Mar 24 2016
The Arizona Republic
I’m sure other places on Earth have as consistently beautiful sunsets as Arizona but none come to mind.
Actually, I’m only saying that to be diplomatic. I don’t believe it for a second. Our sunsets are unparalleled. They are complex, lavish and scandalous affairs. No place can match us for daily sky fire. Arizona sunsets rule!
The sun goes down in Arizona like it does everywhere else but it does not go quietly. Our sunsets are a fiesta of explosive color and reckless light. We have all seen these brazen, dragon-breath twilights.
Columns of clouds go up in flames, spears of sunshine splinter, an entire horizon glows like someone left the door open to a nuclear-reactor core. Mountaintops turn purple, saguaros rise like lean shadow giants and golden light floods the land.
Amid this bloody revolution, a feeling of utter serenity descends. Despite the chaos, it is a peaceful quiet time. Day is done, but it ended with a flourish.
There are, of course, scientific reasons for the gaudy displays we are privy to on a regular basis. Pollution and humidity are factors. High clouds common to our arid climate create the perfect reflectors for intense colors. And our landscape — bristling with mountains, tall cactus and soaring rock formations — adds dramatic textures and silhouettes.
But science only gets you so far. You don’t have to understand why sunset happens. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the show. Here are tips from top photographers to help you get the best shot.
The most popular sunset-viewing spot in Sedona is atop Airport Mesa, with hordes of tourists gathering in the slanted light of late afternoon, cameras at the ready.
But Mike Koopsen prefers to set up at Baby Bell and incorporate distinctive Cathedral Rock in the shot. Baby Bell is a small red sandstone formation just north of Bell Rock and can be reached by a 10-minute hike from the Courthouse Vista parking lot.
“You don’t have to climb to the top to get the best photo opportunities, but you need to be on either the west or northwest side of Baby Bell to get the best silhouette views of Cathedral Rock,” Koopsen says.
Mike Buchheit, a longtime resident at Grand Canyon, has seen his share of amazing sunsets. His favorite viewing spots are Mohave Point and Navajo Point on the South Rim and Cape Royal on the North Rim.
“After shooting the Canyon for 20 years, I’m always looking for something novel. That usually comes in the form of dramatic cloud play,” Buchheit says. “Towering clouds, curtains of distant rain, lightning streaks or rainbows offer sure-fire ways to help tell a story — the hallmark of every great photograph.”
Bob Miller of Chandler travels the state as a photographer, always keeping an eye aimed at the sky. Locally, he likes to shoot the Superstitions from Lost Dutchman State Park at dusk, using the rugged mountains as reflectors, or from Gold Canyon.
Miller has these tips for novice shutterbugs: “Shoot with a tripod. Get there early to find a nice composition. Look behind you often — that might be where the real color is. Stay up to 30 minutes after sunset. Often the real show begins after the sun is over the horizon. Bring a folding chair and enjoy.”
San Tan Mountains
When it comes to sunsets, Don Lawrence doesn’t have a favorite location so much as a type.
“Saguaros and sunsets are iconic to Arizona so I look for them while out on my travels,” Lawrence says. “During the week, I frequent San Tan Mountain Regional Park as it’s close to my house and a trip through helps me unwind after the workday.”
There is no end to great spots to witness one of Arizona’s breath-snatching sunsets, from the cliff-side seat of Gates Pass in Tucson to the high perch overlooking Horseshoe Bend in Page to just about anywhere on the shore of Lake Havasu.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better view than from my back porch in the Verde Valley when the sun gouges a neon hole in a billowy stack of monsoon clouds sending streamers of vivid colors in all directions before slipping beyond the brow of Mingus Mountain.
Some days Arizona’s beauty is delivered right to our door.
This article originally appeared in The Arizona Republic.