Being a photographer, of course I had certain plans on my agenda when we went to Mesa Verde (and really throughout our trip). Wherever I go, I think about sunrise and sunset opportunities. Every location is different, and I love the beautiful golden hours. I try for sunrises and sunsets as early in my trip as possible so I have other chances if the first fall through, but sometimes, even that isn’t enough.
Our first night there, we were treated with a beautiful southwest full moon. When the moon is full, it rises just as the sun is setting, so I had trouble deciding which to shoot. During dinner (shortly after sunset), I noticed a unique picture: the window behind our table (facing west) both beautifully framed the burning hues of sunset and reflected the full moon shining in from an opposing window. I really wanted to take a picture, but upon raising my camera, I discovered I simply couldn’t adequately capture it. Besides, my dinnermates were giving me strange looks.
The next morning, we got up bright an early for the sunrise. However, I didn’t count on the park having gates closing off entire sections of the mesa.
These are advertised to open at sunrise, which doesn’t help for someone who needs time to get there and set up. So we fruitlessly attempted to reach one of the dwellings, only to find our way blocked. We waited around, hoping to see a ranger come by, but alas, he never did. While we waited, we did get a spectacular moonset of that full moon, so it wasn’t a total loss.
While we waited for the ranger, we stopped by one of the few ruins we could reach – Spruce Tree House – but the path was closed. I tried to get some stars while we were there, but the impending sunrise thwarted that effort as well. It wasn’t until I got the pictures back on my computer that I even realized I had inadvertently captured the first of our cliff dwellings.
To kill more time, we ventured back up the road and popped in to visit Cedar Tree Tower, which provided us with a few more photo ops.
We also later found out they typically don’t open the gates until closer to 8am, well after sunrise. We knew there was no use trying again the next day.
After an awesome day exploring the homes of ancient Puebloans, I was determined to capture one of the iconic scenes of the sun illuminating the largest dwelling, Cliff Palace. Once again, it was not to be.
I hadn’t anticipated the sun’s angle between the fingers of the mesa and the fact that the dwelling would be well into shadow before the sun turned red; Cliff Palace wouldn’t receive direct sunlight.
The lower valley was beautiful during blue hour, and I was impressed I could make the scene look like daylight with a longer exposure. The distant mountains stood as a picture-perfect example of “purple mountain’s majesty.”
We also managed to get one more moonrise out of the day before retiring.
I was disappointed my grand scenic plans didn’t quite pan out, but I still managed to get some photos I like, and we have some fun stories of failure, which can be just as memorable.