Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

The Light Under the Rock

Sunrise, Mesa Arch (9160)

Every time we do this I say it again – the toughest part of a road trip is coming home.  Especially on that last day as we’re heading east on I-90 (the New York State Thruway) and paying for the privilege of returning to western NY.  It ain’t fun.  Although at least this time the weather cooperated.  Must be we brought it back with us because it was sunny and 70 degrees when we got here.  Not exactly the “norm” for NY in early April.  Not to worry, though.  Normalcy has returned and the weather once again sucks.  Cold and rainy with that all too familiar uniformly gray, miserable sky.  But the weather guy says it will all get better soon (like maybe in May).

So instead of torturing myself by looking out the window, I’m spending some time on the computer going through this trip’s batch of photographs.  Photographs taken in places that were usually much warmer, drier, and, dare I say it, much more attractive.  (I was going to say “prettier”, but that’s a word that seems to rattle some cages in the photographic universe these days.)

Images like this one, for example.  And I’ll be the first to admit that there’s absolutely nothing original about this photograph.  There’s more than a few of them around.  In fact I had a little company when this one was taken.  Because we all did roughly the same thing:  we got up a couple of hours before dawn (in Moab, Utah), drove for about 45 minutes to get to the trailhead for Mesa Arch in Canyonlands NP, and then walked in the dark for 15 minutes to get to this particular spot before sunrise.  To take this picture.  Heck, I met a guy there who’s been making this little journey for 20 years (or so he said).  He’s been trying to get the image he really wants but doesn’t think he has yet.  And he didn’t this time.  He didn’t, he said, because there were some clouds in the east.  Whenever that happens, he said, you don’t get the “effect”.  At least not all of it.

The effect, of course, involves the underside of the arch.  As the sun rises above the Manti La Sal mountains, it illuminates the cliff below the arch.  Reflected light then turns the bottom of the arch a brilliant red or orange, but only for a few minutes.  Then it’s gone.  So if you want to see it (or photograph it) you have to be there before the sun actually breaks the horizon.  This time, it wasn’t all that bright.  And it didn’t last very long.

So why do it?  Because it was fun.  Even if it was a little on the dull side, it was worth seeing.  And when you do stuff like this you always meet new people.  Like the “20 year” guy.  Man, I’d love to get a glimpse of what he thinks is the right image.  As for me, I can now say “I’ve been there”.  I’ve seen the magic.  I have some images to prove it.  Maybe I’ll go back some day.  Who knows.

Oh,  there’s one other minor detail to this story.  On the way back to Moab I was actually pulled over by a Utah State Policeman.  It’s the first time I’ve been stopped by anyone, anywhere, in over 20 years.  He said I was doing 61 in a 50.  I was amazed.  I mean, this is a lonely road early in the morning.  And he was going in the other direction when he “clocked” me and turned around to come after me.  Really?  Are you kidding?

Fortunately, no ticket.  He was actually a very nice guy.  But I think my camera on the front seat saved me.  He asked me where I’d been and apparently is a fan of Mesa Arch.  So he told me to enjoy the rest of my stay in Utah and turned me loose.

I can tell you one thing, though.  That would be a very unlikely scenario in NY.  If a trooper stops you here, you’re toast.


2 Responses to “The Light Under the Rock”

  1. Cedric Canard

    Nice capture Paul. I imagine it must be quite spectacular actually being there.

    I got a speeding ticket under very similar circumstances but in Arizona. I was travelling along a dead straight road through the flattest desert with nothing in sight no matter where you looked. The first car we saw on this particular road was a police car going in the other direction. After he passed me I saw him do a hand-brake turn in my rear-view mirror and I knew he wasn’t chasing me just to say “Welcome to the US of A”. I wasn’t so lucky as you; I got a fine and he wasn’t too friendly about it either. Apparently he was worried that at the speed I was travelling (8mph over the limit) I might have killed a cow. They must have really tiny cows in Arizona because we never did see any.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Cedric. It is a “nice” picture but certainly not very original. Heck, there were about 12 other people doing the same thing on the same day. And it probably happens every day of the year (unless it’s raining or cloudy). But as I said, I had some fun. And I saw it for myself.

      Maybe it was Sheriff Joe Arpaio (Maricopa County) who nailed you in Arizona. Or someone from his “posse”. Sheriff Joe has gotten kind of famous here for his anti-immigration views and practices. Generally speaking, not a very nice guy.

      Like other western states, Arizona has some “free range” areas. That means that cows (or horses) can roam wherever they please. Every now and then you’ll see them crossing the road. But I don’t think too many of them have been hit by cars. The damn things actually seem to be “street – smart”.

      Even so, 8 mph over the limit is a questionable call. In most states they’ll give at least 10 before they react (and sometimes more). Most Americans wouldn’t pay the fine for going 8 mph too fast – they’d go to court and contest it. But if the guy knew you were Australian he probably figured you wouldn’t hang around for the court date.


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