Canyonlands Island in the Sky

After seeing Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock on a Thursday morning, we drove to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park that afternoon. Shown above, we’re standing on a high mesa, 1,400 feet above a flatland sliced by 1,000-foot-deep canyons. The sides of the mesa are on the left; Wingate sandstone forms the red vertical walls. This high mesa is like an island in the sky.

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Balanced Rock

After the hike to Delicate Arch on our parks road trip, we scouted Balanced Rock as a potential foreground subject for a Milky Way photo. For an interesting photo composition, you want something in the foreground to contrast with the Milky Way. Despite several tries, I had never been able to photograph the Milky Way. Arches NP is known for dark skies (favorable for star photos), and we had scheduled this road trip to take advantage of the dark skies of a new moon.

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Delicate Arch

To kick off our southwest USA road trip, we scheduled three full days in Moab to see Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and to photograph the Milky Way.

We were hampered by road closures at Arches National Park (NP). This season, all park roads are closed for construction weekdays from 7 pm to 7 am. Since dawn was at 6 am and sunset was at 8:30 pm during our visit, the road closure prevented photos of sunrise, sunset, and stars on weekdays. A significant hiking area was closed entirely.  😦

As planned, we arrived in Moab on a Wednesday, one day before the new moon. Moonlight can obscure the faint stars of the Milky Way, so considering the moon phase is important when photographing Milky Way.

Our first morning in Moab was overcast — unfortunate because flat, gray light doesn’t bring out the best in the red rock. We started with the area’s most popular sight, entering Arches NP before the Visitor’s Center opened to hike to Delicate Arch. The hike is 3 miles (4.8 km) roundtrip and climbs 480 feet (146m). With no shade, hiking on a cloudy morning is easier than on a hot afternoon.

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Southwest Parks Road Trip

This spring we took a road trip to see spectacular, eroded rocks of the southwest US. We hiked and marveled at the grandeur of nature, and I took my first Milky Way photos.

Above is Landscape Arch in Arches National Park. Landscape Arch has a span of 290 feet and is the fifth longest arch in the world.

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San Andreas Fault at Wallace Creek

We drove to the Carrizo Plain to see the wildflower bloom, so an opportunity to see visible effects of the San Andreas fault was an unexpected bonus. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake on the San Andreas fault led to fires that burned much of San Francisco.

According to a geology tour brochure from the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the San Andreas fault is about 700 miles long, and it’s “the boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.” The land on each side of the fault has slipped sideways as the tectonic plates moved, and you can see this at Carrizo Plain.

In the above aerial view from Google Earth, the red arrow points to where Wallace Creek crosses the San Andreas fault. The diagonal line running parallel to the Temblor Range is the San Andreas fault. From wikipedia, temblor is “from the Spanish word for ‘earthquake’ (terremoto)”.

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