Lunacy At It’s Finest

People at times suspect I’m struck with bouts of lunacy.  Occasionally they might be correct.  On some of those occasions I was with the Casper Photography Association.  When that occurred I knew I was not alone with bouts of lunacy. Maybe this could be called mass lunacy. In our defense we were simply doing what photographers do, and it might have seemed to others that lunacy periodically prevailed.

If lunacy included dragging myself out of a warm bed long before sunrise while it was still totally black outside, stars bright and the air smelling damp from the night, then count me guilty but not repentant.  Include me as crazy for driving awful distances while sipping hot coffee from a mug, hearing mostly silence except for the quiet rumble of the car engine and the sleepy talk of other camera club members in the car who were participating in this madness, but excited none the less.  Following blindly the other car also loaded with nutty photographers, I had no idea of where we were going but we were on a Utah highway outside of Moab.  We were climbing towards some distant high buttes and bluffs in Canyonlands National Park.  Way off in the east a slight lightening of the sky was just barely noticeable if one looked closely.  I knew morning was arriving sometime.  Maybe that would shine some light on this wacky trip.  Fruitcake or not,  I did have a name as to where this loony club was going this early morning, “Mesa Arch”.

Arriving at the parking lot, there were a number of vehicles already parked.  I kinda figured some of their drivers must be napping waiting for sunrise.  With the trail barely visible, no one would be unhinged enough to be out hiking at this early time of the morning except nutcases like us.

No longer driving on autopilot, I staggered out of the car. The other club members had already begun the trek up the narrow trail.  Strapped around my head was a lamp which really didn’t shine brightly enough as the battery was dying.  My dim beam matched my dim brain this early in the morning.  The light didn’t really brighten the trail causing me to stumble over unseen rocks, holes, and other camouflaged obstacles reaching out to trip me.  I continued to scurry along bumping my toes and knees as I stepped around large boulders and Juniper branches which scratched my arms as they stretched out to grab me.

Tasting the dust kicked up by other club members, I scrambled along that half hidden trail as best I could, using my dim lamp. Silence was in the air as it was still too early for even the birds to sing or crickets to chirp.  They were smart enough to still be in bed. Packing a camera and monopod, I hurried along the trail trying to arrive in one piece. I wasn’t concerned about finding my way back, so I didn’t need to drop bread crumbs as the trail was well used and marked.

Slowly the sky began to lighten and show only a hint of pinkness.  The air started to lose the  pale bluish lavender hue of predawn. The trail was becoming more visible and easier to follow. A few birds were starting their morning song.  I could travel faster now.  I visualized just the right place to catch the first rays of the rising sun breaking through the frame of that rocky arch which been there for thousands and maybe millions of years.  Of course, I am in an awful rush as the arch just might disappear before I arrive and then I would miss the picture.

I smelled the brown powder of dirt hanging in the air as others ahead of me stomped along the trail. I figured that dust must be from one or two of the other club members just ahead of me.  How could anyone else beat us to this lonely outpost of rock?  We should arrive early enough to find a great spot even if a few others rolled in a little earlier than we did. My normal big smile grew larger with thoughts of a photo masterpiece.

Almost there.  Hey!! Hold on!  Did I see lights ahead of us?  Maybe one or two beat us there, but I was sure we were one of the earliest arrivals.  Just one more bend in the trail.  Rounding it, I spied what was supposed to be our “semi-private” arch to photograph.   There must have been twenty people already lined up in front of Mesa Arch elbow to elbow, tripods covering the entire front side of the arch. How could that many crazies beat us here?  What a bunch of lunatics!!  This isn’t the way I had visualized my photo opportunity.  Could I squirm into a spot between all those people?  My smile dimmed tremendously.

Photo by Lolena Shambaugh

Maybe I should run down there and roll myself into them like a human bowling ball and knock them all over. Might even get a strike! Then I’d have my pick of spots in front of the arch.  I doubted that would do any good, though, as they’d just jump back up and hog more space and punch me out.  Besides I could see the Utah papers, “Casper photographer arrested for being a human bowling ball. 20 other photographers pound him.”

Instead, I casually strolled to the arch, elbowed my way in where I spotted a slight opening at the left end of the mass of tripods behind each of which was a person.  To my left was a large bush with some sort of thorns which tore into my hands as I squirmed into the horizontal line of other nutcases.  On my right was a gentleman with his Nikon on a Manford tripod.  He politely allowed me to cuddle up next to the bush as he acknowledged my presence with an engaging smile and a warm hello with an accent I was familiar with but couldn’t place.  Maybe British or Australian.  I wasn’t sure.

I was most intrigued by a gentleman on down to my right.  His clothes were tattered.  He hadn’t shaved in days or more. On his head sat a ragged hunter orange hat with warm fuzzy flaps.  My son called the one I once owned, my Elmer Fudd hat.  The old guy’s tripod must have weighed 10 pounds and was a relic of the 80’s.    As we arrived, he swore with more crude words than I knew the meaning, “(Expletives deleted), where did all these (more expletives deleted) people come from?”  He echoed my thoughts, but I was too shy to actually say those kind of words out loud. I immediately noticed he used an old Pentax k-1000 which was the type I used At East Jr. High when I taught photography in the 90’s. He made an impression on me not by just his demeanor, but  by that Pentax.  Wish I would have met him years ago.  However, once I was lined up ready to do some photography, he pretty much ignored all of us and just mumbled unintelligent things under his breath.  He was great fun!!  Wish he was from Casper.  He’d have made a great addition to the photo club.

Using a monopod I could carefully keep my arms within my body space as to not invade any one else’s area including the thorny bush on my left.  The monopod has one leg, not three. I didn’t have to spread out. Tripods with their three legs meant using more space and taking more time to set up. Some type of support was necessary as a longer exposure in the dim light of dawn was necessary.  I was in a hurry so my monopod went up quickly.  I could then get to what this lunatic came for….. Mesa Arch pictures. I hurriedly set up ready to click and jealously began to strategize my composition of the arch.  I was ready to shoot.  I didn’t want the others who arrived earlier than I did to take all the pictures and leave me without any to take.

The sky slowly became lighter.  The photographers began to speculate as to exactly where the sun would rise in the eastern distance.  The man with the engaging smile, friendly demeanor, and accent next to me on the right pulled out his black iPhone and punched the buttons for the Helios app.  As I glanced over his shoulder, I saw that it showed the exact positions the sun would be in at any particular time during the day including sunrise. I hadn’t known there was an app for that.  I mentally told myself I should check that out after I went home.

Before the sun actually came up the photographers were busily clicking their shutters in hopes of getting the red glow which so famously adorns this particular arch, and, yes, I began to notice and shoot, too.  I had no idea of which f/stop and shutter combination to use.  I was crazy enough to use the auto exposure and, of course, my pictures came up dark on the digital screen. Typical photo for me.

I began to hear murmurs as some of the folks began mentioning how they had their cameras set. Listening to their advice, especially the old guy in the Elmer Fudd hat, I changed to manual exposure and made the necessary adjustments. Then I merrily clicked away.  I heard the sweetest sound you could imagine…. the sound of the camera shutter….  The digital screen now began to register much better exposures.  It pays to listen to the mumblings of a fellow loony using a Pentax.

Mesa Arch at sunrise with the famous red glow

As the sun began to rise over the distant mountains,  I continued to click, redirect the composition, and click again. I zoomed, used wide angle and whatever re-framing I desired to obtain what I hoped would be an award winner.  Finally, there was too much sunlight. The red glow on the arch was more difficult to photograph. Most photographers slowly began to pack up and walk back down the trail.  Some diehards remained.  Most of our group were leaving, so I followed them down the now well-lighted trail making re-acquaintance with the same rocks and shrubs that attacked me on the way up.  This time I could avoid most of them.

My thoughts were still on the magnificent arch I had spent the early morning hiking to and photographing.  It was pretty cool.  I know now I wasn’t early enough to get the best photo spot.  The old adage of the early bird gets the worm had new meaning.  Even though I had not arrived earlier,  I still felt that this had been a case of lunacy at it’s finest.

Please visit my web site at for Canyonlands and Arches photography.  Please skip back through the other galleries also.

In addition check out my other store at

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