John set the alarm for 3:30am. Of course, that means that my body wakes me up at 3:15am. To some people this may seem strange, but it’s normal for me. So, I awoke at 3:15am and dressed for my sunrise photo shoot at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. It takes 2 hours to get there from my home in Grand Junction, Colorado. It wasn’t super cold on this early morning in late April, but it was definitely still dark when we hit the road. Let’s just say The Bookcliffs were relatively uninteresting at this time of the morning, and we usually admire them as we drive by. Yep, the desert looks different on a dark, moonless night. Keepin’ it between the lines is the main task at hand anyway.
As we made our way around one of the last curves on Hwy 313, a sliver of a moon rose from the eastern horizon to join the planets Saturn and Mars in the pre-dawn sky. Oh, how I wanted to stop and photograph this beautiful scene, but I knew if I did, I would never make it to my pre-determined location, which was Mesa Arch. We had a few more minutes to go before we arrived there, and I didn’t feel like I could dilly-dally. I’m a big believer in doing whatever you set out to do – to stick to the plan – regardless of whatever the conditions seem to dictate. By following this piece of advice, I’ve been surprised more than once at the outcome, despite often contrary conditions. Nevertheless, in retrospect, I kind of wish I would have stopped for this because it was a remarkable scene with the sliver of moon tipped upside down in a sky growing pink with dawn and the two planets placed just slightly to the upper right of the moon in the indigo sky above. This whole scene disappeared as soon as it got light enough, which was only a few minutes later.
MESA ARCH, CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
We arrived at Mesa Arch to find the entire parking lot already full, except for one parking space. It makes me think that someone had decided that the cloud cover was too dense, and therefore, this sunrise was probably not worth waiting for. You can do this if you live close by – or you’re camping or staying in Moab for a few days and figure you can always come back tomorrow or the next day. I would say I’m close to that situation, but it does take me two hours to get there from my home, so that sometimes deters me and chances are, I won’t want to get up at 3:15 another morning any time soon. So, I lucked out and got a parking space. I would say the parking lot holds about 30 cars total. If each car holds two people, you can figure out the approximate size of the crowd for this sunrise location on a Thursday morning in late April.
The hike to Mesa Arch from the parking lot is only about a quarter of a mile, so not long or hard at all. The first thing that caught my eye when rounding the last curve to the arch was the crowd standing around with cameras in hand and on tripods, waiting for sunrise. The cellphone pic I’ve included here shows the crowd waiting. For those people who have seen the pictures of this sunrise scene and had the feeling that when you’re there, you’re out in the desert alone, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you’ll never be alone at a Mesa Arch sunrise. My friend and I went out here once in January a couple years ago and had a wonderful time once everyone was gone, but we intentionally got there after sunrise.
The crowd was friendly enough. Some jostling for place goes on, but most people are considerate. The sun rises towards the north end of the arch this time of year. It will move even further north over the next couple months. I got a place in the line right behind a bush where no one else wanted to stand. To my right, a clutch of professional photographers was squatted down low with their cameras on short tripods. One had a screen that was about the size of an iPad in which he was able to more clearly view the scene his lens was trained on. I don’t spend a lot of time in groups with other photographers, so I don’t know if this is the newest technology, or whether it’s just something this guy likes to do. It’s the first time I’ve seen it. Everyone’s got their thing.
To my left and sort of in the middle of the crowd, were mostly tourists, who were shooting handheld with their Nikons, Cannons, or cellphones. And then at the end of the line were a few other pros with fancy ultralight, carbon-fiber tripods set up. They got off a few quick shots at sunrise and then bailed on that rock. When the sun rose high enough in the sky to be over the top of the arch, I did the same. The place was cleared out about 20 minutes after sunrise. By the time I got to the parking lot, it was only about half full. People were in their campers making breakfast.
DEADHORSE POINT STATE PARK
We hit the road and headed over to Deadhorse Point State Park. It’s been a few years since I decided to stop there. In fact, it’s been so long that I realized I didn’t even remember some of the stuff about that point, such as the fact that there is a large, covered patio, or pergola, you can stand under while you’re there. It’s so odd that I didn’t remember that from before. It almost made me think that it was new, but probably not. There’s also a large deck you can stand on at the end of the point. I didn’t remember that from before either. Standing on this helps to get the best view of the gooseneck bend in the river right there. And the view is breathtaking! The best views face southwest from the viewing deck, but the views on the east side are also stunning, with spectacular views of the mountains and even some potash evaporation pools. This is more interesting than it sounds. As the summer progresses, the pools turn colors of turquoise, blue and green as the water evaporates. At the end of April, the pools were still white, but eye catching, nonetheless.
One of the best things about this location is how accessible it is. It’s paved all the way from the parking lot to the point so a person in a wheelchair can take in this view as easily as anyone. On the way out of the park, we stopped at The Visitor’s Center, which has a lovely short, paved loop trail as well.
There are a couple of campgrounds at this park, and a couple of areas where you can rent a yurt for the night. Day use fee is $20 per vehicle for up to eight people. We arrived about 7:30am, and there was someone there to take our money already. We spent about an hour in this park, and I feel the view alone is worth the price of admission. If you’re into astronomy, or astrophotography, Deadhorse Point State Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park. Deadhorse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the country, day or night, and with good reason.
CANYON STEAK & WAFFLE HOUSE
So, after being on the road for three hours, and spending another two hours traipsing around the desert with my camera, I was ready for breakfast! We drove the 32 miles into Moab and had breakfast at Canyon Steak & Waffle House. We had eaten at this location before, but it was a different place back then. The restaurant in its current iteration opened in 2020. Can you imagine trying to start a restaurant just as the Covid pandemic hit? Oh my! Anyway, it survived, and it looks like it’s maybe an old Denny’s or some other kind of chain breakfast diner, but the retro vibe is understated. Old Beatles music played quietly in the background, but the place was hoppin’! We had to wait a few minutes to be seated. While we were waiting, John made the acquaintance of a couple of guys visiting from Switzerland.
They were just in Moab for the night and had visited Arches National Park the day before. They weren’t sure if they wanted to visit Canyonlands, thinking it might just be like Arches. John assured them that except for Arches and Canyonlands both being in the desert, they are quite different in views. I’m not sure if he successfully convinced them to make the stop, but I would add that not only are Arches and Canyonlands very different in views and geology, but in vibe as well. If you’re so close, why not stop at both if you can? Bear in mind that you must have reservations to enter Arches National Park in the summer now. Canyonlands still allows you to enter without reservations, but there are signs outside the entrance that tell you how long the wait is to get in from where you are parked, or idling in line to enter. But I digress.
About the food at Canyon Steak & Waffle House. I ordered a Belgian Waffle Breakfast with the eggs scrambled and the bacon crispy. It was all good, but I must tell you, the waffle was to. Die. For. Light and airy. They give you plenty of whipped butter on top that you can smear around and a small serving of syrup. I usually whine if I don’t get enough syrup, but this time, I decided to try something different. I drizzled the syrup over it, and then cut it into quarters. I picked up the quarters like you would if you were eating a croissant or a piece of pie or something. I was glad I hadn’t over-soaked it with syrup because it held together in my hand very well. Even the last quarter. I could taste the creamy butter and the presence of the sweet cream used to make the waffles was mmm mmm good. The bacon was almost crispy enough for me. I don’t like bacon that snaps back at me or is too chewy. This met those criteria. I didn’t eat the eggs as I’m not a big fan of eggs and they didn’t look as much scrambled as simply fried and folded over one another. When asked how I’d like my eggs, I most often answer “absent.”
Overall, I think the food at this place was better than the service. The service was slow, we did a lot of waiting, and we didn’t get our second cup of coffee without asking for it (nicely.) I don’t blame the wait staff for this. I think they were simply slammed and under-staffed when we arrived.
One of my first jobs as a young woman was working for Denny’s. They opened a new store in my hometown, and I was one of about 300 applicants that showed up there for an interview before they opened. I smiled a lot and got hired. We went through three days of intense training about how to serve food, what kind of food we served, and all kinds of other things. We got a quick training on how to be a professional wait person. In those days, I was called a waitress of course. One of the things I learned was that Denny’s served Farmer Brothers coffee. This was a matter of pride. Farmer Brothers is only served at the best restaurants. Canyon Steak & Waffle House serves Farmer Brothers coffee.