Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Early Morning, May 3, 2019

I wanted to get something like this back in October, during my last visit to Arches. Unfortunately, it was cloudy the night I had available. Even during the previous night, weather was iffy, so I stayed closer to the road, where I was assured of getting a few shots in before the clouds ended the night.

After my experience at Mobius Arch, I figured out that, even shooting at 4 in the morning (or, in the case of this trip, 1 or 2 in the morning), I probably wouldn't have the arch to myself. On the drive through the park, I became more convinced of this fact: The parking lot at Balanced Rock was literally full, at 12:30 in the morning! Lots of people, waiting for the Milky Way to rise, I assumed.

I thought perhaps Delicate Arch, while iconic, had the longer hike in the dark to dissuade too many photographers from trying their luck. I was wrong.
When I got to the parking lot for Delicate Arch, there must have been about a dozen vehicles, including at least one van. I passed a few hikers coming back to the lot on the way back, but not enough to account for all those cars. So I was only mildly surprised to see the number of people in the bowl for Delicate Arch. About half of that number appeared to be part of a single class or tour group, but obviously many more were on their own. Probably if it was just the "regular" folks, it would have turned out okay.

The class, by contrast, decided to place a light to the side, to illuminate Delicate Arch. It was bright enough to create some hotspots in the frame, if you were exposing long enough for the Milky Way. And the lights from the 8 or so camera displays, and 8 or so phone screens meant there was quite a lot of distracting light below the horizon, too. It made taking a good landscape-orientation photo of the Milky Way and Delicate Arch impossible.
That was the case even when they weren't doing something stupid, like shining a spotlight on Delicate Arch to focus their cameras on. Hint for the newbies: If you have a bright star in the sky (or, in this case, Jupiter, the bright point of light more or less above the center of the arch), you can put that on your screen, then center and zoom in on your display. Make that dot as small as possible, and you're in focus at infinity. With a wide angle lens, you'll also be in focus on the Arch, assuming the arch is more than 100 or 150 feet away. The farther, the better, but even closer, it'll be pretty sharp. And if it's dark, you can't tell if it's a slightly soft focus, anyway.
So after the teacher starting talking about wanting to take a shot of himself inside the arch, with a flashlight pointed to the sky, I got fed up and left. I thought, it being later, even the more accessible roadside arches might have better photo opportunities, since they were also less iconic. Partially true.
There were a lot of people around the Windows Section, but at least fewer were using bright lights, and we were spread out enough to allow for some reasonably dark opportunities. Well, except near the end, when a van of about a half-dozen photographers decided to set up directly behind me. Yeah, that was kind of weird.

This was a Thursday night, by the way. Yes, during peak season, but a weeknight, at between 1 and 4 in the morning. Shudder to think what it looks like when you're shooting in June and July, when the Milky Way is well-placed as soon as it gets dark.


  1. Crazy! Will they have to start issuing permits at some point in the future for 2am hikes to the arch?!

  2. Heh. Empty compared to sunset, but still pretty crowded. I facebook-learned that it was a lot less crowded the next week: Only about four cars coming into the Balanced Rock lot over a two hour period. All the classes must have scheduled for around Spring Break. But it just turned out that, since my night job was on hiatus for two weeks, I planned my trip for the new moon during that period. And it does occur to me that in October, I was able to shoot Park Avenue all by myself. But, man 4 in the morning, and it was still crowded out here!