American Southwest/Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau is a huge desert region comprised of sections from four different American states: Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. This area makes up the heart of the American Southwest and is largely made up of high desert, with scattered areas of forests.

In the southwest corner of the Colorado Plateau lies its most famous land feature, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Much of the Plateau's landscape is related, in both appearance and geologic history, to the Grand Canyon. Its alternate nickname, "Red Rock Country," refers to the brightly colored rock left bare and exposed by dryness and erosion.

No photographic record of the United States would be complete without extensive documentation of this massive region. It contains the country’s most unique landscapes, attracting tourists from all over the world. Eroded cliffs, badlands, hoodoos, sand dunes, domes, reefs, river narrows, natural bridges, slot canyons, fins, petrified wood, and ancient Native American sites are only some of the additional features typical of the Plateau.

The Colorado Plateau has the greatest concentration of U.S. National Park Service units in the country outside of Washington, DC. Among its nine National Parks are Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde, and Petrified Forest. Among its 18 National Monuments are Bears Ears, Rainbow Bridge, Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Wupatki, Sunset Crater Volcano, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Natural Bridges, Canyons of the Ancients, Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the Colorado National Monument.

As a landscape photographer, the Colorado Plateau, along with the deserts of eastern California (documented here) are one of my favorite region in the United States. There are so many unique, majestic, otherworldly, and epic natural parks and vistas here that it requires three entries: Arizona & Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.


Arizona & Nevada

Along with Southern Utah, northern Arizona contains some of the most recognizable natural landscapes of the Colorado Plateau, including the majestic Grand Canyon. To the Canyon’s east lay three other enormous eroded landscapes central to Arizona’s high desert, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and Coal Mine Canyon. These parks are best known for their beautiful valleys, eroded buttes, canyons, and ancient cliff dwellings. North of the Grand Canyon, near the border with Utah, Arizona features the incredible strange multicolored desert rock landscapes of White Pocket and Cottonwood Cove in South Coyote Buttes. Several highly photogenic slot canyons near Page attract photographers and canyoneering enthusiasts from all over the world, including Antelope, Secret, Rattlesnake Slot Canyons and others.

The small southern sliver of Nevada shares a lot in common with the surreal desert neighbor Arizona to the east. Multicolored rock formations, badlands, and towering mountains surround metropolitan Las Vegas offering desert enthusiasts a range of photographic options. Parks here include Valley of Fire State Park, Red Rock Canyon, Cathedral Gorge State Park to the north.

New Mexico

Less frequently explored and photographed than its western neighbor Arizona, New Mexico is every bit as scenic, epic, and spectacular. Its high-desert landscapes and adobe architecture-inspired towns have greatly influenced the popular visual imagery of the Southwest and point to its Ancestral Pueblo culture roots.

The highlands of the northwest feature the imposing Shiprock formation (a volcanic plug that played a major role in Navajo religion, myth, and tradition) and a series of absolutely moon-like badlands of eroded sandstone together named the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. Passing through the ancient Anasazi dwellings of Chaco Culture and Gila Cliff Dwellings, photographers encounter the unbridled beauty of White Sands National Monument, the towering cliffs of the Organ Mountains, and the massive caves of Carlsbad Caverns National Park to the south.