Sunday, August 28, 2016

You Don’t Look A Day Over 99

Layers of subdued blues, purples, pinks, yellows and magenta appeared more like a soft rainbow of calm, rolling ocean waves than the sunset sky I was photographing at the rim of the Grand Canyon that September evening in 2000.  That moment was one of many jaw-dropping experiences during one of my life's most memorable vacations.  Purple mountains majesty indeed. 

In my usual overthinking manner, I prepared for the trip in great detail. I was especially proud of my photography research. I had the perfect lenses, film and tripod. I studied my favorite nature photographers John Shaw and David Muench with an eye toward understanding how they captured their awe-inspiring images and was ready to shoot the best sunset and sunrise photos of my life. I was totally unprepared for the overwhelming emotional reaction I had the first time I reached the edge of the North Rim. 

Tears. Oh my God. Speechless.  

That reaction was repeated multiple times that week, at each of several sunsets, sunrises and moon rises, at the North Rim, South Rim, Arches National Park, Canyon Lands and Monument Valley.  

Those were somewhat better days in the marriage that eventually crumbled. We shared an interest in nature photography and maybe that's why we only had one argument that week, a record low for us. I'd be happy to share some of my spectacular photographs here, but at present, she still has all the slides. She isn't holding them hostage, but she is taking her damn sweet time getting them scanned. 

My advanced preparation was worth it because those photographs did turn out to be the best I've ever taken. With today's digital photography you would know instantly if your shots are good. With film, I didn't know know till days after my vacation if any of the 300 pictures I took were any good. 

They were. Many were good, some were even great. 

Photographs and written descriptions, however, pale in comparison to actually seeing the majesty, artistry and awesomeness of those locations. 

The National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Presidents and Congressmen far wiser than the current crop saw the wisdom of preserving large expanses of land as well as significant historic sites in our great country so that generations of citizens could enjoy or study nature and history and benefit emotionally and physically from the experience. Today's political leaders continue to cut or minimize funding for the upkeep of 410 parks, monuments and historic sites on 85 million acres managed by NPS. Do we really want to let those places crumble or disappear?  

One piece of startling reality in all of this is that the average age of National Park visitors is over 60. Boomers. Our kids and grandkids are so caught up in virtual reality that they are losing the interest or desire to experience real reality. We can't let that happen, in my opinion. 

The Grand Canyon in person fills your eyes, mind and heart a thousand times more intensely than pictures on an iPhone or even on a 65-inch flat screen tv. 

Meanwhile, I want to repeat some parts of that vacation, only this time sharing it with a 'certain someone' who appreciates the potential emotional experience of this kind of adventure. And I want to document it with my digital camera gear. 

Happy 100, National Park Service. May you have a hundred more. 

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