Expectations & Best Laid Plans

By Jeff Insel

I’ll preface this blog by letting you know that last March, while on an Arizona Highways PhotoScapes workshop called Best of the West, one of our locations was Monument Valley and planned for the possibility of photographing one of the twice annual Mitten Shadow events that occur in March and September each year. To shorten this story, we got the beginnings of the shadow of the West Mitten moving towards the East Mitten, got almost ½ way up before the clouds moved in preventing the completion of the shadow onto the East Mitten. Pretty disappointing as this was our only chance during this workshop. (insert MV Pano for banner photo)

So, for six months I’ve been planning my return to Monument Valley and another chance to get the elusive Mitten shadow. I could tell that the weather forecast did not look favorable having an active monsoon season in Arizona this year but there’s always the chance of a window at just the right time happening. So I drove up on Monday morning the 12th of September (this shadow opportunity was to happen Sept 11-14).

Monument Valley is worth the visit any time of year in any kind of weather. It’s got a spiritual feel to it and the monuments and vistas are one of a kind. The added monsoon clouds just enhanced the experience.


Monday afternoon I found the spot I hoped to photograph from about 2 hours before the event might take place. The moving clouds provided lots of photographic opportunities of the Mittens and Merrick Butte, as well as Sentinal Butte just to the West. During the wait I spoke with several other photographers taking in the scene, all but one was aware of the Mitten shadow event. Seemed most of the folks gathered around were just tourists waiting for a wonderful sunset.

As the time for the sun to be at the right angle to create the shadow, it gave us a short tease with the shadow just starting to move from the West Mitten – for about 3-4 minutes before the heavy, large clouds obscured the sun.  It was disappointing to not realize the expectation once again, but overall, with the cloud formations throughout the day I didn’t feel bad for long. If I hadn’t come up I wouldn’t have had the photographic opportunities that I got during the day. Before packing up my camera and tripod a young woman came along and showed me her photo of the Mitten shadow taken Sunday, Sept 11 – turns out I was a day late. In a side note I ran into several friends up there as well, including some with the AHPS Hunt’s Mesa & Monument Valley workshop. (Insert Storm at MV & North Window B&W)

The next day, as I headed back to Phoenix, I decided to drive the Wupatki Nat’l Monument – Sunset Crater Nat’l Monument loop road off Hwy 89. The Crater area had sustained a lot of forest fire damage a couple months previous and I wanted to check it out. This turned out to be a very worthwhile detour – photos below. (Insert Wupatki NM IR and Burned Trees photos)

Jeff Insel is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes