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Photographing the Red Rocks Country
Seeing the Red Rocks Beauty From a Different Perspective
By David L. Brown

I recently had the opportunity to see and photograph the beauty of the Moab area from a different viewpoint ­– looking down from above. The occasion was a helicopter adventure with one of my photo tour clients, Roberta Duke.

Roberta is a fine art photographer from California who I first met two years ago. She returned to Moab this August with her husband Jack Jennings and we spent two evenings doing night shoots at Dead Horse Point and in the La Sal Mountains. As a special treat, Jack arranged the early morning aerial shoot for Roberta and me with Pinnacle Helicopters, based at the Moab airport.

We took off in morning twilight with Pinnacle owner Ben Black at the controls of the R44 Raven II four-passenger machine for a photo shoot that took us across the Maze and portions of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, the Green River including a view of the Bowknot bend, up the Dirty Devil River and points between. It was a breathtaking survey of thousands of square miles of this amazing landscape of cliffs and canyons.

We got to photograph close-up many subjects ordinarily seen only from afar, or after perhaps days of hiking or four wheeling, For example, we soared near Ekker Butte, a prominent feature in the Maze District, as pictured in Fig. 1. Some years ago I photographed this red rock mountain from the Maze Overlook.

Another rare treat was the chance to photograph the Buttes of the Cross, a pair of rock formations near the Stillwater Canyon section of the lower Green River. When seen from the proper angle – and with a helicopter anything is possible – the two formations form a cross, as seen in Fig. 2. To see how the two buttes interact, Fig. 3 shows the view from further to the right.

During our photo expedition we landed at a place called Happy Valley, where I photographed my client Roberta Duke as Ben Black checked over his machine (Fig. 4). Happy Valley was the location of a prospecting claim in the 1950s and we explored the abandoned miners’ shacks.

Other highlights of our aerial photo excursion included a close-up view of the Needles District. We circled Chesler Park, swooped near Angel Arch and explored weird and colorful rock formations such as those seen in Fig. 5.
Traveling further south toward Lake Powell we picked up the canyon of the Dirty Devil River and followed it northward as shown in Fig. 6. Ben even showed us the narrow crack where the unfortunate hiker whose story was told in the film 127 Hours was trapped.

One of the particular pleasures of the helicopter photo run was the chance to view and photograph the ever-changing and complex patterns of the terrain, carved by millions of years of wind, water and frost. An example is shown in Fig. 7.
All too soon our adventure came to an end and we were back on the ground. We had seen almost the whole of the Red Rocks Country for which Moab is famous, and were back in time for breakfast.

Ekker ButteThe jagged red rock “mountain” known as Ekker Butte is located in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park




Figure 2Figure 3Figures 2 and 3. The Buttes of the Cross is a pair of formations which, when lined up and seen from a certain direction, appear to form a cross. The second view of the Buttes of the Cross, taken from further to the right, shows the relationship between the two formations.



Figure 4Figure 4. Fine art photographer Roberta Duke poses for a snapshot in front of the helicopter as we take a break in Happy Valley.




Figure 5Figure 5. Eroded rocks in weird shapes and colors are pictured above in a part of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.




Figure 6Figure 6. The winding canyon of the Dirty Devil River, a tributary of the Colorado west of the Green, is lined with colorful rock formations.





David L. Brown is a photographer, journalist and novelist who lives in Moab, where he leads photo tours and workshops. He can be reached at 435-210-8158 and his web site is at

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