Park Avenue, Arches National Park, at 5:00pm shot with Nikon 300s mounted on a tripod with a Tokina 11-18mm.
I recently returned from my second photography trip in Utah (previous one was in Cambodia.) In between and around, I have travelled to other places, but those trips were not photography focused. A photography trip has only one objective – to come back home with photos you would be proud of. The trip need not be memorable, relaxing or fun. In fact if you don’t come back sleep deprived, tired and cranky, your chances of coming back with good photos are pretty bleak. Every decision on the trip is biased towards capturing a memorable frame. Needless to say, it is impossible to take your family with you unless you are a family of photographers.
Southern Utah has some of the most extreme terrains in the world. Studded with national parks, state parks and forests, it is nature’s private little laboratory. Hoodoos, canyons, bridges, goblins, desert, cliffs: they are nicely
arranged inside invisible boundaries, like petri dishes in a tabletop experiment, within in a few thousand square miles of each other. The Moab region, my target for this trip, is a photographer’s paradise. Arches and Canyonlands National park are literally 5 and 30 minute drive respectively from this quaint town.
I tried to hookup with some local photographers to explore if anybody was running a photo workshop coinciding with the weekend I was there but either they were unavailable or unaffordable. So it was back to good old research. Landscape photography has only two golden slots – dawn and dusk. With just over four hours available to shoot, there is very little I leave to chance. I picked up my frames, my spots, hour of the day and equipment I would need even before I had left home.
This was my first trip to Arches and the way it turned out, I only had one day there. (This was mandated by the rules of a photography trip. On a normal trip, I would focus my time and energy on one place and experience it deeply and thoroughly. Which researching, I figured out that day 2 sunrise location in Canyonlands was better than the one in Arches. So on day Canyonlands two it was)
We arrived in Moab the previous night and hence had two complete days to shoot, three sunrises and two sunsets. Every day we were up at 4:00am and photo ready by 5:00. We shot until 10:00am every day before the light turned harsh and then spent a couple hours scouting for future locations. Back to hotel at noon to download the photos, check the results and a bit of siesta before we started out at 4:00pm and then shot well past dusk. Unfortunately, Moab was cloudy on both days, and we did not get to shoot the beautiful night sky, which fortunately gave our bodies some respite.
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, at 7:00pm in April shot with Nikon 300s mounted on a tripod with a Tokina 11-18mm. Sid Gavandi for scale.
It in only after I got to the Delicate arch that I realized that there is literally one sane spot to setup a tripod. No wonder every single popular photo is taken from the same angle. We were at the arch at about 7pm. No matter what the marketing material says, the 1.5 mile hike is physically demanding, especially when one is lugging 10lbs of photography equipment. The sun had been behind the clouds all afternoon and just as I setup the tripod the clouds parted, showering crisp golden light on the scenery. The narrow canyons channeled the wind such that it was at gale speed by the time it hit me, cold stabs easily penetrating the four layers I had adorned. My fingers were like icicles, my lips stiff “sush tha aw coo now ewa thunk.” The one thing I had found missing in the photos of Delicate arch is scale. The arch is humongous, taller than a five storied building. So Sid braved the strong gusts and balanced across the sloping bedrock like a ballerina to stand near the arch. He made it there, but could not wait there long enough for me to make a shot, so cold and windy it was. You can see him in the photo above, beating a fast retreat.
Delicate Arch shot through Frame Arch at about 7:30pm in April shot with Nikon 300s mounted on a tripod with a Tokina 11-18mm.
On our way back, we noticed an arch about twenty feet high up into the cliff face. Thinking I had found an hitherto unknown photo angle, ignored the dead tired muscles of my frozen limbs to scramble up the sharp ledge, scraping both my hands badly – a fact I noticed later, once my body attained normal temperature. The view is supreme. You can see the natural oval down next to the arch, you can see the Le Sal mountains in the distance, but alas. The boulder behind the Delicate arch steals the thunder and makes it a B grade shot. The view is still worth the climb.
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, at 7:00pm shot with Nikon 300s mounted on a tripod with a Tokina 11-18mm. Sid Gavandi for scale.
We parked our truck in the Windows parking lot, gleefully noticing that we were the first ones to arrive, a good half an hour before sunrise. The cloud cover was thick, like a lid over a vessel. Despite the research, it took me some time to realize that the only way to shoot the Turret Arch through the North Window was to do some climbing in a restricted area. Now I belong to the group of people who takes rangers advice and signage pretty seriously, but in this case I had to make an exception.
“I know.” I said to the wooden board that had the words – This is not a trail – painted on it, “and I am sorry.” I let go of my water bottle, then by back pack and eventually my waist pouch as the climb became steeper. Left with just my camera with my wide angle mounted and my tripod, I finally made it to a spot where I could see the Turret arch. I knew I needed to move five more feet to the left to isolate the arch, but that meant jumping across a not so tiny crack, and common sense prevailed. Just then, and not for the last time in our two day stay in Moab, the sun disc conquered the clouds and gave us the gift of golden red light.
The puddle at Park Avenue, Arches National Park, at 5:30pm, shot with Nikon 300s mounted on a tripod with a Tokina 11-18mm.
I was struggling to frame the beauty of Park Avenue until I found this lone puddle. No where else was there a drop of water, just this one little natural saucer had somehow managed to retain the precipitation despite the heat. I rarely shoot portrait but this time I had to make an exception. Lying flat on my stomach, the tripod crouching like a spider, only a portrait shot allowed me to capture the craggy cliffs in the background.
This trip has opened up the Southwest for me. I can see myself coming here every year for a week, starting next month …