Category Archives: Trips

Hiking and photographing Soldier’s Pass Trail and secret cave in Sedona, Arizona

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Sedona, Arizona is one of the most beautiful and iconic places on earth. Whether you are a photographer, hiker or adventurer, Sedona’s Soldier’s Pass Trail offers some epic views, great sunrises and sunsets, a sinkhole and a hidden cave along an unmarked side trail.

This trail is part of a system of trails that include Jordan’s Trail, Cibola Pass and Brin’s Mesa Trail. In this article I’m going to talk about 2 ways to hike Soldier’s Pass. The first (and easiest) from the Soldier’s Pass Trailhead parking lot and second, from Jordan’s Trail, if you want to be on the trail for sunrise or sunset photography.

The first route is very simple. It starts from the Soldier’s Pass Trailhead. The gates open at 8am and close at 6pm. There is a small house that (I assume) is occupied by the hosts of the trailhead parking lot. Do not park here if you want to stay out on the trail past 6pm for a sunset.

Directions to Soldier’s Pass TH:
To get to this parking lot, simply head west on Route 89A from the “Y” (intersection of 89A and 179) towards West Sedona. Follow Route 89A for 1.3 miles to Soldier’s Pass RD and turn right. Follow Soldier’s Pass RD for 1.5 miles to Rim Shadows and turn right. At 0.2 miles the parking lot will be on your left. Look for the gate.




The Hike:
From the trailhead you will be hiking for about 10-15 minutes, where you will reach the intersection with Jordan’s Trail. It is here that you will see Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole straight ahead. This is the largest sinkhole in Arizona and its still active!

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Continue to the left around the sinkhole on the Soldier’s Pass trail for approximately 10 minutes, and you will arrive at Seven Sacred Pools on the left hand side. These are natural pools carved out of sandstone, and after a good rain, can even be a flowing waterfall!

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Directions to the hidden cave:
From the seven sacred pools, continue on the trail for 45 minutes, enjoying the beautiful views the landscape and vegetation have to offer.

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After 45 minutes, you will come to a sign that says Soldier’s Pass Trail

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You’re almost there! From this sign, walk for 3 minutes until you see a fork in the trail. To the right is an unmarked trail. You can see it here.

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You will go over some sandstone staircases and a wide open sandstone area. Go to the left and continue up the trail.

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You can see the cave here

From the fork, its approximately 25 minutes to the cave. Climb up and to the right inside the cave and relax, meditate, get some food and take some pictures!! Once you are finished, please take everything you brought, “Leave No Trace,” and head back out to the main trail. Here you can hike up to the end of the trail and return the way you came, or make the complete 5.5 mile loop via the Brin’s Mesa Trail, Cibola/Jordan’s Trail.

Via Jordan’s Trail:

Directions to Jordan’s Trailhead:
Take 89A North from the “Y” towards Uptown Sedona for 0.2 miles and turn left at Jordan’s Road. Drive for approximately 0.5 miles until the road ends. Turn left onto Park Ridge Drive. Follow until it ends at the parking lot (approx. 3/4 of a mile.)

This trailhead is great if you want to park here to photograph sunrise or sunset because there are no gates, and does’t close. If you are going to be hiking in the dark, I highly recommend getting Maps.ME for iPhone or Android. This app works offline if you download the area before you go. It has about any trail you can think of and is very accurate. I stop about 10ft off the trail it it showed be being slightly off trail on my phone. I’ve even used it trekking in Peru!

From the parking lot, follow the Cibola Pass Trail, heading west for about 15-20 minutes until you get to the Jordan’s Trail intersection.

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Continue heading west along the Jordan’s Trail for another 10-15 minutes, where you will reach the Devil’s Sinkhole/Soldier’s Pass Trail intersection! From here its of course the same as above. I highly recommend the Sacred Seven Pools for sunset. Have a great trip and remember to bring lots of water!

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Sunrise from Indian Nose in Lake Atitlan





I’ve been waiting a long time for this shot from the Indian Nose Trail, overlooking Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. 3 volcanoes line the shore of this beautiful lake, and it is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. Join me as I take you along  from start to finish, in what is to-date, my favorite and most rewarding image I’ve had the pleasure of creating.

I woke up at 3:00am, stumbled out of bed, gathered all my gear and headed out the door. I walked from our B&B Casa Lobo, making the 30 minute walk into the charming town of San Pedro La Laguna. This town, and Guatemala in general, gets a bad rap about safety. But I walked at 3:15am, for 30 minutes, alone and carrying a backpack full of expensive camera gear and a tripod sticking out the side. Not a single issue. The only people out were gringos smoking or going on the hike with me.

I met my guide, Pedro, at the boat dock where we waited for a chicken bus to take us to the trailhead. The bus was mostly travelers, either heading to Indian Nose or to Santa Clara, the small town just past the trail. I chatted with Pedro and another guide on the hour long ride about what to expect.

We arrived at the trailhead, jumped off the bus, grabbed our headlamps, and began walking in the dark through some farm fields along a dirt trail. After about 15 minutes, we got to the spot where it was straight up hill. It was fairly challenging, but doable. We stopped about 3 times on the 15 minute vertical climb for water. We arrived at the “first summit,” where we stopped and caught our breath. What a great view. But we had about 5 more minutes of climbing to get to the top lookout or “mirador.”

It was about 5:30am, and the sunrise was due in about 45 minutes. We could see the lights from the towns of San Juan, San Pedro, and Santiago way in the distance! I set up my tripod on the front of the lookout, ensuring I’d get the best view and pictures, hehe. I set up my camera, threw on my lens, and started taking pictures of this beautiful lake.  You could barely see at first, but the magnificent views of San Pedro, Atitlan and Toliman were peaking out from the clouds below. Truly extraordinary.

I set my aperture at f/9, and had my lens focused to infinity because everything in the frame was far away. This first image you see on this article is a 2 shot panorama at 24mm. I shoot fully manual, so my ISO was at 64, the lowest native setting for my Nikon D810,  and my shutter speed to slightly under expose for the sky by 2/3 of a stop.

The next picture you will see here is right as the sun rose above the clouds. The sunrises here are unique. Because of the haze, the sun’s brightness is diffused quite a bit, making it a round orange ball that looks pretty cool.

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Once I had my fill of pictures, my guide and I walked back down to the trailhead, where I assumed we would catch the chicken bus back to San Pedro. Well, I was wrong. We got to the place where the bus dropped us off, but we just kept on walking. Then, he started to jog. Of course, monkey see monkey do, so I followed right behind him. He spotted an old Toyota pickup truck driving up and picking up a few guys on the side of the road. Pedro flagged them down and we just jumped in the back! The pickup had a welded cage around the bed that you had to stand up and hold on to. I swear. We rode the whole way back down, dropping from about 9,000ft in elevation, to about 5,000ft at the lake level over the next hour. So there I am, with 4 Guatemalans, standing up for an hour in the back of this truck, going around sharp turns, over potholes, passing bigger trucks full of pigs, tuk tuks, and trying to comprehend what was happening.

I found out later that those trucks drive from town to town, and you can just jump on, get to where you’re going, tap the hood and jump off, giving them 5 Quetzales(less than a dollar). I can say at this point and time that the story, along with the anticipation, and the luck of the weather, made this my most memorable shot to date. If you ever go to Lake Atitlan, this is definitely a must do. You won’t ever forget it.

Equipment: Nikon D810

Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 Lens

MeFoto Backpacker Tripod

Manfrotto   XPRO ballhead



Waterfall Photography in Payson, Arizona





Every once in a while you stumble upon a real gem. This place was found purely by accident, which makes this image that much more special. I’ve photographed Fossil Springs waterfall, which is a very popular hike here in Arizona, so I was looking for a place that was a little different and something I hadn’t seen on social media or online anywhere else. The search started in google maps, where I wanted to find an area of this particular creek at a point where it was running east/west so that I could get a sunrise. Once I found a spot that looked promising, I zoomed in and looked at the terrain. It looked very rocky and actually had a small trail leading down to the general area. Now it had snowed a few weeks prior, so I thought maybe with the snow melt I might get some extra flow in the creek.

We drove the 2 hours from Mesa, AZ and arrived at the spot where it looked like the trail started. we parked right along the highway and began to scale up an icy, rocky, slippery hillside to get to the trailhead. Next we had to crawl under a deer fence and use google maps to track our route along the trail in total darkness! Everything was seemingly going ok until we got to what looked like a huge canyon. We could hear lots of water rushing and tried looking down with our flashlights to see what lied beneath us.  The trail looked like it began to descend in to the canyon, so we took a leap of faith and climbed down onto the rocks and made our way toward all the noise of the flowing water below. What we found was absolutely breathtaking. I never expected to see a waterfall in a canyon quite like this. We sat and soaked in the sights and sounds as it started to get light. So I made a questionable decision to jump down onto some rocks directly over flowing river, not particularly concerned on how I would get back out.

I took off my backpack and set up my tripod and camera on the very edge of the rocks, praying I wouldn’t accidently kick it into the raging rapids. This is just one of those times where good planning and preparation, mixed with amazing luck of having the snow melt and the clouds providing a very dramatic scene. As the sun was inching up towards the horizon, the sky and clouds began to catch fire. I snapped away during nature’s light show, while listening to the rapids and waterfall, trying to soak in every bit of the beauty I was now a part of. Now the realization hit me that I had to get back up the rocks I jumped down from. So I channeled my inner rock climber and held onto every nook and crack to get back up the rocks. What a relief! From there we made the hike back to the truck, admiring the canyon and forest that we couldn’t see in the dark on the way in.

Once I got it back home and onto the computer, I used my editing software to enhance the details and colors, as well as making the sunrise pop. This, to me, is where I “create the image.” This is where the artist really makes it his own. I prefer that term, rather than “taking a picture.” Creating an image is something that begins long before pressing that shutter button. Its starts at home planning with maps, apps like The Photographers Ephemeris, and then walking through snow in the dark, getting your composition just perfect, luck, and finally mastering post processing and letting your artistic self make the image truly your own.

Camera: Nikon D810

Tripod: Mefoto Backpacker

Lens: Tamron 15-30mm F/2.8

Ballhead: Manfrotto MHXPRO

Editing Software: Lightroom and Photoshop CC

 

 

 

 

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Taken on Feb 6, 2107 on Christopher Creek