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The Third Flatiron through Royal Arch

The Third Flatiron through Royal Arch, Boulder Mountain Parks, Colorado

The Third Flatiron through Royal Arch, Boulder Mountain Parks, Colorado

Even long-time residents of Boulder are sometimes surprised to learn that Boulder’s Mountain Parks are home to a beautiful arch. Royal Arch’s position on the eastern flanks of Green Mountain means you cannot see sky through it (which would make it obvious it is an arch) from anywhere within the city limits. To appreciate its beauty, you have to flex a little boot leather by hiking the steep, rocky Royal Arch trail, which starts at Chautauqua Park. The arch is hidden until you are almost upon it. From just below the arch, you can turn around and see the Third Flatiron, the dramatic sandstone tower that is one of the most recognizable landmarks along Boulder’s western skyline. From there, it’s an easy scramble through the bottom of the arch to a small, sloping ledge on the south side that is perched above a precipitous drop. The view from the ledge is spectacular, but you can’t see the nearby Third Flatiron through the arch – unless you scramble up a tricky slab to a precarious perch 20 feet above the ledge. There’s no flat spot to erect a tripod there – in fact, there’s really no place to stand.

When I returned some months later to photograph this view, I also brought a climbing harness, rock-climbing shoes, and an assortment of carabiners and slings so that I could anchor myself, my camera and my tripod to the rock and photograph without fear of falling into the abyss below. To set up the tripod, I spread the tripod legs wide and wedged one leg behind a flake, perched a second leg on a tiny nubbin, then ran a safety line to a small juniper to keep the tripod from falling if it managed to work itself loose. My first effort at shooting this composition, in May, 2006, failed because the springtime sunrise angle meant the arch was too sidelit. I returned in late November, 2007, with my adventurous 11-year-old daughter Audrey, who powered up the predawn, headlamp-illuminated hike with me, then ate cold toaster strudels and dozed while I set up my 4x5 field camera and photographed this unique view of two Boulder landmarks.

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