Landscape Arch with Sun Star
Landscape Arch with Sun Star, Arches National Park, Utah
Landscape Arch is both the longest known natural stone span in the world, stretching 306 feet from base to base, and one of the most delicate. At first glance, it seems impossible that it is still standing. In 1991 a major rockfall weakened the arch still further. The continuing threat to public safety, as well as erosion of the hillside under the arch, led the Park Service to close the trail that used to lead to the base of the arch itself. To emphasize Landscape Arch’s fragility, I decided to photograph it at the exact moment when the afternoon sun would drop behind the very thinnest portion of the arch. I knew that the viewer’s eye would be drawn inevitably to the brightest part of the frame, the sun, and then to the arch’s weakest section. Using a Brunton pocket transit, a highly accurate, tripod-mounted compass and inclinometer, I measured the azimuth and angular elevation of the thinnest part of the span, then used Heavenly Opportunity, a computer program that gave me sun positions, to calculate the best days of the year to make the image I envisioned. (Today I would use Photo Ephemeris Web and Sun Surveyor to accomplish the same task.) Armed with that information, I returned several months later and made the image you see here.