Island time

Mind boggling

Gary at the Grand Canyon DSC04132

Photo: Alice Eason

I have been pondering what to write about the landscapes of the Southwestern United States, or what little I saw of them on my recent flying visit. 

My difficulty is that words fail me, because what does come to my mind is the rather scary sense that photographs also failed me. Just how do you convey, in a necessarily small image, something on the scale of the Grand Canyon? Of course I had seen photographs of this wonder, but that's just the point: no photograph can prepare you for the sheer vastness of it - or, therefore, it would seem, bring away a proper sense of it. 

We stayed on the higher North Rim, at the only lodge on that side within the national park. From the terrace there, or adjacent trails, you cannot see the bottom - not even of the side canyons it overlooks - because they are so deep. The far side, the more populous South Rim, is some 10 miles away. Between, huge ridges, buttes and pinnacles are ranged across the abyss. Your mind cannot comprehend the scale of it. You can make a photograph of it, or of part of it, I should say - but somehow it feels like a pitifully inadequate representation of what's before you. 

So I felt overwhelmed, frankly. At least to begin with. We were there for only a few days. It would easily be possible to spend weeks just gawping at it, not least because it is constantly changing as the light flows across from east to west. In August, in the late afternoon, great thunderstorms would build, sending flashes of lightning into the void as sheets of rain swept through the canyons. A fantastic spectacle that often goes on into the night. 

Gradually I began to come to terms with this immensity and to start trying to make sense of it photographically - though of course, as always, the visiting photographer is at the mercy of the available light. Some people spend a week there and never really see a thing because the canyon is shrouded in fog, I was told. In that respect we were lucky, but I was aware that it was not as magical as it might have been. Trips out are constrained by the available time and photographs have to be made, if they are going to be made at all, in less than ideal conditions. 

So you work with what you have. You're a tourist; accept it. I made a few images I was pleased with - Mount Hayden picked out in big splodges of slanting afternoon light through fluffy clouds after waiting for their shadows to move on. 

On our way back to catch our flight in Las Vegas we traversed Zion Canyon. More magnificent vistas that we really could only crane our necks to see on a whistlestop tour. Driving south, off to our left was the most wonderfully dramatic range of peaks. Imagine the Old Man of Storr on Skye - rightly celebrated as some of Britain's finest scenery. This range had a dozen such pinnacles. Yet it was just another part of the general landscape; I haven't even been able to figure out what it is called. 

I take my hat off to those who have been grappling over the years with the attempt to render these spectacles in paint and in photographs. I am also very envious of anyonewith ready access to such scenery. I hope to go back. 

Meanwhile ... here on Teesside, where I am this week, there is almost unrelievedly dull, flat, grey light beneath blankets of cloud. Ho hum. 


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