They call it The Grand Canyon for a good reason. Its Grand. Magnificent. Spiritual even. The size and scope of this massive canyon is impressive. Nearly 500 miles long and over 10 miles wide in some places is reason enough to bear its namesake. But theres more. The area around The Grand Canyon is even more impressive and weird. High plateaus which are cold enough to record snow, low valleys which contain slot canyons too numerous to name, and hundreds of square miles of wind eroded Navajo sandstone make this area a high point for tourists and photographers alike. So myself and Ellie have got our work cut out for us on finding places for our workshop to get some great images.
Just like any other Aperture workshop, we begin very early. At the wee hours of 5:15 in the morning our intrepid (hopefully) group is awoken and meets us outside the hotel for the trip into the National Park so we can grab a good spot for sunrise. At Mather point, on the South Rim of The Grand Canyon, we officially begin and it was a cold hard morning. Windy, cold, around 28°F and we waited at Mather Point for sunrise and saw the clouds open up and deliver. The Canyon never gets old. Ellie and I spend time helping with compositions until the color fades and we all make a trip for a morning break with some hot food and drink.
Back out on the rim, our group spent the next few hours taking in and photographing the major sites and vantage points of the South Rim Trail, from the old Kolb Studio up to the Hopi House, we slowly made our way and photographed just about every vantage point along the way, making great use of the intermittent light which was still dancing around the canyon below.
We took a mid-morning break to recharge and headed out again, this time all the way to the eastern side of the South Rim, and photographed from Lipan Point where the light show from the clouds and sun was never ending. When there was a lull it was a huge chore to pry our group from their positions to make it to our sunset spot in time!
Desert View was our final stop for the day. The tower is a pretty cool place to photograph inside as it has some really interesting architecture and Navajo artwork. But just as quick as we got in, we had to get out and make our make our way quickly to the canyon rim for the light show.
As always with cloud cover, you never know if its going to be really impressive or really a bust. So to see the breaks in the clouds and all the "gods rays" poking through to the canyon floor was a pretty cool sight amidst the heavy wind and cold. There was just enough space between the clouds and the horizon to illuminate the Desert View tower, and bathe it impressive orange-red light which was a fantastic way to end day one.
Since the region is so large with so many sights, there is some inherent travel involved. The area around Page, AZ keeps some pretty amazing secrets if you know where to look, which is why we headed about 2 hours northeast to see what we could find. Lower Antelope Canyon is one of those secrets. Its a slot canyon, which means the walls are very close together, and its also wind and water eroded, which makes for some amazing photos. We spent around 2 hours down there, weaving around the goosenecks and locating the many iconic spots hidden inside; the rose, lady in the wind, the buffalo, just to name a few.
With a break for lunch in Page we headed up the road into Utah in search of some hoodoos. Hoodoos, or toadstools, are pretty common in the Escalante wilderness, and we didnt have to travel or hike very far to find some just inside Utah and Escalante National Park. These formations are wind eroded and the bottom rock, or sandstone is much more soft the rock near the top, so erodes uneven, and you have a small shaft underneath a big hat. This little area had dozens of them and we spent the next hour or so grabbing some shots of them and the nearby geology. Since its spring, we had some flora and fauna scattered about, so that provided some much needed foreground on our cloudless afternoon.
The last stop of the day is a duesy, one of the students and I arent particularly fond of heights, and Horseshoe Bend is one of the those places that is terrifyingly beautiful. A tad over 1000 feet above the Colorado river, sits this amazing amphitheater type plateau, which provides viewing of the complete horseshoe bend in the river. The enormity of the space is hard to behold, even in person. We managed to find our way to the very edge, each of us perching our camera equipment ever closer to the ridge in preparation for sunset and the sun stars we all were aiming to see. Sunset came and went, it was a little lackluster, colorwise, but we did have quite an impressive show not 24 hours earlier.
After a brief stop to get some provisions in town, a few pranks, and some cold refreshments enjoyed in the comfort of the van, we all serenely passed the time back the hotel in Tusayan. Ellie and I agreed it was an extremely enjoyable workshop, not only because of our wonderful students, but the weather wasnt too shabby either.
Until next time...
Ellie, Scott and the rest of the crew at the Aperture Academy.
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.