Hot on the Mesa Top

Editor’s note. Somehow I managed to not publish this older post way back in May. So here it is, way late. Enjoy. We will be leaving San Francisco at the end of August for a 2 month fall trip to Colorado. I’ll probably have a few more updates before then.

As predicted, it’s gotten hot here. Easily in the 90’s. There is still a little bit of a cool breeze now and then, so hanging out in the shade is quite comfortable, but we have resorted to sitting out the heat of the day and doing a few things early and late. After moving to the Willow Flat campground yesterday, we pretty much just stayed in camp till around sunset. Right near the campground is the Green River overlook. It is a spectacular view of the white rim and Green River canyon from the very edge of Island in the Sky mesa. I think this is my favorite view in any national park in the U.S. If you are lucky, you will arrive just after a cleansing storm that will wash the haze from the sky. If not so lucky, you will get here when it is hot and hazy. The view is still spectacular, just not at peak beauty. We moseyed on down to the viewpoint around 7:00 PM for the sunset at 8:00. There were a number of talkative people hanging out at the main point of the overlook, so Mary and I just moved along the rim a bit till they were out of earshot. This is a place of quiet. One of the quietest in the country, and being able to experience it free of talky people is much desired by me. We photographed along the rim, sat a while, and just watched the sun sink behind the far ridges.

Monday morning, I decided to get up predawn and head over to Mesa Arch for sunrise. The arch sits at the end of an easy 1/4 mile hike and is one of the iconic (re: cliched) points in Island in the Sky. But once in a while, I like to experience the cliche. It is certainly no secret to the hordes who also want to experience the moment – I certainly don’t blame them – it is something to see. On busy weekends during peak months, there can be upwards of 100 people vying for a spot to catch the warm glow of sunrise on the sandstone arch. What is cool about it is how the sun reflects from below up onto the bottom of the arch, lighting it up. Morning clouds can often obscure the sunrise, spoiling the photo op. The only real problem is the arch is fairly small by sandstone arch standards. There are maybe 5 prime spots to situate yourself for the shot. Maybe 7 or 8 other spots where you can get a nice view – but not the ideal view. Lots of jockeying goes on between photographers – first to get there gets the prime spots, and if they decide not to move, you are out of luck.

I thought a Monday might be OK to photograph here. Sunrise this morning was at 6:30 AM. Being camped just 5 minutes from the arch, I though if I left at 6:00, I would be in good shape. I was a little worried when I got to the parking lot and saw 6 cars already there. When I got to the viewpoint, there were at least 10 people lined up right close to the arch. A few more non-photographers were wandering around waiting for the sun. I thought it was a useless exercise for me to photograph, but I noticed a small opening right at a prime spot and squeezed in. The good thing about this group is that they were all pretty easy going about the whole thing and didn’t mind the tight quarters. It’s not always like that.

Washer Woman formation.

Another angle.

There was a pile of clouds on the horizon – seems like it always works out this way. No clouds anywhere else except where the sun will rise. But they weren’t heavy and I knew it would only be a brief interruption to the experience. Sure enough, when the sun began to break the horizon, it was briefly diffused by the clouds, but soon broke through and the show began. The rapid fire clicking of shutters was the only thing to be heard for the next half hour or so. A really good thing about this place is the longer you wait, the better the show gets. Several photographers got their fill and moved to different spots, so everyone got a chance to shoot from a prime spot. Some leave, and as more space opens up, it becomes easy to step back for a wider view. It really is a fun thing to do – just don’t do it on a weekend. The next morning as we were passing by the parking lot for Mesa Arch on our way out of the park, there was a large tour bus that held maybe 40 people parked in the lot as well as another 10 cars. I can just imagine what that sunrise was like.

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