“Before we had airplanes and astronauts, we really thought that there was an actual place beyond the clouds, somewhere over the rainbow. There was an actual place, and we could go above the clouds and find it there.” ~Barbara Walters
Dark clouds boil across the horizon. A flock of ravens coughs out the last of their calls towards the oncoming storm and flies off towards the thinning blue horizon to the east. I’m in a “scenic” pull out on the side of the road Arches National Park, UT, and things are about to get ugly.
Thunder rolls down through the canyons, lightning spikes through the heavy air. A spattering of raindrops becomes a torrent. The rain falls so hard it stings my fingers. Tourists quickly flee for the shelter of their cars. Other photographers flee en masse, shielding precious lenses against the suddenly wasted day. I almost laugh- it’s practically a scene from an “Armageddon” style movie, without the inevitable end of the world, of course.
I make a hasty retreat to my trusty 4Runner, swing open the door. Using the running board to launch myself inside, I slam the door against the pelting rain. I take off the sunglasses I still have on my head, uselessly try to wipe off the droplets with my wet shirt. The rumble of cars pulling out of the lot gradually dies down as the others filter out back towards town, towards mouth watering burgers at Milt’s and a tasty microbrew at the Moab Brewery. It’s my decision, do I turn left onto road and follow the crowd out of of park? Or turn right and drive deeper?
The rain pelts the windshield so hard and fast that all I can see of the twisted road is a vague blur as the back and forth whine of wipers strains to keep up. Its a half an hour drive until I reach the signs for Balanced Rock. The white noise of the rain on the roof soothes, bringing on a Zen-like state where time doesn’t matter.
A beam of sun announces that the deep blue of the desert sky is reclaiming some of its’ territory. The rain recedes into the distance. I roll down the window. The clean scent of wet desert earth washes up through my nostrils and breezes into my lungs. Everything feels lighter. Cleaner, better. The clouds range high above to the southeast, piled up on top of each other. The sun shines down, reflecting through the water vapor. The smooth vibrant tones of a Rainbow form behind the rock. The car door swings open with a slight creak. Canon in hand the rainbow pulls me forward. The cracked red plain feels cool under my feet.
The rocky plain warms up in the sun. Rivers of water are dying quickly to rivulets, the cracks in the rock of the desert floor drinking up their life blood. Pools of vanishing water reflect the dramatic sky. I shoot for hours, barely noticing as the occasional car makes a hum in the distance – people slowly filtering back in to explore the park.
I reach the trailhead to Delicate Arch as the sun swings low down the horizon. The sandy trail is perfect. I throw my shoes into my backpack, swing it up onto my shoulders, nestle tripod into the notch of my right shoulder. Some of the tourists have ventured back into the park and I nod my way past surprised looks as I run barefoot up the trail past them. Bare toes digging deliciously into the wet sand soil, I book it up the trail towards Delicate Arch as the sun sets behind me.
The sun beats me up the trail. At the Arch a raven struts along the smooth golden red bowl below. The gold fades to yellow, then gray. The crowd sifts away. I’m left alone with a brilliant splash of stars and the dark silhouette of the rock surrounding me. I don’t have my timer for a long exposure to capture the stars, but that doesn’t matter now. Now is not the time for photos… I lay back into the rock, rest my head against the rough stone and soak in its’ warmth. I have my headlamp, my gear and my backpack. In a few hours, I’ll head back down, check in at the friendly little Rustic Inn. But now? I’m over the Rainbow… This is as good as it gets.