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Through the Grama

Monday, February 25th, 2013

For February at 6500′, it’s a warm day–about 40 degrees–and the sun makes it feel even warmer as we hike across the windswept grassland plateau.  Snow still blankets the north-facing slopes, but the rest of the ground is free of snow, soft, and slightly muddy in places.

Everywhere, almost literally, signs of elk abound; I have never seen so many turds and tracks in one place.  This small plateau must be great winter ground for them.  I haven’t seen (or felt) any invasive Drooping Brome (Cheat Grass) in my socks all day, only native Bouteloua (Grama Grass).  Here on the Colorado Plateau, where some areas have been grazed extensively, that must be one sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Through the Grama we hike, our heavy packs weighing us down more and more, until–finally–the east rim of the Grand Canyon reveals itself to us.


Last weekend, Jackson Frishman invited me to join him on a trip to visit the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers.  Jackson’s proposal was ambitious: nearly 40 miles of hiking in 2.5 days, with no water along the route (we had to carry our own water cache).  He introduced it to me as a hare-brained plan, and honestly that’s all he needed to say to get me on board.

Jackson told me he wanted to visit the confluence because the Grand Canyon Escalade–a proposed tourism development on the western edge of the Navajo Nation, which overlooks the confluence.  If the project passes, it would include a tram from the rim down to the Little Colorado River (read more about Escalade here, here, and here).  For me, it was a good time to familiarize myself with this area, learn a little more about the proposal, as well as to visit the Grand Canyon again; I began my backpacking life there, and the Grand Canyon evokes many special memories for me.

Reflected light in the Colorado River

On Friday night, we discussed the final plans over beers and enchiladas, and it was clear that the stress of planning the trip had turned into excitement for what lied ahead.  We started out on Saturday morning; our packs were weighed down with a couple of extra gallons of water for the return hike.  We dropped the water underneath a couple of stiff piñon boughs to keep it from freezing, as well as to keep it away from the ravens which were surely watching us.  As we got closer to the park service boundary with the Navajo Nation, we found an old hogan, with a missing west wall; the doorway of a Navajo hogan faces east to receive the morning sun and it’s good blessings, and when someone dies in a hogan they are carried out through a hole that has been knocked in the west wall, then the home is abandoned.

After several more miles, we crested a hill and scared a large herd of maybe 200 elk out of a drainage.  They must have known about a water source that we didn’t.  We watched the elk until they disappeared into the horizon and would see them several times over the next couple of days.   The final push to the east rim was tortuous; buttes on the north side of the Colorado River were visible, but they never seemed to get any closer.  However, finally, after what felt like hours we arrived at Cape Solitude.

little colorado river arizona

Solitude indeed.  We had not seen any other human footprints all day, and aside from a windbreak built from rocks, our campsite showed no sign of other humans at all.  In the second-most-visited national park, solitude can be tough to come by.  It’s a special feeling to have a piece of the Grand Canyon all to yourself.

We woke up to a windy but beautiful sunrise the next morning and hiked back to our water cache (thankfully untouched) from the day before.  After rehydrating, I was happy to hike to our second night’s camp, closer to our trailhead, but with another private view of the canyon’s rim.  Horned larks flitting through the sagebrush and elk were our only company.  The next morning Jackson and I returned to our cars, shared a couple of cold beers, and parted ways.

sunrise at the confluence of the colorado and little colorado rivers


We hiked through the Grama–through a healthy ecosystem–to a part of the Grand Canyon only a few people get to see.  Elk tracks went right up to the rim.  I wonder if they admire the view from time to time?  In my twentieth year of visiting the Grand Canyon, I still stand in awe of the vast landscape, and can’t help but wonder if some of that awe would be diminished if I could take a tram all the way to the bottom, or if–consequently–the elk tracks didn’t go all the way to the rim.

sunset on the little colorado river gorge

P.S. You can also read Jackson’s post and see his image of Cape Solitude at his blog here.  His blog is always worth a visit, with fantastic writing and wonderful imagery.

January Trips

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Straight as an arrow, or very nearly so, the road crests the mountain range, beginning its descent into the valley.  After what feels like only a few minutes, it will start up the next rise, repeating this pattern again and again.

Basin and range.  Ascent and descent.  This topography–narrow, steep mountain ranges separated by deep valleys–very nearly defines the West.  John Muir’s Sierra Nevada is the westernmost “range;” the province then extends eastward, one towering mountain range after another, and would reach all the way to eastern Colorado if the Colorado Plateau didn’t get in its way.

Four years ago, my Dad and I began the somewhat informal tradition of making a January photography trip somewhere together.  I think it started mostly as an excuse to be outside and hike around together, hopefully making a few images along the way.  Last week, I found myself in his truck with him cresting the Amargosa Range thus beginning the descent into Death Valley.

Death Valley National Park typifies the Basin and Range Province; the Inyo, Panamint, and Amargosa mountain ranges rise like the vertebral columns of colossal ancient dinosaurs, and the valleys between them (Death Valley included) cut through the earth separating them.  The changes in elevation are dramatic and impressive, even to someone not well-versed in geology.  As the park brochure will tell you, it is indeed a land of extremes.

Colorful backlit badlands

We spent the next few days hiking around some places I had been to before, and some I had not.  As one must sometimes do in a national park the size of Connecticut, we also drove a lot.  The arrival of a winter storm gave a unique patina to the desert: landscapes we normally associate with hot lifelessness were transformed–beautifully–by clouds and fog.

I don’t normally get to photograph über-dramatic light, and honestly I am okay with that.  My eye naturally tends to find compositions in subtle light and delicate form, which is exactly what this storm gave us.  This year I celebrated my birthday on our trip, and the light was a perfect birthday gift.  So, not only was it a time to enjoy being outside, it was also a time of celebration.

Early morning light on the Panamint Mountains

The last four Januarys with my Dad have given me milestones by which to watch him get older as well.  He is not in failing health, but with each passing year I see him–both of my parents–getting older.  My rational brain is accepting of that, but the little boy in me isn’t quite ready for the aging process to begin–in them, or in myself.  Over the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking a lot about aging, mortality, our ability to experience a place, and the creative process; I think a common thread runs between all of these things.

As photographers, and particularly as landscape photographers, our ability to create art is rooted in how we perceive the world: our ability to see light and distinguish shapes, and to integrate that sensory experience with the smells and sounds around us is the cornerstone of our craft.  The most evocative landscape photography I have seen is that which is sensed, not only with my eyes, but inside of the nucleus of every cell in my body.

Our senses are rooted in our biology, which changes as we age.  If our senses are changing, it is no surprise that our artistic vision would change as well.  Ideally, it would mature along with everything else!  I wrote in my last blog post about my own journey back in time, exploring my favorite images from the last half decade.  My artistic vision has changed, certainly.  Matured, perhaps.  Practice, study, and introspection have no doubt played a part in this, but perception–the way my senses tell me about the world–is a huge part of that.

Do we perceive the world with more clarity as we age?  Do my aging parents somehow see things more clearly than I do?  In some ways, I’d like to think they do.  It is somewhat macabre, but looking all the way to the end may help answer that.  Turning to my “other” field of comparative physiology for a moment, the great Canadian physiologist Peter Hochachka wrote only days before his own death in 2002, “I have noticed how the mind seems to clear when one’s time is up and current life is near an end…instead of anger, bitterness or even sadness, there can be interest and increased clarity.”

Winter Storm in the Panamint Mountains

Basin and range.  On my birthday this year, this landscape gave me not only light, but hope as well.  Hope that in 30 years, I will see this landscape differently, and with more clarity, as perhaps my Dad did standing next to me on this trip.  Hope that I will still be creating images then, images that are personal, unique, intimate.

Storm light on the Racetrack Playa

The Sacred Mountains of Tibet–eBook review

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

I can remember being in a sporting goods store with my Dad when I was about 14 years old.  It’s not clear to me exactly what he was looking at, but as he talked to the salesperson, I started looking at the pictures in a catalog sitting on the counter; it was for the clothing company The North Face.  In those pages I saw my first big wall climbers, my first mountaineers, and I discovered the Himalaya Mountains of Nepal and Tibet for the first time.  Fortunately the catalogs were free because I decided almost instantly that I was bringing one home with me.

Over the next several weeks I went to sleep and woke up with those photos–those places–on my mind.  In my daydreams I would fantasize about what it would be like to visit Everest base camp, or trek between Buddhist monasteries.  As I got older, my own adventures began, albeit much closer to my home in northern New Mexico than the Himalaya, and my mind started to wander to these places instead–the Colorado Plateau, and the high peaks of the southern Rocky Mountains.

Yet, to this day, I still find myself in awe of the Himalaya.  Although I hate the term, “bucket list,” I guess you could say that someday before I die, I’d love to visit these mountains.  While I don’t hold on to the adolescent fantasy of climbing Mt. Everest or K2 any more, I would love to take a trek though the lower elevations, admiring the scenery, as well as the culture.  As a photographer, I see the austere peaks as very beautiful subjects; they seem to create their own weather, which can make for dramatic light.  I enjoy viewing photography from this region; its relative inaccessibility results in an internet that is not flooded with “iconic” Himalayan images (for which I’m grateful).

Photography in the 21st Century leads to a lot of “online” friendships, and I’m grateful to have developed one with Alister Benn and his wife Juanli Sun.  Together, they are Available Light Images, and live together in Liajiang, China.   I have long been a fan of Alister’s photography; his nighttime work is top notch (I reviewed his night photography eBook, Seeing the Unseen in March), and both he and Juanli have impressive images from the Himalaya.  How fortuitous it was that Alister and Juanli just published a free (that’s right: free) eBook last week called, The Sacred Mountains of Tibet.

The Sacred Mountains of Tibet

Unlike Seeing the Unseen, The Sacred Mountains is not text-heavy.  This is not a how-to manual; it is a celebration of place, written by two placed people.  A short introduction, and individual introductory sections to different regions make up the bulk of the text, but the real gem–the thing that sets this book aside in my opinion is Juanli’s poetry.  Several of her poems appear on pages between images, bringing a better sense of belonging to the viewer (I use that word rather than “reader” because, again, this book is about admiration of place, not of the written word).  In addition to the cover, I’ve included two of my favorite images in this blog post.

Makalu, Lhoste, Qomolangma - Juanli Sun

Makalu, Lhoste, Qomolangma – Juanli Sun

The Sacred Mountains is the brainchild of a larger project; Alister and Juanli are planning on expanding this project and turning it into a printed book over the next few months.  I think this is a worthy project, and it would make a fine book, library-worthy for any adventurer, or photographer.

The only thing I found myself wanting in this eBook was more, but I suppose it was the perfect teaser for their (hopefully larger) book.  I’d like to thank Alister and Juanli for publishing this eBook, and for reminding me of my teenage dreams, awe, and respect for this mountain range.  It really is a lovely effort, and I highly suggest you settle in on one of these cold winter nights with the beverage of your choice, dim the lights, and let the light of the Himalaya fill you up.  You can download your free copy of the 51-page PDF by clicking here.

Chanadorje - Alister Benn

Chanadorje – Alister Benn

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

It hardly seems like a year ago I was writing a similar blog post from Zion National Park.  This Thanksgiving, I find myself in Escalante, Utah, a small township located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau.  The weather today was unusually warm for this time of year, and it made hiking extraordinarily pleasant, the perfect St. Martin’s Summer.  My family and I started the day in the northern Mojave Desert, and ended sitting quite alone on a sandstone outcropping admiring the sunset just outside of Escalante township.

Escalante has some of the darkest night skies in the United States; it is far from electricity, out of the grasp of large metropolises, and tonight I am only blinded by one of the darkest night skies you will ever see.  I am thankful places like this still exist.

For my friends in the United States who are celebrating Thanksgiving today, I hope you had a day with your family and friends, celebrating everything in your life that you are thankful for.  With some time in the car today, I was thinking about the things I am thankful for.  I am grateful for a family who is willing to travel with me.  Having stopped in four national parks or monuments today (Zion, Cedar Breaks, Bryce, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante), I am thankful that the citizens of our country have had the foresight to put land aside, for the well-being of our souls, if nothing else.  Sun-warmed Navajo sandstone is also on my list, as are sunsets that make me smile.

From the bottom of my heart, let me wish you a warm and happy Thanksgiving, whether you are officially celebrating or not.  There is much in life to be thankful for.

Navajo Sandstone aglow

Thanksgiving sunset, November 2012

 

Returning to the sea

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

While I normally don’t think of myself as a desert rat per se, when I do some serious self-examination, that is where I find my imagination wandering. Deserts can be funny places; you can sit all day in the shade of juniper a tree without so much as seeing a lizard flit across the sand, yet you can observe the diversity and health of the ecosystem all around you. Most people–myself often included–don’t often have the patience to sit and wait for something (anything) to happen here. This is the wilderness after all, and action can be a bit hard to come by.

So it was that I recently found myself at Montaña de Oro State Park, on California’s central coast. Far away from my much-loved desert, I spent several hours exploring the rocky coastline, climbing on the rocks and looking for a spot to photograph sunset. Waves crushed the rocks along the beach relentlessly, finding their way into every cove, crack, and crevice, over and over again. As soon as one wave left, another would come, inflicting its wrath on the rocks. For millions of years this has been happening, shaping the shoreline into what it is today.

Waves rushing into a sea cave at Montaña de Oro

Carving out a cave, October 2012

There is something mesmerizing about being near the ocean.  Maybe it’s the rhythmicity or the the ability of the waves to drown out the voices in my head, I don’t know.  Whatever it is, I feel calmed and soothed, regardless of whether I walk along a calm beach or next to a violent shoreline being battered by relentless waves.

I often imagine what it would be like to be alone on a kayak far out at sea.  The thought frightens me a little bit, the feeling of loneliness that would accompany that could easily be overwhelming.  I suspect the hours would pass slowly, just waiting for something (anything) to happen, and it would feel like a million miles away from the seemingly busy shoreline.   In this context, it should become obvious that the ocean is wilderness too, and should be celebrated as such.  However, just like our terrestrial wildernesses, the ocean is being exploited, overfished, polluted.


“Fifty million buffalo once roamed the rolling green prairies of North America. Gunners reduced them to near extinction. Now, hunters are at work on the rolling blue prairies of the sea, and already, the big fish – including miracles like thousand-pound, warm-blooded bluefin tuna – are 90 percent gone. What we regret happening on land, may again happen in the sea. Those who care about wildlife should get to know about oceans.”

–Carl Safina, Comes a Turtle, Comes the World


 

A seascape on the California coast

Seascape, October 2012

From a photographic point of view, beaches have been called the easiest places to put together a compelling composition.  I can’t argue, but I definitely don’t believe that oceans (or beaches for that matter) are simple places.  They are beautifully complex, life-giving, and they need to be celebrated by everyone, whether they’ve set foot in an ocean or not.  Sitting at Montaña de Oro, I am reminded that I need the sea as much as I need my beloved desert.

When it all comes together

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Sometimes in photography, as in life, things just come together perfectly.


I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, located in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico.  The Preserve lies on one of the largest volcanic calderas in North America; this supervolcano (as it’s classified) has the capability of altering weather patterns to the point of causing a small ice age if it ever erupts.  Try to imagine 1,000 km³ of rock and debris spewing from the earth–1,000 km³–I can’t quite wrap my mind around that.

The land was acquired by the federal government in 2000 as a trust, with a board of trustees making decisions about its management.  Still a working cattle ranch, the Caldera is administered using a combination of those policies used in national forests, as well as in national parks.

The thing that strikes me the most is that any event on the Caldera–whether it is hiking, sightseeing, or even hunting–is kept very small.  The idea is to give the visitor a sense of solitude.  Quiet contemplation.  Can you imagine if only 25 people were allowed into Yosemite Valley at a time?  That’s a very novel idea indeed.


Visiting this historic place, I knew I wanted to come home with both memorable and meaningful images.  First of all, I knew I may never get to visit here again, and second, it was important to me to make images of my home state that carried a sense of belonging.  Not knowing exactly what to expect, I hoped for dramatic light, and the time to let the landscape present itself.  Great light is often caused by crummy weather.  Fortunately, I got it.

Arriving late in the afternoon, rain was already beginning to fall from the thunderheads that had been building strength all day.  After looking at the map, we decided on a small pond that looked like it could get good sunset light.  By the time we drove up the mountain to our location, the rain had turned to sleet, the ambient temperature was in the mid-30s, and it was indeed beginning to feel a bit like autumn.

The rest of that afternoon was spent watching the fog rolling through the trees, constantly evolving, moving, transforming the landscape.  I thought of Sigurd Olson as the fog galloped through the trees like a herd of white horses.  The hauntingly beautiful bugles of bull elk looking for a fight came out of the mist from all directions.

A feast for the senses.

Fog and trees, Valles Caldera National Preserve

White Horses, September 2012

As sunset neared, the clouds cleared just a bit, and as I’d hoped, the fog settled in on our little pond, our small corner of the world.  All ours…tonight anyway.  The sky lit up giving us a perfect sunset.  Few things could have made it better.

Sunset on a small pond at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico

New Mexico sunset, September 2012

So it went for the rest of the weekend: New Mexico autumn.  Wildlife abounded.  Rain brought a last bit of summer life to the forest before winter’s grip tightens.  Light danced at the perfect times.  And, of course, green chiles were on the menu.   Thank you, New Mexico, for the perfect start to my favorite season.

Rainbow and thunderstorm in northern New Mexico

Autumn Rainbow, September 2012

Grove of aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) in autumn

Aspen Grove, September 2012

Redondo Peak, Jemez Mountains, New Mexico

Redondo Peak, September 2012

Fog drifts through trees

Fog & Trees, September 2012

Little Wildernesses

Monday, May 21st, 2012

As the urban/rural boundary has blurred over the years, I’ve come to see that growing up in the city had its rewards. The inner-city life has adventures all its own, but I was also lucky to have grown up in the city when I did, when there was still some open space around – untended little wild spots, overgrown orchards, vast open fields that seemed to stretch forever without a building, dense arbors in urban parks where we could hide securely from school and cops.

-Ernest Atencio

Open space was a huge part of my childhood.  Every day after school, my friends and I would gather at the vacant lot near our houses, building jumps for our bicycles that were destined to break at least a few bones (although somehow they never did).  We went home only when our parents came looking for us.

For those few hours after school each day the city we lived in seemed to melt away, and we could pretend to take our bikes to anyplace in the world we wanted.

As we grew older, we ventured further from our neighborhood, eventually making our way out to the piñon-juniper woodland that surrounded my hometown in northwestern New Mexico.  There, we encountered coyotes, deer, as well as mysterious noises in the bushes that were probably nothing more than a deer mouse scurrying around, however it was enough to stir the remnants of an overactive childhood imagination.

So it was that my formative years were not spent in ‘wild’ wilderness necessarily, but it was wild enough to spark my curiosity, to make me want to see more wild places, and to instill in me a sense of adventure and stewardship.  It was in those pygmy forests of the Four Corners that my lifelong relationship with wilderness was born.


“Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man-controlled environment.” writes Wallace Stegner in his ever-poignant Wilderness Letter.

Stegner continues, “We need wilderness preserved–as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds–because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there–important, that is, simply as an idea.”

Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

The Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

What Stegner is saying is that every one of us needs wilderness.  I worked for several summers doing biological data collection in the White Mountains of eastern California.  One summer a volunteer in our lab came to the field with me for the first time; he grew up and spent almost his entire life in Los Angeles.

 

The Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

The Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

After leaving the pavement, he said to me, “I didn’t know there were any dirt roads in the U.S.”  That day, things I naïvely thought were commonplace appeared as a whole new world to him: deer, hawks, wild horses, violent but brief thunderstorms, and views that stretch on forever transformed his perception of the world before my eyes.

This is the wellspring of my hope.  Everyone perceives “wilderness” differently, and we have all been introduced to it in different ways.  We all have our own personal reasons to fight for its protection.  Yet, we need it, according to Stegner, for our spiritual health.

Our spiritual health.

Perhaps it is something rooted deeply in our evolutionary past, but wilderness is healing, a place of solace and comfort.  As far as efforts to protect wilderness go, we as a people have unity in our diverse perceptions of wild places.  Some wildernesses are little, some are big, but they are all equally valuable.


I wonder what those piñon-juniper forests of my youth would look like today, seen through older eyes.  I know at least some of it has gone away to make space for homes.  However, selfishly, I like to think they remain a place of hope, sanity, imagination, and peace.  Who knows, maybe some kids are building their own bike jumps there right now.  That may not be such a bad thing.

When it comes to things I care deeply for, words sometimes fail me.  I make photographs that (I hope) express my emotions for wild places.

What experiences formed your relationship with wild places?  Where are the places you seek comfort?

A small child in the outdoors

My son, 2 years old (photo by Brent Deschamp)

New Portfolio Images

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Things have been a little quiet here on the blog this year.  I guess, perhaps, I’ve been suffering from a bit of writer’s block, but I have been enjoying sharing a daily image on Facebook.  I’ll be writing more here on the blog soon.

At the end of 2011, I spent a couple of really enjoyable days at sand dunes in Death Valley National Park, including the Eureka Dunes.  So far this year, I’ve spent a couple of days in southern Nevada at Valley of Fire State Park, as well as the surrounding Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and have been on a few rainy-day hikes at one of my favorite places in southern California.

I’ve uploaded new portfolio images to several of my galleries here on the site; all of these images have resonated with me, for various reasons, and I hope you check them out!  A few (that haven’t already been featured here on the blog) are below.

I hope your 2012 is off to a great start!

Gnarled oaks at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve

A Foggy Day, January 2012

 

Sunrise at Elephant Rock, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Elephant & The Moon, January 2012

 

Late Afternoon in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Persistence, November 2011

Overland Flight

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

As we board the homeward bound flight, the sun is setting over the Rocky Mountains, reminding me of my early childhood years living in Denver.  The sunset becomes more intense as the plane is pushed onto the runway, and takes off, leaving Denver International Airport behind.  The beauty of flying westward into the sunset is that it lasts longer–the earth’s shadow and Belt of Venus seem to be eternal, keeping me company as I daydream looking out the window over my sleeping son’s head.

Below us, lights from the small towns of the West are starting to come on.  I wonder what’s happening in those towns on this Friday night; people are relaxing at the bar after a long week of work, teenagers are cruising Main Street looking for something to do.  Despite that, its the empty spots, the growing blackness, that capture my imagination.  I’ve been a passenger on this route enough times to know what’s below me: the foothills of the western slope of the Rockies, the Green and Colorado Rivers, the white rim of Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, the Mojave Desert.

Its quite possible there’s not a whole lot of unexplored areas left in the West, but part of me wants to hang on to the notion that there is still some “out there” left out there.  David Roberts recently had a thought-provoking op-ed piece in the New York Times arguing that with 21st Century technology, there’s not a whole lot of wilderness left.  That hopeful naïveté I cling to wants to disagree with him–that possibly there is still an unexplored canyon, or at least a hill which offers a great view of this everlasting sunset–that has yet to be enjoyed.

Aldo Leopold wrote,

To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”

Tonight, sitting on this jet with a bird’s eye view of the West, I have to wonder where my imagination would wander if there were no blank spots on the map.   As a photographer, I have been thinking a lot lately about documenting these wild lands–what is my responsibility as an artist, my obligation to protect these lands?  If those peaks and mesas are leveled, if lights begin to dot the landscape, these places will change forever.

Where does your imagination wander?  None of us would argue over the value of those blank spots on the map, but what do you think–is there a fine line between artist and activist, or are they one and the same?

Sunset and moonrise at Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

End of the Day, July 2010

The Grand

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

I remember my first trip to the Grand Canyon in 1992–it was not only my first backpacking trip ever, but also my first memorable trip to a national park.  We went over spring break, in late March, and it was snowing hard at the South Rim when we arrived.  I remember being cold and wet the night before our hike began, being completely terrified on the icy (and steep) South Kaibab trail the following morning, and sweating as we walked into Phantom Ranch later that afternoon.  The rest of the trip was rainy, often very cold, and wet.

Despite all of that, I had a great time.  A funny thing happens after outdoor experiences like this one: we seem to forget all of the “bad” parts of a trip, remembering the good things.   Do the bad experiences really go away?  Not completely:  We learn from them.  As a novice backpacker, I learned several things about hiking in poor weather; I learned them the hard way, but I survived.

The thing that stuck in my memory more than anything else from that first trip to the Grand Canyon was the magnificence of the place.  The sheer drops, layers of sandstone, and of course the power of the Moenkopi-colored mud flowing in the Colorado River.  I’ve returned to the Grand Canyon more than almost any other national park.  During my first trip it was simply breathtaking; since then it has become breathgiving.

Vishnu's Temple at dawn, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Vishnu's Sun Salutation, May 2011

Since 1992, I’ve backpacked the Grand Canyon once more, and have camped on the rim multiple times.  Each time I say to myself, “Why don’t I visit more often?”  Yes, its packed with people, especially on the holiday weekends when I find time to visit, but there’s a magnificent peacefulness that surrounds it.    There are small pockets, places, you can go and hide, and despite the hordes, its almost as if you have this huge amphitheater to yourself.

Just like so many other geologic wonders on the Colorado Plateau, there really is nothing like the Grand Canyon on earth.  Although I’ve enjoyed it for 19 years, I just now have images of it.  Click the image or here to see the rest.