Photos of Arches NP and a Lesson on Overcoming Fear
For a month now I’ve been camped here at Moab, and during that time I’ve made several trips into Arches National Park for photography and today I want to share those with you. I would have been in more but the weather has been so volatile that I’ve only made a few trips. Beyond that, this is my 4th visit to Arches, and I have lots of photos built up from those trips and I’ve posted them on the website in the past, so this time I came looking for a few specific shots that I didn’t already have. Because of all the rain, it has been a good wildflower year so I wanted those shots. I’ve also added a super-wide angle lens to my camera bag so there were some shots I wanted to re-take with it. And finally, there is a famous shot taken through the North Window arch of Turret Arch (it’s the photo above) that I’ve never taken the time to get. Now I have!
Arches has a significant place in my life. In 2006 I retired and moved away from Alaska, which had been my home for 45 years, and drove the Alcan to my new home on Asheville, NC. Arches was the very first place in the Lower 48 that I stopped and spent time exploring. My first visit into arches was late in December of 2006, it was cold and there was a little snow on the ground. I drove up right at dawn into a beautiful fog bank and I can’t even begin to express how moved I was by the gorgeous red-rock country; I was moved to tears because it was so stunning. You have to understand that it was a very emotional time for me because I wasn’t just leaving my long-time home, I was also leaving behind my youngest son who loves Alaska and can’t imagine why I would ever leave it. I’m not ashamed to tell you I shed numerous tears during our last hug together. Of course it wasn’t the last time I’ve seen him, I’ve seen him many times since then, but there was something about that last time as I was leaving Alaska. So I was primed to be deeply moved by Arches.
As beautiful as Alaska is, it has nothing even remotely similiar to Utah’s red rock country so I was totally unprepared for its stunning beauty. It’s a different kind of beauty, but every bit as beautiful as anything in Alaska. After that first visit, I knew I had to see it over-and-over again. Every year since I plan to see it but there have been a few years when I didn’t but it’s not from lack of trying. Even now on my fourth visit, It’s still just as stunning to me.
This year there were wildflowers in bloom so you will see some photos of them, but the main two photos I wanted was 1) to take some wide-angle shots of Double Arch (above) and, 2) Turret Arch from the North Window. Fortunately, they are very near each other and share the same parking lot so I finally got some good weather and got them.
Shooting Double Arch is easy, you just walk up to it and start shooting–it’s so beautiful you can’t hardly take a bad picture of it! Even so, having a wide angle lens and understanding the importance of having a nice foreground can elevate a good photo into a memorable photo.
On the other hand, getting the shot of Turret Arch through the North Window was not easy at all! You can easily just walk up to both but to get them in alignment is quite difficult. Behind the North Window is a steep drop off and on the other side of it is fairly steep rock wall you have to climb up get the two into alignment. I knew it was possible because lots of people do it, but when I first got there I had no idea how they did it, it seemed too steep to me. Ten years ago when I was 50 it would have spooked me much less, but at 60, it was a very different story–I simply can’t do the things I used to routinely do. But I was determined to get the shot so I studied it for awhile and saw a route that would make it work.
The drop down from the Window was easy, anyone could go up and down it, but the climb was more difficult. I very cautiously clamored up it bu pressing myself into the wall like my life depended on it, and it did! It was high enough I could easily have been killed by the fall. What worried me the most was the idea that I might could climb up it, but not have the ability to climb down it–but I pressed on. I got to my goal and took the shot, but realized it was not the shot I was after. There was only one place to get it and that meant going over and down one more rock to get to the rock where I could take the shot. Sadly, it seemed like the most difficult (and highest) of the whole climb. But I hadn’t come that far to leave without the shot I wanted and so up I went. I got to the rock with the shot but I was too scared to climb up on it enough to sit or stand, so I just laid on my belly and took my photos.
After taking plenty of shots, it was time to get down. I inched down the whole way either with my belly pressed tight up to the cliff or on my butt sliding down in stark terror! Fortunately, it was no big deal and I made it just fine–thinking the whole way just how great I really am!! Now is where the story turns really ugly!!
Just as I’m getting to the bottom a young woman who had been watching me with her boyfriend from the Arch scampered down to meet me and started up the trail I had just come down. I didn’t watch her closely, but she almost ran strait up it, barely ever using her hands to hold on. When she got to where I had been, I yelled up at her, “I hate how easy you make that look!!” She giggled because she knew I meant it as a compliment and sat own on the rock I was so terrified of that I clung to it on my belly.
By the time I was back up at the North Window arch her boyfriend headed up and I watched him climb the whole way. He literally went up it like a mountain goat! It only took him a few minutes and I think there were only two or three times when he even had to use his hands. It was obvious from their level of fitness (especially the size of their legs) and the easy grace they had on the slope, that they were climbers who did this often.
It gave me a totally new appreciation for what climbers do and made me more aware than ever it was something I could never, ever try to do! But I’m still very glad I did it this time, and I know if I ever go back and want to do it again I would without hesitation. It really wasn’t that bad.
The lesson I learned was that it’s fear that holds us back from truly, deeply living life on the edge and to it’s fullest. Having lived in Alaska all my life I’ve spent a fair amount of time scrambling around in the mountains, I’ve just never done anything quite as steep as this–plus my declining physical abilities made it all the more fearful to me. But I was fairly sure I had the capacity if I was just slow and cautious; and I was right.
The moral of the story is that the fear of the unknown was much worse than the actual climb itself.
I urge you all, using reasonable caution, push yourself beyond what you think your limits are.
You will be very glad you did! Not only will you get the short term goal you’re aiming for (I got the shot) but you will become a better, more confident and happy person.