Cottonwood Trees and Cloud-Filled Sky

Cottonwood Trees and Cloud-Filled Sky - Massive old cottonwood trees silhouetted against the cloud-filled autumn sky, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Massive old cottonwood trees silhouetted against the cloud-filled autumn sky, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Cottonwood Trees and Cloud-Filled Sky. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah. October 24, 2012. © Copyright 2012 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Massive old cottonwood trees silhouetted against the cloud-filled autumn sky, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

This photograph was a sort of passing whimsy, in a sense. In this particular canyon that we visited in late October, our attention as mostly focused on avoiding inclusion of the sky in the frame. For the most part, the tall cliff walls were almost the default background for many photographs, so I paid little attention to the sky, for the most part, except to contrive ways to keep its distracting solid blue out of the frame, where it would distract from the colors and shapes and textures of rock and trees and water.

But when I came straight up to this tree just before we entered a narrow section of the canyon, it is was impossible ignore. It is actually a single tree that splits into two twin trunks near its base, with each trunk then sprouting a group of curving, twisting and interlocking branches high above the ground. With this subject, out in the open as it was, photographing it against the background of rock would not have worked, and it was so tall that I was essentially forced to shoot it with the camera pointing up. Fortunately, there were interesting clouds in the sky, and even more fortuitously the lines in the clouds roughly lined up with the left half of the v-shape of the two converging ridges down that canyon. Even better, this shallow “v” of the canyon rims and low peaks beyond echoed and cradled the somewhat similar shape found in the upper branches of the tree.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

2 thoughts on “Cottonwood Trees and Cloud-Filled Sky”

  1. Thanks, Bret. Coming from you, that means a lot – if anyone knows his cottonwoods, you do! :-)

    I’ve long been an aspen nut, primarily related to “my” eastern Sierra aspens, which grow in more intimate fashion than “your” Utah aspen groves. However, I’m starting to appreciate why you might be so passionate about the aspens of your state, after spending nearly two weeks in their presence this past fall. We saw beautiful aspens all over Utah and managed to photograph them in many places – though we just missed the peak at Boulder Mountain. That is reason enough to return!

    The cottonwoods, especially with their fall color, “work” in so many ways: as dots of intense color in long views of river valleys, close up with the focus on the masses of leaves, the twisted and rough shapes of the trunks and branches, clusters of juvenile trees along river banks, and almost any sort of cottonwood set against the background of Utah’s sandstone.

    Take care,


  2. This is fantastic, Dan. Cottonwoods are second only to aspens as my favorite tree subjects for photography. Their bark, twisting trunks and colorful autumn leaves are just too nice to ignore. I love how the background cliffs sort of frame the tree and how the yellow leaves pop off the blue sky. Very nice!

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