The Sunset Wars: Two National Parks and Then There Were More

The deserts are noted for creating some of the most colorful real life art works of nature.

Arizona is renowned for its spectacular sunsets and sunrises. Nowhere else in the world can claim such brilliant and colorful sunsets with vibrant colors and a dramatic landscape to match.

Sunset near Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunset near Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sun goes down in Arizona like it does everywhere else but it does not go quietly. Mountaintops turn purple, saguaros rise like lean giants reaching ever higher, and golden light floods the land.

Amid this explosive color, a feeling of serenity descends. It is a peaceful quiet time. Day is done, but it ended with a flourish.

There are, of course, scientific reasons for these gaudy displays. High clouds common to arid regions create the perfect reflectors for intense colors. And the landscape—bursting with mountains, tall cactus, and soaring rock formations—adds dramatic textures and silhouettes.

Don't forget to turn around! Sunset near Casa Grande, Arizona (same location as previous photo) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t forget to turn around! Sunset near Casa Grande, Arizona (same location as previous photo) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Arizona sunsets are unparalleled. They are complex, lavish, and scandalous affairs. Arizona sunsets rule!

That’s what Saguaro National Park thought too and, a few weeks ago, they took off their gloves to prove it.

On their Instagram page, park personnel posted a dramatic picture of a golden sun peeking through the arms of a saguaro cactus and distant purple mountains with an ombre indigo sky streaked with peachy-colored clouds.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the caption they said “Did you know that Saguaro National Park has the best sunsets in the world?

This awesome national park is split into two distinct districts surrounding Tucson, one directly to the east of Tucson, the Rincon Mountain District, and one directly to the west, the Tucson Mountain District. It takes about 30 minutes to travel between the two.

Both sides of the park have scenic drives and a variety of hiking trails. You’ll witness spectacular sunsets in both the west and east park.

Sharlot Hart—the acting lead and supervisory ranger at Saguaro National Park—says other national parks were ready to disagree.

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turns out that Joshua Tree National Park  took a little offense at that and shot back with an invitation to a “sunset off.”

Thus, #ParkSunsetWars began.

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. The slow-growing Joshua tree, which graces much of the park’s desert ecosystem, is probably the most famous resident of the park.

Kristi Rugg is the Joshua Tree National Park’s media branch chief, and she was quite diplomatic about the sunset showdown.

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I think national parks have the best sunsets in the nation and Joshua Tree has some pretty spectacular ones,” she said.

Both Saguaro and Joshua Tree National Parks agree that the Sunset War has been a great way to show off the beauty of all national parks.

“We didn’t want it to be just all about us,” said Sharlot Hart.

“We wanted to bring the parks to people who can’t visit for, whatever reason that is, but we wanted the people to realize that these are the people’s parks.”

Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can see the amazing photos on Instagram and decide for yourself which park has the best sunset.

It wasn’t long before other parks joined in and started posting their own best sunset photos.

Now, you be the judge.

It turns out that I have some sunrise and sunset photos. It is my pleasure to bring you this assortment of pictures from varying Arizona locations and elsewhere.

Here are tips to help you get the best sunrise and sunset shot.

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.

Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.

—Ansel Adams

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