Below The Tipoff on the South Kaibab
Stepping out of the cabin after the drama on the South Kaibab the day before, this is what I saw. The Sun’s rays angle up from the desert horizon and clip the South Rim at 7,000 feet, while the sky reflects a unique soft glow into the Canyon a mile below. There isn’t a “golden hour” in the Canyon like the ones I enjoy at the beach, but magic reigns all the same. I was sore. The drama on The Kaibab made that a fait accompli, but I was able to loosen up by going for a morning hike on the Canyon floor. I came to know this place in the solitary spirit of exploration that morning, and fell in love. As the novel makes clear, the Canyon floor and I were destined to be star-crossed.
Day Two, Phantom Ranch: 7:30 AM… 15 Degrees Fahrenheit… January 29th 2014
Views from the Canyon floor around Phantom Ranch evoke Mary Colter’s christening of this place. If you don’t believe in ghosts when you arrive, you will after exploring the environs of Phantom Ranch. The combination of temperature extremes, exhaustion, and freaky vistas, cause rock formations to transmogrify into Jungian archetypes… a toxic brew of apparitions conjured from primordial memory.
There’s nothing soft or lengthy about the Canyon floor’s “golden hour.” It’s saturated and momentary. In the Canyon, these oncoming moments leave as quickly as they come. It is rare fortune to encounter them with a camera and lens capable of doing the scene minimal justice. The Canyon merits the exquisite skill of a sensitive professional with the right gear. I was not even an “enthusiast” in spite of my ludicrous boast in the chapter, “My Dinner with Jeff.” I wasn’t even a rank amateur. A hobbyist, maybe. A babe in the woods, certainly. The barenaked truth is I was damn lucky to get what I got.
The Canyon Floor, morning, January 29th 2014
Hiking the Canyon floor that morning, I recalled our discussion of the ancient Pueblo and was reminded of my walks through Manhattan over the years. Yes, Manhattan. It’s one of my favorite places to explore and every bit as other-worldly as this. Like the Pueblo, Manhattanites see nothing of the world beyond The Rim. When they peer out of their world, they see only sky. The sense of nothing beyond, creates a feeling of self-contained-ness, a not-knowing-ness, of the world outside their world. But for some comes the wonder of what may lie beyond, on the other side of the sky. For those who leave, plumbing the depths of return becomes an insurmountable summit. Pueblos eventually left the Canyon. People eventually leave Manhattan. Children eventually leave their parents. And humans are on the cusp of leaving Earth. To leave, seems to be our destiny. The story in the book is about return.
Early morning hike on the Canyon floor near Phantom Ranch… Day Two of our odyssey
The most photographed formation in Grand Canyon changes throughout the day reflecting the color of oncoming moments in the natural world.
From the Canyon floor near Phantom Ranch, morning. Professional landscape photographers shun blue sky as “uninteresting.” I shun their approach due to being unprofessional. Software has become indispensable for correcting system aberrations and settings errors. My expertise begins and ends with Lightroom’s AI Auto-correct. Commercial grade landscape photography is a product of arcane camera settings followed by digital painting where clouds magically appear. The final product bares little resemblance to the moment, but it’s the standard process now. I took the opposite approach. Fine art landscape photography requires discipline, skill, stamina, execution, and the right gear. I was deficient in every category, and spent my time trying to keep from falling while shooting Buena Vista with a Nikon D5100 — a decent camera which did not make me feel conspicuously out of my league. Ditto the ancient Sigma 50mm prime lens. Shooting the Canyon properly is not practical for the unfunded non-professional. Training for the art is substantial, then after getting in shape for hiking you’ll discover the trails are remote, dangerous, and inhospitable. Death waits patiently around every bend. My rule of thumb? From your twenties-on, each decade halves the distance you can hike in Grand Canyon. By the time you reach your fifties, your hiking should be confined to the Rim Trail with the other tourists, and then if and only if you are in tip-top physical condition, with zero health problems.
Chaos compression in 50mm from the Canyon Floor near the Bright Angel Trail.
From The River Trail along the Colorado leaving Phantom Ranch. Love those clouds.