Exploring Arches National Park; Spectacular Scenery Offers Endless Photo Opportunities

Arches National Park in Utah (a five-hour drive from Salt Lake City) is my favorite national park--from both a photographic and outdoor experience point of view.

Arches ranks #1 in my book for several reasons: First, the red/orange rock formations, some in the form of arches, are simply breathtaking. Many jut out of the flat, surrounding ground to form solitary, sculptured works of imposing natural art. Hiking around the sandstone formations, it's hard to envision that they were once covered with an ocean. Heat and pressure from the shifting continental plates pushed the old sea bottom, now the arches and other formations, upward. Erosion over millions of years have created these marvelous natural sculptures--for us to photograph and enjoy today.

The Turret

The Turret is close to the park's entrance and less than a 10-minute walk from one of the parking lots. Double Arch is a short hike away.
All Photos © 2006, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

Another reason I like Arches is that getting around, with your own car, is relatively easy. Except for a few long hikes, including the hike to Delicate Arch, most of the well-known arches, including Double Arch, Park Avenue, and The Turret, are only a few minutes from the parking lots.

Another reason I like Arches is its close proximity to Moab, a fun, affordable town with some great restaurants and shops. What's more, Moab is a great "home base" for a side trip to nearby Dead Horse Point State Park, which for me offers more dramatic photo opportunities than the Grand Canyon. Bring your widest angle lens to record the dramatic scene. Using a tripod to steady your camera is a good idea, too.

Go Cruising

Go Cruising
While in Moab, take a beautiful sunset (or daytime) cruise down the winding Colorado River. Bring your polarizing filter to reduce glare on the water and to darken the blue sky and whiten the clouds. Pay extra attention to the horizon line while photographing from a swaying boat. Make sure it's level.

Snooze, You Lose
Sure, you could spend a week, or maybe a season or even a few years, exploring and photographing the 73,000 scenic acres of the park. But, you can also make a wonderful three- to five-day photo safari there and come home with some memorable pictures. That's what I did last year, photographing from before sunrise to after sunset while my wife and I drove our rental car through the park. And get this, all of the pictures in this column were taken with one lens: my Canon 16-35mm zoom (on my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II). So, "wide rules" in Arches.


When using a wide angle lens, or any lens for that matter, on a digital SLR, keep in mind that digital SLRs are more susceptible to lens flare than film SLRs, so in sunny places like Arches, use your lens hood and maybe even shade the lens with your hat. A device called the "Flare Buster," sold at camera stores and online (www.flarebuster.com), is a good tool for eliminating flare.

These panorama-type pictures were taken with the aforementioned gear. I simply cropped out the top and bottom of the frames in Photoshop. And speaking of Photoshop, if the weather is not picture perfect, keep in mind that you can boost the saturation and red/yellow tones, and apply the built-in warming filter to your pictures to enhance them.

You Lose

Hiking Boots Are A Must
Good hiking boots are essential for visitors to Arches, as you'll definitely want to climb around the arches to get your own unique view of the structures. Water bottles are also a "must-have," as it can get to over 107Þ Fahrenheit in the summer. Sunscreen and a hat are also strongly recommended.