My husband, Bob, and I don’t particularly like the term “bucket list” especially as we grow older. Therefore, what most folks would call their bucket list, we call our “Dream List.” It, for the most part, consists of places and things we want to do before we grow too old to either do them or not enjoy doing them.
Last December, I read a blog posted by a fellow photographer and a great workshop leader, Don Smith. He commented on his upcoming workshop in March 2014 in Arizona which would include the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Antelope Slot Canyons, Horseshoe Bend and Sedona Red Rock Country. I immediately checked our schedule. Sure enough it was open. Three locations were on my photography Dream List. I had never been to the Grand Canyon, the Slot Canyons or Horseshoe Bend. Bob and I agreed it was a no brainer – just sign up RIGHT NOW. Although Bob was planning on joining me on this 9-day adventure, family and business issues kept him in Sonoma.
On day one, I left home with the car packed and headed down the freeway singing along with Waylon, Willy and the Boys, reminiscing with Loretta about being a Coal Miner’s Daughter and walked the streets after midnight with Patsy. Overnighted at Barstow and headed out on Day Two with the Grand Canyon in my sights.
Since I would be arriving a day before the workshop began, I planned on getting to the Grand Canyon early enough in the afternoon to check into the lodge we would all be staying, head to the Canyon and scout out a location for a sunset shoot. Then I would head back to the lodge, have an early dinner and be back in the park in plenty of time to catch sunset over the Grand Canyon.
Sure enough, I arrived in Tusayan around 2 – confident that I could make my time schedule work. I quickly checked in, unloaded my suitcase and off I went on my way to the Park Entrance, less than 5 miles down the road. The nice park ranger at the entrance upon learning this was my first visit to the Grand Canyon encouraged me to stay on the road I was on for about 15 miles. I would dead end at Mather Point. “The place to see the Canyon for one’s first time,” I was assured.
Arriving at Mather Point, I was overwhelmed by the size of the parking lot and the horde of people. Folks from all over the world wondering around with cameras around their necks, water bottle in one hand and holding on to a small child with the other and everyone talking at once in a hundred different languages. Getting out of the car, I didn’t even know which way to head to get to the rim or even how far it was. Just a few feet away from me, four young women had just gotten out of their car. They seem to know their way around and where they were headed, so I just following them. I overhead enough to know that yes, they were heading to the rim and three of the four had been here before. I followed them until I heard one say to the gal whose first time it was “close your eyes, give me your hand and I’ll lead you to the railing – when you get there we will tell you to open your eyes.” I thought, “What a great idea.” I hung back a little and watched. I could barely see them when they arrived at the rim. I couldn’t see any of the Grand Canyon yet. The girl opened her and let out a blood curdling scream “OH MY GOD!” and started jumping up and down. She broadcasted her excitement to everyone within at least two to three hundred yards radius.
I wanted that sensation! Not to ease up on the Canyon seeing it little by little, but to experience all of it at once. No, I didn’t close my eyes and walk to the edge of the Canyon. Not having someone to lead me, and seeing the railing ahead about 30 yards, I lowered my head looking down at my feet until I couldn’t see much more than a foot ahead of me. I slowly walked straight ahead. Luckily I didn’t bump into anyone or stumbled and sprain an ankle or worst. Once I saw the railing just inches from my feet, I stopped, closed my eyes, took a deep breath; counted to five, then open them.
No, I didn’t shout out nor jumped up and down and wave my arms around. But I’m sure I stood there with my mouth open for a good five minutes just looking left and then right and then straight ahead. There are no words that can possible convey what I felt when I first opened my eyes. Indescribable, incredible, spectacular, amazing all come to mind, but fall short. I thought of phrases like “too great as to defy description” and “beyond belief,” but they too fell short.
Mather Point has two overlooks points with safely railings built on rocks that project out into the Canyon. You can see 10 miles across to the North Rim, contemplate the mile-deep abyss, marvel at the power of the Colorado River snaking below, and admire the colorful limestone, sandstone, and rock layers all around you. After standing in one spot looking around for about 20 minutes, I began to venture away from the railing.
In short order I had wandered from the main herd of people and onto a trail that didn’t have a guardrail. One was free to go as close to the edge as one would like. Scary, but inviting. Before long, I had setup my tripod and camera and, without realizing what I was doing, started “machine gun shooting.” Machine gun shooting is where one just clicks away, hardly having time to change compositions, much less think about settings, depth of field, foreground interest or any of those other necessary things that we photographers ponder over for what seems like hours to our non-photographer friends and family before we finally press the shutter release. I couldn’t help myself. There were so many beautiful, amazing scenes in from of me. Did I think I wouldn’t have another opportunity to photograph the Canyon? I forgot about scouting for a place to shoot the sunset, going back to the lodge to have dinner and dress warmly before coming back to a spot I had scouted out and determined the BEST spot for a sunset shoot.
Before I knew it, I realized the sun was sinking quickly. I found a spot on a ledge with no railings and wide-open space before me. I shared this spot with another photographer who had already staked out his spot. As there was room for two, he welcomed me. We both set up our tripods way down low and lay on our bellies to shoot. Being just a few feet from the edge with the first step off over 3,000 feet down kept my heart beating fast and one hand on my tripod as it and my camera were just inches from ledge.
My “machine gun” madness ended and I settled down to acting like a real photographer and not like a crazy lady with a camera. The rest of the shoot went smoothly, but quickly as darkness began to descend into the canyon. Sadly and carefully, I packed up my camera and tripod and crawled back off the ledge and headed to the lodge in Tusayan and a late super. Tired, hungry and on a high, I knew tomorrow would bring more opportunities and the start of a great workshop.
Stay Tuned! Coming up next is my blog about the one of most difficult, stressful, exhausting AND EXHILARATING photo shoots I have ever been on.
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Don’t forget to look for and See the Extraordinary in the Ordinary!