago when I started to see something new.
Photographers with drones had started posting some amazing photos and videos online including one of my favorite videos of a fly over the edge at Horseshoe Bend. I imagined all the cutting edge possibilities of owning one of these “flying tripods” and began to research the pros and cons of the different brands and models thinking I would be a pioneer in the field of aerial photography. Instead, it took me  six months to finally order my drone which was  about the time I started hearing all the bad press these things were receiving. A crash into a steaming  geyser pool in Yellowstone, people chasing animals separating mothers from there young, and someone even crashed one on the white house lawn, and the list goes on. Well all the sudden these things were not so cool any more and as we have seen so much of in this day and age, the actions of the very few can ruin things for the many, which brings this story back to the present.
I knew drones were banned in Yellowstone Park but it wasn’t until the night before we rolled into Death Valley that I discovered that they had been banned in ALL national parks. I made the mistake of mentioning to a ranger that I was aware of the ban but had brought mine from Idaho intending to photograph the famous Sailing Rocks of the Race Track Playa. She was not impressed and proceeded to go off on all the death, destruction, and environmental harm that these things cause. In fact she was so worked up  that as I walked away, half way across the visitor center she quite sternly informed me that if I took this out of its box, the fine I would receive would surely buy me another drone! I wanted to inform her that one step of a human foot out onto the Playa would result in more environmental damage than flying a drone above it for a hundred years, and that there were three million acres In Death Valley that adrone couldn’t damage if it tried! My still clean arrest record attests to the fact that  I wised up just in time and kept my lips zipped!
So to say I appreciated my time at Horseshoe Bend is an understatement. Starting in the parking lot, I liked the fact that it was not developed as far as to  make it all touristy feeling. The hike was easy as well as beautiful with the desert flowers in bloom. And to walk to the edge with that view and no guard rails or signs was nothing short of breath taking.
I watched as people who were obviously not bothered by heights actually leaned over the edge while a loved one held on to some random piece of clothing to prevent them from falling, just to get that unobstructed shot. We saw another do a hand stand a foot from the edge which made no sense because the angle from which the photographer took the shot would not have revealed even a hint of the danger she was in! I joined in and stood as close to the edge as I dared which I admit  just happened to be about ten feet, and that was if I had something to hold on to or lean against! I found you don’t have to risk your life to get a great photo at Horseshoe Bend, its all in the framing, but I also had yet to bust out the “flying tripod!”
Keep in mind there is an etiquette that all photographers need to follow. We have all seen bad examples of this at tourist stops everywhere. I think we should be even more careful when involving the use of technology such as a drone. They are a bit noisy and lets face it, if I were trying to enjoy a spiritual moment in nature, a drone is the last thing I would want buzzing around my head. But I think they can also be used responsibly as I believe I have.
We walked to the left around the rim, away from where the people tended to congregate and prepared for flight. Now can I tell you I must be a bit off sometimes because when the drone is flying high, I get the same sensation of falling as if I were standing six inches from the edge of some imaginary cliff, “weird for sure.” Now add that to the fact that I wanted to fly this thing over the edge of a real cliff, I could hardly move. But now was my chance, I was here and it had to be done. I took it up a little bit at first and gradually went higher beginning to snap a few shots of the beautiful surrounding area. A couple people had come our direction and seemed interested in watching so I stepped up the courage level to about 175 ft where I snapped the shot posted here.
I still had not flown over the edge for the video looking back at us sitting on this massive cliff, so dramatic and awesome. I tried several times and realized the only way I could do it was to sit down on the ground and brace myself!  Now I don’t know why that would make a difference but I flew that baby out over the edge no problem! The video is amazing, like its a bird flying out over the edge, soaring, and seeing us sitting on the edge of the massive cliff!
It was a successful flight that yielded many, in my opinion, wonderful shots with a bit of a different perspective than we are used to seeing. It was maybe even more successful in that no one was annoyed and the drone coexisted beautifully with both nature and the people that were there to enjoy it.
I hope those of us who do use “flying tripods” will use them with intelligence and tact. Be safe and courteous around others. Respect wildlife and nature or they will be banned in places like Horseshoe Bend.
Above all, no matter what kind of camera you bring, whether it flies or not, come to this place and click that shutter! It’s amazing!
By Boyd Prestidge

3 Responses

  1. We are planning a trip to Horseshoe Bend next winter. I’m wondering how far from the edge can you be and still get a good shot?

    1. Brenda,
      The river below is about 600 feet below, basically straight down. This means that the camera has to be extremely close to the edge, in some cases within inches. Please use caution, especially on windy days. Sandstone is unstable and can break. There are some photo locations where you can see through a crack and frame the shot with the sandstone on both sides. In this case, you could be 5-10 feet away from the edge. Hope that helps!

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