100 Days of National Parks: Day 17 – Flaring Arch, Arches National Park

Flaring Arch

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Sometimes a thunderstorm can be the best time to visit a National Park, as evidenced by my recent trip to Arches in October of 2015.  Chasing, and being chased, by thunderstorms all week, I found myself in Moab during a deluge of rain on the way to visit this park just north of town.  The rain at one point was so heavy, it became nearly impossible to see out the windshield, and my traveling companion and I had to stop and wait it out.

We watched the weather system on our phones and determined that there would, surprisingly, be a window to catch sunset, so we hopped back in the car and headed into the park, watching as dozens of cars lined up to leave, having been washed out during the storm.  We drove into the park, and found it almost entirely empty of people, a profoundly exciting experience anytime you can be fortunate enough to have it.  Popular parks like Arches or Zion are rarely so empty, and when you get the chance to have a park to yourself, as we did that day, you relish the unique opportunity to see it without fighting all the crowds.

One opportunity I couldn’t pass up was taking the short walk out to Double Arch in the Windows Section of the park, an experience I’d avoided in my previous visits because there were always throngs of people clambering on the rocks trying to get a picture.  To see it empty, and to have the opportunity for an unimpeded shot of sunset through the arch, was almost too much excitement for me to handle.

The sandstone on the arch was still wet from the storm that had passed through not an hour prior, and the dampness gave new meaning to the term “slick-rock.”  Having fallen in similar circumstances before, and knowing the danger of wet sandstone, I nevertheless gingerly climbed up to a vantage point across from the western opening in the arch, just as the sun was dipping over the horizon, catching this brilliant light show through the opening.

This image is actually a composite image of a dozen independent shots, each slightly off angle to catch the lens flares at a different perspective.  The resultant explosion of light is one of my favorite happy accidents, and made the experience all the sweeter.

Yesterday was the start of National Park week, a fee-free week at all of the 59 U.S. National Parks in the country.  Though it’s highly unlikely you’ll have a park to yourself as I did in this case, I encourage everyone to get out and explore a bit.  I myself celebrated with an impromptu road trip out to John Day National Monument in eastern Oregon, a place I’d been to as a child but had no memory of, and I’m so glad I did.  I hope everyone has a similar opportunity to get out and enjoy our National Parks this week.

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