BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a journalist and photographer based in Port Jervis, NY and Alexandria, Va.

Filtering by Tag: Delicate Arch

Oh, those silly photographers

Of all the places in the world where the setting sun is knock-you-on-your-ass spectacular, Delicate Arch at Arches National Park is really near the top of that list. And everybody knows it.

So, one summer about six years ago when I trekked out to Delicate Arch to get my own sunset shot at the height of the tourist season, I joined a gaggle of 10 other photographers gathered at the top of the bowl below the arch, each shooter wielding a massive digital SLR camera decked out with a lens about a foot long and four inches in diameter.

Tourists, few of whom spoke English, swarmed the place, each taking turns rushing up to the famous arch to have someone snap a photo of them smiling beneath one of the most iconic natural features in the West. The crowd began to clear out as golden hour — the hour before sunset or after sunrise when the light on the red rocks of canyon country is most brilliant — approached, but as the pros rushed to their cameras to snap the perfect light, a few straggling tourists took advantage of the best moment of the day to have some one-on-one time with Delicate Arch.

“Hey lady!” one photog yelled across the bowl. “Get out the way! Get out of our shot!”

The woman and her kids stayed put, smiling for a quick snapshot and traded places and cameras with another couple.

“We said get out of the way!” another pro yelled. “You’re ruining our shot!”

“We have a right to be here, too,” one of the women snapped back, her words echoing off the sandstone.

Golden hour came and went, and she and some other tourists stayed beneath the arch until the sun had dipped beneath canyons to the west. Perhaps in spite of the idiots behind the big lenses, perhaps just because it was beautiful. The pros, fuming and cursing, opened and closed their shutters with the tourists in every frame.

I remained silent through the whole thing, but when photographers’ egos and sense of possessiveness over public lands begin to match the size of their $5,000 lenses, I get just as pissed as the woman commanded to get out of the shot.

This morning, I decided to get my own shot of another million-dollar scene at Arches, the famous sunrise shot of one of the Windows framing Turret Arch in the distance. I drove out to the Windows at 6 a.m. and, shivering in the 25 degree air, set up my camera (using an 17-85mm kit lens, mind you) at the optimum spot, where I met a retired guy named Mike from Salt Lake who’d taken the weekend to shoot arches and sandstone, apparently as an excuse to get away from his wife.

As he teetered on a ledge, we chatted about cameras and near-death experiences while on photo expeditions and why we haul heavy cameras into remote places.

“It’s addictive,” he said.

“And you come back with a great story to tell of how you got the image you shot, even if the photo isn’t any good,” I said.

Finally, the sun peeked above the La Sal Mountains behind us and began to light up the Windows like a firestorm, and right at the perfect moment, a lone tourist appeared at the base of Window, staring into the sun and occupying both of our frames.

“If you were a real photographer, you’d ask her to move,” Mike said.

“Are you kidding?” I said.

“They always get in the way,” he said, clearly debating with himself whether he should ask her to move.

He didn’t.

Hardly a minute later, the tourist disappeared.

The one fail-safe method for capturing spectacular images un-decorated with the unwashed masses: Shoot pretty pictures where the unwashed masses don't go. If you're going to complain, why not use your camera to make the case for another of the park's arches to become iconic?

People come from all over the world to visit Arches and all our other national parks to see all the famous places the parks are iconic for. This morning could have been that tourist’s once chance in a lifetime to see the Windows at sunrise. I can come to Arches nearly any long weekend I choose to get the shot I want. People should be encouraged to visit these places on their public lands at the most spectacular times of day. These are their parks. When people are unjustly shooed away by photographers angry that stray tourists are going to mar their image that somehow represents some faux sense of wildness (Arches isn’t truly unsullied by mankind, is it?), the moment for which tourists most value a national park may very likely be remembered only for an encounter with the arrogance of a gaggle of egomaniacal photographers who deserve whatever remorse they feel about losing a money-generating image in one of the most beautiful places in America.

The joke is on the complaining idiot with his finger on the shutter release button.

Anatomy of an Image: Delicate Reflection

Delicate Arch is Utah's most iconic natural landform and, almost without a doubt, its most photographed. I have a gazillion Delicate Arch images stashed away, most of them similar to what you'll see in countless other photo galleries and tourist brochures. I've visited Arches National Park more than 50 times, and it's one of my favorite places in the world.

I took a week-long photographic expedition to Utah and western Colorado in March 2010, and I thought I'd really timed the trip badly because most of eastern Utah canyon country was under two feet of snow. But Delicate Arch wasn't buried under snow. The slickrock around it was, however, sopping wet with meltwater, and that allowed me to luck into the perfect photography scenario for Delicate Arch.

I've been trying for years to capture Delicate in the perfect reflection. It worked marginally well another time back in 2006 after a heavy October rain, but the potholes weren't quite as full then as they were last year. When I arrived at the bowl beneath the arch, this is essentially what the scene looked like:

A mud pit. So I started looking around for the perfect pothole...

Not quite.

I was walking all over the place (careful not to track through the mud as other people had) looking for the right puddle and the correct angle. And the damn wind just kept blowing. But just as I was about ready to call it a day (the way it usually works), I found it:

That still wasn't quite right, but a little more experimenting with camera positioning produced the final image, which was rotated 180 degrees to appear upright.

This also begs the question: How many times can you photograph an arch? I probably won't spend much time at Delicate the next time I visit Arches, but it's been fun to photograph over the years:

The Canyons Call and I Must Go

So, I have a furlough week coming up in a few months (the corporate parent of  my newspaper is sending each of its reporters on a gainful employment-free, all-expenses-unpaid vacation) and despite urgings to dust off my passport for a trip to Europe, it's time to breathe deeply that sweet pellucid canyon country air.

Ed Abbey's air, that is.

Too long away from the Colorado Plateau makes me break out in hives, endure breakdown after breakdown and generally quake violently with separation anxiety. I was there in October, and it's already been too long.

I first ventured into Utah's canyon country in 1998 during my first summer on ranger staff at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. I'd just dropped off a crew of Boy Scouts at a particularly spectacular staff camp in the northern reaches of the 142,000 acre ranch, met a lifelong friend on my hike into basecamp, hopped in my car and headed out on a three-day expedition west that would change my life forever.

My destination was Arches National Park. It was a brief visit, but I quickly discovered the magic of the landscape, still boiling hot that July evening in the Devil's Garden Campground. That magic just simply cannot be described here because, like the best things in the world, it is something that must be experienced to be understood.

When you visit Arches, do this: Pitch your tent, wait for the white-throated swifts to make their final darts through the evening sky, sit outside in the moonlight and listen. Just listen. Hard.

Silence.

Even though you'll be surrounded by many other people in the campground, the landscape makes no noise when the wind is calm. In that stillness and calm, you'll discover the power of that landscape.

One raw March day a few years ago — 2002, I think — I hiked to Delicate Arch alone. The trail is normally packed with hundreds of tourists, many unprepared for the hike or the view that awaits them at the trail's end. I passed one other person on the hike to the arch, and she was headed back to the parking lot. I arrived at Delicate — one of the West's most iconic and popular natural spectacles — and had it and its surrounding scenery all to myself. I walked into the sandstone bowl below the arch, looked up, and realized the scene to be nearly frozen in time. No sound, no movement. Just Delicate Arch and me.

Why that was profound is something you'll have to answer for yourself on your next trip to Arches. Since 1998, I've visited Arches National Park more than 50 times and at least once each year since then, except, unfortunately, 2009.

Really, though, the significance of that park is what I attach to it. It was and remains merely an introduction to one of the most alien and spectacular landscapes anywhere in the world. I miss living so close to it.

If you've never explored the Colorado Plateau, here are a few amazing places that you must visit before you die:

Those are just a start. There are others: The Wave. The Canyons of the Escalante. Monument Valley. Dinosaur. Desolation Canyon. Nine Mile Canyon. The San Rafael Swell. Zion...