The Pay Off
I had started the day shooting Marlboro Point before sunrise. Temperatures were in the low 20’s and a steady wind made it seem even colder. The heater in my Nissan Pathfinder LE (Avalanche White with Sirius XM satellite radio and Bose sound system) had decided to go on vacation, and the morning sun was not strong enough to warm up the Canyonlands area more than another 10 degrees. I had hoped to spend the next few days hiking and photographing Canyonlands, but decided to head back down to Arches National Park, where I predicted it would be about 10 degrees warmer.
The skies became increasingly cloudy as morning turned to afternoon, and it was looking as if conditions might be exceptional for shooting sunset. The previous days rain in the canyons was a snowstorm in the distant La Sal Mountains. If you’re a landscape photographer, and you’re in Arches National Park, and there’s fresh snow on the La Sals, there’s one place you want to be.
Delicate Arch is probably one of the most photographed landscape locations on Earth. People from all over the world make the 1.5 mile climb in the late afternoon to photograph this magnificent sandstone arch in the glow of the late day sun. It’s not unusual to find a crowd of 30, 40, or 50 photographers up there, tripods in place, holding their spot an hour or two before sunset. And when the light is getting good, should an unaware tourist be foolish enough to wander anywhere near the arch, they would be lucky to escape without being stoned by an angry mob of photogs!
I wasn’t going to do the hike up to Delicate Arch on this trip. I’d been up there two or three times before, and I’ve become more and more insistent on finding my own (less photographed) locations and enjoying the solitude that they offered. But I couldn’t ignore the fresh snow on the mountains and the very dark sky. It was cold and almost completely overcast, but I started up the trail. I knew that if the sun could just break through the clouds for a few minutes, I’d have some exceptional light on the arch.
When I reached the arch, I was pleasantly surprised to find no more than a dozen other people up there. The cold temperatures and threatening skies must have kept a lot of people away. I set up my tripod , composed a shot, and waited. I had 90 minutes until sunset. It was cold, windy, and I was underdressed. I shivered, and after an hour my teeth even began to chatter. But then, just before the sun was supposed to set, the sun broke through the clouds and lit the arch for about 5 minutes. The small crowd oohed and ahhhhed, and I got some great shots.