I have long been fascinated by the landscapes of the southwest, and in particular the peculiar rock formations found in Monument Valley, a unique area straddling Arizona and Utah. I am not the only one that finds them intriguing: it is a very popular photographic and film-making target.
When a business trip took me to a conference in Phoenix, I decided to prepend a personal trip to this Navajo Nation Tribal Park to take pictures of the night sky. My plans were ambitious; I wanted to take wide angle star trail photos featuring the famous buttes, but also, knowing how remote and dark this area would be, to take guided astrophotos of some deep sky targets.
To do all this would require a telescope, multiple cameras and multiple tripods, along with assorted other support gear. At one time I took pride in traveling light, but after taking on this equipment- and weather-gear-intense hobby, I had accepted that I now travel heavy. But this project was even beyond the limits the airline was willing to transport for me.
So I made a plan. I would ship the gear to a nearby hotel where I would stay for a night or two until it arrived. Then I could use it for the duration of my photo efforts, and after capturing all the award-winning images I had in mind, would pack it up and send it back just in time to return to Phoenix and the conference.
I would be taking the cameras and telescope with me as carry-on (I don’t trust freight carriers with optics), but the guys in the shipping department helped me pack up everything else, expertly foaming the tripods in place around the rest of the gear. I warned the hotel that a package would be arriving, and the heavy box shipped out a few days in advance.
I departed the office early on a Halloween Monday, before I could properly admire the creative costumes of my coworkers. On the flight I happened to sit next to a school teacher returning to her home in Page, AZ. We both anticipated subsequent six-hour drives to our destinations. And sure enough it was late in the evening that I finally arrived at Kayenta AZ, the nearby town to Monument Valley.
I am not nearly as organized as I should be. After arriving last night, I discovered that I had neglected to make a rental car reservation. How did that happen? Fortunately, a car was available, and I now have a Toyota Camry for two weeks.
I also discovered that I forgot a power supply and now, faced with taking nighttime pictures of this beautiful location, I wish I had brought my exposure notes from previous trips. On the one hand, oversights can be expected in the execution of a complex expedition. On the other hand, these were indicators that I was a bit careless in the planning of it. I take such things as lessons to be learned and so made note of them for future reference.
My equipment should arrive today and so I need to make a plan. I hope to take photos tonight and I must find a site! It is a new moon tonight; there will be absolutely no interference from unwanted moonlight, perfect for deep sky astrophotos and long duration star trails. I headed north from Kayenta to the Navaho park we know as Monument Valley to survey the landscape.
There is a visitor center, a beautiful building perched on a bluff overlooking several of the most famous of the monuments: “The Mittens”. And there was an adjacent campground with similar views for a few of the campsites at the edge of that same bluff. I quickly identified site 25 as the best of them and was pleasantly surprised that the camping fee was only $5 a night! I took it.
I returned to the hotel and faced a dilemma. I’d like to get back to Monument Valley and my campsite for the late afternoon sun. But the FedEx delivery of my equipment won’t be until around 5:00. Not enough time to travel the 30 miles and capture sunset at 5:10.
I didn’t really have much choice but to wait for the package. It arrived as scheduled, and I rushed back to Monument Valley. I didn’t catch sunset, but the twilight was beautiful!