Photographing Arches National Park-Courthouse Wash

by | September 6, 2011

© Bret EdgeThe Grand Circle encompasses the largest concentration of spectacular national parks and monuments found anywhere in America. It is a region of diverse landscapes and extreme beauty, all connected by a network of scenic backroads. Arches National Park isn’t the largest park in this region but it’s certainly one of the most scenic, with views that stretch from the high desert to snow capped mountain peaks framed within sandstone windows. It’s a place where it’s easy to make stunning photographs—if you know where to go and when to be there.

Delicate Arch is certainly deserved of its status as an icon and popularity with nature photographers. It is so well associated with Utah that it appears on our state line signs and our license plates! But, there are other locations within Arches NP that provide photographers with tremendous opportunities for making images and even a bit of solitude.

One such location is Courthouse Wash. A perennial creek flows through Courthouse Wash, giving life to a thriving riparian community that includes ample wildlife, stately cottonwood trees and a variety of colorful spring wildflowers. My favorite season to photograph Courthouse Wash is autumn, when the cottonwoods and single leaf ash turn brilliant yellow.

A hike through Courthouse Wash provides the adventurous photographer with countless opportunities to create unique images of intimate landscapes. Look for sandstone ledges where the small creek gently cascades downstream, eventually reaching the Colorado River. In autumn, fallen cottonwood leaves land quietly on red rock and damp mud. Spring brings a bounty of wildflowers, including showy yellow mules ear and vibrant red Indian paintbrush. Towering cliffs surround most of Courthouse Wash, making it possible to photograph reflections in spring and early summer when the water level is higher.

Courthouse Wash © Bret Edge

There are two access points for Courthouse Wash. The first is right off Hwy. 191 about 2 miles north of Moab. Here you will find a new, paved parking area with interpretive signs next to the bike path on the east side of the highway. At this trailhead you’ll also find some interesting petroglyphs and pictographs on a cliff adjacent to and just south of the wash. The second access point is just past the bridge over Courthouse Wash in Arches National Park, not far past the Courthouse Towers area.

There are faint user trails in the wash, but for the most part you are left to follow the creek and cross when necessary. You may occasionally step into quicksand, though it isn’t the Hollywood man-eating variety. At most, you might lose a shoe.

I find a variety of lenses to be useful in Courthouse Wash. I’ve used lenses ranging from wide angles to moderate telephotos to create compelling images. A polarizing filter will help reduce reflections on foliage and saturate colors. A graduated neutral density filter or exposure blending techniques are likely to be needed for wide angle scenic compositions as the dynamic range is quite extreme at sunrise and sunset.

I hope you’ll take the time to visit Courthouse Wash on your next visit to Arches National Park. And, if you’d like to learn of other great locations to photograph at Arches, check out my new e-book, The Essential Guide to Photographing Arches National Park.

Autumn tree © Bret Edge

The Essential Guide to Photographing Arches National Park by Bret Edge

The Essential Guide to Photographing Arches National Park Photography eBook by Bret Edge

If you’d like to learn of other great locations to photograph at Arches check out Bret’s new photography eBook: The Essential Guide to Photographing Arches National Park—a 31-page, 10.7 MB pdf available for sale in the NatureScapes Store.

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