Editor’s note: This summer, we’re bringing you articles from around the United States, highlighting different photographic locations for you to check out. Whether your own backyard or worthy of a road trip, we hope you’ll get inspired! Here’s a preview by Bob Coates on Arizona. Look for our series, Photofocus Road Trip, launching June 1, 2021.

In Arizona drive an hour in any direction. Do it again. And again. Not only will you find beautiful locations to photograph you will see entirely different ecosystems.

Here I take a look at a few wonderful locations that are within an hours drive of each other but are worlds apart in Northern Arizona, starting with Sedona. Stay tuned for parts two and three to explore Flagstaff, Page and the Grand Canyon. The image above is at the entrance to the Village of Oak Creek on our designated Scenic Highway.

North Central Arizona

Sedona is a spectacular location with the town built into the red rocks. There are lots of red rock areas in the southwest but no other towns, to my knowledge, that are nestled into the nooks and crannies of the beauty. The benefit to you as a traveler? Staying in Sedona puts your photographic landscapes with a quick hop, skip or jump.

At a little over 4000 feet this is high-desert. Altitude and dry air can can lead to dehydration. Make sure you drink more water than you think you should to stay healthy during your time here especially if you head out on the trails.

Cathedral Rock

One of the top 10 US most photographed formations, is a midday to sunset location. If you go in the morning the red rocks will be underexposed, leaving their beauty right where it is instead of in your camera. If the white puffy clouds are working the contrast of them with the clear blue skies can be amazing in full sun.

Capturing the iconic Cathedral Rock from the middle of Oak Creek.

The best sunset photos are actually about 10–15 minutes after the sun has gone below the horizon allowing the contrast to soften. I often watch people leave the scene right after sunset and lament their loss of the true photo beauty waiting to be captured.

Highway 179

Highway 179 is the gateway to red rock country leading into Sedona from I-17 and passing through the Village of Oak Creek. You’ll find four or five trailhead areas to park and begin your hiking adventure for more photo opportunities.

Sedona is a hikers paradise. Well maintained trails leading to all sorts of adventures with different views at every turn. With over 200 trails covering 400 miles, you could spend a long time hiking and not have seen all there is to see.

Trail signage at Bell Rock Pathway showing three of the 200 plus trails waiting for your feet.
Red rock formations work into beautiful panoramas. This is of the mermaid formation on Highway 179 is visible from Little Horse Trailhead.

My two favorite trailheads are the Bell Rock Vista and Little horse Trailhead. Both of these locations work for all day image creation. As the road runs north/south nice light is available for sunrise and sunset.

Dry Creek Road

This road leads into the northern areas along with more trailheads and different formations views. It’s probably one of the most popular off of Dry Creek Road is Devils Bridge. Dry Creek Road leads to a warren of red rock views and more trails to wander.

Made on Dry Creek Road with my camera converted to infrared. IR is a great alternative to putting up your camera in the middle of the day. Even cactus turns white while making the clouds pop out of the sky. I use LifePixel for my IR conversions. Here’s a link to more Sedona IR images.


It’s hard to believe but Sedona has a wetlands area with six ponds, created to allow the wastewater to perk and revive the environment after treatment.

Almost any time of year you’ll find different wildlife. Some avian life are residents, others pausing for a stop on their migratory path. Birds, dragonflies and flowers are standing by for your camera treatment.

If wildlife is really your thing, just down the road — you’ll also find a super avian population at Bubbling Ponds Fish Hatchery on Page Springs road in Cornville. A year-round population of Great Blue Herons is my favorite target there.

At the right time, dragonflies are quite accessible in the Sedona Wetlands Preserve as you can get right up to the edge of the reeds. A long lens makes it even better so you can reach further into the marsh with less chance of disturbing them.

Times to visit

Best weather times are spring and fall. That is also the highest number of people and the resulting traffic that can slow your progress while heading to your location. At the very least I recommend you schedule your visit on the shoulder or off-season. As Sedona is getting ever more popular as a destination mid-week tends to be less crowded.

Springtime brings wildflowers and butterflies. We do have to get rain at the proper time for the blooms to fire off in spectacular fashion. As we average only a bit over 20 inches a year and we have been dryer than that for the last couple years. Drought comes to mind and we tend to dance in the streets during a good shower.

One request

As you pursue your travels, please take care of your trash. Pack it in? Pack it out. Leave no trace other than footprints. If everyone adopts that mantra our lands will stay beautiful for all.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob