A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Mesa...

Canyonlands National Park just outside of Moab, Utah, is home of the world famous Mesa Arch.  Photographers race to the location in the pre-dawn hours to claim a spot in front of the Mesa as the sun rises and illuminates the underbelly of the arch with a fiery orange glow.  It is spectacular. 

Photographers crowded around the Mesa in November 2013.. there were a lot on this particular day.

Photographers crowded around the Mesa in November 2013.. there were a lot on this particular day.

On this particular morning in November 2013 in Canyonlands, it was about 30 degrees fahrenheit as my friend Lorena and I set out to the Mesa to beat the other photogs to the site.  Up at 0300, the plan was to arrive in the Mesa Trail parking lot by 0445 to claim our spot for the 0647 sunrise.  We were in the parking lot first with not another car to be found. I was so proud.  

It was of course it was pitch black.  The Mesa Trail is actually a big circle that begins and ends at the parking lot.  It's about a 25-30 minute round trip, a little more than 1/2 mile.  "Well marked and easy to follow" read all the reviews I'd seen, so we put on our headlamps (along with gloves, hats, etc.) and started off along the "well marked" trail with confidence.

Did I mention it was pitch black?  Even with our headlamps we were walking blindly, trusting that we were reading the signs and not missing the trail.  Figuring it should take about 15 minutes to get to the Mesa, I started thinking that the trail was feeling longer than advertised.  After about 25 minutes of walking, we ended up.... back.... at the parking lot.  What the???

Lorena let out an audible "oh, no!"  Not only had we come full circle, but the parking lot had other vehicles in it now, including a van that transported a hoard of photography students.  "Dang it!" I said out loud.  Actually, I said something else but I'll say I didn't.  How could we miss the "well marked" signs leading us to the Mesa?

We started backtracking, rather than retrace all our footsteps from the beginning (that just meant we went left at the beginning of the trail instead of right).  We could hear voices in the darkness.  I was so frustrated.  The voices acted as our well marked signs because honestly I wasn't seeing all that many well marked signs.  After about 10 minutes we were getting close... I could hear the voices... and laughter!  Were they laughing at me??  After struggling to figure out how to get to the Mesa, which was immediately off the trail's loop but unnoticeable in the darkness, we just followed the voices rather than the signs and found it.

There must have been 20 people there at least, taking the prime spots.  But I'm no coward and I wiggled my way into the best area and set up my tripod.  I find that overall most professional photographers are very polite, helpful and unterritorial, which is something you wouldn't except. You would think they fight to the death for "their" spot, but maybe it's because they are photographers and they see so much of God's glorious creation that they realize that spot doesn't really belong to them.  So they share.  

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In the end, I didn't even need, or frankly want, the "prime spot" I was told I should try for.  I did take some shots from that position, but moving around and getting different angles is far better in my opinion than sitting in one spot for a couple hours getting the same perspective over and over again.  And it's amazing how far a "would you be willing to let me shoot from that spot for 20 seconds?" will take you. 

All is well that ends well, and I got more exercise that morning that I thought I would, and even more importantly, I learned sometimes the angle you didn't want is exactly the angle you really do.  This is my favorite photograph from the Mesa during the peak sunrise minutes, and it is one that I didn't think would turn out well from this angle.  But I love it.

This print is available for purchase HERE.

This print is available for purchase HERE.