By Jim Chamberlain
The rain was coming down in buckets. The canvas roof of the open sided tour vehicle provided limited protection especially when the wind would blow. I watched waterfalls magically appear on the red cliffs above me. They cascaded down to the valley floor turning the red sand to dun colored mud. The truck unloaded us at a Petroglyph panel, and as I walked towards it, I looked down to see red mud snowshoes stuck to my sneakers. I turned to my guide and asked, “Are we really in Monument Valley?”
You have heard the expression “Just Wait 15 minutes and the weather will change.” This was very true during a recent Arizona Highways Photoscape to Monument Valley and Hunts Mesa. I have been to this iconic place several times. It was always clear blue sky, red rock monoliths, and warm sunshine. Mid-September is still Monsoon season in Arizona and the weather is unpredictable. I was quite pleased to see the rolling clouds and changing shadows that I experienced during my four days exploring this sacred land. Clear blue skies do not always make for great photographs.
Storm clouds caused a change in itinerary on my first night from Church Rock to Agathla Peak outside Kayenta. The sun managed to peak thru the overcast sky just at sunset to create excitement among the shutterbugs waiting diligently at their tripods. I was concerned that the trip the next day to Hunts Mesa would also have overcast skies that would render the two- and half-hour four-wheel drive adventure to get there a disappointment. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good and my luck held, and the sky was filled with wonderful, scattered clouds during my 18-hour visit.
The next day the weather improved, and beautiful blue sky dominated the valley with high puffy clouds. The last evening is when the rain and clouds arrived with thunder as a warning. The wind blew sideways, and it appeared that I would lose my last sunset opportunity of the trip. Just “Wait 15 minutes”, well more like an hour and the weather changed with some final beams of sunlight breaking thru to create rainbows that you could see from Goulding” Lodge, where I was staying. I like being lucky.
The changing weather gave me several opportunities to photograph the buttes and mesas in a different way than my previous encounters. Hunts Mesa was especially interesting as a beautiful cloudy sunset and warm scattered cloudy sunrise allowed me to capture images that had eluded me in previous trips to this isolated and remote viewpoint. The views from the Mesa are always spectacular but having clouds in the sky to reflect the rising and setting sun made the experience almost spiritual. El Capitan or Agathla Peak looks much better with clouds in the sky. Even the iconic Mittens when draped in a misty blanket of clouds with the sun’s rays filtering through created an opportunity for unique imagery. On the last stormy evening, I even captured a vertical rainbow seemingly sprouting out of Eagle Mesa.
Monument Valley must be on every Photographers wish list when visiting Arizona. Considering visiting during the Spring to see the beautiful vistas in the sunshine then come back in the late Summer when the thunderstorms pass thru create a different experience. Arizona Highways Photoscapes is going back to Monument Valley three times in 2023. Photographer Leroy De Jolie is leading those trips to his homeland in March, May, and September. I really enjoyed his cultural approach to photographing Navajoland. He may even bring his large format film camera to look through. It creates and image so sharp and detailed you will be envious.
You may have a different experience than I did but just wait 15 minutes, it will change.
Jim Chamberlain is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes