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South Window through Turret Arch

South Window through Turret Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

South Window through Turret Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park contains the world’s greatest concentration of natural arches. A hiker on any of the trails will hear conversations conducted in languages from around the globe – tribute to the park’s international appeal. Like its many thousands of visitors, I too was captivated by Arches’ extraordinary beauty. For a photographer, however, Arches’ readily accessible scenery poses a challenge. How could I make a fresh image in a park that had already been heavily photographed? I decided to buy a Brunton pocket transit, a highly accurate, tripod-mounted compass and inclinometer, and begin calculating the best possible angle of sunrise and sunset to illuminate the major arches. 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.

One day, while wandering around the Windows area, I discovered that it was possible to scramble up onto a narrow shelf perched above a 20-foot vertical drop and photograph South Window framed by Turret Arch. I took a careful transit reading from my perch, then consulted a computer program that gave me sunrise angles for any day of the year. I was delighted to discover that on eight days a year the sun would rise into South Window as it was framed by Turret Arch. I returned at the right time in the spring, only to be skunked by persistent clouds for four days in a row. I came back again in mid-summer, when the sun rises at the same angle, and was rewarded with this unique view of two of Arches’ most spectacular formations.

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