Shoot When The Light Is Right

Chronicles of Nature

One of the things that draws me back to Zion National Park time and again is its famed 9 mile round trip hike in to ‘The Subway’. Not for the faint of heart, this trek has no actual trail… the stream bed is your guide. It is better described as ‘bouldering’ in my mind, as you spend more time picking your path scrambling over rocks, boulders and trees than you do walking on anything that resembles a ‘trail’ in the literal sense of the word. If you’ve never done this hike before you may end up about half way through the journey beginning to doubt yourself, thinking that you must have lost your way. I believe the National Park Service advised a six to eight hour hike time, even if you move at a good pace and are physically fit. Though it takes a lot of commitment, the scenery along the way and the destination are well worth every step. I began this particular trip in the pre-dawn light. In rather a hasty manner I set off, eager to get there before the sun got up too high. My goal was to get in to ‘The Subway’ early enough to shoot in the morning light as well as making use of the afternoon reflective sun. As I made my way I was continually struck by the beauty surrounding me on all sides. There were three shots in the first mile or so that I really wanted to set up for and shoot, but in my haste I passed them up. By the time I was into the second mile of my journey the sun was starting to play off the canyon walls and I was seeing the sweetest bounce light on the pools of water in my path. I paused in thought for a moment and realized that there was no way I could ignore the images I was seeing, despite my former ambitions. I resolved that even if it meant that I missed shooting ‘The Subway’ in the light I had hoped for, that I could not miss the opportunities that were staring me straight in the face.

Taking advantage of my iphone to document the occasion…

I didn’t make it real far before I saw another pool with flaming orange reflections lighting up the surface of the water from the sunlight bouncing off the canyon’s red rock walls. Out came my gear and I was rewarded with a stunning image.  This pattern continued for the remaining three and a half miles of my hike, each time I saw a setting where the light was right I took my time to capture the scene. Finally I reached Archangel Falls and knew my destination was very close. Just around the bend from Archangel Falls there is a channel in the rock of the stream bed where the water rushes through, and just beyond that is ‘The Subway’. Seeing this rock channel I decided to capture an image of it. I set up my camera on the tripod and took a few steps away towards the river bank to set down my hiking pack. No sooner had I moved away than I heard a horrifying ‘SMACK’ sound. I turned around to see that my tripod had fallen over, my camera was in the water and my 24-70mm lens completely snapped in half! At first I just stood there in utter disbelief. I soon collected myself and quickly ran to retrieve my damaged gear from the river. Waves of disbelief continued to crash over me as I stared at the broken pieces in my hands, and then it hit me… What if I hadn’t stopped to shoot all those images along the way in when the light was perfect? I would have had nothing to show for my journey! Just as suddenly as the feelings of frustration had overtaken me, a sudden deep feeling of thankfulness replaced it. Contemplating all this with a grateful heart, I took the memory card out of the camera body and slowly returned my broken equipment to the hiking pack. I comforted myself with the fact that I’ve always carried insurance on my gear so replacing it was not a problem. I stood up and walked the last couple hundred feet into ‘The Subway’, thinking as I went that on the bright side it meant I would need to come back in the fall to do it again an that is exactly what I plan to do. Was I sad as I stood inside ‘The Subway’ without my real camera equipment to capture this iconic location, of course I was, to say anything else would be an outright lie… but even more so I was thankful that I had taken the time to shoot when the light was right. I encourage you to do the same.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

– Nathaniel Smalley

Sanctuary | Zion National Park

Archangel Falls, just one of the many scenes that make it all worth it in the end…

Thoughts From Zion

Chronicles of Nature

 

May 1st of this year found me on the road traversing the canyons of Zion National Park.  Of all the National Parks in the Southwestern United States this is certainly one of my personal favorites. At nearly every turn there is another view as breathtaking as the one before, if not even more spectacular. I spent a total of five days in the park, with the first two days spent shooting from a number of different locations. Ultimately what I wanted to do was hike ‘The Narrows’ however warmer spring temperatures caused increased snow melt in the higher elevations and therefore more flow in the Virgin River below. Each day I would check to see whether or not the Park Rangers were allowing people in, only to be disappointed when I learned the water level was still above 150 cubic feet per second (considered too dangerous to allow even the brave hikers to attempt the raging waters). Finally on my third day the water volume in ‘The Narrows’ receded just below the cut off point to 149 cubic feet per second and I was able to embark on what I can honestly call one of the most incredible experiences of my life.   While this trek straight up the Virgin River into the canyon tends to be more popular in the later months when the water level is diminished, I relished the opportunity to see it during a season that few get to experience. The water was a frigid 40 degrees that day and most of the way I found myself working against powerful currents in water up to my waist (and even higher in a few spots). I pushed onward, enthralled by the majesty of the canyon walls that enclosed me on either side and rose towering into the sky. The sound of the river, as loud as it was, had a certain silence to it, and oddly enough a very calming effect. It wasn’t until much later in the day that I encountered anyone else and I felt incredibly privileged to enjoy this experience with only the American Dippers for company, who were busy bobbing under the water in search of their next meal. I spent the entire day up in The Narrows and only the encroaching darkness forced me to turn around and ignore the canyon calling out to me and beckoning me to walk around just one more bend… If you have the opportunity to hike The Narrows in the early spring months (April through May and even into June) I strongly advise a wet suit to keep yourself completely dry as well as a waterproof camera bag for your gear. One spill on this trek and your dripping camera will let you know that your expedition has been cut short and all those treasured files lost!

Be safe and get off the beaten path, you’ll be glad you did!

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

– Nathaniel Smalley

One of the many breathtaking sights inside the vast recesses of the canyon.