Horseshoe Bend Meets its Future

It was a cold night on the rim of the Colorado River canyon as I waited for my camera to record the passage of stars and clouds.  I passed the time making notes and reading with my red headlamp.

In 2006 I was given a travel tip by a coworker:  there was a dramatic view of the Colorado River available to those willing to hike a half-mile to the canyon rim from a roadside rest area just south of Page, Arizona.  While on a trip to the state, I searched for it and found the barely marked spot described by my friend, and then found hints of a lightly used footpath across a barren expanse of desert to a rocky crest that hid the sudden drop-off behind it.

It was indeed a grand view, and I returned that night with my camera to attempt some long exposure star trails.  The conditions were not optimal: the moon was lighting the sky, but worse, clouds were interfering.  Still, it was a beautiful setting and I have learned that unexpected results sometimes occur, so I stayed several hours to record whatever happened. 

The results were not “stellar”, but the composition was strong enough that I include it among my nightscape favorites.

I have not had the opportunity to revisit that site until this year, when I looked forward to showing this hidden treasure to Poldi on our road trip through the area.  As we traveled toward Page, the obscure rest area sign we were looking for had been replaced by huge billboards. I was stunned to find that the parking area, previously able to accommodate a dozen cars at most, now had a capacity for hundreds!  And tour buses!  There was an admission gate where fees were collected by multiple lanes of toll workers!  Horseshoe Bend had been “Disneyfied”!

No longer was it a broken footpath to an exposed canyon ridge; a paved sidewalk had been installed to a fenced overlook, with benches at shade stations along the way.  Hundreds of visitors flocked to the viewpoint and took selfies with the same backdrop I had used fifteen years earlier (before “selfie” was a word).

I flowed with the crowd, amazed at the transformation.  I guess this is what happens at natural wonders as they become discovered and shared.  And I guess it could be worse.  It is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, administered by the National Park Service.  For an example of “could be worse” look to Niagara Falls, the south bank managed by our NPS, preserving a beautiful park, but the northern Canadian side, with arguably a better visual vantage, is spoiled by unrestricted vendors catering to tourist sideshows and amusement parks.

The Horseshoe Bend overlook today (May 2021)

It is no longer possible to take the picture I made in 2006.  The expansive parking lot, which overfills during the day, must be empty by sunset according to Page city ordinance (which owns the land outside the national recreation area).  There is no easy access at night.

Although I feel like I have witnessed a historic change, a 15-year transition from patch of desert to parking lot is much less than a blink-of-an-eye in the geologic time scale that created this wonder.  In another million years, I expect the parking lot and the fenced overlook will be condensed to just another narrow but colorful band among the sedimentary layers displayed along the canyon walls.

Horseshoe Bend

I had learned that there was a famous feature of the Colorado River called Horseshoe Bend near Page Arizona, but it was not particularly obvious to travelers passing through that town. Sure enough, marked by an inconspicuous sign, I found a parking area at the trailhead of a half-mile hike that ends abruptly at the rim of the canyon. A thousand feet below, the river makes a dramatic winding around this peninsula from the far side plateau. It is a huge view; this wide angle shot attempts to fit it all in.

A nearly full moon is out, illuminating the scene. This is a composite of individual frames, each of 5 minute duration taken over a two hour period. During that time, clouds of various types drifted past, sometimes obscuring most of the sky. This image shows the first 30 minutes and the last 40 minute periods of the total time, revealing the brightest stars trailing across a lunar-lit sky.

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Horseshoe Bend, near Page AZ
4 Nov 2006
EOS 20Da, EF-S 10-22mm at 10mm
5 min, f/8, ISO 100

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Sentinel Point

Sentinel point in Yosemite National Park. One of my first digital startrail images comprises four exposures of 15 minutes each. Image composited and noise reduced in Photoshop.

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Sentinel Point, Yosemite
27 April 2006
Canon EOS 20Da, EF-S 10-22m at 10mm
4 x 15 min at f/4, ISO800

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Flatirons and the Moon

This is an early experiment in taking star trail photos with a digital camera. Ninety exposures of 1-minute each were composited with the “lighten” blending mode in Photoshop. During this elapsed time, the moon entered the frame. It has been dodged out except for its position in the final exposure.

I had traveled to Boulder Colorado frequently, where this section of the Rocky Mountain’s front range offers protection and beauty to the CU campus. In all of my prior trips, the days were sunny and clear, but when the sun set, the mountains pulled a blanket of clouds over themselves.

Not so on this day, the day I had come to see my son graduate. A few wisps of moisture drifted across the peaks, but the sky stayed open, and the full moon illuminated the slabs of the flatirons with its distinctive diffuse light.

In the high resolution copy of this image, the individual exposures are discerned. Each was actually 55 seconds long, separated from the next by 5 seconds. This is too long a delay, the gaps between the star trail segments is visible. At lower resolution, the segments merge together to form the classic pattern of stars apparently streaming across the sky.

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Boulder Colorado
12 May 2006
EOS 20Da, EF-S 10-22mm at 22mm
55sec, f/5.6, ISO 200

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Orion Nebula HDR

An early experiment in using different exposures to build a high dynamic range (HDR) image of the Orion Nebula. The “Running Man” nebula is revealed to its upper left.

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Monument Valley, Navaho Nation
5 November 2005
Televue 85 f/5.6
Canon EOS 20Da

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Monument Valley Lightshow

A 90-minute exposure captures a variety of lights.  The stars mark their clockwork passage across the sky of course, but civilization also leaves its mark.  Airplane beacons flash as they pass through, distant towns show on the horizon, and local traffic finds its way along the private road below.  Private, but not unseen, and when the headlights aim in my direction, with the lens wide open, the film captures their flare.

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Monument Valley, Navaho Nation
4 November 2005
Pentax 6×7, 55mm f/3.5, 90 minutes
Kodak E200 +1 stop push

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