East Mitten


I woke when the alarm went off at 3:15 a.m. with the goal of doing more star photography. A quick check of the night sky showed no visible stars. I'd say I was disappointed, but crawling back into the warm bed made up for that. Got out of bed again at 4:30 a.m. and still no stars but it was snowing. This was even better. Back to bed again.

I was dressed and ready to shoot by 6 a.m., only problem was that visibility looked like it might only be 100 feet. At first light I still couldn't see anything so I decided to just have breakfast and wait it out, since I wasn't going to leave Monument Valley when there was a chance to capture some snow photos.

A Yucca plant in Monument Valley, Ariz., during a mid December snow.
Yucca plant in Monument Valley.
Finally went out around 8 a.m. and while visibility was still limited, I was able to shoot some detail shots. For a brief moment I thought I would get a break when the bottom of Mitchell Butte was visible, but the fog quickly settled back in. After two hours I returned to the hotel, checked out and waited patiently in the lobby.

The fog clears to reveal Merrick Butte in Monument Valley, Ariz.
The fog clears to reveal Merrick Butte.
First glimpse of the Merrick Butte through the lobby window came around 11 a.m., so I grabbed my gear and quickly ran to get in position. Visibility came and went, first revealing most of Michell Butte, but want really caught my attention was when I started catching glimpses of just the top portion of the West Mitten.

The West and East Mitten become visible as the fog clears after a mid December snow in Monument Valley, Ariz.
West Mitten and East Mitten.
It was constant shooting for the next hour or so as the fog came and went and more of more of the valley came into view. As the wind picked up it wasn't long before most of the fog had cleared. I knew I had about a five hour drive ahead and figured it was about time I got on the road.

Fog clears from Monument Valley after a mid December snow.
Mid December snow in Monument Valley.
During the drive south to Payson, Ariz., patches of blue began to appear in the sky and before I knew it there were these amazing cloud formations. I kept wanting to pull over and was desperately looking for something to put in the foreground. Finally I saw some interesting rock formations by the side of the road and thought they would make a good excuse to photograph the clouds. Those photos came out fine, but as I turned to head back to the car, I noticed the clouds that had been behind me were far more interesting, so I framed up a simple composition and made the final image of this trip.

Dramatic clouds in Arizona.

Hope you enjoyed joining me on this photographic adventure as I talked about planning the trip, the gear I was bringing and the daily updates while on the road. Check back after the holidays for posts on my first time shooting the stars and what I learned photographing in Upper Antelope Canyon and more.


Star photography over Monument Valley, Ariz.

Started today early, waking at 2 a.m. to begin taking star photographs. As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm staying at the Monument Valley View hotel, so I only had to go as far as my balcony to begin shooting. I struggled for about an hour, mostly with focus. I would shoot a half dozen photos and then look at the photos on my laptop. A couple are usable, but far from what I'm hoping to do tonight.

Ended up laying back down and woke again 5:45 a.m. Tried a few more photos from the balcony, but again it just wasn't working out, so I gathered all my gear, bundled up and headed out in search of the hiking trail which starts about a quarter mile from the hotel.

West and East Mittens at sunrise.
West and East Mittens at sunrise.
As the sun began to rise, I found a nice vantage point to photograph the East and West Mittens. As the morning light began to fill the sky, I started feeling better about the photos I was taking. Around 8 a.m. when the sun was a bit higher, I took advantage of the golden light and photographed Mitchell Butte, including some nice sand patterns in the foreground, accentuated by the low light skimming across.

Gray Whiskers, left, and Mitchell Butte in early morning light.
Gray Whiskers, left, and Mitchell Butte in early morning light.
Ate some breakfast and then drove 22 miles to Mexican Hat, Utah, to photograph a sombrero-shaped rock outcropping that gave the town its name. Wasn't quite what I expected, but since the sun was having trouble breaking out all day and the light was very flat, it provided a distraction. I also decided to take a break and check out the Goulding's Trading Post Museum located at Goulding's Lodge.  Director John Ford and actor John Wayne were frequent visitors when filming westerns, such as 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' in Monument Valley.

Horses pass in front of the Totem Pole, right, and Yei Bi Chei.
Horses pass in front of the Totem Pole, right, and Yei Bi Chei.
When I finally figured I better get back to taking pictures, I drove the 17 mile loop again, only this time I stopped often and tried my best to make some photos despite the light not cooperating. Horses are left to graze throughout the valley and as I was photographing the Totem Pole I just happened to see some  approaching from the distance. I had tried to photograph horses yesterday and earlier today, but this time it worked out.

West Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick Butte in afternoon light.
West Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick Butte in afternoon light.
Finally around 3:30 p.m. the sky began to clear and the sun started to light up the valley. It was then that I started shooting like crazy, but also knew I still had to drive about six miles to get to a point where I could capture the sun hitting the West Mitten Butte. Stopped a few times and captured both the West and East Mittens as they just lit up. Ended the day at about the same location I was in when shooting the sunrise.

Old tree oversees Monument Valley.
Old tree overlooking Monument Valley.
Finally around 5 p.m., I made my way back to my room and quickly set up to shoot a time lapse with the D700 and a 24-70mm pointed at the West Mitten which still had some light on it. Set the interval timer to take a shot every five seconds and stopped it when the sun went down.

Another good day. More star photography, only tonight I'm going to head out very early in the morning to hike down into the valley and away from the hotel. Should be darker and maybe easier to focus if I'm closer.