Since our short visit last year, I dreamed of returning to Arches National Park to devote all my time to photographing the wonders of nature in this part of Utah, and to climb to Delicate Arch. If you read my post, “Rocks of Fire: Arches National Park,” then you knew the difficulties I had on my last attempt to summit. I was determine that this time it would have a different outcome. Also, I wanted to photograph Canyonlands, Antelope Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend, the latter two in Arizona. These places that I had read about and seen the photos of the pros. I wanted my own rendition.
I met two very nice photographers while photographing the Coastal Brown Bears of Alaska in September, 2011 (check out my post on Alaska, “Strange Things”). In casual conversation, I mentioned that I was planning a photography trip to Southern Utah and Northan Arizona in May 2012. Claudia (known as CJ) asked if she could join me.
First things first, I began my physical training with my personal trainer, Georgia, to prepare me. I told her what I wanted to accomplish, and she came through with a training strategy to get me up that mountain to Delicate Arch. And, it worked!
I dropped my husband off at High Lonesome Ranch, near DeBeque, CO, for a week of fly fishing, picked up CJ at the Grand Junction, CO airport (she flew in from Sterling Heights, MI), plugged Moab, UT in my Nav system, and off we went for one of the top ten adventures of my lifetime. I will never forget it. CJ is a wonderful travel companion, always there eager to push on, and cheerleader any event that we decided to particpate in. “Delicate Arch? No problem, damn it, we are going do this,” she said often, especially that last 100 yards when the going got really tough, the tough sit down until our “heroes” saved the day. But, I have digressed.
We checked into the Holiday Inn Express, Moab, UT, dropped off all unnecessary equipment and luggage, and picked up some fruit, which Georgia had recommended instead of those nasty energy bars at the grocery store. In the Park’s literature, Delicate Arch is classified as a “strenuous trail.” It’s a three-mile (4.8km) hike roundtrip, with an elevation change of 480 feet (146m) with half of the journey on slickrock, and no defined trail path three-fourths of the way. You must follow the rock cairns. Every year, people wander off the edge, get lost and need to be rescued. The last 200 yards (183m), the trail traverses a rock ledge. DON’T LOOK DOWN. We packed in tripod, camera, wide angle lens, and a few filters besides fruit and water. It was a hard hike. At one point, I was ready to turn back. My legs were shaking but I didn’t have any of the warning signs (dizziness, lightheaded) that would mean a definite defeat.
As we were resting on a granite rock face, a young girl came by and asked if she and her friend could help. She volunteered to carry my tripod. She assured me that she would not steal it. At that point, I really could care less. I handed over my tripod with much glee. There is hope for mankind . . . there is hope for our young people today. Shortly thereafter, three young men stopped to help us, and I must confess that without their help I probably would not have made it. They stuck with us the rest of the way up the rock face. All three young men, Mike, Jack and Jay, were ex-military, reminding us to breath in through our noses and exhaling out our mouths, keeping one foot in front of the other. Their guidance, up as well as down, made for a well gained achievement on my part.
I must say for all the heartache getting there, it was well worth the effort. As I rounded the ledge, the arch came in view. It was a magificent sight to behold. This arch stands 65 feet tall (20m). We arrived just shortly before sunset so I was able to get some nice shots of the arch with the La Sal Mountain Range in the background before the shadows began to slowly creep forward to overtake the arch as the sun was setting.
Travel Tip: As this is a travel photography blog, I wanted to mention just how dissatified I was in choosing the Holiday Inn Express (HIE), Moab, UT. I am a loyal customer of HIE, and in most cases, have found the chain to be just fine for my needs. But I had a chance to compare hotels when returning to Moab on my way back to Grand Junction, CO. I stayed at the Best Western Plus – Canyonlands in Moab. One word sums it, WOW! What a hotel. The room was so spacious with great amenities . . . the breakfast was quite good for a chain hotel that offers breakfast with the room. Best Western front desk employees were helpful and friendly. It was nice to have a bellboy to carry all the luggage in after days of schlepping lugguage, camera equipment, ice chest, bags, etc. When we first arrived in Moab, and were checking into the HIE, I was told that check in was not until 4pm . . . its 3:45pm, could we just get an early checkin? Absolutely not. To kill time, we went to the grocery store to stock up on healthy snacks and water. Unfortunately, when we finally did get to our room, no small refrigerator. Bummer! But our room at the Best Western had a refrigerator. I will keep this mine when I travel again.
Up at 4am, coffee in hand, and out the door to capture the iconic sunrise photo at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands. We calculated about an hour’s drive from Moab, then a short hike (Ha) to the arch. And, we still didn’t make it before other photogs arrived. We had nine photographers already setup and ready to go just as we approached the arch. It was a brisk morning with beautiful light just beginning to peak over the distance mesa. The best spots were already taken so I edged my way into a nice area and setup my tripod. The tripod is your border, your boundaries, your special space . . . every photographer fights for his or hers small section of real estate.
The idea here is to capture the many shades of reds and orange hues produced by the light bouncing off the underneath side of the arch as it slowly rises in the sky. This gives the appearance that the bottom of the arch is on fire. I have to admit I was sceptical at first. As the sun begin to rise, I could not see this phenomenon . . . this spectacular orange-reddish color. People around me seemed to “oh and aw.” I thought I was blind but, finally, it was there, I did see it.
Mesa Arch is located in an area of Canyonlands, called, “Island in the Sky,” which represents a broad section of canyons forged from the Colorado and Green Rivers. Mesa Arch sits right on the ledge of a cliff, with a drop off of a 1,000 feet or so. The photo above shows the rugged canyon country in the distance framed by the arch. The most prominent landforms: Washer Woman Arch (Left), Monster Tower (Right), and behind is Airport Tower. One of the most impressive videos I have seen of Mesa Arch was a time elapsed caption of the sunrise by Yo Suzuki, “Sunrise,”
On our way back to Arches, we saw what we missed since it was dark as we made our ascent to Mesa Arch earlier that morning. The spring wildflowers were in full bloom. The Rusty Lupine grew along the roadside providing us with a purple pathway. There were canyons, mesas, with deep dropoffs, as far as the eye could see. Its easy to see where Canyonlands gets it’s name.
The sands of time have sculpted the arid land into an infinite variety of land forms: towering spires, sheer cliffs, balanced rocks, and graceful arches of stone. These rocks of fire seem timeless, but it is always evolving and continuously being reshaped by power of the wind and water. Another arch, or should I say archs, I had missed last time was Double Arch. Double Arch consists of two relatively large arches with a common end. Look for it in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” — its the backdrop at the beginning of the movie.
I found a beautiful 360 degree panorama of Double Arch taken and produced by Jurgen Matern.
As we entered the park, its was amazing to see just how erosion from water and wind has craved works of art out of the sandstone. The Three Gossips (CJ and I called them, “The Three Apostles”), are remnants of a large Entrada sandstone mesa, carved by the hand of God. Just think, it took a militia of men and dynamite to carve out of granite the four faces of our U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore in 14 years. It took millions of years for God to welded his hand with brushes of wind and water to create the Three Apostles, aka Three Gossips.
Instead of hitting North Window at sunrise, we decided to get a shot of North and South Window at sunset. We weren’t the only ones with that idea . . . a photography group staying at our hotel had the same idea. I picked a spot with a nice gnarly dead Joshu tree in the foreground to give my photo depth. Its always a pain to shoot when other photogs are abound. You have to fight for your “spot” while others shouting, “GET OUT OF MY SHOT.” This was the case of the gnarly dead Joshu tree. It seemed that someone else had the same idea. Of course, he was there first but i just wanted the spot but at a different angle. I did get my shot.
Because of the almost black and white aspect of the tree, I wanted to give my photo a different look but still bring out this “fiery” appearance. In post processing, I used Nik’s Software’s Silver Effx Pro to get the aged look, then I brought back the red hues in the North and South Windows. Speaking of Windows, there has been a raging debate over the difference between an Arch, Window or Hole? The official word from the Park is that an arch has an opening that measures at least three feet in any one direction. Obviously, North and South Windows are more than three feet across, so why a “window?”
Last year I tried to beat the other photogs to get a piece of the action as the sun rose for my shot at “the window through which Turret Arch is seen.” Even at 5am, I didn’t get there in time since three photographers had already made their claim on a very small ledge for the optimum view. This time, CJ and I decided to photograph Turret Arch at sunset. Photographers are always looking for the perfect view within a view. Its easy in Arches. I have often said that I didn’t think you could take a bad picture . . . the clear blue skies, the contrast of the red hues bouncing on the sandstone, the mighty structures carved into whatever your imagine can conjure up, the texture, its all here.
Whatever time that you are in the park . . . sunrise, high noon or sunset, the colors and even the forms of the rocks change throughout the day. As the sun passes overhead, it illuminates the land differently . . . hour by hour. Shapes, recognizable at dawn, disappear by noon, the cliffs at midday give way to a soft, warm glow of red and orange in the evening.
Our last evening in the park before we head to Arizona, we caught a sunset shot of Balancing Rock. The stone monoliths seem permanent and durable, but actually they are part of a fragile landscape that scars easily. It may not be in our lifetime, but, at some point in the future, the rock will come down. Its a fantastic place to photograph, to visit and to hike. As the light from the fading sun hits the rocks, it reflects a flaming glow.
On our final journey back to Arches from Page, AZ, we were able to photograph the Super Moon as it made its claim to glory. It seemed that Balancing Rock was the place to be. Disclaimer here: the “official” Super Moon was on Saturday night, May 5, so technically we did not get the true Super Moon but who cares, it’s the damn Super Moon, and I’m sticking to my story.
We scurried around the park, shooting this monumental event at different sites in a hurried manner to capture the moon rising from the other side of the world. Unfortunately, the sun had not set yet as you can see but the moon had already risen quite high in the evening sky.
A goodnight’s sleep, and we are off to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend . . .