Nature photographer Ian Plant shares his favorite barren locations.
Ironically enough, water defines many desert areas, sculpting the landscape and bringing life to what would otherwise be barren. Some desert areas have an abundance of water, making for unique photography opportunities.
For the ultimate desert water experience, Great Salt lake (UT), the largest salt lake in the western hemisphere, doesn’t disappoint—head to Antelope Island State Park for a chance to photograph landscapes and wildlife, including bison, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep.
Big Bend National Park (TX), which preserves a magnificent portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, is defined by the looping Rio Grande River. Many photogenic wonders await you there, including eroded rocks, volcanoes, fossils, hot springs, and old mines.
Finally, the world-renowned Virgin River Narrows of Zion National Park (UT) offers a fantastic desert pairing: a flowing river at the bottom of a deep sandstone canyon. Just bring a pair of chest waders and a sturdy stick for keeping your balance, as you will spend much of your time in waist-deep water.
Flora and Fauna Desert photography isn’t just about sand and stone. Many desert areas boast unique plant and animal life.
Joshua Tree National Park (CA) is famous for its stunning collection of twisted Joshua trees, growing as high as 30 or 40 feet.
Organ Pipe National Monument and Saguaro National Park (AZ) are known for their respective namesake cacti, as well as beautiful highdesert scenery.
Plants aren’t the only things that thrive in the desert: Thousands of sandhill cranes come to the Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges (CO) in March before migrating elsewhere; bring a long telephoto lens to capture the action.
For the ultimate living-desert experience, travel to an area with good spring blooms. This isn’t always a safe bet: Some areas flower every year, whereas other areas bloom only every few years—or decades—dependent on sufficient moisture from rains or mountain snowmelt.
Areas that consistently bloom in profusion in March include Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, both located in southern California.
A wide-angle lens is useful for capturing grand landscapes of fields filled with flowers, whereas a macro lens or a short telephoto will come in handy when shooting close-ups or isolating a portion of the landscape.
Ian Plant is the author/photographer of eight books, including Chesapeake: Bay of Light (Mountain Trail Press, 2007), and a lead author and executive editor of The Ultimate Guide to Digital Nature Photography (Mountain Trail Press, 2009). See more of his work at www.ianplant.com.