Mesa Verde was more or less the last scheduled stop on our whirlwind road trip through the American southwest. We had flown into Vegas, from there it was about 2.5 hours to Zion. From Zion to Page, the city in Arizona where Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend are located, was also about 2.5 hours. And then from Page to Mesa Verde was about 3.5 hours. So backtracking back to Vegas we were looking at a good eight hour drive at least.
Google maps gave us three different routes. The center route more or less backtracks the way we came. There was also a southern route, which would take us through Flagstaff. Then there was a northern route, the longest route back by almost 100 miles, yet only about half an hour longer. That was the route we decided to take, since it took us through Arches National Park. Leaving Mesa Verde early in the afternoon, we would make it to Arches in time for the sunset, and then we would be able to take some star shots through one of the famous arches in the park.
We arrived at the ‘Windows’ section of Arches National Park a little bit before the scheduled sunset. I saw the North Window, and thought that it would be a great frame for the sunset, so I ran up these steps to try and get to a spot where I could shoot through the arch toward the horizon. Well at least I tried to run– I got about halfway before I started wheezing and gasping for air. I blame the high altitude and the cold air (but in truth I’m just in crappy shape).
When I got to the North Window I found that the ground on the other side of the window was steeply sloped downward, so if I were to use the window as a frame, I would not be able to see the horizon. Unless I had a fish-eye lens, the best I could do is get a small portion of the window with the sunset. But then as I took this test shot, I saw that the turret arch was in my frame. Since the sun was rapidly dropping toward the horizon, I didn’t have enough time to find a spot where I could frame the sunset in the arch, but at least the arch made for an interesting foreground.
This is the sunset shot that I ended up with. Not too bad. I had bracketed a couple of exposures, so maybe I’ll eventually end up print an HDR version of this shot (which would make the arch less dark) but for now I’m too lazy to put that much effort into post processing.
Afterwards we headed to the nearby Double Arch. This is a pretty famous spot for star photography. Here we played around with different exposure lengths and different amounts of light painting of the arch while figuring out how to frame our shot. This is more or less the framing that we decided on.
This is the shot that I ended up with. A twenty minute exposure, and several passes of the arch with my headlamp. You can see that an airplane passed by, and another photographer in the lower right was shining his headlamp upwards, creating a bright spot on the right side of the rock. Plus the foreground could use more brightening. But overall I’m happy with the picture I got.
Near the double arch was a rock that looked sort of like a giant’s head. So we tried to take a picture of the giant looking at the Milky Way. The Milky Way isn’t as pronounced as it is in summer, but I’m still more or less happy with the image.
So in the end I ended up with three pictures that I’m more or less happy with. Probably if I had more time, I would’ve come away with even better images, but for the time we spent there I’m happy with the pictures I got.
And this trip made me realize that for the first time in my life I’m happy with the photography gear that I have. It’s almost a year ago now that I had bought a D600 and then returned it. Most people said I was crazy– the Nikon D600 is a far superior camera. It’s true, the D600 is a better camera, especially for these sorts of very low light or very high dynamic range shots. But my Pentax K-5 handles those situations well enough for me, so I’m happy with the decision I made to stick with Pentax. And it saved me a lot of money on lenses, money that will hopefully be used to see even more of these amazing landscapes.