Sunday, 13 September 2009

Postcards from the Arizona Desert

Trish and I spent some time in the Arizona desert. It was quite beautiful, in a stark way. Except for trailers, campers, and motorhomes, the roads were pretty empty from Flagstaff up to Page. The countryside varied quite a bit, although most of the rocks were sandstone red, which contrasted quite nicely with the blue sky.

When I think of 'desert' I think of 'adobe' houses. Our hotel in Page was adobe style and at sunrise the nice blue sky contrasted with the pale wall.


The desert wasn't full-on sand, but the grass wasn't as lush as the Canadian Prairies. However there was enough on the Navajo Nation rangeland for these horses to munch on.


Another big difference with our prairies are the 'monuments' that crop up in various places. They certainly make for an interesting focus point in a photograph. This one is huge. To give you some idea of scale, those are houses out in front and cars on the road off to the left.


We made it up to Monument Valley is with its famous "Mittens" monuments.


Of course 'desert' means 'little-to-no-water'. Little-to-no-water in turn means hardscrabble hillsides with almost no trees.


Our ultimate destination was Antelope Canyon, one of the most famous slot canyons in the world. We started at the Lower Antelope Canyon. Imagine a broad, flat desert with a huge crack in the desert floor. That's the entrance to the canyon.


To get in, you squeeze through the crack and descend inward and downward to the canyon proper. There you find a bit more room, but not much.


In some cases, it is a very tight squeeze, as you can see in Trish's photo of me taking some shots.


The canyon is formed and reformed by flood waters and the sand that flows with the water. The sand and water combination act like a gigantic piece of sandpaper, carving the walls into wonderful shapes with lovely textures. While the result of this erosion is interesting enough, but what makes the canyon so magical is the play of light on those walls. The light is not just any light, but a light that varies in colour and location second by second. You can stay in the same location and have a variety of different shots in just a few minutes. This is possible because the opening at the top is quite small and the canyon is mostly shaded from the sun. As the sun rises during the day, the light enters the canyon from a constantly changing angle which illuminates different sections of the walls as you watch. The downside it that managing the white balance is incredibly difficult, so I just set it for daylight and fired away.


Trish was shooting with her Canon G7 and made some lovely captures of the colours, such as this one:


I also loved the various hues of reds, and I did make a number of photographs that tried to capture them as best I could, but I was really after abstract black and white images. The shape, textures, and tones really had me pumped, although it can be hard to visualize tones when you are staring at such intense colours. Here are a couple of shots to explain what I mean. This shot is colour and is very plain-Jane:


If you ignore the red hue and visualize what it would look like with the tones only, you might get a capture like the one below, with its much more appealing contrasting planes of rock.


Along the same lines is this shot.


While it is very nice with its flame red hues, it doesn't communicate the hardness of the rock that this monotone does.


There were two other elements to work with as well. The first is the shafts of light streaming down into the canyon and the second is the hordes of people wandering through. If you want to get a 'people free' shot, you need lots of patience and a good guide to help with crowd control. In this case, I decided to use a time lapse shot to not only capture the light beaming down but the people walking past.


Even though I was after wild and freaky shots, my favourite shot is this simple one of sand pouring from a ledge.


A slide show of Trish's photographs is here. As an added bonus, she even has a shot of our new puppy Bobb taken before the trip.

A slide show of my photographs is here.

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