Ah, halfway through the week, back in the hotel room in Page, Arizona, after a full day of outdoor photography. The sand that poured from my boots onto the hotel carpet is a bit embarrassing. Being horizontal in a clean bed, head sunk into a comfortable pillow, is a waking dream. Do I really have the energy to upload images from my camera before going to sleep? I'm really not convinced that I do. It's 11:30 PM. Today I've hiked through Cottonwood Narrows in a seemingly endless canyon carved by a creek, full of beautiful direct and indirect light, watched a bighorn sheep amble down from a rocky ridge, explored millions of years of geology exposed by forces beyond my comprehension, camera in-hand the entire way. And that was before lunch. From there, I've ridden for three hours over washboard dirt roads and shifting sands, photographed landscape that seems too far out for a science fiction movie, and taken my first shot at astrophotography. So, yes, I had better get up and upload those images, even though we're meeting in a precious few hours to be out for a sunrise shoot! I couldn't be happier, honestly.
I'm taking part in the 19th Annual Nikonians Photo Adventure Trip (ANPAT) in the Fall, held September 21-28, 2019 in the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas. What has brought me here? The quest for a productive and enjoyable photographic break from my normal routine. To me, that means the opportunity to exercise my creativity, make some interesting photographs, maybe learn some new tips, and most importantly, to meet and travel with people with similar interests. I want to be with a group that has the same drive to get up early, stay out late, and work as hard as we can to make photographic art in an exciting location over a seven-day period.
Pulling the trigger, signing up and sending payment for this trip has meant trusting the organizers (Eric Bowles and J. Ramon Palacios) to make myriad decisions for me. They have certainly come through. ANPATs are cost-inclusive, meaning that once you've paid the cost contribution and gotten yourself to the location, there's nothing else to buy. Hotel accommodations, food and drink (except alcohol) are included. I can't imagine meeting the housing and food expectations of a group this large, but they've pulled it off. Over the course of the week we stayed in three different hotels (two nights at Jacob's Lake Inn, 3 at the Days Inn in Page, Arizona, 2 at the Fairfield Inn in Flagstaff, Arizona). In all cases, the rooms were clean and completely acceptable, with the latter two being 'very civilized,' my definition of that being that coffee was available 24 hours per day. The food ranged from sandwiches on the road for brunch to a steak house for dinner, with the final event being held at a very nice country club in Flagstaff. In my opinion, the food was always appropriate for the activities of the day or night, and there were plenty.
On this ANPAT, we participants arranged to carpool from multiple area airports to Jacob's Lake, on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. A word of caution to those who plan to be the designated driver for a carpool - it's a significant commitment. Unless you bring your own car and are willing to let others drive, or arrange for multiple drivers in your rental agreement, you'll spend a lot of time behind the wheel. In my case, I'm indebted to Bob Kovach and Dave Soderlund for taking on the driving responsibilities.
Bob and his wife, Pat, who like me flew into Phoenix, Arizona from Virginia, were so nice to make arrangements to transport the three of us, plus Jimmy Kang from Singapore, to Jacob's Lake. Once there, we met up with the rest of the group, which included an artist, a mechanical wizard, a scientist, a teacher, an insurance claims reviewer, a minister, an aerial photographer, and an information analyst, among others. As the only ANPAT newcomer, I was welcomed warmly. I could tell why everyone else was a repeat participant; I knew it was going to be a good experience before the first shutter was clicked. And boy, did we click the shutters!
Each day, we split up into two groups, exploring different locations and meeting up for meals and conversation as the shooting schedule allowed. Another point where Eric and Ramon had to walk a narrow line of expectations - how to provide the best photographic opportunities for a diverse group, with some more than willing and able to walk or hike, others more comfortable to stay close to vehicles and take a more leisurely pace (if you can call it that). The locations were clearly carefully chosen with this in mind, with many being very near to parking locations, some with options for hiking or getting a little further out. They also varied in terms of flexibility or opportunity for creativity. A must-shoot location in this area, Horseshoe Bend, offered few photographic opportunities beyond the famous view of this well-known bend in the Colorado River, but was still a lot of fun to photograph. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Cottonwood Narrows allowed part of the group to stay on the mostly gentle dirt road in vehicles (with plenty of great photographic opportunities), while others chose to hike for a couple of hours, exploring a dry creek bed that offered surprises around every corner. Again, clearly a lot of thought and care went into choosing the photographic sites.
A high point of the trip for me was the designated "Adventure" of this particular ANPAT, a shockingly alien and gorgeous rock formation called White Pocket. The long drive out began around noon, where we met our guides, Dallas and Mike, both experts on the location, and very interesting characters. I rode with Mike in a Suburban, which did a good job of handling the shifting sands and non-stop vibration that, contrary to our guides' humor, definitely did not feel like a free massage! Once at the White Pocket site, Mike and Dallas gave us just enough oversight to make sure no one got lost, but let us make our own choices about where and what to photograph. Of course, they did make sure that we didn't miss any of the best sights. It was here that I felt the freest to get creative and make images that reflect my own perception of this very special place that few get the opportunity to experience. On the ride back through the desert after sunset, after several hours scrambling over rocks in the high mountain sun, we saw a family of tourists standing at the roadside, looking at their vehicle hopelessly stuck in the sand. Feeling responsibility for our fellow travelers, we stopped, helped to extricate their vehicle from the axle-high sand and went back about our way. After that, it was difficult to decide to make one more stop to experience photographing the Milky Way in the clear desert night sky, but again, photography came first.
Some of you may think that after a week of intense activity together, a group this big would grow tired of each other's company. Nothing could be further from the truth. We shared a lot of laughs, a few challenges, and plenty of tips and shared views. On the final evening of the adventure, we presented a sampling of our images, and got to be impressed by how each person interpreted the same location in surprising and different ways. I can honestly say that I got exactly what I was looking for in this ANPAT experience: a group of people (now my friends), all as committed to making interesting photographs as I am, amazing opportunities and locations, and the rewarding exhaustion that comes from a well-planned and executed itinerary. I am already thinking about joining future ANPATs; I hope that opportunity comes soon.
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