Jun 162016
 

“Of Glory and Beauty” || Cliffs along the Colorado River near mile 54 (just south of Nankoweap ruins) soak up the day’s last light in the Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

My mom and I recently had the fortunate chance to spend eight days rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon for the first time while on a private trip with 14 dear and new friends with Hatch River Expeditions.  Commonly used words to describe the trip like “epic,” “best trip of my life,” and “life-changing” all fall short of how I feel about my time in the canyon’s warm (literally and figuratively!!) embrace.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it was so far beyond epic!  I loved it so much, I’ve already booked another trip down for May 2017!

I have 4000+ images and ~128GB of GoPro video footage to sort through, plus pages and pages of notes I scribbled in my journal, from our trip so more pics and stories are sure to follow as I start to shake the sand out of everything.

However, to give you a taste of how exhilarating–and at times, downright hilarious–our trip was, I put together this three-minute video of our run through the famous Lava Falls, the river’s most difficult rapid (albeit short).  It’s rated a Class 10 on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the most difficult and dangerous.

In the short clip, Wendy Gunn, her son Troy, and I are riding in the “bathtub” (the front of the motorized raft), so we had front-row seats as the action unfolded.  Boy, did we get a mouthful!  And man, did we have a blast!

Take a peek at the video below to experience (and for those who have been down the river, perhaps re-live your ride) Lava Falls without getting wet like we did!

(Note: we spewed a few expletives during the ride, so you may not want to play this at full volume at work…)

Feb 242016
 
The Night Conceals and Reveals

“The Night Conceals and Reveals” || A faint winter Milky Way appears above the illuminated shoreline (painted with a flashlight affectionately referred to as “Big Bertha”) along the western side of the Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

The setting sun unfurls a silky sheet of sparkling black satin across the evening sky. Within the opaque darkness, my rental car’s headlights illuminate slivers of Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Peninsula’s pristine landscape. Though momentarily blind to its beauty due to my late arrival from Arizona, I distinctly know what I am missing. Over countless visits—thanks to serving three stints as an Acadia Artist-in-Residence, leading numerous photography workshops, and enjoying personal time—since November 2009, I have come to know these surroundings as well as a doting mother knows her own child.

I pull off at the paved pullout immediately to the south of the historic bridge over Mosquito Harbor and step anxiously into the moonless night. I peacefully close my eyes (though it makes no difference) and quietly eavesdrop on nature’s concealed conversations. The air instantly fills with familiarity. Andante splashes against the granite shoreline sing of a flooding incoming high tide. The crackling crunch beneath my feet suggest seagulls eagerly dropped mussels like bombs against the asphalt to break open their tasty treat earlier in the day. The gentle breeze reveals a salty scent of fresh life precariously balanced with musty death on the delicate knifelike edge of land and sea.

I return to my vehicle to continue reuniting with old friends. Along the way, I wave to the granite outcroppings shaped like cupcakes and now isolated by the high waters. I wink at the Winter Harbor Lighthouse and think to myself, “We have so many stories to catch up on.” I slow my speed while passing by my favorite winter photography spot, West Pond Cove. I hear the waves slurping against the rocky coast. I grin deviously and declare, “Just wait until you ice over. I have big plans for you, me, and my camera then.”

After I park in the vacant lot at Schoodic Point and turn my headlamp on, I excitedly bolt to the boulders frosted with winter’s thin icing. Despite being bundled in all the warm clothes I own, I still shiver, sending the warm desert blood pulsing through my veins to my chilled fingers and toes. With a fervent tingle in my gut, I knock at the wind and announce gregariously, “It’s me! I’m back!”

Wasting no time, Poseidon answers, emerging from the sea as majestically as the rising moon breaks free from the low-lying clouds hugging the horizon. Ignoring the unyielding granite cliffs separating me from his ocean home, his soft fingers curl around the rocks and tickle my soul, spinning me in a joyous pirouette. We waltz together for a few minutes, and though the hushed music never stops playing, I pause to offer an overly dramatic balletic bow in reverence.

Then the silence speaks the words a long-lost lover longs to hear: “Welcome home. I’ve missed you.”

Feb 212016
 
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View of the sandstone monoliths from our camp in Fourmile Canyon at sunset along Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah

Want a taste of what our Lake Powell paddle adventure was like last November?  For those of you would like to read a very abbreviated, 1200-word account and see additional photographs from our recent paddle adventure on Lake Powell, I’m thrilled to share that the National Parks Traveler has published my “Going With the Flow” article at www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2016/02/going-flow.

Additional photos were also published in the online and printed version of the “Essential Guide to Paddle the Parks.” To view the guide via Issuu for free, visit www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2016/02/essential-paddling-guide-exploring-parks-canoe-kayak-raft-and-even-sup.

(By the way, if you have any inclinations or even curiosities about paddle a canoe, kayak, raft, and/or stand-up paddleboard in our nation’s parks, you’ll want to spend time reading this new insightful resource.  Just thumbing through my copy just made me want to grab my board and go float in SO many places!  So many new ideas!)

Because of the nature of the guide and article space requirements, I naturally had to leave out A LOT about our journey down the lake (including things like accidentally dumping my solar charger in water after Day 1, our scary Day 4, my significant life learnings in the aftermath, etc.).  In hopes of telling the broader story, I continue to make excellent progress on penning my adventure book about our trip (using the article’s title as my book’s current working title).  I’m up to over 36,000 words so far!  I have not yet set a publication date yet, as I’m focused right now on getting my words down on paper and starting to form the story.  But stay tuned!

In the meantime, hoping this little taste from the National Parks Traveler paddle guide whets your appetite for more to come…

Jan 202016
 
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Paddling among the mangrove forest on the Buck Key Paddle Trail off the shores of Captiva Island, Florida

My toes curled tightly around the cool, white grains of soft sand as I looked to the angry inky clouds to the south.  Not again, I thought, shaking my head.

I apprehensively scanned the perfectly still, cerulean blue backwater bay to the east of Captiva Island.  Ruminations of my past felt as heavy as the muggy Florida air I now breathed. Only five weeks had passed since my mom and I frantically clung to life, paddling with all our strength and spirit through unexpected stormy six-foot swells on Lake Powell in Utah.  Staring into similar threatening conditions, I was hesitant to offer history such a hasty repeat invitation, especially during my first time climbing back onto a stand-up paddleboard since that harrowing event.

The cordial, clean-shaven 30-something-year-old attendant at the water sports rental hut at the ‘Tweens Water Inn broke my trance. “Let me check the weather forecast for you,” he said while spinning around to meet his computer’s keyboard.

“Heavy rain in 30 minutes,” he yelled back after a few seconds.

I slowly touched my red rain jacket and black waterproof pants, which hid my new black two-piece swimsuit. I dressed to get wet—rain or shine.  My concerns stirred elsewhere.

“What about wind?” I asked while stroking my chin and staring at the summoning sea.

“Nothing significant, just four-to-five miles per hour all afternoon,” he calmly responded.

“If the wind kicks up, does this bay see big swells?” I asked stoically, trying to learn more about the Buck Key Paddle Trail—an aquatic path I had never paddled on before.

“Not really, this area is pretty protected by Buck Key,” he responded, pointing to a mangrove-covered strip of land across the narrow Roosevelt Channel.

“If I go out for 30 minutes and the weather gets really bad, what happens?” I continued my inquisition without changing my scrutinizing gaze.

“You’ll get wet, but who cares?” he responded. “If you make it to the trail, you can hide out there until whatever happens passes.”

My eyes widened as a devious smile grew on my face. Like a pirate or rum-runner trying to outrun authorities (including the most dominant powers of them all—Mother Nature’s hurricanes), I too could find a safe haven in the sinuous waterways lined by twisted gangling mangrove roots. Perhaps history and I could play together nicely after all this morning.

“Let’s do this then!” I responded enthusiastically with a sharp clap of my hands.

He nodded with a grin equal to my own. While I filled out the legal paperwork, he effortlessly pulled a long stand-up paddleboard off the rack of many and then positioned it partially in the water to ease my launch from the gently sloping beach.

As I looped the board’s bungee cord over my large purple dry bag to secure it to my rented board, I looked up at him, “Soooo, how about gators?”

“What about gators?”

“Am I going to run into any out there in the bay or on the trail?”

“There’s a three-foot gator that’s been sunning himself in the bayou. You might see him before you turn right into the trail.  Here’s a map.”

“Do you know if he’s had breakfast yet?” I asked only half-jokingly as I tucked the laminated trail map under my dry bag.

He laughed but did not respond.  Nervously, I then added, “Here’s hoping so. Otherwise he’s going to have a yummy side of granola and peach yogurt with his six-foot tall human main course today.”

Kneeling on my board, I submerged my paddle and pushed the island’s beach away from me to start my two-mile journey under overcast skies—and more importantly, no wind.  However, with the line of dark clouds approaching, I swiftly headed to the lagoon’s entrance a half-mile away, paying little attention to the immaculate mansions and the old dilapidated boats (apparently used only by resting and grooming cormorants and anhingas) lining the canal.

When I arrived at the narrow opening for Braynerd’s Bayou, I balked. An unsettling three-foot wide cut beneath a canopy of eight-foot mangroves offered entrance to the Buck Key Preserve—and the water trail I was to follow.  I shuddered and thought to myself, “Where exactly did he say that gator rested?”

I inhaled a healthy dose of courage with the salty sea air.  I exhaled fear, hoping the nascent light breeze would carry it away.  Goosebumps emerged on my arms and legs, though I could not tell if my irrational worries or the chilly winds (or both) were the sneaky culprits.

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Great white pelicans float in Braynerd’s Bayou

Pushing the opaque waters away from my board delicately, I propelled myself a short 100 feet before the tree tunnel gave way to an open sky and a storybook tranquil cove. Brown pelicans flew overhead in a clumsy V-shaped pattern. American white pelicans floated like graceful swans. An occasional splash from a mullet leaping aggressively into mid-air reminded me of the unseen underwater world no doubt bustling under my feet. A chirping osprey overlooked this magical outdoor kingdom while roosting on his dead-snag throne like a somber-faced gargoyle warding off evil spirits.

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The Buck Key Paddle “Trailhead”

I stopped paddling in hopes of traveling unnoticed in this foreign and enthralling bay, but a subtle current pulled me closer to the northern edge of the bayou where the official canoe/kayak trail supposedly began. When I drifted in front of a small, cave-like opening in the mangroves, I searched fervently for a trail sign or marker—anything that could help answer my anxious psyche’s question, “You really want me to go in there?”

Unintentionally splashing my feet with drops of tepid water, I swirled my board around with strong backwards paddle strokes to survey my scene from left to right in search of a better option—and to spot that three-foot creature lurking somewhere around here. Along the western shore, I spotted a dark, long object. Gator or deadwood?  I was not inclined to paddle over there to find out.

Without any effort of my own, the beckoning waterway’s swirling flow casually rotated my board 180-degrees to allow me to confront the trail’s intimidating entrance once again. I snapped a few pictures of the watery “trailhead” as teasing raindrops started tapping the water’s surface. I extended my arm and turned my right palm face up toward the unleashing sky to feel the soft drizzly dance against my own skin. I took another deep breath, filling my lungs with the earthy, rotten-egg aroma pervasive in mangrove forests now enhanced by the onset of rain.  I grinned.  Time to play pirate.

I answered the trail’s call by dropping to my knees to avoid hitting my head on the low-hanging lanky branches hugging the waterway—and to prevent me from falling off my board into the three-to-four-feet of mangrove muck.  As I slipped into the trail’s grasp, I instantly felt transported to the Dagobah System from the Star Wars movies. Yoda could have dropped out of the trees without startling me.

I alternated paddling and pushing myself off the reddish-brown roots dipping their toes in the brackish six-foot wide channel.  As I weaved steadily through this sheltered dreamlike hideout, I studied Buck Key’s sandy uninhabited landscape veiled behind the wall of green. I contemplated whether I could survive off this land as well as the Calusa Indians once had among their shell mounds. Shy mangrove crabs scurrying among the branches indicated these little critters obviously could prosper here. I wondered if the pirates and rum-runners paused for even a second from their illicit business to appreciate the incredible beauty of their temporary surroundings similar to these.

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Collection of algae-covered shells on Buck Key

After a little more than a half mile of paddling, the shaded waterway greeted the undulating waves of the expansive Pine Island Sound. As if to tempt me to remain in the trail’s dry confines even longer, an elegant great blue heron swooped from one branch to another close enough for me to hear the flap of its wings slice smoothly through the sultry air.  Imagining my good fortune could not get any better, within seconds, a giant eagle ray jumped explosively out of the channel waters, flashing his black-spotted body and bleach white underside to the emerging sun—and to me gazing in awe a mere 100 feet away with my jaw dropped. I closed my eyes and shrugged my shoulders to curl around the warm, welcoming northerly breeze.  I counted my many treasures from this experience. I liked being a pirate.

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A juvenile osprey rests on a twisted mangrove branch – spotted en route back to the hotel’s marina.

With the fast-moving current threatening to push me quickly back into Buck Key’s embrace, I stood up on my paddleboard and shook the stiffness from my folded legs before digging my paddle into the sea to return to my hotel.

As I approached the resort’s marina, the same sun-tanned gent who had helped me launch earlier appeared from the rental hut with a friendly smile.

“Well, how was it?” he asked excitedly.

“Fantastic! The gator was apparently full!”  I joked as I nonchalantly slid my board into the beach.  “Seriously though, paddling through the tight canopy of a mangrove forest was so different than anything I’ve ever done.  I’m from Arizona, where I’m used to paddling under big open landscapes where you can see forever.”

He nodded his head as if he understood.

“Were you fine in the rain?” he inquired.

“What rain?” I asked genuinely, but then slyly smiled as I started humming Disney’s popular Pirates of the Caribbean song to myself, “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.”

 

Many thanks to the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau and the ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort and Spa for hosting the Outdoor Writers Association of America Board of Directors and Officers during our winter board meeting activities this past January.  Their outstanding support made this adventure possible.  If the thought of floating gently through a tunnel of green, communing with wildlife, and savoring the ocean air entices you, you won’t soon forget a paddling trip (via canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard) from Captiva Island!  I can’t wait to return…

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View of Pine Island Sound from the Roosevelt Channel

Nov 292015
 
CMS and Mom at Put In

Jacque and Colleen just seconds before beginning our paddling adventure on Lake Powell just north of Hite (at the North Wash/Dirty Devil take out) last Tuesday morning. iPhone photo courtesy of my Dad, Bob Miniuk.

Hi everyone,

After three absolutely spectacular days paddling almost 40 miles on Lake Powell, on Friday morning, my Mom and I found ourselves in terrifying 6-foot swells (per the park ranger’s estimation) in between miles 110 and 106, where we feared for our own – and helplessly, each other’s -  lives for over three hours along the towering cliff walls.  We are physically unharmed, but are emotionally shaken.

A park ranger in police rescue boat literally just happened to pull into Forgotten Canyon on his rounds, where my Mom and I had taken refuge out of the winds and waves along a two-foot spit of sand at the base of a large talus slope no more than 10 minutes before his arrival.

In talking with him, he suggested conditions were going to get worse over the next 6-7 days with a large storm from California dropping more south than expected (which explained the swells despite having a “clear and calm winds” forecast…) and that a second storm following behind it.   Having just survived scary conditions, my Mom and I could not see ourselves enduring “worse” than what we experienced.  We are not above or stronger than Mother Nature.

We accepted a ride from Forgotten Canyon to Halls Crossing from the park ranger on the rescue boat.  My Dad picked us up from there yesterday afternoon, and we are now home.

As we work through a swirl of emotions – relief, disappointment, immense joy, sadness, pride, and everything in between – we are so grateful for a number of things:

  1. Our lives!
  2. Our glorious 4-day, 40-mile adventure through gorgeous canyons – no exaggeration, we had some of the best times of our lives out there together.  Might have been shorter than expected, but it was certainly no less epic!
  3. Help from complete strangers, especially NPS Rangers Anthony and Marty, when we needed it most.
  4. The amazing support from our family and all of you as we took on this journey.

The dream of paddling the length of Lake Powell does not die, it merely changes.  As those who have been on my workshops before know well, “The plan is the plan until the plan changes, and the plan changes often, so plan on it!”  I am going to use the time I had planned to be on the lake to stay under the radar and off-grid through mid-December to sort out the recent life-changing events and options for “what next?”

Stay tuned for more, including all the details of this unforgettable and incredible adventure on Lake Powell…I’m writing our amazing story as fast as my little hand can go.

Once again, we’re so thankful for all of your encouragement and support!

~Colleen

Nov 172015
 
My Mom, Jacque, kayaking in Warm Creek Bay during our recent trial run on Lake Powell in preparation for our trip next week.

My Mom, Jacque, kayaking in Warm Creek Bay during our recent trial run on Lake Powell in preparation for our trip next week (taken while standing on my SUP).

Today marks T-7 days until the start of what will no doubt be a memorable SUP/kayak trip down the 150-mile length of Lake Powell with my mom, Jacque (in case you missed my previous blog post, visit “What’s SUP? An Epic Adventure Awaits” at youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/whats-sup-an-epic-adventure-awaits).   I can hardly sleep at night, and that’s not only due to all my last minute preparations for our two-week adventure, but rather my overwhelming excitement to get this party started!

One of those last minute details calls for me to load what I’ve called the “Lake Powell Paddle Playlist” (try saying that three times fast!) onto my iPhone.  Now, when I put out the call to all of you to provide favorite inspirational song, I had no idea what to expect (other than I know they’d all be fantastic, of course).  But, I was completely blown away by the wildly diverse and incredible ideas you sent to help us paddle to when times get tough out there on the water and we need some positive vibes.

Thanks to those of you who sent musical recommendations in, I now have over five hours (!!) of sentimental, calming, heart-pumping, thought-provoking, and inspirational music to keep paddling along.  What I loved most was seeing each of your personalities shine through in your suggestions.  I also appreciated hearing from many of you the inspirational backstories of why the song(s) meant something to you.  I appreciate all who shared their heartfelt stories and songs with me.

As promised, here’s the current playlist with the Song – Artist (and my friend who contributed it) in no particular order:

  1. Thank You – Johnny Reid (Brian Hayward)
  2. Ballad of Edward Abbey – Tom Russell (Jackson Frishman)
  3. I’m So Glad – Cream (JP Bruce)
  4. Old Man River – Paul Robson (Rick Jacobi, Mike Hayden, and Richard Penney)
  5. Watching the River Run – Loggins and Messina (Lynda Holman)
  6. The Mary Ellen Carter – Stan Rogers (John McCoy)
  7. Happy – Pharrell Williams (Toru Kawana and Sheri Skocdopole)
  8. Beautiful Day – U2 (Toru Kawana)
  9. Miss Hesitation – Jesse (Robert Rader)
  10. Ridge Top – Jesse Colin Young (Robert Rader)
  11. Astronomy – Metallica (Robert Ford)
  12. Move Along – The All-American Rejects (Jodi Stemler)
  13. Learn to Fly – Foo Fighters (Jodi Stemler)
  14. One – Creed (Jodi Stemler)
  15. Steady as She Goes – The Raconteurs (Jodi Stemler)
  16. If Today Was Your Last Day – Nickelback (Jodi Stemler)
  17. Wherever I May Roam – Metallica (Jodi Stemler)
  18. Every Day is a Winding Road – Sheryl Crow (Jodi Stemler)
  19. Dreams – Cranberries (Jodi Stemler)
  20. Linger – Cranberries (Jodi Stemler)
  21. Pocketful of Sunshine – Natasha Bedingfield (Jodi Stemler)
  22. The Time of My Life – David Cook, (Jodi Stemler)
  23. Sweet Dreams Are Made of This – The Eurythmics, (Jodi Stemler)
  24. Carry On – FUN, (Jodi Stemler)
  25. Fly Away – Lenny Kravitz, (Jodi Stemler)
  26. Good Life – OneRepublic (Jodi Stemler)
  27. Paris – Grace Potter(Jodi Stemler)
  28. Apologies – Grace Potter (Jodi Stemler)
  29. Stars – Grace Potter (Jodi Stemler)
  30. Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls (Jodi Stemler)
  31. Outshined – Soundgarden (Jodi Stemler)
  32. Are you Ready – Creed (Jodi Stemler)
  33. Cochise – Audioslave (Jodi Stemler)
  34. Flies in the Vaseline – Smashing Pumpkins (Jodi Stemler)
  35. Come With Me Now – (Wish I Could) by Kongos (Brett Prettyman)
  36. Best Day of My Life – American Authors (Brett Prettyman)
  37. But Not Tonight – Depeche Mode (Brett Prettyman)
  38. Rolling in the Deep – Adele (Ron Niebrugge)
  39. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – (Ron Niebrugge and Mark Berry)
  40. The Moldau – Bedrich Smetana (Paul Vang)
  41. Cheerleader –  Omi (Amy Novotny)
  42. A Thousand Miles From Nowhere – Dwight Yoakum (Stan Burman)
  43. Imagine – John Lennon (Katie Bond)
  44. Dancing in the Dark – Bruce Springsteen (Kurt Repanshek)
  45. Stronger – Kayne West (Kris Millgate’s son)
  46. I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty and the Heartbreaks (Kris Millgate)
  47. Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival (Monica Halveka)
  48. River Runs Red – Midnight Oil (Thomas Graham)
  49. Gooey – Glass Animals (Floris van Breugel)
  50. Feel Again – One Republic (Amy Minton)
  51. Demons – Imagine Dragons (Amy Minton)
  52. Stronger – Kelly Clarkson (Mary Gamble)
  53. We are the Champions – Queen (Mary Gamble)
  54. It’s My Life – Bon Jovi (Mary Gamble)
  55. What a Wonderful World – Louie Armstrong (Mary Gamble)
  56. Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Judy Garland (Mary Gamble)
  57. 10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman (Mary Gamble)
  58. Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) – Hillsong UNITED (Mary Gamble)
  59. Night Rider’s Lament – Jerry Jeff Walker (Tim Mead)
  60. Haiku – Doug Hammer (Carol See)
  61. Sitting on Top of the World – Amanda Marshall (Sheri Skocdopole)
  62. Where the Black Top Ends – Keith Urban (Sheri Skocdopole)
  63. Against the Wind – Bob Seger (Carlene Drake)
  64. Let it Whip – Dazz Band (Jacque Miniuk)
  65. I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – Proclaimers (Rob Miniuk)
  66. The Final Countdown – Europe (Rob Miniuk)
  67. The Valley Road – Bruce Hornsby and the Range (Jackie Klieger)
  68. My Sweet Lord – George Harrison (Jackie Klieger)
  69. I’ll Be There – Jackson 5 (John Penney)
  70. Con te Partiro – Andrea Bocelli (Sue Penney)
  71. Something’s Coming – Jim Bryant, Russ Tamblyn, Marni Nixon, & Natalie Wood (Sue Penney)
  72. Quiet Your Mind – Zac Brown Band (Christy Schroeder)
  73. Let it Go – Zac Brown Band (Ty Stockton)
  74. Paradise – John Prine (Phil Bloom)
  75. Spanish Pipe Dream – John Prine (Phil Bloom)
  76. Everybody – John Prine (Phil Bloom)
  77. The Bottomless Lake – John Prine (Phil Bloom)
  78. Say Hey (I Love You) – Michael Franti and Spearhead (Jen and Michael Raffaeli)
  79. The Sound of Sunshine – Michael Fronti and Spearhead (Jen and Michael Raffaeli)
  80. I Like to Move It – Madagascar 5 (Jen and Michael Raffaeli)
  81. No Scrubs – TLC (Jen and Michael Raffaeli)
  82. Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show (Mark Berry)
  83. Muddy Water – Daniel Jenkins (Lynda Holman)
  84. River in the Rain – Daniel Jenkins and Ron Richardson (Lynda Holman)
  85. Got to Give it Up – Marvin Gaye (John Divan)
  86. I’ve Been Everywhere – Johnny Cash (Barbara White)
  87. I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack (Dawn Gould)
  88. Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo (Rebecca Wilks)
  89. Too Much Stuff – Delbet McClinton (Rebecca Wilks)
  90. The Happy Wanderer – Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller (Tom Rust)
  91. River Road – Crystal Gayle (Lindsay Guthrie)
  92. Alberta Bound – Gordon Lightfoot (Lindsay Guthrie)
  93. Arizona, I Love You – sung by Rex Allen Jr. (Lindsay Guthrie)
  94. Roar – Katie Perry (Carol Gray)
  95. Hallelujah – Justin Timberlake(Carol Gray)
  96. All I Ask of You – Phantom of the Opera (Carol Gray)
  97. If I Had a Rocket Launcher – Bruce Cockburn (Bill Rau)
  98. Hold On – Alabama Shakes (Marty and Shirley Hill)
  99. Ends of the Earth – Lord Huron (Marty and Shirley Hill)
  100. Going Up the Country – Canned Heat (Donna Drake)
  101. Down by the Water – Decemberists (Donna Drake)
  102. I’ve Got the World on a String – Frank Sinatra (Donna Drake)
  103. Seven Nation Army – White Stripes (Donna Drake)
  104. Where the Streets Have No Name – U2 (Donna Drake)
  105. America the Beautiful (Ray Turkin)
  106. The Red Tower – Ah-Nee-Ma (Harald Johnsen)
  107. River of Creation –  Ah-Nee-Ma (Harald Johnsen)
  108. Light from the East –  Ah-Nee-Ma (Harald Johnsen)
  109. Canyon Dreams –  Ah-Nee-Ma (Harald Johnsen)
  110. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding (Chris Serjak)
  111. Scatterlings of Africa – Johnny Clegg (Chris Serjak)
  112. Cruel Crazy Beautiful World – Johnny Clegg (Chris Serjak and Marcia Fischer)
  113. Mighty River – Vusi Mahlasela (Chris Serjak)
  114. The Passenger – Iggy Pop (Marcia Fischer)
  115. Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac (Marcia Fischer)
  116. Radio Nowhere – Bruce Springsteen (Marcia Fischer)
  117. Ray of Light – Madonna (Marcia Fischer)
  118. Trouble Me – 10, 000 Maniacs (Marcia Fischer)
  119. Day Tripper – The Beatles  (Marcia Fischer)
  120. A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (Marcia Fischer)
  121. Wave – Antonio Carlos Jobim (Marcia Fischer)
  122. If I Had A Boat by Lyle Lovett (Marcia Fischer)
  123. Time To Move On – Tom Petty (Kim Vandenberg)
  124. Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty (Kim Vandenberg)
  125. American Girl– Tom Petty (Kim Vandenberg)
  126. Ticks – Brad Paisley (Ena Flynn)
  127. Online – Brad Paisley (Ena Flynn)
  128. Mud on the Tires – Brad Paisley (Ena Flynn)
  129. PM’s Love Theme – Craig Armstrong (Betsy Anderson)
  130. A Wink and a Smile – Harry Connick, Jr. (Betsy Anderson)
  131. The Magnificent Seven – The City of Prague Philharmonic, Paul Bateman cond. (Betsy Anderson)
  132. The Aviators – Helen Jane Long (Betsy Anderson)
  133. We will Rock you – Queen (Lynette Tritel)
  134. Rodrigo Solo – Rodrigo Y Gabriela (Lynette Tritel)
  135. Summer album – George Winston (Lynette Tritel)
  136. The Sun in the Stream – Enya (Rick Beach)
  137. Free Ride – The Edgarwinter Group (Judy Lovelett)
  138. Here I Go Again – Whitesnake (Judy Lovelett)
  139. On The Road Again – Johnny Cash (Judy Lovelett)
  140. Running Down A Dream – Tom Petty (Judy Lovelett)
  141. Send Me On My Way – Rusted Root (Carol See)
  142. Soak Up the Sun – Sheryl Crow (Carol See)
  143. Take on Me – Aha (Carol See)
  144. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper (Carol See)
  145. How You Live (turn up the music) – Point of Grace (Carol See)
  146. We Won’t Give Up – The Afters (Carol See)
  147. Carol of the Bells – Transiberian Orchestra (Carol See)
  148. I Found You – Louis Landon (Carol See)
  149. Family – Louis Landon (Carol See)
  150. One – Metallica (Kirk Forbes)
  151. Right Now – Van Halen (Kirk Forbes)
  152. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin (Don Eden)
  153. Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits (John Murphy)
  154. Number 1-4 – Penguin Cafe Orchestra (John Murphy)
  155. Start Me Up – Rolling Stones (Rusty Pinckney)

Isn’t it an amazing list?!  Thanks again, everyone, for helping to make this trip even more special to me!

A little later in the week, I’ll post some answers to FAQ’s I’ve received about the trip so far so stay tuned!

Colleen

Me paddling during our recent trial run on Lake Powell (photo courtesy of my Mom…wouldn’t you agree she did an excellent job placing me off-centered and looking into the photograph as well as keeping the horizon low to emphasize a cool sky, even if there were a couple contrails…not to mention the awesome reflection…all while trying to keep herself from falling out of her kayak…HAHAHA! Ma, ya done good!)

Oct 262015
 
Arizona_Glen Canyon National Recreation Area_00099_c

View of the sandstone cliffs near Lone Rock at Lake Powell from my stand-up paddleboard (SUP) this past August. I plan to SUP the ~150-mile length of Lake Powell this November.

Occasionally I get these harebrained ideas. Past notions range from wanting to climb Mount Everest in my 20’s (until I learned I really, really, really dislike hiking uphill) to making a pact after college with my talented and athletic friend, Jen, to train to try to make the Olympics in rowing crew (a sport I had never done, but she had  – and well – at the Varsity level at Stanford University).

Some pass with a hearty laugh and no further mention; some of the perhaps less ambitious ones happen…like standing in 80 mph winds just to see what a blizzard feels like in Maine or leaving at midnight to drive two hours to photograph star trails along the coast through the night.  Certainly not Mount Everest or the Olympics, but still fun and exciting nonetheless.

I cannot say how my latest silly idea came to be, but this time, it’s actually going to come to fruition. And soon too!  Starting in late November, I plan to traverse the length of Lake Powell, following the course of the Colorado River about 150 miles from Hite to Wahweap Marina on my stand-up paddleboard (SUP).

CMS SUPing_email

My first time SUPing in June 2013 on the Deschutes River in Bend.

Originally, I intended to do the float alone, but when I shared my plans with my parents, my Mom (whom we call the “Energizer Bunny”) immediately proclaimed, “I’m coming with you!”  So my 64-year old mother, Jacque, will act as my support crew, paddling with me in a double kayak with much of our gear for the two-week adventure.

Although I came up with the idea last fall, I became hooked on “SUPing” in Oregon during June 2013, when our dear friend from college Chris, his lovely wife Susan, and young son visited Bend.  At that time, my husband and I had temporarily moved to Hillsboro, Oregon – a mere three-hour drive to Bend – for Craig’s job.  Looking for an afternoon outing, the five of us ventured to the Deschutes River and rented two paddleboards. To make sure someone always had an eye on Chris and Susan’s little one, each couple paddled for about 15-20 minutes, and then came back ashore to switch.

From the first moment my shaky legs stood on that wobbly board, I was in heaven. Besides the rhythmic pace mesmerizing me in to a blissful and tranquil state, I became absorbed into the landscape. I felt as if I became an active participant in my surroundings, not just an observer of it. After that exhilarating afternoon, I could not wait to paddle again!

What's SUP, Mom?

“What’s SUP, Mom?” || My mom, Jacque, paddles on a stand-up paddleboard for the first time in August 2014 in Frenchman Bay near Bar Harbor, Maine.

Since then, I have taken a few lessons from some incredibly capable SUP’ers. Each experience only encouraged and inspired me to want more. After a memorable outing with my Mom on Frenchman Bay near Acadia National Park in Maine in August 2014, I started noodling on the idea of a grand touring adventure on a paddleboard “somewhere.” I tinkered with the idea of paddling the length of a U.S. coastline like Oregon, Maine, or even Florida. After a significant amount of research though, I decided I was not quite ready for my aquatic escapades to potentially involve sharks or alligators (at least for now…although I’m quite entranced by the 325-mile Maine Island Trail I just heard about…maybe that will be my next absurd idea…). With no scary creatures hiding within its waters (I think…right?!?), the idea of floating down Lake Powell emerged to the top of my list of crazy ideas that likely would never materialize.

Learning to paddle river rapids on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah on my 40th birthday (photo courtesy of my amazing guide, Alicia Wright)

Then I spent the morning my big 40th birthday this past April paddling the upper Colorado River outside Moab, Utah, where, among other things, I learned how to paddle on river rapids. And how to get dunked in them. And live to tell about it (I’m deathly afraid of water where I cannot see my feet. Ironic, huh?).  And how to keep keeping my paddle “all in” both literally in the water and figuratively in life.

Invigorated by the moving outing, I pondered later that afternoon over a piece of delicious birthday cake, “Life’s short. Why not SUP the length of Lake Powell?”  Blame the sugar high, but I could not come up with any reasons not to…well, except for one:  I didn’t own a board!

Fortunately, my husband gifted me an inflatable SUP for my most recent birthday. After spending much time gliding in lakes around Phoenix and in other lakes around the western U.S. with it, I decided to name my board “Liridon” (which means “free spirit” in Albanian) ahead of its epic journey at Lake Powell.  I call it “Lyr” for short, which means “god of the sea” in Welsh (and also in Irish if spelled “Lir”).

As I became more serious about pursing the trip, I checked my calendar and found the only window of time large enough to accommodate such an outing within the next year fell in this November and December. Although many have and will disagree with me, I felt like that was an ideal time to complete our adventure.  It offered the prospects of the cooler temperatures (compared to scorching summer weather), a reduced chance of brutal winds (as seen in the spring), and fewer boats on the lake than most other months (so we would have the lake to ourselves).  I mean, really, where do I sign up??!

This past August, I introduced Lyr to Lake Powell on a quick day-long trial run. Under a clear blue sky, I set out at first light to paddle for about six to eight hours where I hoped to cover about 12-16 miles. In the methodical pace of paddling in the warm, welcoming waters around the bay at Lone Rock, I reviewed many details about my November trip.  Would I survive paddling in 50 or 60-degree temperatures, 30 degrees cooler than this summer day? Yes, but I should buy neoprene booties just in case. Will I be OK paddling like this, non-stop, for two weeks? An emphatic yes.

Outside of solvable logistical challenges, the biggest question that crossed my mind, though, was how would the 14 days I had planned ever be enough? With all the side canyons and inlets and hidden coves to explore, how will I ever be able to stay focused long enough in the main channel to actually make it home?

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The first squall as seen from a sandy beach along Wahweap Bay.  Thunder boomed from this storm about 20 minutes later.

Growing cumulonimbus clouds to the southwest pulled me out of my planning trance. The forecast called for a monsoon storm to blow through later in the afternoon.  A sizeable squall was moving in early – and fast. I found myself about two to three miles out – and on the opposite side of the lake – when I heard thunder around 11 a. m.

I paddled to the nearest rocky beach, pulled my SUP out of the water, and waited to see what would transpire. As the winds swirled and the angry sky unleashed its fury, I tucked under my beached board to keep as much of me as dry as possible, curled up so that my back and head took the brunt of the hit. Stupidly, I had left my rain jacket and pants at my camp, thinking it was too warm and clear to need such things.

Then, I spotted lightning too close for comfort. Leaving the cover of my board, I found the lowest point I could find and away from the bushes (there were no trees in sight). I then immediately assumed the lightning position – even though it meant getting drenched. I spent the next 45 minutes squatting on balls of feet standing on top of my life vest. In hindsight, I should have tossed my metal paddle at least 50-100 feet away from me. Thankfully, my oversight did not cause a disaster.

The storm passed, but left in its wake a strong headwind causing one- to two-foot white-capped swells.  I sure did not want to paddle in the high winds, but I could see two more squalls on the horizon moving quickly towards me.  I needed to make the crossing to the other shore and the last couple of miles back to camp NOW, or I was going to end up sleeping on this shore.

I paddled sitting down, and mostly with my left arm to battle the relentless wind gusts and swells.  I kept repeating, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  After a few iterations, I added, “And if it does kill you, well, you’ve just been dumb.”

While questioning my own intelligence, I paddled ashore the sandy beach beneath my camp site in time to clean, dry, and put away my SUP (about a 20 minute process) before the next thunderstorm arrived overhead.  From the time I reached shore around 1:30 pm until the next morning, squall after squall (I counted eight in the waking hours) passed through the area with high enough winds to flatten my neighbor’s tent.

After my first trial run this summer at Lake Powell with Lyr, I was not only happy to be alive.  I was happy to feel alive!   And the outing only made me want my November trip to come sooner.

On a two-week tour, though, I know some challenging times will occur among the many memorable highlights, so I would like your help!  Tell me, what is your absolute most favorite inspirational song?

Please leave a comment below or shoot me an email with your suggestion.  I am putting together a new big playlist on my iPhone with whatever type of music you wish to offer – country, rock, indie, pop, and anything in between – so I can bring all the wonderfully positive vibes from my friends – YOU! – with me on my trip to listen to when I need a little pick-me-up.

In case you too would like to jam out to the inspiration of others, the AMAZING list of contributed songs has been posted on my blog at “The Lake Powell Paddle Playlist” at youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/the-lake-powell-paddle-playlist.   You never know, you might need it during your own crazy ideas…I can’t wait to hear what you come up with!

Lucky Strike

“Lucky Strike” || Viewed from my campsite at the Lone Rock area of Lake Powell in Arizona, a lightning bolt emerges over the cliffs of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

Apr 022015
 
Fire Away

“Fire Away,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV. The iconic Fire Wave rock formation at sunset in the Valley of Fire State Park. (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Although it wasn’t completely obvious, hopefully you’ve realized my blog post yesterday, “Making the Image:  My Most Unique Photo of Yosemite” was part of a semi-elaborate April Fool’s Day joke, where 11 participating photographers posted the exact same image of Tunnel View (the idea and image compliments of Jim Goldstein).  We linked our blogs together, suggesting we all shared tripod holes to get our “most unique shot of Yosemite.” We really didn’t go to Tunnel View.

If you haven’t done so already, the hilarious faux write-ups alone are worth clicking through the chain of linked blog posts:

Jim Goldsteinwww.jmg-galleries.com/blog/2015/04/01/my-most-unique-photo-yosemite/

Colleen Miniuk-Sperry: youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/making-the-image-my-most-unique-photo-of-yosemite/

Olivier Du Tre: blog.olivierdutre.com/2015/04/tunnel-view.html

Ken Cravillion: kgcphoto.blogspot.ca/2015/04/original-tunnel-view.html

David Leland Hyde:  landscapephotographyblogger.com/my-most-unique-photograph-of-yosemite-valley/

Jim Sabiston:  www.essentiallight.blogspot.com/2015/04/my-most-unique-photo-of-yosemite-yet.html

Eric Fredinewww.ericfredine.ca/blog/2015/3/31/my-unique-take-on-yosemite

Floris van Breugelwww.artinnaturephotography.com/wordpress/2015/fresh-air-and-fresh-views/

Richard Wong: www.rwongphoto.com/blog/my-most-unique-photo-of-yosemite-yet/

Youssef Ismail: www.organiclightphoto.com/blog/?p=1918

Gary Crabbe:  www.enlightphoto.com/views/2015/04/01/best-yosemite-shot-ever.htm

The silly prank aimed to highlight and poke fun at the inundation of homogeneity we see in nature photography today.  Endless streams of the same scene in magazines, calendars, postcards, Flickr, and social media could easily lead us to believe those are the only subjects worth photographing.  To this point, I made a sarcastic comment in yesterday’s post, “…but I figured if Ansel hadn’t found something gorgeous to shoot in those spots, I sure wasn’t going to!”  With the highest respect for Mr. Adams, this notion is absurd.

Early in my photography career, I spent a lot of time blasting away at classic scenes for three reasons.  One, I wanted to see these amazingly beautiful scenes with my own eyes (and not solely through others’ photographic interpretations).  Two, the predefined compositions gave me a baseline to determine how well I was controlling my camera to get expected results.  And three, they sold well (hence the “endless streams of the same scene in magazines, calendars, and postcards”).

In hindsight, a fourth reason existed:  I knew how to look; I did not know how to see.  After eventually getting bored with having my photographs look like everyone else’s,  I turned to learn more creative ways of expressing my personal vision.  As I did – and continue to do – so, the question remains, “Can I shoot the icons?”  Or better yet, “Can I shoot the icons and still be called a respectable photographer?”  As I wandered around the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada (not Oregon, as my April Fool’s blog suggested) in mid-February after proofing my book, the answer came to light.

I had visited the park before, but never photographed during what I considered conducive lighting conditions.  Normally, I would research and visualize before setting out to a location.  However, I could only find 24 hours a day in the days leading up to my trip, and preparing the book for printing consumed most (if not all) of that time.  As a result, my brain only recalled two locations based on what I had seen on the internet:  the Fire Wave and Elephant Arch.

During my six-hour trek, I initially decided to avoid these two iconic spots in the park.  Although I did not have copies of either scene in my stock files, I wondered how could I possibly showcase these two sites differently all the previous photographers, hikers, and general nature enthusiasts alike who had already snapped their own photos here.

Making a pretty photograph of a roadkill (meaning: easily accessed), classic scenes – the Fire Wave, Elephant Arch, and other icons like Delicate Arch in Arches National Park or Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park – is easy.  Mother Nature has already painted the beautiful palette and thousands (if not millions) of photographers have already figured out (and proven by mimicking excessively) essentially the same composition.  ‘All’ one needs to do is show up at these places, turn your camera on, and wait for a vibrant multi-hued sky; a double rainbow; or a glowing Milky Way overhead.

But simply incorporating fleeting light into a cliché composition is a bit like putting lipstick on a pig.  Changing the weather conditions does not transform a documentary “trophy” shot into something fresh or creative.

Then a different thought crossed my mind:  Why should the fact that every photographer but me has photographed these scenes prevent me from enjoying and photographing them for myself?  Stubbornly, I decided it should not, and so I changed my mind as I crossed into Nevada.  I resolved to photograph the Fire Wave later that evening.

I arrived about two hours before sunset to scope out the Fire Wave area.  I held two attitudes about the evening:  one, I would likely share the location with other photographers wishing to make their own images – and that’s OK! – and two, tourists wishing to snap selfie’s while standing atop the rock formation had equal right to enjoy the scene as I did.  Under no circumstance would I pretend I owned the place or tell anyone to get out of the way (two things I have watched with great sadness by impolite and impatient photographers at iconic locations before).  After all, they made the clone-stamp and patch tools in Photoshop for a reason, right?  Right.

Much to my surprise, only two other photographers scampered about the rocks (one of whom left well before the sun went down).  I tested a variety of compositions with my wide-angle lens and four-stop graduated neutral density filter, settled into my favorite position, and then waited. Thanks to the candy-colored light show Mother Nature provided, I brought home a nice rendition of an iconic shot for my stock files (photo above).

Following a rejuvenating restful sleep, the next morning, I pulled into one of the parking lots, flipped my camera gear onto my back, and melted into the shadowed canyonlands with no particular destination in mind.  Unlike shooting pre-existing compositions, creative photography requires a more mindful, peaceful, slower pace – one where experiencing, discovering, and connecting with my surroundings occurs before making an image (if an image is made at all).  I philosophically agree with Ansel Adams’ perspective, “My photographs become records of experiences as well as places.”

I eventually picked up the White Domes Slot Canyon Trail where I spent two hours in awe (and 129 different compositions) hovering over a small wash where I created my “Stone Butterfly” – an apropos composition that revealed I was ready for a metamorphoses from cliché images to creating my own here. (Post continues after photograph)

The Stone Butterfly

“The Stone Butterfly,” Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

For the remainder of my three-day stay, I continued to wander through unnamed canyons and rock shelves to create fresh footprints in the sand and to soak in this magically whimsical environment in my own way.

I longed to see a hypothetical time-lapse video showing the seemingly impossible process of these sherbet colored rocks forming eons ago. (Post continues after photograph)

Diamond in the Rough

“Diamond in the Rough,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

I marveled at the stars visible from my campsite while sipping wine. (Post continues after photograph)

The Gathering

“The Gathering,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

I paid homage to Anubis, an Egyptian reference found in the Elizabeth Peters book I had just finished reading the night before. (Post continues after photograph)

Anubis in Stone

“Anubis in Stone,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

I broke down crying in front of a dead tree for a dear friend who had passed away unexpectedly just two weeks before my trip. (Post continues after photograph)

Gone, But Not Forgotten

“Gone, But Not Forgotten (In Memory of Jim),” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

In each of these meaningful moment, I made an image to represent my experience in this fantastical place.

On the final morning of my stay, when I needed to quickly return to my Arizona, I determined the easiest and quickest location to photograph on the way out was – wait for it – the roadside Elephant Arch.  I approached the icon just as the red “sailors heed warning” colored sky transformed the orange sandstone in all directions into a glowing ember-like spectacle.  The light unfolding over the landscape opposite the arch spoke to me. (Post continues after photograph)

A True Valley of Fire

“A True Valley of Fire,” Valley of Fire State Park, NV (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order)

As I made my final image (of a scene some may overlook while honing in on Elephant Arch), I thought to myself, can I shoot the icons (and still be called a respectable photographer?  Sure.  Because of their remarkable beauty, anyone who wishes to do so, should.  Just don’t expect to be alone or different as you do so.

Without question, though, I would encourage everyone with even greater enthusiasm to look beyond them for your own artistic expressions.  Tremendously more rewarding and fulfilling moments await if you are willing to uniquely experience the world around you and focus on photographing the meaningful connections you develop along your own journey.

Happy trails,
Colleen

P.S.  To see all 13 images I created during my three-day trip, visit http://cms-photo.photoshelter.com/gallery/Nevada/G00002EqYTMEHKIE/C0000.fuI6BhfIuI.

P.P.S.  To gain an abundance of insight about “Personalizing Place” from a variety of different photographers/speakers, join us at the upcoming Moab Photo Symposium on May 1-3, 2015.  Learn more at moabphotosym.com.

Aug 042014
 
Remote Possibilities

“Remote Possibilities” at the Toroweap Overlook in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

My buddies and fellow photographers, Guy Tal and Bruce Hucko, and I made a deal.  We were to meet in Torrey at 2:00 pm on a Thursday for a multi-day wandering together to discuss the future of the Moab Photo Symposium (it’s a GO for 2015! Mark your calendars for April 30 – May 2!).

After agreeing to these arrangements, I did some math.  I would need to leave my home in Chandler at about 4:00 am in order to make the 550-mile, 9-hour run (plus an hour time change in Utah) within the set deadline.  Not being a morning person, if I am getting up at that hour, I would really like to have a camera in one hand and an encouraging cup of black tea in the other.

With that, I pondered leaving on Wednesday and making an overnight stop at a scenic location en route.  Plenty of spots entered my thoughts, but one stuck in my mind:  Toroweap along the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Despite it being high on my photographic “to see” list for years, I had never been to this iconic place before.  Most people shy away from this remote location in July due to the scorching 100-degree-plus temperatures.  However, the promise of solitude made it the perfect choice for me for a quick stopover.  I could photograph at sunset and then again sunrise before getting back on the road no later than 6:30 am to reach Torrey on time.  On paper, it seemed like a lot of driving to sneak in such a short stay.  Nonetheless, I simply wanted to finally see Toroweap with my own eyes.  Now was the time.

After suggesting to Guy and Bruce that I would be making the trek from Toroweap, and apologizing in advanced for potentially arriving late, I received a quick response:  For every half hour I was late, I would owe them each a beer.  Fair enough, deal.

On Wednesday morning, I set out to northern Arizona packed for a 22-day road trip- and ample cans of local brews, you know,  just in case.  (One can never be too prepared, right?)  After an uneventful six-hour drive (one that included a stop at Jacob Lake Inn for a requisite and divine Cookie in a Cloud), I turned down the dirt road to Toroweap and said aloud to no one, “Here we go!”

Despite warnings about difficult driving conditions, I felt as if I was driving on the dirt Autobahn for the first 45 miles or so when compared to other backcountry roads I had driven before (like Alstrom Point above Lake Powell and the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park).  As each uranium mine semi-truck, and presumably other visitors, whizzed by me from the opposite direction, I felt solitude on the canyon’s rim coming closer.  When I spotted an SUV turn onto “my” road from the Colorado City route, slight disappointment kicked in, as I knew they too were heading to Toroweap (there are only so many roads out there).  On the bright side, if I had any trouble along the way, they would eventually run to me as they retraced their steps.

As I approached the national park boundary,  I heard a sudden “DING-DING-DING!”  A message popped up on my truck’s dash:  Right rear tire: low air pressure.  Slowing down from 20 mph, my eyes widened as I studied the monitor as the air pressure plummeted: 70 psi to 60 to 55 to 43 to 24.  I never saw or heard the culprit, but the hissing sound became abruptly and painfully loud, as I my emotions spilled, “Oh no. No. No. NONONONONONO!  Not here, not now!  Wake up, bad dream!”  I swore at myself for acting overconfident on the first part of the trip:  karma will always find you, I reminded myself.

I had never changed a tire before in my life.  My husband, Craig, and I talked just earlier this year about practicing in the comforts of our driveway, but that plan had not yet come to fruition.  Too late now.

I realize I am not the first person on the planet to ever change a tire.  But the prospect of learning how to do it on my own while solidly 55 miles away from civilization as mammatus clouds collected overhead and thunder rumbled down the valley, well, it made me sick to my stomach.

Hands shaking, I nervously opened the glove box to remove the stiff instruction manual for the first time since we bought the truck last year.  I was slightly relieved to find step-by-step instructions with illustrations.  As I stepped out of the truck, I muttered, “Here we go.”

As the distant sky crackled, I dropped the spare from underneath the truck.  Checking the first step off the list gave me some hope…and an idea.  I decided to photograph a time-lapse sequence to document this momentous occasion in my life on the road.  Taking a short break from tire-changing, I positioned my camera and wide-angle lens on a tripod with an intervolumeter set to fire every five seconds.  (And now in my first ever attempt at putting together a time-lapse – lots to learn there! – you too can laugh at the hilarity that ensued condensed in four and a half minutes…).

For almost an hour (unbeknownst to me in the field, but confirmed via timestamp from my photographs), I danced around to figure out where the jack was, how to unscrew the bolts, and reattach the rim facade to secure the spare onto my truck.  As time passed, the storm darkened the sky and brought the thunder closer (each time thunder boomed, I looked up to judge how far away the cell was, which you’ll see in the timelapse).

As I started to pack the jack up, a white truck approached mine.  Its driver stuck his head out the window and asked, “Are you OK? Do you need help?”

“I’m not sure,” I responded as I approached his vehicle and noticed – with intense relief – the familiar national park patch on his sleeve.  “I’ve just successfully changed my first tire and now I’m not sure what to do.”

He declared as he got out of his truck, “I’ve been watching you from the ranger station just over there [less than a mile down the road] and thought you had been here too long to be taking photos of the sign.”

I explained I was heading to Toroweap, but with no spare tire and the most challenging part of the road ahead, I shared that I was contemplating heading back to Kanab immediately.  I absolutely must be in Torrey, Utah by 2 pm tomorrow afternoon!

He studied the two-inch gash in my tread and, without hesitation, suggested he had plugs at the ranger station.  “I might be able to fix this,” he said enthusiastically as he dumped my lame tire into the back of his truck.  “Finish up here and drive down to the station.  We’ll see what we can do.”

Larry Forster, a volunteer with the NPS, and I chatted at the ranger station while he kept shoving plugs in my tire.  Sudsy water showed, though, that I had likely split some of the grooves in the tire as well.  I kept thinking to myself, “This must have been one hell of a rock (that I never saw).”

As a part of the conversation, I revealed to him my occupation as a photographer and writer, which prompted him to suggest, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier.  You go on to the overlook.  I can work on the tire some more.  You can pick it up on the way out tomorrow morning.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” I replied with much trepidation.

“You gotta see it.  You’ve come this far.  There’s no use turning back now,” Larry encouraged.

After a bit more convincing, I took a deep breath and said, “OK, if you don’t see me back here by 7:00 a.m., come get me!”

I anxiously crept along the now high-clearance four-wheel drive track, taking almost an hour and a half to travel the remaining and mere 6.3 miles (it’s entirely possible I could have walked the same length in less time).  Upon reaching the end of the road, I parked, grabbed my photography gear, and sprinted to the edge.  I reached the rim and made my first image of the canyon at 7:46 p.m.  The sun dropped below the horizon and the canyon into shadow at 7:51 p.m.   I stood above the abyss until I could not see it anymore, partly to soak in as much as I could, and partly to delay driving the extremely rough 0.9-mile drive back to the campground.

A thirty-minute crawl landed me in a campsite, directly next to the same car I had been disappointed to see ahead of me earlier in the afternoon.  I was too wound up to make new friends with the five German gentleman – the only other group in camp – but their presence alone brought a sense of calm over me.

My 4 a.m. alarm buzzed seemingly immediately after I laid my head down on the pillow.  Beneath a star-filled sky, I returned to the overlook to enjoy the scene in a new light.  As I set-up my composition in the twilight, I heard two voices approaching, one distinctively female.  How could that be?

The pair casually walked up to the rim and said a cheery, “Good morning!” in a British accent.  Though our pleasant exchange, I learned they had abandoned their two-wheel drive sedan “somewhere along the road” and walked through a good portion of the night without headlamps or flashlights (under a sliver of a crescent moon) so they could arrive in time for sunrise.  And they did so with 15 minutes to spare.  Impressive.

The sun’s morning rays bathed the canyon in rich, warm light, exposing new cracks and crannies in the geological wonder I hadn’t seen the night before.  It’s cliché to say about a cliché place, but I’ll say it anyway: words can hardly describe the grandeur rolled out in front of me.   At that moment, I knew Larry was right.  I had to see this.

Within my mere 10-hour stay (way too brief to fully absorb and appreciate the scene), I recorded 96 frames total, four of which I will keep, even though I frantically composed them all and they are not anything anyone has not already produced or seen from this spot.  Here’s the thing, it wasn’t (nor is it ever) about “snagging” photographs.  Actually, I couldn’t have cared less about making an image other than to document that I had reached my destination.  I simply wanted to stand at the edge of the canyon, breathe the fresh air, and marvel at Mother Nature’s work.  I smiled and thanked Larry silently in my head.  I saw it, and it made me feel alive.

With my 2 p.m. deadline looming in the back of my mind, I packed up my equipment and searched for the couple from London.  When I found them, I offered them a ride back to their vehicle, which was no doubt along the route back to the ranger station.  They enthusiastically accepted.

Tire Plugs

Six tire plugs later…

The travel bug had bitten these two youngsters, Natalie and Hansa (I hope I’m spelling his name correctly!), much in the way it had munched me.  Both had once taken on unfulfilling jobs, only to leave and then gain what they valued most: time.  And in that time, the chance see the world.  In their multi-week stay thus far, they had seen more sights in the United States than most Americans see in their lifetime.  They were already making plans to take on temporary jobs back home to save just enough money to enable their return.  As I pulled next to their car (about three miles from the overlook), we agreed, so much to see, so little time.

With Natalie and Hansa following me, I arrived at the ranger station at 6:50 a.m. to meet Larry and reclaim my tire.  The tails of six plugs spewed from my tire like a jester’s hat.  Larry lifted it into the front seat of my car and assured me I would have no trouble using it as a spare on the way back to Kanab, if needed.  I couldn’t thank him enough.  After well-wishes and heartfelt goodbyes to Larry, Natalie, and Hansa, I returned to Kanab where the good people at Ramsay’s promoted my original spare into full time service on my truck and sold me a new spare.

The cost?  $281 and an extra hour, or four beers for my friends, Guy and Bruce.  A worthy price to pay for such an adventure.  After all, as the proverb goes, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

The Storm Within

“The Storm Within” at the Toroweap Overlook in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

Feb 192014
 
The Sol of Winter

Winter sunrise at Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park in Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

Last night, the Acadia National Park area received about five inches of fresh snow. The fluffy and light powder created a smooth fondant-like coating over the top of the granite ledges and boulders.  A glorious sunrise greeted those who ventured out early enough to see the winter spectacle.  I welcomed the new day with a smile (and a sunburst!) along the granite headland called Schoodic Point.

Despite the weather forecast suggesting partly cloudy skies would quickly turn to mostly cloudy cover, the sun still shone brightly after I consumed my breakfast. I decided to pack my camera gear and head back to Schoodic Point for a little more fun.  Specifically, I wanted to record me digging a snow angel against the backdrop of Cadillac Mountain (hat tip to my friend and fellow photographer, Olivier du Tre for the idea!)

At Schoodic Point, I danced though the blanket of snow to find a safe place among the wind-swept granite ledges. After composing my frame with a little extra room on the bottom right hand corner for my snow angel, I set my intervolometer to fire my shutter at 5 second intervals following an initial 20-second delay (to allow me enough time to walk into the frame and start moving snow around). After I made several outtakes, I walked out of the scene and back to my camera to stop the automatic trigger.  I reviewed the results on my camera’s LCD, made some minor adjustments, and then tried the process again. (Lather, rinse, repeat for about 20 minutes.)

Snow Angel on Schoodic Point

Colleen making a snow angel on Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park, Maine

All went according to plan until I finished the third set-up. After creating a sequence of photos for a time-lapse video (a new skill I am practicing), I carefully stepped from one exposed granite ledge to another to avoid stepping on my winter creation and to return to my camera.

I traveled about three-quarters of the route back with no trouble. Then suddenly, I plunged from a solid granite boulder into a large snowdrift about four feet below. After my feet stopped in their unexpected descent, my momentum pushed me forward, causing me to land face first and hands out in the soft snow. Instantly, I started laughing hysterically. After a few minutes contemplating the hilarity of my situation, I pulled myself out of the snow, brushed off, and returned to my camera to stop the intervals.

My tumble had occurred outside the frame on camera right, but when I glanced at the imprint in the snow, it looked just like an animal shape. I had an idea! Without hesitation, I recomposed my camera on the fall area, set the self-timer, and then performed a re-enactment of my face plant.

And with that, I introduce to you my “snow lobster!”  Along the Maine coast, that’s apparently how we “roll!”

The Snow Lobster

Colleen demonstrates the new “Snow Lobster” on Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park in Maine

For more stories about my photographic adventures in Acadia National Park, pick up a copy of my new guidebook, Photographing Acadia National Park:  The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How In addition to the 12 “Making the Photo” stories, you’ll also learn about my favorite 50 locations in the park so you can plan your own fun in this magical place.  And, 10% of the book’s profit goes to the Schoodic Education Adventure program to help kids learn about science and nature in Acadia!

Or join me in Acadia this fall with the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops!  Limited seats remain, so get more information and register at  ahpw.org/workshops/2014/2014-Acadia-National-Park-Photo-Workshop-2014-10-09/.