Last Wednesday four or more Tornados slammed into Northern Arizona while I was driving from Tucson to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, I had left Tucson 6am and was just 30 miles from Flagstaff when I heard a radio severe weather warning advising everyone to be on the lookout for funnel clouds until 11am. Around noon, another twister was reported off 1-17 about where I heard the first reports. Apparently around 5:30 am two f1 tornados hit Bellemont, Az with more than a 100 mph winds ripping off roofs, rolling semis trying to sit out the storm and then derailed a freight train, damaging 200 homes before moving north toward Flagstaff. This tornado or another later dropped suddenly into the forest west of Flagstaff cutting a mile-long path through the forest, across AzHwy 180 and eventually mowing down 250-300 fir and aspens. Many of these trees were 40′-50′ in height, some were topped, others snapped at the base, even more were pulled from the ground–roots and all. While there were no serious injuries most folks in this neck of woods won’t soon forget the Day of the Tornados.
Sunset at Cape Royal on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a meeting place for serious-minded photographers, it is the place and the time to be there. So as the sun sinks, lens men from all over the world begin to show up, lineup and watch the ski and imagine the possibilities. “Looks like it might be really special tonight”, says a photographer with an Australian accent as he eyes the break in the clouds at the horizon and the band of clouds above it–excitement builds and photographers work one angle and move on, cameras play musical chairs as the light plays across the landscape. On my rock, four photographers trade place and war stories, everyone is having a really good time, it is a creative moment and the possibilities endless. “Hey, you’re not going to stay in that spot, are you?” questions another photographer on a different rock, to one photographer on my rock. “Yes”, I believe I will” he retorts. “I’ve been lining up this shot for an hour” yells the questioning shooter from his distant perspective to the newly arrived photographer who has set up his tripod to shoot south when everyone else is shooting west into the sun. The new photog unravels a bit and complains “its my second night at the canyon, and I’m tired of folks bitching at me. The conversation turns dark, the light continues to peak and soon the cameramen know–the new guy is not moving and the distant rock guy is going to come over and stand in front of him, he promises, steam appears at both sites. Meanwhile, everyone else is wondering if this will escalate into punches being thrown, at the moment it could go either way, but as the sun sinks behind the ridge and night advances–photographers deal with the limitations of the moment and little more is said. “I thought those two were going to slug it out”, said a NPS park ranger at the scene but “in civies”, if I had entered the dispute–I would have pulled the new guy off this perch on the edge of the rock. The fella on the distant rock, was on solid ground, but the other was in harms way even if he didn’t think so”, the ranger said. Since 1860 more than 600 people have fallen into the canyon averaging 4-5 a year, last month a 18 year old French photographer fell 75 feet and survived, in 2007 the youngest fatality, a four year old rolled off the Mather Point viewpoint, as had the Frenchman, so it happens with some regularity. It is sad that a grand moment like that had to deteriorate into such a scene I think to myself as I walk back to my Xterra. I experienced a similar scene at Delicate Arch in Central Utah at Arches National Monument, a few years earlier at another sunset, there another mass gathering for the religious experience of watching the sunset set on a rock so remarkable that every Utah license plate carries a photo of Delicate Arch for the all the world to see. As today, photographers line up and wait for the sunset, most taking care to stay out of the view of the other cameras, and then as the light finally reaches its peak, a obtuse individual walks into everyone’s view stands under the arch, looks up and makes a picture. Everyone waits, each chews his lip and expects the photog who now has the photo, to leave, she doesn’t–she pauses to enjoy the moment and then it begins “get outta there” yells one and then another, the offending photographer begins to make the case for her doing whatever she wants–wrong tact I think–as I and everyone else literally yells her off the mountain. To be fair, that evening there had been no light, the sun was hidden in the clouds–still folks made the uphill three mile hike on the possibility–then the sun popped out at the last moment rewarding dozens of photographers who had traveled amazing distances to be there for this moment. So then when someone defies their investment with such obtuse behavior, it seems, understandingly she was granted a temporary pass, but then crossed a bridge too far when she failed to quickly retreat, the chorale response from dozens of photographers was deafening and in fact, lacking in tact. Desperate people can say almost anything when pushed–and pushed they were. Every park incident incident reflects a microcosm of the real world where we all find difficult and dysfunctional people every day–some can be reasoned with and others will do it their way– the hell with everyone else… “where has the love gone” you ask! Love indeed, love of US Parks is peaking, toss in the competitive creative pursuit of digital landscape photography and folks may drive 500 miles in a day to make sunset on a distant rock which builds expectations for a photographers with only this chance to get the photo. One such photographer a day earlier had arrived from Michigan, on his first night he raced to Cape Royal for the legendary sunset, and arrived three minutes too late, he had seen the view from the trail but pushed on to the viewpoint instead of grabbing what would be his only opportunity. He freely admitted he should have grabbed the moment instead of rushing on ahead for the perspective he thought would be better. Tonight’s classless late arrival had rushed up late and settled into what he thought was his picture and blocked the shot of a photographer who had done the same a hour earlier without him being an element–the closed minded and late photographer–fought for and kept his precious angle and never moved out for any thing else. All the other photographers on my rock had worked that angle and moved on. “I didn’t think his picture was very good anyway” said the ranger “he had no foreground” but still he stayed, to assert his rights and screw the other shooter who had given him shit. I often find that serendipity can be a photographer’s best friend, the best pictures come from where we don’t expect, and we need to be open to all the possibilities–in other words–sure lineup your best photo, track it and work it and make it if you can but look around, over your shoulder, up and down but be flexible and your pictures will improve.
Remember, the age old photographic adage, “F8–be there!”