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My Southwest USA Trip

As I sat down to write this blog  I  realized why I had been putting it off. Simply put, it is overwhelming!  How do I encapsulate a month long trip with  hundreds of memories and thousands of photographs to choose from,  into one blog.  To do it justice,  it may take  a series of blogs, but  I  will endeavor to at least  summarize it now.

As an assistant leader with the Phoenix Explorers,  Peter (the other leader), myself,  and  our  group of  a half dozen  17 year old adventurers from  Ontario,  headed out on July 28, 2017   in our two trusty SUV’s, to explore lands afar for 4 weeks.

Looking at an old fashioned map put  the route  that we hoped to follow in  perspective.

Our planned route ( marked in orange highlighter)

We bee lined it across the 1-80 West during the first 3 days, crossing through the States of  Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska to get to  Colorado.


Big Sky Country   Photo: Greg Coman

Before I go any further,  I’d like to share  a few logistics stats from our trip.

28 -Number of days travelling                                                                                                 8 – Total number of adventurists                                                                                          2 – Number of Vehicles                                                                                                               1- Trailer                                                                                                                                             4- Tents                                                                                                                                              11,240 – Total Kilometers traveled                                                                     10  – Number of States visited                                                                                  4 – Number of  Walmart parking lots slept in

Yes, Walmart. Their  parking lots have easy  access,  and offer a  free rest-stop  on a long drive.  Most often though, we found  beautiful campsites  like the one below.

My 2014 Subaru Outback   Photo: Greg Coman

Speaking of camping, here are  a few details.  We picked up two National  Park Passes,  good for entry into any of the US National Parks.  We definitely got our money’s worth as we visited 10 National Parks, in addition to a couple more State Parks. Here’s a few of them.


The first National Park we visited was Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado (below) which had just gotten a downpour of precipitation.  We generally had hot dry weather, but check out one of my   previous blogs about  a big  storm  we encountered.

Great Sand Dunes , Colorado  Photo: Greg Coman

Next up was Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado, who’s ominous landmark  looked like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Mesa Verde (meaning Green Table in Spanish)  Photo: Greg Coman

It is  known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.

Cliff dwellings. Mesa Verde National Park  Photo: Greg Coman

The next day, we took  a wild, scenic drive through Silverton, Colorado to Moab, Utah.  This part of the the world is Bugs Bunny/ Road Runner country  with Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and the  less known Goblin Valley State Park.  The  bizarre landscape  is home to  thousands of hoodoos,  formations of mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles, which can resemble mythical Goblins ( especially when you’re alone , at night) .

The Hoodoos  in Goblin Valley State Park   Photo: Greg Coman

Then off we tootled toward Zion National Park, where we would set up camp for a few days. However first we  stopped for a hike through  beautiful  Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park  Photo: Greg Coman


Zion National Park

The Zion Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. The trail  literally follows the Virgin River, through a gorge, with walls a thousand feet tall.  Do not attempt this hike if there is any threat of rain, which can create sudden flash floods.

Greg wading up the Zion Narrows   photo credit: Peter Wiinholt

Angel’s Landing . After a series of 21switchbacks, called Walter’s Wiggles, we made it to the  top of the ridge, at Scout Lookout. For the final 1/2 mile, the trail followed the ridge across a saddle and up the hogs back. This is where things got interesting, as it was very steep, and we were  grateful for the chains.


The view from the peak of Angel’s Landing , 1488 feet  Photo: Greg Coman

This challenging  hike would prove to be good warm-up for our  next biggest  challenge- the Grand Canyon. However we still  had a couple more days to prepare for that. From our campground in  Page, Arizona  we would venture out on day excursions to Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and Antelope Canyon.

The Colorado River meanders through Horseshoe Bend, near Page, AZ  photo:Greg Coman

Antelope Canyon is a photographer’s dream, but also a challenge. Light is low, and there are lots of  people. The canyon is protected and run by the Navajo nation, and all  visitors must be on a guided tour, so  time in the Canyon is  limited. Additionally no bags are allowed,  so it is just one camera, one lens, and  make the best of it.

The shot below is straight out of camera, with no filters, or adjustments.

Upper Antelope Canyon  Photo: Greg Coman

Our Navajo guide was awesome, even a  pretty good photographer herself.  Here is a shot  that she took of our group.

Clockwise:  Greg, Peter, Ethan, James, Richard, Jordan, Thomas & Brandon.                                   Photo: Antelope Canyon Tours

Our group will then go on to hike to the bottom of the the Grand Canyon, and up.  That is worthy of a second blog.  After the Grand Canyon we had some R&R  in  Flagstaff  and Sedona, Arizona where we recovered from our hiking adventure,  before heading north to Wyoming.

In Wyoming, we venture into the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park, and find ourselves a great spot in Wyoming to observe the Full Solar Eclipse.

Stay tuned for more adventures of the Phoenix Explorers in the  Southwest, coming soon to a Blog near you.

Greg Coman


Weather or not

On a recent cross country drive through the Southwest USA  this past August,  we got into some weather. It was Day 3 of the trip, and we were stacking up some miles  since we left Toronto.


We had started from our  Walmart campsite, just south of Denver  earlier that morning, and since we were making some good headway,  we stopped for  a leisurely lunch in Salida, Colorado.


From there the skies started getting interesting.

With warm air, convection currents  and mountain ranges in the distance,  the skies took on some otherworldly colours.


This  isolated rain cloud seemed  selective in where it dumped its rainfall,  so I   kept a careful eye on it, and   maintained  a safe distance.


Shooting with my lens sticking  out of the car window for many  of these shots, like this one below.


There were not many places to seek shelter in a downpour, so we kept driving.


We were aiming for a visit to the Sand Dunes National Park , before  heading to Durango, CO.  We could see the sand dunes in the near distance.


The rain held off long enough for  a  short visit to Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.


And then the  skies opened up quickly, dropping a huge payload. In the photo below,  the small white motor home, which is  barely visible in the distance,  gives some perspective of the immensity of the clouds.


Off our entourage darted to Durango, where we looked forward to a dry bed and warm meal at my in-laws  home.

Stay tuned for more adventures on the road with the Phoenix Explorers.

All photos copyright Greg Coman Photography.


Summer’s Over!

It’s Monday, September 4th- the week is over, and  the  weekend is over. Being one of the few long weekends of the summer,  the long weekend is over, and it was the last one of the summer. Reality check – summer is officially  over!

Depressed yet?  Don’t  worry. These cycles  all repeat. Get over it.

Let’s  analyze the word  “Over” .   From my limited Grade 9 Latin,  I know that most words are based on Latin  roots.  Other words that evolve from this word   are  Ovarian Cycle- the cycle of life, and  new beginnings – perhaps  birth.

In the Arts , there’s  the Ovation. After a concert- there’s an Ovation, perhaps even a Standing Ovation,  if it was  a particularly  outstanding performance.

As American baseball legend Yogi Berra first uttered about the 1973  pennant race ”it Ain’t over till it’s over”.

As summer comes to an end. it’s time to reflect on my summer trip  to the Southwest with the Phoenix Youth Group. Yellowstone National Park was  the last National park of several that we visited. Here are some shots from that  trip to Yellowstone. We  started with the customary viewing of Old Faithful Geyser. Then, as the day wound down, we caught the last last rays of the sun at  Grand Prismatic Spring.


So put on a happy face, the day may be over , the summer may be over, but there’s always tomorrow.

Over and out… Greg


Cypress Lake/Bruce Trail Camp – May 2017

At the young age of 10 my dad was working for Air Canada in Ontario, and he got transferred  to Vancouver.  I spent  my  early years  surrounded by mountains, ocean and forests.  I joined the Boy Scouts where I was introduced to  hiking  and camping.  My first overnight was winter camping with the Boy Scouts in North Vancouver, which was a bit of an eye opener to  survival of the elements.  Later on,  I have fond memories of canoe trips  in my youth  in Algonquin Park with my father.

As a father myself now, I  introduced my two daughters to hiking and camping. We proudly wear our End to End Badges having completed the Bruce Trail in its entirely, all 880 kms, which we undertook over several years with other families.

With nature as my epicenter, I am still  actively hiking.  My friend Peter Wiinholt, a high school teacher and wilderness guru,  put a call out  to help out with his scout group – the Phoenix Explorers.

I am excited to be joining Peter and the Phoenix Explorers to  the Southwest on an Epic four  week driving  trip this coming August.

To prepare for this upcoming trip,   we engaged on  a 3 day camping trip up to  Cypress Lake , Ontario, where we  explored the Bruce Trail, and worked out the camping cobwebs.

Here are  a few photos from that trip.

Stay tuned for more  adventures with the Phoenix Explorer Group.

The Long Lens

I borrowed an awesome lens from Nikon last week- the new AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR.

There are certain limitations that would dissuade me from owning one of these – my pocketbook mainly, and the fact that  my insurance rates would skyrocket.  For  a cool $13,000. you can be the proud mama or papa of one of these babies.

You should also  consider  hiring a porter to haul it around for you.  At 8.2  lbs , it is the equivalent  of my first-born’s birth weight.

But joking aside, it is a very fine piece of glass. I took this shot of the moon with it.  If you look closely you can see the craters. If you added an AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III  to it, you could probably see  tire tracks from the lunar-mobile.

Greg Coman- Leo Moon

Nikon is targeting  “professional and passionate photography shooters” with this lens.     I think they forgot “wealthy”.  Allowing photographers “to capture the thrill of sports, action and wildlife with staggering clarity and precision, even in challenging light”. That’s true.

I  loaded up my gear and headed to Scottsdale farm. I was hoping for a glimpse of a bald eagle or a coyote,  but  no luck on that particular front. Luckily I coerced my daughter to come along as a porter, and  I got some great action shots of her running through the snow.

I also tried some macro shots of snow drifts with it. As my photographer friend Alan McCord commented “it’s pretty awesome to actually see the snow spilling over the edge like that”.

Bottom line is –  wildlife  photographers will love it – you  will get super-sharp images even from a significant distance. And for you sports photographers, I suspect that any pro Nikon shooter at the upcoming PanAm games is going to have one of these babies.

GEC- Snow Wave