My Grand Journey
The Grand Canyon, the name alone conjures up visions of a painterly landscape, larger than life
Like many other people, my first trip to the Grand Canyon was part of a much larger road trip across the American West. It was 1999 and my wife, Sally, and I were spending 10-days on the road visiting sites in the Four Corners region. The trip to Grand Canyon would be quick with an overnight stay at Mather Campground, before we would hit the road again and make our way onto the Navajo lands.
but I’ll never forget that first view of the canyon. I remember being overwhelmed, and even intimidated by what I was seeing. There was just too much to take in, and it was difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of the canyon.
There is no other landscape in the world like the Grand Canyon. It is a place that cannot be seen or experienced from a single view. In order to best appreciate the Grand Canyon one must explore the South Rim, the North Rim, down into the canyon along the river, and into it’s many side canyons. You must experience the cool rain of a summer thunderstorm, the tranquility of an autumn afternoon, and the magic of a clearing winter storm. Doing so will give you a glimpse into the complexities of the Grand Canyon environment.
In May of 2008, Sally and I returned to the canyon almost by accident. We had been planning a trip to see some other parks but our plans changed when a winter storm made travel difficult and we elected to spend the time at the canyon instead. I spent that week photographing from numerous viewpoints along the South Rim as Mother Nature put on an incredible show with thunderstorms, rainbows, clouds below the rim, and so much more.
It was during this trip that I learned about Grand Canyon National Park’s Artist-in-Residence program. Upon returning home, I began assembling my application package for the Artist-in-Residence program. I was a new artist at the time having recently made the decision to pursue my dream of being a photographer, and I was eager for the opportunity to live and work in the park. Four months later in October of 2008 I received a letter informing me that I had been accepted to be one of the three people who would be an artist-in-residence for the 2009 season.
It was during my time as the artist-in-residence that I began to develop an appreciation for the canyon. The many park rangers and other staffers shared their favorite locations with me, they opened my eyes to the diversity of the Grand Canyon environment, and pushed me to work harder as an artist by getting up early for every sunrise, to hike as much possible, and to get below the rim and into the canyon’s backcountry. They got me hooked on the canyon, and since that time, I have continued to explore the canyon, always eager to see what each viewpoint looks like during different times of the year.
Having spent much time studying the work of painters such as Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt Gunnar Widforss, I took notice of the role that weather played in their interpretations of the canyon. They each used the elements of weather in their own unique ways, but what I saw was a sense of atmosphere that captured the light. The canyon became a canvas upon which light and color were painted.
This quality of light and atmosphere tends to be most pronounced during the summer monsoon season and during the winter as a storm clears from the canyon. The monsoon season brings with it thunderstorms that create dramatic skies from which bands of rain fall, lightning flashes and thunder claps. As rain slowly “walks” across the canyon, sunlight filters through it and the atmosphere appears to glow. It’s a stunning display of nature, and one that really brings the canyon to life.
Snow from winter storms falls upon the canyon’s features like powdered sugar, revealing wonderful textures and adding a beautiful contrast to their shapes and forms. Low-hanging clouds from these storms often obscure the view into the canyon. I’ve waited, days at a time, for a clearing to open up like a curtain being pulled back on a stage, revealing the delicate beauty of a snow-covered canyon. These openings sometimes only last a few minutes or even just seconds before the weather closes in again.
The light below the rim and along the mighty Colorado River takes on a different quality. It often reflects between the towering cliffs on either side of the river causing the rocks to glow. Hidden within the canyon are many side canyons, the tributaries of the Colorado River. Places with names like North Canyon, Silver Grotto, Saddle Canyon, Blacktail Canyon, Elves Chasm, these side canyons are magnificent and mysterious in the own right. The canyon twists and bends, and behind each bend is a another wonder waiting to be revealed. Within many of these canyons, small streams follow the path of least resistance, searching for a way to connect with the Colorado River. Along the way they plunge of pour offs creating beautiful waterfalls.
It’s the diversity of ecosystems, weather, and light, that makes the Grand Canyon so visually stimulating. There’s an endless supply of subject matter to explore, study, and capture. It is a place like no other, a place which continues to inspire those who take the time to see it.