One thing has stood out to me over the years as I am out shooting, and that is I am almost always the last one to leave. Typically when I am at the beach photographing, it can be packed with people, but when I finally pack up my gear and fold up my tripod to go home, there won’t be a soul around and it’s usually pitch black. Well, as close as it can get to pitch black at a Southern California beach. Where did they go? Do they have any clue what they are about to miss?
So on this occasion I was out photographing with a friend at Goblin Valley State Park in Utah. A rather remote place by all measures. No it’s not hidden by any means, but theturn off for it is about 50 miles south of Interstate 70, and then it’s still another 15 or 20 miles until you get back to the main overview. So this is a location that no one is going to just stumble across. Well, on this afternoon in March, there were maybe a dozen other people there in 4 or 5 other vehicles. Some were out walking among the Goblins and exploring. Others were just up at the main viewing area which stands above the Goblins and gives a person a nice birds eye view of the place.
We get there about 2 hours before sunset, so off I go with my friend as we hike and wander around the myriad of Goblins. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands, in all shapes and sizes. We stop to take a few shots, there is some nice clouds in the sky. Of course our goal is a sky full of clouds being painted with wonderful sunset colors. But for now it’s late enough in the afternoon that there are some nice shadows for depth, the sun light has softened it’s glow, and of course there are some nice clouds to work into the compositions. So we do take some shots as we work our way around scouting out nice compositions, but we never lose sight of our real goal as to when the light starts to turn golden, and hopefully the clouds turn red and orange and every cool color we can imagine.
As it gets closer to sunset, it’s getting pretty clear that some thicker clouds along the horizon to the west are probably going to interrupt our party of colors at sunset. And sure enough, as the sun dips below the horizon, the clouds instead of getting painted with color, simply get darker and darker from the absence of light. Now rather then leave at this point, which it seems everyone else has done but for my friend and I, we continue to look for compositions. I know that more often than I could count, that sun doesn’t go down without fighting. And that there was still a chance for an afterglow to do a little painting in the clouds for us. So I ran up to this little hill in the middle of the Goblins that gave a nice overview of the Goblins, but still let me be in the vicinity of them so that I could make a mad dash to some lower compositions that I had already spied out if some color did come. And then the waiting game begins.
Well I actually don’t have to wait too long and lo and behold, to the south there was an opening that started turning gold and then orange. It wasn’t much at first, but it was enough to add some nice color. And then as I was shooting from my birds eye view, I could see some of the clouds around that area were getting a magenta cast to them. It was ever so slowly getting more colorful. Now it was a pretty slow progression, taking a few minutes to really take shape. I took about a dozen shots, but I still wanted some more intimate shots of the goblins with some color. So before the color disappeared I closed up my tripod and ran like a jack rabbit down that hill to the first location I had picked out earlier. It was about ¼ mile away, and there was no time to waste. I got there, set up, and then took some quick shots because while the magenta was still on the clouds to the south framing the orange color on the horizon, I knew it would end up fading faster then it came on. So I took 3 or 4 shots at my first composition, then quickly moved to the 2nd composition.
It was at that point that I noticed the Crescent moon was in the sky and in the general direction I was shooting. So I reframed a few shots, changing my angle to get the moon into the shot, balancing it with some Goblins and the color in the clouds on the other side. As the magenta color started fading away I was really satisfied and a bit excited about those last few shots. But now it was now truly almost pitch black, so carefully I made my way back up to main viewing area overlooking the valley of goblins. When I got to the top, I noticed that everyone was gone but my friend and I.
Had the others stayed long enough to have seen any color at all? More than likely they didn’t. There definitely wasn’t anyone else out in valley wandering around. Rather than stick around for the show, the others had taken off.
The lesson here is not to rush away. When you are out shooting, don’t fold up your tripod too soon. Even when it might look the bleakest, and the sun might seem defeated, stick around! So often the sun finds a way to get one last gasp of color out for us to gaze at and enjoy if we will just wait for it.