Arches and Canyonlands

What’s better than visiting Arches National Park? How about visiting both Arches NP and its neighbor, Canyonlands National Park at the same time!

In last week’s article, Arches National Park, my friend Jeremy and I had arrived at Arches National Park on our recent trip around the Southwest and were starting to explore the area. We had set up camp at Devils Garden Campground inside the park, done a sunset shoot at Delicate Arch, and a sunrise shoot at The Windows. The weather, which had been mostly cloudy since we arrived in the area, was slowly starting to clear, so it was time to start thinking about some nighttime photography in addition to our usual sunrise/sunset planning. So we started doing our recon.

The area around Moab, Utah, is so packed full of geological wonders that it takes several national and state parks to hold them all. Arches National Park is just outside of town. On the other side of Moab is Canyonlands National Park, and not too far from that is Dead Horse Point State Park. All have varying mixtures of incredible rock formations and stunning views of canyons. Our biggest problem (besides the weather) was trying to optimize our time to be at the best spots under the right conditions.

So after our sunrise shoot at The Windows and subsequent breakfast at the campsite, we decided to head over to Canyonlands NP and Dead Horse Point SP to have a look around. We were primarily interested in two points of interest in Canyonlands – Mesa Arch, and the Green River Overlook.

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Mesa Arch in midday lighting, in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Canyonlands NP has one arch that has something going for it that none of the arches in Arches NP have, to my knowledge. Mesa Arch juts out ever so slightly to the east from the cliff face it rests on. The cliff face, like most of the rock around this area, is red/orange sandstone. As a result, when the sun comes over the horizon at sunrise and lights up the cliff face, a gorgeous red light is reflected back up onto the bottom edge of Mesa Arch, which is beveled a bit so the light is reflected back onto the hoards of gawking viewers who await this spectacular phenomenon each morning. Obviously we couldn’t miss this one, so we hiked the trail to Mesa Arch that morning to check it out. The arch was certainly beautiful in midday light, but we knew the best was yet to come.

Next we headed down the road to the Green River Overlook. This overlooks a canyon that gets its best light at sunset, so our plan was to run around the area deciding where we wanted to start shooting that evening. This area, known as Island in the Sky, is a mesa that rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. The viewpoints in this area are breathtaking – we just wanted to optimize our chances of getting the best shots.

Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Clouds paint patterns on the canyon floor, at the Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

We still had some time before sunset, so we headed back up the road to Dead Horse Point State Park to research our sunrise shoot for the next morning. At the end of the road in Dead Horse Point SP is a point that overlooks the Colorado River as it makes a sharp turn, not unlike the Horseshoe Bend overlook near Page, Arizona, that we visited several years earlier and would visit again soon.

Overlook, Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Sandstone cliffs above the Colorado River glow in the pre-dawn light, at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah.

After relaxing a bit back in Moab, we returned to the Green River Overlook for our sunset shoot that evening, and again to Dead Horse Point SP the next morning for our sunrise shoot. You’re probably wondering why we didn’t just camp in the campground in Canyonlands NP instead of returning to Moab so many times. As much as I liked our cozy little cabin in Moab (where we were staying when our reservation at the campground at Arches NP ran out), I sure wish we could have camped closer to our shoots. But the fact was that this is a very busy area most of the year, and we simply could not get reservations at the campgrounds. This is one of those cases where we would have been fine with campgrounds that had a first-come, first-served policy, but all of the ones in the area were by reservation only, and they were fully booked, so we had to stay in a cabin in Moab where we were able to get a reservation.

And what about our sunrise shoot at Mesa Arch – and that mention of nighttime photography? Well, I guess you’ll just have to check back next week to see how those shoots turned out!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.