Day 2-The Road to Zion (Capitol Reef N.P.)
Day 2 started at 4am with bad hotel-room coffee in Torrey, Utah. I jammed both the little coffee sponges into the coffee maker in an effort to bring some semblence of life to the anticipated feeble brew, but to no avail. Coffee is huge for me and this trip I'd left my traveling french press at home, not wanting to carry water-boiling kit with me. I was smacking my forehead right about how. But this too would pass.
Coming in late the night before I'd been scanning the road for targets (in the dark) and tentatively settled on Capital Reef's Gooseneck Overlook for no reason other than I liked the "overlook" part, and it seemed as though it was an east-west running valley, which could be good in morning light. I packed the Trib and headed out into the dark, cold desert morning under a clear and starry sky. This was going to be great.
Sunrises: so many people squander sunrise. It's so much easier to just stay in bed and sleep, no doubt. But sunrise and sunset are my favorite times to shoot-and of the 2, sunrise wins. Yes, it's tough to get up sometimes, but never have I been sorry I did.
Capitol Reef National Park is one of the undiscovered gems of the American Southwest, though it has been enjoying more visitors over recent years as it slowly becomes known. It's a beautiful place-and huge. You can spend a lot of time there driving, hiking and shooting. My time was limited this morning-it was a stop along the way and part of my on-going effort when I travel to both begin and end each day some place beautiful. This morning it was Gooseneck Overlook.
Turning off paved road I headed up the mile-long dirt road watching for jack rabbits and dear in the headlights until I hit the parking area to find myself the only car. A welcome relief after the rock star hoopla of Goblin Valley the night before. Loading up the PhotoTrekker and heading out under headlamp up the dark canyon rim trail I noticed signs everywhere warning about exposure to steep cliffs and fatal falls. Tension emerged as I imagined a headline in the local paper the following day describing my shattered body on the canyon floor below, "photographer falls to his death off Gooseneck Overlook..." I reached up and rocked my headlamp down a bit to show more of the trail in front of my feet. I swiped a runny nose with my gloved hands.
Gooseneck Overlook looks down on Sulphur Creek, well above (1,000 ft) the canyon floor. The short trail terminates at a fenced-off outcrop and I put my pack down and turned my light off. The wind was stiff and I folded the collar up on my jacket against it. My hands-already clothed in the LowePro gloves Annie had just given me for my birthday-buried deep in my pockets. It was beautiful, even in the dark-and cold. The canyon I was looking out over had multiple levels of colored rock and dirt all exposed by the creek, and I stood there marveling a bit before thinking about what I was going to target before sun-up.
After gawking a bit the heavy pack went back on my shoulders and I took off up the rim, off the trail, watching my footing carefully. There was no overt danger. As long as I stayed in from the rim 10-20 feet or so there was nothing to worry about. The problem was, you couldn't see anything from there. I edged closer to the rim, no railings, headlamp on, just being careful. Finally the light had come up and my field of vision expanded enough that I could turn my headlamp off. Stopping there in the coming dusk I heard my breathing, felt the weight of the pack, and thought about the hotel room coffee-it wasn't good, but it got me out here. I smiled big, deeply happy.
Tripods: Some who don't do it might wonder why others shoot with tripods so often. This light right here and now is why. While most people can hold there camera still enough at fast enough shutter speeds in the bright sunlight, that's not typically what makes great photos of the land. It's the hours of the day that light is hard to find (morning and evening), and when you do, there's not much of it. This low light means longer shutter speeds, which means you can no longer hand-hold the camera still for say, 1/30 second and slower. Enter the tripod and cable release.
On the rim, close to the edge, there weren't many trees. This makes walking with the tripod easier as well. I usually don't carry my camera on my tripod when it's slung over my shoulder like this. There are too many trees, rocks and other perils that can whack it right off the head and smash it on the ground. Party's over just like that. So I carry my tripod but no camera over my shoulder most of the time, and it takes one arm to do so. This leaves one arm for steadying yourself with a walking stick (usually a telescoping ski pole) if you use one, or to catch your fall should you. I prefer having both hands free, especially in the dark, just in case. But it was light enough this morning that I felt comfortable what I was doing.
The rest of the pre-dawn morning turned into a slow amble up a gentle slope that was the canyon rim, peering over, shooting, stopping, wondering, praying, and just having a sweet, peaceful morning as the sun rose higher toward the distant horizon where it would eventually break through the darkness and ignite everything under it, changing the flavor of the day until sundown so many hours later. The moon had been full the previous night and it hung there motionless, opposite the corner of the sky the sun would occupy, seeming to bow to what it knew was coming: he was Lord of the Night, moving off in preparation for Lord of the day to come. The wind was gone now, temperatures were up, safety was assured and any earlier tension was gone. I took my coat off, left my gloves and hat on, and kept going.
Gently, slowly, the dusk light began revealing utterly unspeakable things and I shot. And shot. And shot. And shot. Everywhere I looked I saw something else-the way the pink, indirect light was revealing cracks in old trees, the color the light briefly turned the dirt on the ground, the pocks in rim rocks... even now as I remember it I drift back into it and wonder how anyone can deny we have a genius Creator... who can't not be beautiful. Sometimes moments catch you off guard and rock your soul-blindside you with beauty and awe with no preparation, no time to process-they're just there and you're there and there you both are and man-wow. I stood there and watched and inside I cried it was so pretty I just couldn't stand it.
When people look at a picture I shot, maybe they see something special - maybe they don't. It almost doesn't matter -though I always hope they do. But what I see is this morning, this moment, this glimpse of who my God is, sticks with me-it's preserved. Not captured, just preserved-so I can refer back to it when I wonder, or need to re-juice on Him. My God-it's so beautiful. And I'm so sorry others don't see you the way I see you here, now. Thank you more than I can-for your mercies on us, your grace, your beauty and numerous beautiful gift to us-for this beautiful scar we call the earth.
If you could imagine, the day only got better from here. But I'll save that for another time.
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