Monument Valley by moonlight

Big Dipper Above Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona border

After a successful and satisfying week co-leading Don Smith’s Arches/Canyonlands workshop, Don and I detoured to Monument Valley on our way home. The evening of our arrival we hired a guide to take us to Teardrop Arch at sunset, but with cloudless skies and a 14+ hour drive home to Central California, we decided to pass on a sunrise shoot that was unlikely to yield anything the world hadn’t seen before. Instead, we rose at 4:30 to photograph Monument Valley by moonlight.

Monument Valley is part of the Navajo Nation; access to pretty much any location off the main road or hotel grounds requires a Navajo guide. Unable to explore, Don and I trekked, still bleary-eyed, to the vista platform adjacent to the hotel restaurant, a hike of at least 150 feet from our room (not to mention a 10 foot elevation gain).

The first thing I saw from the platform was the Big Dipper, to the left of the Mittens, but not so far left that I wouldn’t be able to use it in a composition. I do so much moonlight photography that exposure and focus are routine, so almost all of my time was spent cycling through a variety of horizontal and vertical compositions covered the entire scene and most of the focal range of my 24-105 lens.

Whether it’s extreme weather, a strenuous hike, or sleep deprivation, I find it interesting how frequently the most memorable shoots result from the most difficult conditions. It wasn’t easy to get out of bed at 4:30 a.m., but the experience that followed was one of my most memorable in a long time, and surely had lots to do with the drive home being much better than we expected.

Tuba City, Flagstaff, Kingman, Needles, Barstow, Tehachapi, Bakersfield, Kettleman City, Santa Nella…. Home!

4 Comments on “Monument Valley by moonlight

    • ISO 400, f4, 30 seconds. Your results will vary depending on the size of the moon, the clarity of the sky, and the reflectivity of your subjects.

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