Images from the Film Archives – 1999
1999 marked the beginning of annual photo trips to the western United States rather than to the northeast. I hadn’t been out that way since 1982 when my wife and I packed up the tiny car we had and drove across the country to revisit the places I had seen on my very first cross country drive in 1977 with a friend of mine.
That first trip began in Las Vegas and was basically a circle route around the Grand Canyon, beginning on the south rim for a few days, and then stopping in Page (staying in a Motel 6!!) to experience the famous slot of Antelope Canyon the next day. But on the way to Page in the late afternoon, traveling north on Route 89, just north of the split with 89-A, where the highway climbs up an escarpment, and just beyond the sweeping curve at the top, I noticed some beautiful rocks being side-lit looking north toward Glen Canyon. I pulled over right away, grabbed my gear and scrambled down from the highway to the rocks below. There really wasn’t much time before the beautiful, blazing light on the rocks would be lost as the sun dropped and shadows would begin to creep into the area. So it was a race against time to find an interesting foreground that would lead the eye into the scene. I was lucky to stumble across some rocks eroded into layers, with each layer being both lit by the sun, and casting its own narrow shadow, leading to the next band of stone with the same textures, leading further and further into the middle distance. Fortunately, there were a few clouds in the sky for added interest, but it was the glowing rocks that were the star of this scene.
It was a difficult scene to meter with both sunlight and shade on the rocks, and it wouldn’t be until several weeks later that I would know if the shots came out properly exposed. I used the 35mm (20mm equivalent on full frame) and easily kept everything in focus by stopping down to f/22 and dialing in the hyperfocal distance on the lens. The glow on the rocks didn’t last very long, with the shadow just at the base of the solitary tree in the middle left of the frame and moving fast. But it probably didn’t matter as this spot may have been the best location since moving left would have lowered the vantage point and lost much of the overview. To the right was completely in shade from the large stone in the foreground, so I was satisfied with the camera position. A polarizer helped cut the reflective nature of the sandstone and darken the sky a bit to make the clouds stand out.
Fifteen years later, on a month-long trip in the area, the plan was to revisit the spot in the same light, and then rush to Horseshoe Bend, just a few more miles up the highway in time for sunset. Coming from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on Highway 89-A, when I reached Hwy 89, the road heading north was closed!! It seemed that the catastrophic monsoons a few months earlier, had caused a collapse of the roadway and had yet to be repaired. During one monumental rainfall, Antelope Canyon was completely flooded and the area around Page was devastated with damage. To get an idea of what that was like in 2014, Click Here to view a video from the damage in Page in 2013. The monsoons in 2014, were even worse. Click Here to see what it was like along US15 north of Las Vegas that year. Go to about 1:30 in the video to see the most frightening aspect of flash floods. This was the same rainfall that caused the damage around Page, AZ that year.
Needless to say, I never got to the spot again because of the closure, and never made it to Horseshoe Bend for sunset either, because the detour to get north of the damage and into Page was nearly 100 miles! The most frustrating part was driving furiously, constantly looking at my watch and knowing I wouldn’t make it in time, and witnessing one of the most breathtaking sunsets I had seen. The only thing I could do was stop along the highway, only a few miles away from Horseshoe Bend as the crow flies, to photograph the beautiful sunset clouds with nothing of interest in the landscape. The consolation prize was a visit to Horseshoe Bend the next afternoon with the intent of photographing it, processing it dark to appear late in the day, and blend it with the sunset from the previous evening. That the digital advantage!!