The promised clouds were sparse when we first woke in the morning. We wondered if once again, this storm would produce only clouds and high winds – the norm for the area this spring. As the morning progressed though, the clouds did begin arriving. The forecasts were pretty precise, stating the chance of a thunderstorm was 20% at 2 PM, 40% at 3 PM and 60% at 4 PM, decreasing thereafter. What I wanted was experiencing the thunderstorm up on the Island in the Sky mesa, but by 2 PM, it really wasn’t looking like it was going to happen. Not wanting to drive the 30+ miles to the mesa for nothing, we decided to head into Arches, see what develops and shoot up to Island if it gets interesting.
We left around 3 PM and drove to the Windows area inside Arches. We hadn’t visited this area earlier, and thought this was a good place to hang out while we see what develops. While we walked around a few of the formations, the clouds really began moving in. We could see them off in the distance and it was clear they were headed right over us. It wasn’t long before we heard the first rumble of thunder. Very quickly it got darker, then the lightning began. We tried in vain to catch the bolts – I could really have used that device that auto triggers the shutter when it sensed a light flash. It became clear we needed to head for the car as the lightning came closer and closer.
No sooner did we get inside, when the rain started. We drove to a higher parking area so we could see the storm better as it passed. You don’t really want to be in a open area during a lightning storm, but where we parked was surrounded by large spires of sandstone, so we felt relativity safe and had a great view in many directions. Now it was really pouring down rain in sheets. Lightning was striking all around us and the thunder was loud. We photographed a bit from the car, but mostly we just watched. Eventually the storm moved over us and the sky began to lighten. It was clear that this was going to be it, so we quickly decided to move up to Island in the Sky.
We got there quickly. The sun was beginning to peek out as we got closer, but arriving at our first stop, the Green River Overlook, clouds has completely obscured the sun. It was also a lot colder up there. I was hoping to arrive in time to see low clouds breaking up over the river with sun streaming through. I think this would have added some depth to the resulting images. Instead, most of the low clouds had already passed by with just higher clouds remaining. The sun was completely blocked, but I could see areas if sun in the distance and knew if I waited long enough it would eventually mover over the river area. The view really improved when after 20 minutes, the sun did break out. It wasn’t perfect – the sun lit up the foreground, but left the background a bit darker than I would have liked. Still, I think it is the best shot of the overlook I’ve gotten in years.
When I turned to my left, I saw a faint rainbow beginning to form. It never got really strong, but I did manage to get one shot. Had I been over on that arm of the mesa, I would have had a spectacular background for the rainbow. Can’t be everywhere. It did give me the idea of checking out the other viewpoints on that arm though.
By now, it was after 6 PM. We still had a good 2 hrs. of daylight, and the light was seeming to get better. First we stopped at the Buck Canyon overlook. This side of the mesa was much better lit and we has spectacular views of canyon and far mesas.
On to Grandview Point on the very tip of the Island in the Sky Mesa. As the storm continued to clear, clouds wafted by creating ever changing lighting conditions and compositions. We kept clicking away.
Now it was 7 PM and we started to head back across the mesa, but not before stopping at a little picnic ground we had pass by on the way in. I didn’t think there were views from this point, but I was wrong. In addition to the views, there were interesting pothole filled with water from the storm. We hadn’t seen any water in potholes our entire time here, so it was fun to focus on them as well.
I thought we were pretty much done by now and we headed home. But back at the Buck Canyon Overlook, we stopped again because we noticed the La Sal Mountains had emerged from the clouds that had shrouded them to this point. Not only were they now visible, they were lit beautifully. We had to stop again and photograph.
One last stop (I thought) was at the Shafer Trail Overlook right at the visitor center. There is a really nice view of the La Sals from this point and I hoped the foreground would be a little better lit by the time we got there. Unfortunately, by the time we did get there, clouds had descended upon the mountain tops again and the ideal view was obscured. I was pretty happy though with what view remained.
OK, so now we were headed back to Moab. Until that is, the sun actually went down beyond the horizon and lit up the remaining clouds. We had to stop again and photograph until most of the warn light was gone from the sky. We finished up at about 8 pm and were home by 8:30. It was a whirlwind 5 hr. trek through some of the most beautiful landscape in this country. I’m some glad we decided to stay and experience it. Tomorrow (Sunday) we will move up to the Green River area for some exploring of the San Rafael Swell.