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Winter Sunrise at Grand View Point

Winter Sunrise at Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Winter Sunrise at Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

In my years-long quest to photograph all the major features of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in the best possible light, one of the toughest challenges was photographing the spectacular view from aptly named Grand View Point. This overlook, at the southernmost tip of the Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park, provides a panoramic view of Monument Basin, the White Rim and the Needles District. The scenery was indisputably grand; the problem was the lighting. At any time of year, Monument Basin, the most photogenic feature visible from Grand View Point, is shadowed at sunset by Junction Butte and Grand View Point itself. At sunrise in summer, the sun comes up behind the La Sal Mountains, dulling the color of light that reaches into the canyon below. Ultimately, I decided that my best bet was the dead of winter, when Monument Basin would be backlit by the rising sun.

In January, 2008, with the predawn temperature in the single digits, I relocated the tiny but tough juniper I planned to use as part of my foreground and set up my 4x5 field camera. A heavy bank of clouds covered most of the sky, leaving only a narrow gap at the eastern horizon that was rapidly closing. With only minutes to spare, the sun rose into the gap. The dark clouds blocked the bright, white light from the sky around the sun, and the vibrant color of undiluted sunrise light blasted through the gap, turning the clouds a fiery red and the foreground snow magenta. Two minutes later, the light show was over, but I had already captured my favorite image of Grand View Point.

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