Sometimes a little play of light and shade can bring out gorgeousness in an apparently barren rocky landscape. Landed at Grand Junction airport on a chilly December day, eager to explore and wonder.
...thus began my short trip to Utah's famous canyon landscapes, with the hope of capturing, on lens, some drops out of the myriad plays of light, sprinkling on this desolate and ancient land
Having been to Zion and Bryce Canyon in prior years, at peak summer times, this time I decided to try a rather odd time period to visit a National Park, peak winter. Reasoning being...snow on the rocks would give a different perspective to the scenery, and of course, the luxury of solitude...so essential on a solo photo trip of this nature
A small travel tip from the rental car girl, about taking scenic Hwy 128 or "River Road" instead of the faster I-70, made sure I was spoilt for epic shots, from the word go...
Arrived at Moab, sleepy little town on the footsteps of Arches & Canyonlands Parks late evening. After a quick snack and weather update/area recon on the internet, it was time to melt into dreamland (or no-land, given the tiredness from a four hours flight and a long drive)
First morning, was misty and looked dreary, but forecast had called for a partial cloudy sunrise, perfect for early morning shots. Headed off to Mesa Arch (Canyonlands), about an hour and a half before dawn.
Mesa Arch, at sunrise, is an incredible sight to behold...I was guessing, in any kind of weather, given its Lord of the Rings'que landscape. And I was not disappointed. Mordor seemed a stone throw's away and I almost began to expect Gollum jumping out on me from behind a rocky corner...
One little desire during this trip was to try out some night/stars photography. Arches/Canyonlands area is one of hundreds of places in North America, designated "low light pollution" super dark areas. But unluckily, these three nights proved to be full moon nights.
But still going out on a trail, in the inky darkness (with the moon for light), at near zero temperatures, all alone in a vast rocky desert, was quite an astonishing experience.
There was no fear, just a feeling of being enveloped in vastness, amid an unearthly crepuscular environment...the somewhat hardened snow gleaming in the soft moonlight, with a few dried out trees trying to reach out and embrace the sky...
After spending most of the morning taking in the epic landscapes of Canyonlands N.P, I headed back on Hwy 313 back towards Moab and nearby Arches N.P.
En route stopped to take in a gorgeous sweeping panorama of a snowy field & a distant mountain...
As clouds started rolling in and it started snowing a bit, I headed home to Moab late afternoon of the 1st day. Of course, not before a quick drive-thru of the Arches N.P area to plan out my next day's trip.
Arches National Park, is one of the smaller parks in the US N.P network. But certainly one of the most spectacular of them all, with its unique rock structures, and holding within its realm, the world's largest free-standing natural arch.
But the crown jewel of the park is unarguably "Delicate Arch", the unofficial symbol of the State of Utah.
Delicate Arch from Wolff's Ranch trailhead, is probably a medium level hike in better/sunny weather. But on a cold winter morning, with the steep rocky faces covered with ice and day old snow...the hike can be quite strenuous and at times, dangerous. Still the sight of the arch itself at the end of this gruelling hike, just takes your breath away...standing tall for hundreds of years...solitary, delicate and grandiose in demeanour...with the awesome La Sal mountains forming a backdrop to this amazing rock formation...
Spent most of the day doing the short hikes to some of the major arches within the park, including this one called the Sanddune Arch, a symphony on stone...the threads of snow adding some exquisite notes to it
Rocks never looked better...
For a stark rocky landscape in peak winter, you would not expect a lot of wildlife. But surprisingly, the shrubs and rocky nooks and corners do harbour quite a few animals...like this hare sprinting around...
Being a relatively small and accessible national park, Arches, in warmer weather, is one of the busiest parks in US. December snow and temperatures ensured I almost had the park to myself. Save a few die hard nature warriors, who I kept seeing on the trails, family in tow.
Another easy and spectacular arch along the way was the Skyline Arch...rising majestically from the snow covered earth...
Landscape Arch, almost spanning the size of two football fields, was my next stop...the arch seemed so delicate, it almost looked like it would fall anytime.
In fact, a few decades ago, one side of the arch caved in as a few visitors were watching it (nobody was hurt) making it longer than prior years.
At ~88m, this magnificent arch is the longest free standing natural arch in the world.
My trip for the day ended at Turret Arch, aptly named and another unique rock monolith
By this late afternoon time, constantly on the road in near zero temperatures with heavy photo gear, I had begun to wear down. Even my 5-6 layer clothing and hand warmers were starting to give in to the cold...I decided to call it a day
After two constant nights of overcast skies (1st was a bit clear), finally there was forecast of slightly clearer night, that was going to be my last night of this memorable trip...my only opportunity to get some star shots
...last night and I waited patiently through the evening, looking at the weather forecast on the internet, about when the skies would clear. 2.30am was the initial forecast. After a good few hours of sleep, got up at 2am and again a check on forecast...still cloudy...
Finally at ~ 3.30am, the skies cleared and I checked out of my hotel & set off with my wide angle lenses and flashlights, hoping to capture some night shots of Arches N.P.
But not before some early morning drama...perhaps had become slightly inattentive and pressed the gas a bit...and out comes a cop, flashing me down as I prepared to leave the little sleepy town at Moab. A cop at ~3.30am on a winter morning, you got to be kidding me! By the way, this was the first time I was about to get a speeding ticket...but luckily the sight of a Canadian DL made him smile from ear to ear (probably thought this is another confused & disoriented guy from up north where people follow the "weird" metric system!!!) and he let me off with a warning, "...don't speed, take it easy"...whew! and I was back on the road again
The moon did spoil the show a bit, but still managed to get some good shots of the stars, over some of the iconic arches of the park, including Turret Arch & Balanced rock
It was probably one of my smoothest and hassle free voyages to the Wilds of the American continent...and unarguably my best so far, in terms of the photo ops.
Given a chance I may come back again...perhaps in warmer weather, but for now, adieu Arches N.P!