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Mesa Arch at Sunrise
Mesa Arch at Sunrise

The Illuminative Magic of Mesa Arch

On top of a mesa in Canyonlands National Park is home to the near daily optical phenomena that has been delighting nature lovers I would imagine since the Anasazi settled the place thousands of years ago, the illuminative magic of Mesa Arch. This sumptuous visual treat has been attracting photographers like a magnet for years packing portfolios with one of the biggest treats the Southwest has to offer.

Located in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands on the edge of a cliff about 1,000 feet above the wind chiseled mesa below the light of the rising sun hits the face of the cliff, the rays are bounced upward from the bottom of the arch to its ceiling to glow as if it were on fire. All the while the arch also serves as a "window" to the rest of the canyon beyond framing the view of the La Sal Mountains, the Washerwoman, and Monster Tower all framed by Mesa Arch’s warm sun kissed momentary luminosity.

To capture this magic arriving well before sunrise is essential not only to get the optimum spot as the sweet spot is six-foot square, but an early arrival also gives you a chance to shoot in predawn light which also provides a pleasant glow as well. This can produce some amazing images. If you are in the area for several days watch the weather because the glow requires a clear sky so considering the one-hour drive from Moab pick your morning astutely.

It is often crowded around the sweet spot but there is plenty of light for all. Maybe I’m odd but I like visiting with crowds of like-minded light chasers wherever I find them. The camaraderie is a wonderful consolation prize for a lack of prayed for solitude.

For the sleepyheads later in the morning and in the afternoon it makes a nice blue sky shot if you avoid the hard overhead light of midday.  Stormy days can provide wonderful opportunity anytime. Mesa Arch is a treat to see any time of day. Mesa Arch for many is one of the high points of a visit to Canyonlands National Park.


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