Horseshoe Bend

We drove most of the day from Mesa Verde, Colorado, to Page, Arizona, where we visited nearby Horseshoe Bend at sunset. We’ll see how the light changed during the golden hour.

At Horseshoe Bend, the Colorado River makes a 270° horseshoe-shaped bend in a 1000-foot-deep canyon carved from pink Navajo sandstone. From the park service, “Notice how the rock itself has diagonal striped layers. These are the remnants of the layers of the ancient massive sand dunes before they were petrified into stone.”

In this visualization from google Earth, the Colorado River has cut a deep canyon into the pink sandstone. At this spot, the river and canyon make a 270° bend.

Colorado River carved a horseshoe bend near Page, Arizona (from Google Earth)

From the park service,

Below you, the Colorado River makes a wide sweep around a sandstone escarpment. Long ago, as the river meandered southward toward the sea, it always chose the steepest downward slope. This downward journey did not always occur in a straight line, and sometimes the river made wide circles and meanders. As the Colorado Plateau uplifted about 5 million years ago, the rivers that meandered across the ancient landscape were trapped in their beds. The rivers cut through the rock, deep and fast, seeking a new natural level. Here at Horseshoe Bend, the Colorado River did just that, and as the river cut down through the layers of sandstone, it created a 270° horseshoe-shaped bend in the canyon.

We ate an early dinner to get to the canyon an hour before sunset to find a spot with a view of the Colorado. The Colorado River is a thousand feet below, and there are no guardrails. An hour before sunset, the sky is cloudy. I put the camera with remote switch on the tripod and made adjustments.

setting up an hour before sunset

A half hour before sunset, the sun popped out from the clouds, lighting the canyon walls and the cloud reflections in the river.

sunshine a half hour before sunset

In this detail from the previous photo, you can see the rock I’m on, the canyon wall, the Colorado River, and three boats on the opposite shore a thousand feet below. Click on the photo for an enlarged view.

boats a thousand feet below us

Just before sunset, the sun lights the nearby rocks while rays emanate from the sun. I had stopped down the wide-angle lens to f/22 to increase the depth of field, so that the nearby rocks and the river would all be in focus. With the lens stopped-down, the nine blades of the lens create rays from the sun.

sunset at Horseshoe Bend

This photo was taken a half hour after sunset, at the end of civil twilight. “At this moment, the Earth’s atmosphere still reflects a large portion of sunlight, coloring a clear sky in different shades of orange and red. This is a good time for photographers to capture the sky and the soft glow of the sunlight.”

Horseshoe Bend at dusk

I wondered how light changes during the golden hour. Looking at these photos, I didn’t notice the dramatic color that I saw at sunrise and sunset at Arches NP. Perhaps this is due to whether we shoot into the sun or away from the sun? To show the bend at sunset, these photos are shot into the setting sun. At Arches, I chose subjects with the sun on them, shooting away from the sun.

To better compare colors through the golden hour, I maintained the same white balance across these photos. That is, I set the camera to automatic white balance, and it turned out that the camera varied the white balance within a 400º range. During postprocessing, I adjusted the white balance in each photo to the midpoint, 5350°.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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