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January Sunset at Delicate Arch

January Sunset at Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

January Sunset at Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch and the La Sal Mountains must be the single most heavily photographed vista in Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah. Crafting a fresh, yet evocative view of this natural icon is a major challenge. When scouting the area in March a year ago, I casually shot a compass bearing through the arch and discovered that on the winter solstice the setting sun would be visible through the arch if I chose exactly the right vantage point. At the latitude of Arches National Park, the angle of sunrise (and sunset) varies by more than 60 degrees from summer solstice to winter solstice. I neglected, however, to measure the range of sunset angles which would allow me to get the shot. The idea intrigued me, however, and I made a note to return at the appropriate time of year.

On the winter solstice itself, I was too busy with the Christmas rush to get away. By the time I actually hit the road from my home in Boulder, Colorado, it was January 13, and the angle of sunset had already begun its march back to the north as the days began to lengthen once more. This time I came equipped with a Brunton pocket transit, a highly accurate, tripod-mounted compass and inclinometer. I arrived at the arch, set up the transit and discovered I was almost too late. Had I been even a few days later, I would have been forced to wait an entire year for another opportunity. Fortunately, the western horizon was clear, which allowed the sun to create a magnificent sunstar as it set through the opening of one of the world’s most famous arches.

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