Storm Clouds Over Green River Overlook, Utah
I find the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park to be quite difficult to photograph well. It’s easy to make compelling photographs in Arches National Park on a cloudless, blue sky day but those same conditions at the Island usually result in rather bland images. The one exception is Mesa Arch at sunrise which relies on warm, reflected light for dynamic image making conditions – easy to do even without a cloud in the sky. Optimal conditions exist when storms are developing or dispersing during the golden hour after sunrise or before sunset. Ominous clouds overhead with storm light strafing the canyon below creates conditions most any landscape photographer would be thrilled to photograph. Unfortunately, it just isn’t all that common.
I’ve lived in Moab for almost five years. In that time I’ve visited Green River Overlook countless times when it seemed conditions might be just right to make the image I’d visualized. Each and every time I got skunked. The clouds would either dissipate too early or they would form a blanket of gray overcast that left the light boring and flat. However, as in most things in life, persistence does eventually pay off.
On the evening I made this photograph I was assisting at a photo workshop. My job consisted mainly of helping the leader select the right locations for each shoot, leaving me free to run around and photograph once we were on site. The day had been stormy and our sunrise shoot was a complete bust. When I started seeing shafts of light breaking through the clouds as our afternoon session drew closer I decided that we should head up to the Island. The workshop leader agreed and off we went.
The entire group was awed by the view at Green River Overlook even before the light show began. It’s difficult not to be when you stand at the edge of the canyon rim, gazing at the White Rim below, the Green River snaking through the mid-ground and the Henry Mountains far off in the distance by Capitol Reef National Park. Minutes before sunset, the conditions I’d hoped for quickly appeared. I had already framed a composition and left my camera mounted on the tripod just in case, because I suspected the light wouldn’t last long. We had only a couple minutes to work with these amazing conditions before the sun disappeared below the horizon. After four years and dozens of failed efforts, I’d finally realized my vision.
I’ve got a few more local spots I’ll keep visiting until all the right conditions come together to bless me with a crazy dynamic image. Some are well known (False Kiva, anyone?) and others are rarely visited. Who knows, maybe in 2021 one of them will be on my “Best of the Decade” list right here on the ol’ blog. Be sure to check back.