Nothing but Something

I love Thanksgiving just as much as I love Christmas. I love the Holidays Season. The lights on the trees, the snow on the ground, the home cooking and getting together with friends and family around the dinner table. Laughter, arguments, opinions flying across the table, all just washed down with a good glass of red wine, or beer, or whatever is left at the end of the dinner.And this year was no different, aside from the fact that my wife and I hosted a Friendsgiving a couple of weeks early because for the Thanksgiving weekend we were headed to the American Southwest. I wrote about part one of this journey in West Ave, a couple of weeks ago.

Four days of travel, 1200 miles driven. 70’s Rock, a Road Trip playlist, completing the sensorial experience. The sun warming the skin, the arid land appeasing the scent, strong grip on the soft leather steering wheel, and our ears listening to this music. Visually? Nothing but Something. Absolutely nothing around but an ever changing landscape.

We landed early on Thursday morning. Usual routine, with a uncommon twist – I forgot to grab my jacket when leaving the plane. So I go back in the jetway, with my usual Fujifilm X100F hanging on my neck. And how many times does that happen, that you actually get to stand there watching people literally get off the plane?

Tourists coming out, workers ready to help clean the plane to get it back on its way.

In the jetway, while passengers deboard and a worker waits to get on. Las Vegas, Nov 2017

Got the jacket, off to the races. Grab the bags, head to the rental and pick up the car, a Camaro. The design was so sports looking that it hardly fit two people, forget about the two seats in the back.

First leg? Las Vegas to the Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon. Some good four hours in the car, just in time to get to Mather Point and admire the sunset. During the drive there was literally nothing around. Just desert, the American Southwest desert.

Driving towards the Grand Canyon on US-93, Nov 2017

All of sudden, out of nowhere, appears the Grand Canyon. Before and after that, nothing, but there it was, that ‘little’ something.

Sunset at Mather Point in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Arizona, Nov 2017

Towering craters, monumental cliffs, and breathtaking colors. Getting there at the Golden Hour does have its perks, as does using a tripod to keep the shutter speed slow and consequently have less noise in the image.

I still can’t really grasp the idea of this canyon being carved out by a river and whatever other geological force has allowed it to take this shape and form. Flat on top, and a mountain range looking down. If you were making a photograph from the Colorado River down below it could almost seem you were right in the Himalayas or the Alps!

And if sunset isn’t good enough, why not wake up at 5 am and get there to see sunrise?

Sunrise at Mather Point in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Arizona, Nov 2017

Myst throughout the canyon, rocks dropping into nowhere, and the sun coming up from behind the flat earth.

Put the camera temporarily away, sip on the coffee, and enjoy the landscape with my wife. I said temporarily? Ya, for a whole 10-15 minutes. While it sits on the tripod.

Everywhere you turn the Grand Canyon gives you frames that you wish to capture. The play of lights and shadows on and off the ridges is a captivating and hypnotic game.

But it had gotten to that time. Where I had to set my Nikon DSLR in the back, tripod and all with it, and keep my Fujifilm in the front. As if the Fujifilm was allowed to play with the adults. Off to the next point. Antelope Canyon.

Another canyon? Yes.

We drive, and drive, through the Grand Canyon and out the other side. Drive some more, and a little more. Coffee and rest room break. Drive. Again flat land around us. The Grand Canyon extremities are almost all behind us. And another Camaro behind us. Theirs was red. Ours was white.

A few hours go by, and we get to an overcrowded Upper Antelope Canyon. They are fully booked. No exceptions. But we can try the Lower Antelope Canyon the Navajo guy tells us. It’s only right across the street. Or we can try the Canyon X, up the road for another few miles.

What’s another few miles? And it’s called Canyon X. Sounds cool.

Hardly anyone is there and we get in queue to pay our entrance fee. Strictly with Square, the tile that plugs into phones that accepts credit cards; cause in this day and age even in the the remotest part of the Arizona, with old Native American tribes ruling the area, we all use our smartphones to pay.

Hopped onto the pickup with the Navajo driver and drove on the sand road, up and down a few hills, and got to the entrance.

Navajo guides welcoming tourists to the Antelope Canyon X. Arizona, Nov 2017

This time we saw the canyon from the bottom up. Walked through the crevasses with a few little tourists around us.

The lighting was hard. If overexposing is used when a subject is backlit, in this situation not only was the surface of the sand walls backlit, it was also in pure darkness. No tripod. Just really still handheld photos.

And a little post processing to adjust the dynamic range of the photo as well as the color balance.

Two hours, two hundred “wows”, and two thousand steps later we headed back up to the entrance. Back to the car and once again driving to our next destination. The Monument Valley.

We got there past the Golden Hour. But you could still make out the rock formations, the monuments we would see the next day.

And after a great nights sleep, we hit the road again. 6 am this time around. Had to get in pole position to capture the Sun come up behind the Monument Valley.

Sunrise, at about 5:30 am, at the Monument Valley as seen from the Monument Valley Visitor Center. Utah, Nov 2017

Tripod out, scarf on, f-stop set to 20 and shutter to 1/13 of a second.

Now though it was time to hit the road. The one in the photo. The one that we were uncertain a Camaro could handle.

But risk is part of any adventure as well as making the long lasting photos we all strive for. And so we went ahead. Slow at first. Got comfortable with the terrain. And then cruised around the Momentum Valley as if it were an everyday test track.

Thanksgiving was now behind us, as was the Monument Valley. Headed back to Page, UT, to see Horseshoe Bend.  A large u-shape canyon with a stream right at the bottom.

Here I should have done more homework becuase not even the 18mm on my Crop-sensor DSLR managed to capture the entire scene. Nonetheless, Loved the challenge when it presented itself as I felt like I was photographing with a prime lens again.

Just that this time there was really little space I could move to recompose. And it was scary! There was absolutely no barrier in front. Just a free-fall of more than 100m. And all these people taking selfies with their selfie sticks.

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, Nov 2017

After that small hike to see Horseshoe Bend we got back in our car and headed to Zion National Park, which we would see the next day. But of course not before stopping to see another spectacular view of Lake Powell.

View from the Wahweap Overlook, in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area near Page. Arizona, Nov 2017

Zion National Park was a big surprise for two main reasons. The first was that I had seen very little photos of it before. So it truly was a discovery. The second was that it was impossible to park, and we later found out that that was the case because many people hike there. So they come early, park, and spend the day hiking. And I don’t blame them for it.

Zion National Park, Utah, Nov 2017

A couple of hours at Zion and we headed to Las Vegas, to spend just a few hours before heading back on the red eye to Detroit. But not with another little something. Something in the middle of nothing.

Valley of Fire. Red rocks all around, in the middle of nowhere. Hell, if I had not checked the GPS I would not have known it was in Nevada. And while I waited for cars to disappear behind the rolling road, I could not but be blown away by this drive.

Driving through the Valley of Fire. Nevada, Nov 2017

And who doens’t take a picture of the ‘gambling society’ that is drawn to Vegas, like bears are to honey? Who knows if that’s even true. Maybe I’ll have to photograph to discover?

Inspirational messages behind major casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, Nov 2017

For more photos check out the gallery here.

Until Next Time,

Fire to Snow