I had several photographs that I considered posting for the ‘ephemeral’ challenge, and this was one of the runner-ups. Besides, it has a story. I’ve spent many days at the Grand Canyon. Months, if you tallied them all up. This was the most spectacular morning I have ever seen there, and this image was my reward for waiting it out.
The Grand Canyon has inversions, about once every several years according to the National Park Service. On those occasions, the whole thing fills with fog and lasts a while and doesn’t offer much of a view into the canyon. This wasn’t one of those events, but in a single still frame it may appear that way.
This morning started like any other. I got up at dark o’clock, crawled out of the sleeping bag, put on appropriate clothing and started my truck (my home on wheels at times). My sleep had been interrupted several times through the night by thunderstorms. Just when I thought they couldn’t get any worse, they did. I was camped in familiar territory in the National Forest outside the park boundary because it is a quiet spot – from people, anyway.
Cape Royal is the last stop on the North Rim Drive. It is only a couple miles away from the North Rim Village as the crow flies, but twenty-something miles for those of us in a vehicle. As I walked out to the point the sky had become less black, and I could see that there was potentially going to be a window in the clouds for the sun to make a grand entrance. The air was still wet, but it wasn’t raining. It was more like the wind was sucking away raindrops from the storms that were a couple miles away to the west, right about where the village and my campsite were. Meteorologists have a term for this, they call it ‘training’. One strong thunderstorm rolls through and sets up a favorable environment for others to follow. I think this one had four engines, because the caboose was nowhere in sight.
This was still the film era. There were no weather seals on my 4×5 camera, and those errant raindrops weren’t going away. As sunrise was getting near, I could see that the opening in the clouds was still there, but if the sun came through it was probably going to be muted. The overall look was still very gray and hazy. The thing that struck me as odd was the lack of people. The parking lot has room for over a hundred vehicles and I’ve seen it full, especially at sunset. Cape Royal is a great spot anytime because of its sweeping view and options for photographs.
Commence act one. The skies in my proximity were ugly, but the sun streamed across the Painted Desert with no obstructions. I was cringing. Raindrops were still drifting in from the west, and as long as that was happening, I couldn’t get a shot. As the sun hit them, they produced a full distinct double rainbow in a purple sky. It was absolutely insane looking! The spectacle lasted for at least five minutes before the color started to shift, and the spectrum became less intense. After another five minutes, the sun slid into the lip of the cloud cover and act two of the show began. All the cliffs below me were wet and glowing from the early morning sun. The colors were more intense than I had ever seen there. Rainwater pockets on all the mesa tops glistened like topaz crystals were strewn about, and I still wasn’t getting any shots. Neither was anybody else, because there still was nobody else.
Act two wrapped up and I wasn’t sure there was going to be an act three. It was back to being ugly gray with no more potential windows visible. But the air had dried out. Now? Really? I was so frustrated at the timing of it all. I knew I had witnessed a special morning there but had nothing to show for it. I headed back to my vehicle for some breakfast. Intermission, as I like to call it. Nothing to do but wait out the morning, and the vantage point from Cape Royal was the perfect place to catch any indication of a change in the light. The smell of rain-soaked sage and pine filled the air, I still had the place to myself, and the peacefulness of it all was refreshing.
Breakfast was over, and the sun started to win its battle against the clouds, making it brighter and warmer. I grabbed my camera and headed back out to the point. Enter act three. All that moisture below needed to escape into the atmosphere, and that warm late-summer sun was hitting stride. Slowly, little patches of fog began to congregate below me. There didn’t appear to be any more threat of raindrops, so I had my camera on its tripod. Despite it being well past sunrise, the colors were getting better. I began capturing images as the collection of cloudlets was gaining strength. Finally, as one big mass, they begin to lift, and roll across the mesa immediately below me. I was using a panoramic roll film back and clicking as fast as that camera would allow. The entire process would have been a spectacular time-lapse film clip, but I was glad to be capturing images at last. Then, almost as quickly as it came together, it all broke back into fragments and was dissipating. I was packing my camera up as I heard an enthusiastic voice on the rocks above me. “Hey, come see this!” the first of the sleeping villagers beckoned to the others. I felt like yelling out, “Show’s over – you missed it!”
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