New Years Eve was very cold with plenty of fresh snow on the ground in my neck of the woods of the San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado so I decided to head for the desert in hopes of warming up a bit. I was also hopeful that some snow had fallen in the Moab area which is always a bonus to have the addition of pure white mixed with all the beautiful reds rocks and colorful skies.
Upon arriving, there was a little snow with most of it clinging to the north faces. I had another larger problem, the whole area was completely void of any cloud cover which meant no colorful sunset, or so I thought…
I had originally planned on shooting in Arches but with no clouds I quickly changed my plans and headed for Canyonlands National Park. I just kept driving looking for an interesting spot. I pulled off at a lookout and was about to start hiking in when multiple cars suddenly pulled and the quiet setting quickly became a little chaotic. I harbored no hard feelings as I was also a tourist here but I wanted someplace to myself so I drove further up the road until I realized I was already at the Mesa Arch parking lot. Mesa Arch is famous for sunrise shots not sunsets but it was already getting late and there was only one car in the lot which is rare for this location. I loaded up my gear and hoped for the best. Upon arriving I was pleasantly surprised by a beam of sunlight striking the west face of the arch. The background view under the the arch was blown out but the area in front was rather pleasant. It wasn’t good enough for a a gallery shot but it was nice to look at. I figured this was as good as it was going to get and starting clicking away. Then I noticed something very unusual about my surroundings. I was the only one there. I have never seen it that peaceful. Just that experience was worth the trip.
Then I heard voices coming and a family quickly surrounded me. I moved out of the way so they could take their picture in front of the arch and became a little impatient when I noticed the sun had nearly set and was starting to saturate the La Sal Mountains off in the distance.
Shortly after regaining my spot the lighting went crazy with a the belt of Venus starting to glow above the La Sals which was completely unexpected. I should have known because the frigid temperatures always seem to bring it out the best. I rapidly set up shots for multiple panos. Everything was going great until my fingers started to freeze and my trigger finger went completely numb. I shoved my hands under my coat onto my stomach which provided temporary relief. I then went back to shooting as the scene before me kept getting better and better.
The Belt of Venus saturated the whole sky above the La Sals which was visible below the top of the arch. This had become better than a sunset with clouds and I realized that I was witnessing something that doesn’t happen very often from this location. My fingers went numb again but I had to keep shooting. I set the timer for two seconds but trying to press the shutter button became almost impossible. Then another family came and asked if I could move for a moment. I reluctantly agreed and asked if they could hurry as the beautiful lighting had just peaked.
This gave me a brief moment to warm my hands a little and as soon as they finished I was able to capture a few more shots. The temperature dropped even more as it was starting to get dark. When I arrived at the car my hands were ice cold and I knew it would be a painful thawing session. My hands haven’t stung like that since I was a young boy. My whole body was in pain as I danced around the car seat trying to get a grip.
I couldn’t wait to drive home and start editing my shots. But as always, I second guess myself and wish I had shot it differently, or increased the iso, or shutter speed or. . . you know what I mean. In the end, I have to have remind myself how blessed I am to be able to witness nature at it’s finest.
Happy New Year!