ImmensityThe sandstone monoliths at Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers are even more striking in warm, evening light. (Arches National Park - Moab, Utah) The Colorado Plateau (or Colorado Plateaus Province, as the National Park Service refers to it) encompasses 240,000 square miles and is home to 30 National Parks and National Monuments - not to mention many National Forests and wilderness areas.
Five of the region's nine National Parks are located in Utah: the so-called Mighty 5.
Not to take anything away from Bryce, a park I love, but Moab really did hit the scenery jackpot. As if being home to two of the Mighty 5 (Arches and Canyonlands) isn't enough, many additional square miles of spectacular landscapes can be found outside their borders and not far from town.
I just spent a week in Moab photographing the area. This was my third time there; I can assure you it never gets old, and that I will return again.
Each of my visits has taken place in late winter/early spring. This is advantageous in terms of staying ahead of the crowds (many locals will tell you the Mighty 5 advertising campaign launched in 2012 has perhaps worked a little too well), and also because I find the conditions to be generally more interesting during those months. The mountains are snow covered, it's usually not too cold and definitely not yet scorching hot, and the chances I might run into some type of weather are higher.
True to form, a snowstorm deposited a few inches just prior to my arrival. Then there was some rain; one day offered the trifecta of snow flurries, rain showers and sun (at one point all three were jockeying for position concurrently); there were periods with nice cumulus clouds; there was complete overcast; there were some Robin's egg blue-sky days. I started every morning in ski jacket and gloves. Sometimes the cold weather gear stayed on all day, but by the end of the week I was able to lose it after a few hours. A smorgasbord!
Between them, Arches and Canyonlands encompass roughly 650 square miles. It's a drop in the bucket compared to a place as huge as Yellowstone, but size isn't the only measure of greatness.
If you haven't yet explored them, put these parks on your bucket list.
The image at the top of the post was made in the Park Avenue/Courthouse Towers section of Arches National Park. In this area, it's not about arches: the massive monoliths are the story. When the sun begins to sink low in the sky, the sandstone becomes even more beautiful as it's cast in warm light. At this moment the balance was perfect: the main subject is lit with the shadow line positioned at its base. There's obviously a huge range of contrast with the foreground completely in shadow, yet this is a single processed image. No HDR. (Shoot RAW; all the information will be there!) Since there had been quite a bit of snow the day before, I'd hoped for - and expected - more standing water on the rocky canyon floor to create reflections. That didn't quite pan out. Still, I was able to use the remaining puddles to help anchor the foreground and create a miniature leading line.
The panorama was also made about one hour before sunset, this time in the Windows section of the park. I was looking for a different vantage point from which to photograph Turret Arch (far left). Here I was able to take advantage of warm light as well as lingering clouds from afternoon storms - both overhead and clinging to the La Sal Mountains. The original plan was to make a tighter composition featuring only the rock formations, but as the sun began to light the clouds to the right of the rocks I shifted gears and added a few vertical shots to include in the final stitched image. Those clouds underscore and extend the horizontal line created by the rocks, while balancing and complementing them. The icing on the cake is the little dark cloud, accentuated by the patch of white behind it, hovering over and calling attention to the Turret.
Keywords: Arches National Park, Colorado Plateau, Courthouse Towers, Mighty Five, Moab, Park Avenue, Turret Arch, Utah
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