I have a thing for sunrises. I’m up early every day anyway, so I see a lot of them. And there’s nothing better than the quiet solitude that comes from being out and about long before everyone else. There aren’t any noisy kids around, no one is getting in my shots, and I get crowded, popular landmarks all to myself.
Long before we visited Arches National Park, I knew I wanted three things: sunrise, sunset, and stars. We were going to be in Moab for about a week, so we had planned on Sunday in Canyonlands, Monday for Needles (which ended up being a day to patter around Moab), a casual Tuesday to see the sights in Arches and scout for sunrise spots, sunrise (and sunset/stars) in Arches on Wednesday, an open day on Thursday, then travel on Friday. We had lots of hot sun in Island in the Sky, so I had high expectations for Arches.
However, like I found in Mesa Verde, trips seldom go according to plan.
The clouds rolled in Monday evening (which provided a beautiful sunset to end our secret Moab hike), blanketing the parks in grey. Dad suggested we try for sunrise on Tuesday anyway, in case the sun broke through. We still had Wednesday if that didn’t work out, but we might get lucky and snag the shots I want on the first day, freeing us up to sleep in the next.
I poked around a bit to see where the best spots for sunrise were; as we hadn’t been in the park yet, I was flying a bit blind. Many sites said North Window was the place to be, shooting Turret Arch through its opening.
We rose well before dawn, scarfed down some quick egg muffin sandwiches, and drove into the park (so early no one was manning the gates). We could only barely make out faint shadows amidst the darkness betraying the magnificent structures that surrounded us as we made our way well within the park to North and South Windows (AKA: The Spectacles).
We managed to find our way to the arch in the darkness, but looking out to the east, I wasn’t very hopeful. I did, however, like the hazy moon over the arch.
As it got brighter, a few sunrise spectators showed up, and we were able to make out another photographer on the rocks across the way, no doubt with a wonderful view of North Window. A bit of rock scrambling revealed it to indeed be a good spot, and I set up my tripod next to him. Unfortunately, the word was out, as more and more people popped their heads and neon orange shirts over the ridge as they entered the Window to view the sunrise.
The sun never did rise properly. It just went from black to grey without any fanfare. We still enjoyed the day, but I was bummed I didn’t get my sunrise (though the sun still looked cool).
Wednesday was our originally planned day for sunrise, so we dutifully repeated the routine of the previous day, once more arriving at the park well before the park rangers. This time, we deliberately avoided The Spectacles, wishing to avoid the throngs of people. Instead, we had hiked Park Avenue the previous day, and I thought the Three Gossips would look stunning in fiery sunrise red.
Once more, the layer of grey refused to budge, and we were disappointed yet again. The Gossips had only grey skies to talk about.
We proceeded to have one of our best days in the park, but we were still left without a sunrise (and subsequently, no sunset or stars as originally planned, either).
Before heading to bed Wednesday night, I checked the weather report, simply for hyucks. Lo and behold, the forecast had a little sun icon from 2am to noon. “You’d probably hate me if I asked….” I remarked to Dad and Aaron, showing them the weather report. For some reason, they agreed to a third day of sleep deprivation, and we set our alarms once more (we were kind of getting sick of egg muffin sandwiches by this point).
Not wanting to repeat anything we had already done, we decided to go all out and drive to the very far end of the park to a spot we hadn’t yet hit: Landscape Arch (also touted for its sunrise quality). We hoped the 1.5 mile hike in the dark would be enough to keep most of the casual spectators away.
It’s somewhat relaxing to hike in the dark, with nothing but the moonlight to guide you and the crunching of footsteps to keep you company.
Arriving at our destination, we could barely make out the arch, and we had the place all to ourselves. We crossed the fence to get closer, following the trail to a spot just in front of it.
And then we waited.
As daylight approached once more, I took plenty of test shots, wanting to ensure success should the sun pull through. By this point, there were more clouds in the sky than the weather had predicted, but they were patchy, so I had hope. I even saw a star or two! This was our last chance, and third time’s the charm, right?
Sure enough, our waiting and our many tries finally paid off. The sun crested the horizon, and wow! The clouds were absolutely perfect, letting just enough sun through them and reflecting the rest.
I was in heaven! I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful sunrise! My only dilemma was in choosing between shooting the fire-orange arch and the stunning sunrise. I also took a few panoramas to get both, but I’ll save that for a post of its own, as I still have work to do on that stitching.
Aside from some lady who showed up to yell at us for being on the wrong side of the fence, it was the perfect morning. I was on cloud nine, and the day only got better from there. I’ll also save that for another post, as it was the most incredible feeling. Suffice it to say, this was the sunrise I had been trying for all trip, and our story finally had a happy ending.
Some sunrises are well worth the wait.