Image: McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Elizabeth Belts-Kauffman

Think of Arizona, and you’ll inevitably think of cacti. But there’s more to the “Grand Canyon State” than cacti — so much more, that this week’s It’s A Snap photo contest winner, Boise, Idaho’s Elizabeth Belts Kauffman, finds it a challenge to choose just one favorite spot in the stunning southwest state.

“It depends on what landscape you’re looking for,” said Belts Kauffman, a professional photographer, whose image of a sunset at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, in Scottsdale, Ariz., was this week’s top-rated image.

Working together with her husband (Jason D.B. Kauffman) — also a photographer and an environmental writer — on assignment in Phoenix this past March for a wedding shoot at the Desert Botanical Gardens, the couple visited the preserve in an effort to capture the essence of the West. But doing just that isn’t always easy.

“The photo was truly a joint effort between my husband and I. We both set up the shot for composition and then while my husband was controlling the camera, I was running around using a flash to light up the cholla cacti in the foreground,” she said. “It was stormy all week and we knew to get the best light we had to go in the evening — it was the most incredible sunset.”

Her advice for visitors: “Go in early spring and get out and hike. It’s the perfect time of year to travel to Arizona, and no 117-degree temperatures,” she said. “People think of beauty as green, but Arizona’s got so many colors and textures. Fortunately, this year, it was a very wet spring, lots of rain, and it’s the greenest I’ve ever seen it, so beautiful.”

The Idaho native says Phoenix has amazing public lands, and the couple enjoyed hikes in South Mountain, The Superstition Wilderness, Camelback Mountain, and The McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

As hard as it is to choose her favorite places in Arizona, she said other spots worth visiting are Slot Canyons, Red Rock country, Tucson, Bisbee, and Patagonia where they spent time researching for a story on Jaguar conservation along the Southwestern United States-Northwestern Mexico border.

The winning photo was captured with a Canon 5D Mark II, with a 16-35mm lens, brilliant filters, and a Canon flash.

To see more of her work, click here.

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