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Trip Report: Grand Canyon

October 13, 2009

I finally had enough time between projects to escape for a few days. Melissa and I packed up the Man Van with camping, photography and baby gear and headed south to my home state of Arizona.  This would be Jackson’s first real camping trip.  By that, I mean we would all be sleeping in a tent rather than a motor home.  RV’ers call parking their rigs in a campground “camping” but I call it “not in any way camping”.  If you have hot running water, your own toilet and a refrigerator you are NOT camping.  But I digress.

We arrived safely at the Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park and I went about setting up the tent, airing up the mattress and unrolling sleeping bags.  I’m OCD about setting up the tent with such a taut pitch that a quarter bounced off the rainfly would become a deadly weapon.  After staking and re-staking the tent a few times I finally achieved the correct taut-ness.  I then set out to photograph sunset while Melissa stayed behind with the Adventure Baby.  The weather report called for wind.  Every day, my least favorite thing in the world – wind.  I had hoped the meteorologists would be wrong but unfortunately, they were not.  Once at the canyon rim the wind blew not up and out of the Canyon but across the plateau and into it, making standing on the edge of a cliff an iffy proposition.  Undeterred, I set up my tripod on the edge of a cliff to make a sunset image whose pastel sky and soft light belie the 50 MPH gusts I had to work around when depressing the shutter button.  After sunset I headed back to camp for some much needed rest.

Sunset, Grand Canyon

Sunset, Grand Canyon

Fortunately our campsite was well positioned and though we could hear the wind tearing through the tall ponderosa pine treetops we felt nary a breeze coming through the tent mesh.  I slept through my alarm for sunrise and awoke to the still present wind and a sky full of dull gray clouds.  Today we planned to hike the 8 mile section of Rim Trail from Bright Angel Lodge to Hermit’s Rest.

We arrived at the lodge and did some souvenir shopping.  As with the previous day the incessant wind was ripping along the canyon rim.  We stuffed our packs with hiking necessities only to realize that the only person on Earth who hates the wind more than me is Jackson.  The dust was swirling all about and we didn’t want the little dude to end up with a mouth or nose full of the stuff, so we opted for taking a drive to visit some of the viewpoints.

After the drive we returned to camp and I dropped off Melissa and Jackson, then set out for another sunset.  I went to Grandview as it was one of the more impressive viewpoints we found on our afternoon drive.  I hiked down the trail a bit, found another sketchy rock outcropping and set up on it for a sunset I hoped would materialize out of the gray sky.  Fortunately, it did.  The wind was still howling, causing the clouds to move quickly through the sky.  I watched in awe as beams of sunlight broke through the clouds to illuminate Vishnu Temple to the east.  A man with a tripod is apparently some kind of freak show to foreign tourists.  I heard someone speaking what sounded like gibberish behind me and turned around to find a Frenchman standing WAY too close with his point & shoot camera aimed over my shoulder.  Behind him were several other foreigners who had wandered out onto my perch, apparently unaware that there are a few other spots at Grandview with an equally impressive view and more room.

Vishnu Temple

Vishnu Temple

Soon after the canyon fell into shade the tourists disappeared but I remained.  I’ve learned to love the soft illumination of civil twilight and was hopeful the western canyon would showcase this lovely light.  It did, and it brought with it one of the most apocalyptic cloud displays I’ve ever photographed.  I’m really, really glad I stayed.

Apocalyptic Sky

Apocalyptic Sky

Back at camp we decided not to cook dinner in the wind.  The menu at the restaurant at the Bright Angel Lodge looked appetizing and the thought of sitting inside a real structure, out of the wind, was also pleasant.  Melissa’s fajitas were flavorful.  My Mexican style chicken dish wasn’t.  Actually, it wasn’t even fully cooked.  Not wanting to ruin the trip with Salmonella I sent it back.  The second attempt didn’t fare any better.  I sent it back and shared the small fajita plate my wife was kind enough to split with me.

The next morning I got up for sunrise and the entire sky was gray.  So, I did what any good nature photographer worth his salt would do – I went back to bed.  When I awoke a few hours later the sky was still flat gray.  I’m certain I didn’t miss anything.

We spent the day doing some research for a project I’m working on (can’t escape the projects) and I ended up photographing sunset at Yavapai Point.  Around mid-day the clouds started to dissipate and by sunset, they were gone.  Entirely gone.  Just blank blue sky above the canyon which does not bode well for photography here.  Melissa and Jackson braved the cold wind to hang out with me while I made a few images.  The only image worth keeping was made in the soft civil twilight looking west with Plateau Point far below and Bright Angel Canyon climbing up the North Rim.

Sunset, Yavapai Point

Sunset, Yavapai Point

The following day we packed up and headed to Flagstaff to escape the wind.  And we needed showers.  We made it out to Wupatki National Monument for sunset one evening.  The ruins here are some of the most impressive in the Four Corners region.  Three story tall Wukoki Ruin is built atop a sandstone outcrop and lords over the landscape around it.  In the distance, the San Francisco Peaks reach high into the Arizona sky, providing an alpine contrast to the red desert.

Sunset, Wukoki Ruin

Sunset, Wukoki Ruin

Reality beckoned and we had to return home the following day.  It was a short but productive trip.  We didn’t get to do the hike I had hoped to do but we will return.  With any luck our next visit will be wind free!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2009 8:26 pm

    Wow! That third mage is a KILLER! You must have been tripping while taking that shot. Great stuff.

    • October 27, 2009 11:14 am

      Thanks, Younes! With the wind, darkness falling and those crazy clouds it felt very much like the end of the world was near.

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