Southern Utah, Part 2

After checking out Monument Valley I decided to spend a couple of days in the area around Moab, Utah.  There are two great National Parks just north of Moab – Arches and Canyonlands.  It’s easy to see why Arches is by far the better-known and more popular of the two parks, but Canyonlands has its share of incredible scenery and is far less crowded.

 

Double Arch

 

Landscape Arch

 

Balanced Rock

 

Delicate Arch

 
If you look closely at the base of the right column of Delicate Arch you can see a girl posing for a photo, which gives you a sense of the scale.  The thing is massive.

I camped at Canyonlands the next night with the idea of waking up early to get the classic (aka clichéd) shot of the sun rising inside Mesa Arch.  That night before sunset, after walking around the Grand View Point area, I made the short hike to Mesa Arch to get a sense of the different angles I might want to try the next morning.

 

Grand View Point Overlook in Canyonlands National Park

 
There were a few groups of people at Mesa Arch when I arrived that evening, including a shirtless middle-aged guy who appeared to be alone but chatted constantly with anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby.  I made the mistake of walking within earshot, inadvertently triggering an introduction and a lengthy explanation of where he was from (Oregon) and how his trip had been going (so great that he wants to move to Utah).

I smiled politely and buried my head in my camera, hoping he would take the hint, but no luck.  Instead he asked if I’d take a photo of him with the arch in the background.  No problem, I agreed, and took his camera.  “I want to do something kind of sexy,” he said.  Whatever expression appeared on my face prompted him to clarify.  “Nothing pornographic, of course.”  That was a relief for all of us, including the young children in the vicinity.  “I’m just going to flex.  This one is for my wife.”  After taking the shot I managed to lose the guy by walking him right into the path of some other hapless tourist – basically a National Park version of the pick-and-roll.

My luck at Mesa Arch the next morning wasn’t much better.  I arrived about 15 minutes before sunrise, wondering if I might have the place to myself but instead finding two other photographers there already, tripods firmly planted.  Thankfully they turned out to be friendly and knowledgeable, and we agreed to try to stay out of each other’s way.  Foolishly I began to feel optimistic.  And right at that point – literally just a couple of minutes before sunrise – the bottom dropped out.  We started to hear a clamor coming from the direction of the parking lot, and then they started popping into view:  about 40 Japanese tourists streaming down the hill towards us, yelling and jogging, cameras in hand.  In some ways it reminded me of the boot camp scene in the movie <Stripes, where the recruits run down the hill to the obstacle course, tripping and screaming, with John Candy way overshooting the course because he’s unable to stop.  Much like John Larroquette, I was chilled by the sight.

The tourists immediately swarmed the arch and got into our shot.  “Can you please move?” asked the photographer next to me.  No answer.  “Hey, you’re in our shot, can you please move?” he said again, much louder this time.  Still no answer.  Thirty seconds until sunrise.  “Hey,” all three of us shouted, “MOVE!”

“Say please!” shouted back the tourist who was the most blatant offender.  He was actually standing on top of the arch, right in front of us.  The three of us yelled “We did!” and wondered if a well-thrown rock might knock him off.  Thankfully he moved, not all the way out of our shot but far enough to the side that we could crop or Photoshop him out.

 

Mesa Arch at Sunrise

 
So I did get the classic shot, but I didn’t get any photos of the very cool early-sunrise glow that lights up the underside of the arch and is more visible from other angles.  There was just no way to navigate through all the tourists.  I shouldn’t complain too much – up until then I’d had good luck using early morning wake-ups to beat the crowds.  But I wouldn’t have been too upset if that tour bus had been delayed by 15 more minutes.