The Winter Wonders of Moab
The Winter wonders of Moab
Our first visit to Moab proved to be quite an emotional trip for my wife Lutgart and myself. We had been planning this trip since November when we visited Capital Reef, followed by Zion National park. That was our first exposure to the incredible sights awaiting visitors and Moab proved no exception. Truly magnificent and worth the nearly five hour drive from our home in Ogden.
We arrived in Moab on Friday, shortly after lunch. The drive down from Ogden took us through some gorgeous mountain ranges before we hit the desert. A universal truth that seems to have emerged to us is that wherever you are in Utah, you will be driving through mountains! As one who lives with a fear of heights I must say this has been at times…challenging. But I digress. J
Once in Moab, we unpacked and got our bearings for our planned afternoon trip. I mentioned ‘planned’ for a reason. There are three locations we wanted to touch while we were in Moab: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State park. Folks, this is a huge area and honestly, our three days weren’t nearly enough. So we had to be smart about it and pick out exactly what we wanted to see in our limited time. This is tricky because as a photographer, I need to capture the sights under the best light. For example, our first site was Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, a must see. To put it in perspective, not photographing Delicate Arch is like going to Paris and not photographing the Eiffel tower. Impossible!
The unprepared photographer might arrive at some random time to get the shot and may not be prepared for the hike. I will tell you this: we were very surprised, even with our research, to find ourselves walking up a very sharp cliff! But what greeted us around the corner was incredible. Delicate Arch in all its glory! That red looming arch framed by the snowcapped La Sal mountains in bluish embers. This is a work of nature, hidden from mortal view. The 45 minute climb up the mountain was worth all the sweat pouring off my face. Worth watching my wife make her way on icy trails, worth the fear of walking that trail back to the car in the dark. I knew we hit jackpot when Lutgart, who was ahead of me, came around the bend first and froze. I couldn’t resist. I took a picture of her then and what she was staring at in awe. Amazing doesn’t cover it. Not even a start.
But getting back to not being prepared before setting off: you may be disappointed at what you find. Not with the Arch, but the light. You see, it really depends on the time of the year and the time of day you arrive. In the morning, Delicate Arch can be in shadow but if you arrive in the late afternoon or evening you may very well find the rays of the sun bathing the arch with spectacular effect. Also, it looks best with some cloud cover. Clouds are a photographer’s best friend! They add depth and in the early morning or late evening they light up the sky with colors of wonder. Anyone who has taken one of my landscape photography courses has heard me say the only thing worse than a grey rainy day is a blue sky with no clouds! We definitely had clouds at Delicate Arch and Lutgart and I enjoyed the show. By the way, we did arrive back at the parking lot in the dark. Be prepared…bring a flashlight or two and plenty of water if you do that trip in summer heat! I almost forgot something important. One other reason we visit in winter is because in summer you’ll be fighting not only the heat but huge crowds. When we arrived at Delicate Arch there were perhaps 7 or 8 other photographers. One gentlemen who had photographed Delicate Arch the previous summer, told me there were hundreds of people crowded around the Delicate Arch and felt like it was a wasted trip.
The next morning Lutgart and I headed to another “must see” in Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is huge and a lot of it is only accessible with a 4x4 vehicle . But don’t get me wrong. You can access the part we covered in a normal car. The roads are paved but pay attention for the free ranging cows. But if you want to see some of the most scenic areas you need to get off-road. We entered the northern part of Canyonlands Park known as “Island in the sky” well before sunrise. We were up at 0500 and on the road before 0600. Sunrise was at 0714 and the drive was nearly an hour. We had to leave early to make sure we would be able to get a good spot at Mesa Arch. This arch is famous for the red glow underneath as the first rays of the sun light it up. I knew we would not be alone and we were definitely not the first to arrive We found our spot among eight other photographers. If this would have been summer, the fates might not have been so kind. We waited patiently for sunrise in freezing shadows . As the light of dawn emerged we could see the mist in the background framing the mountains…stunning. I struggled to put on the correct lens with frozen fingers. Remember to bring hand and foot warmers if you do this in Winter!
Finally the sun slowly cracked the horizon and the rock underneath the Mesa Arch started to glow red. Wow, wow, and wow! We captured true beauty that morning. And again, based on research we knew in advance the morning light was the best for Mesa Arch. But we were in for an added treat. Some photographers had departed and we were about to do the same when fog rolled in fast and thick over the Arch, creating this special atmosphere. The mountains in the background became eerie silhouettes and it was magnificent! We had literally packed and were looking for the trail back when I looked over at Lutgart who smiled and I unpacked my gear and started shooting yet again. Finally, the urge for food and coffee became too powerful and we returned to our hotel to have breakfast .
While we were driving through the dark to get to the Mesa Arch trail head, the only thing we saw was a quarter moon hanging in the sky. All around us the land was pitch black and frankly, we were lucky we hadn’t slid on black ice or slammed into a cow. I do remember us climbing up as we drove in the dark but when you can’t see off the edge, it doesn’t feel the same. Now, with the sun up we could see. We could see exactly why they called this Canyonland National Park. To the left the Canyon walls gaped with another mountain range looming in the background touched by the sun. To the right we were up against it… and the mist we encountered back at Mesa Arch was sweeping through and entering the canyon! Lutgart was as stunned as I was and we now realized why the name of this part of the park is “Island in the Sky”. I looked for somewhere, anywhere to pull the car to the over and jumped out as we watched a miracle unfold in front of us. I got to the canyon rim, staggered by both the size of this natural monstrosity and the mist just pouring in. I went into photography mode, deep breath, calm down. You have to calm yourself to capture the essence, the light, the booming wonder in front of you. I stopped thinking and the repetition kicked in. Pick your spot. Set the tripod up. Mount the camera. Turn off the auto stabilization on the lens. Power up the camera. Check the focus! Turn the dial to Aperture mode. Pick your aperture. Check your edges on the LCD. Touch the LCD to pick your focal point. Check the edges of your screen again. Finger on the shutter. Stop breathing. Push the shutter. Pray.
The next morning we made the trip to Dead Horse State Park. Dead Horse Point inside the park, is on the way to Canyonlands and they share the same characteristics. Again, the drive was through the dark and took about 45 minutes, but we could make out shapes as we drove the winding path. Finally we arrived at the parking lot and quickly made our way to the rim as the sky slowly came alive.
To the left of Dead Horse Point, you have the eastern rim of the Canyon with parts jutting out to greet the viewer. Behind this is the La Sal mountain range in shadow with dawn’s light erupting around it. The clouds around the mountain are a purplish tint but everything is changing rapidly. Staggering. How many places on earth offer this? My Panasonic GX7 feebly attempts to actually capture a scene brimming with this heavenly light. It is as though we were being given a peek into a realm no mortal should witness because it is beyond us. We attempt the impossible, to convey the sheer magnificence of what we are witnessing through the eyes of the lens. If my brain is overwhelmed by what my eyes are seeing, how is one camera lens expected to capture this moment? A fair question and one I’m truthfully unable to answer. But I relish the opportunity! Any visit to Moab requires a trip to this magnificent state park. Just off the chart with beauty and a pleasure to see and photograph. We will be back.
The Moab is a must see. We encountered people from around the globe here and for good reason. Lutgart and I barely scratched the surface of possibilities. I suspect only someone who lives in the local area could pull it off and even they would struggle to capture it all. There are hiking trails and places to camp in the parks. If you want to photograph the beauty of the Moab, please do your research so you can maximize your time and increase your chances of capturing that magic moment!
For my wife’s perspective on the trip and some practical information, keep reading below.
The Other half of the story:
When Mark asked me if I wanted to add something to the blog he wrote of our trip to Moab, I thought I'd pass along some practical information.
First, the necessities: food, shelter, coffee.
Moab has a lot of hotels. We chose the Best Western Plus, based on price and Trip Advisor reviews. The hotel was nice and clean and had a good bed. Breakfast was included… or so I’m told - we were long gone by the 6am start; without breakfast or coffee (the humanity!) the mornings were a challenge. So let’s call it the photographer’s travel bag, or at least the photographer’s wife’s travel bag: coffeemaker, thermos, breakfast food. Even without, Moab’s sunrise sights are worth it.
And lunch food, come to mention it. As newcomers to the national parks scene, Mark and I did not fully understand that we should bring lunch with us each day heading into the park, a lesson we came to learn well driving around for a cup of Joe or something to eat. It was time wasted. (though we did discover a wonderful secret named the Eklectica cafe that serves a great breakfast and lunch- do try the scrambled Tofu and roasted vegetables for breakfast!)
And of course, dinner. I love going out for a meal and always do my research to find something really good (delicious and nutritious). Though Moab is a bit of a ghost town come winter, you wouldn’t know it at the “Twisted Sistas”! We were cold, tired, and hungry and the atmosphere in there was exactly what the doctor ordered. The service was warm and personal, and the food was fresh, healthy, and scrumptious (I can definitely vouch for the coconut shrimp and the flourless chocolate cake). My waistline notwithstanding, I can’t wait to go back.
For more logistical information (food, drink, bathroom information etc.), please feel free to contact me. I will gladly pass along any tips and experiences to make your trip to Moab as amazing as ours
Keywords: Arches National Park, Dead Horse State Park, Desert, Fiery Furnace, Mark Seawell Photography, Moab, Photography
Interesting story and marvellous photo's ! Thank you for sharing it with us .
I really enjoyed reading this!
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