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The Sentinel | by TxPilot
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The Sentinel

Watching over the Canyon in sort of a protective manner. I can relate to just how overwhelming looking out over this canyon can be! What an IMMENSELY awesome thing to see! :-)


The Trip to the Grand Canyon from Vegas seemed like it took FOREVER! I had left Vegas after midnight after a very long day! I had started off the day in the northern area of Death Valley after spending the night in a tent at a campsite that Darren and I had grabbed the day before. During the night I just knew that the Mountain Lions were ganging up and circling the tents and planning their strategy for some tasty meals! Okay... so it could have been just a few Kangaroo Mice instead! Or maybe just the wind! :-D Anyway, I had passed out on Darren the previous night at Racetrack Playa basically from being so totally exhausted that I just couldn't go anymore. So I could have just been dreaming! ;-)


After a restless night, Darren and I got up and made our way south and stopped along the way to see some of the other sites in Death Valley. It was getting very HOT in the middle of the day but we did make it to the Devil's Golf course and a few other places as well. I needed to start heading back towards Dallas and at about 2 or so in the afternoon, I bid farewell to Darren and started heading east.


That evening I stopped in Vegas to meet up with Marisa and one other photographer that lives there in Vegas as well. We spent a little time at the Red Rock Park just on the Northeast side of Las Vegas. After dropping off Marisa at her car and thanking her for the time she spent with us, I started making my way towards the Grand Canyon. At least my plan was to drive for as long as I could and then pull over to get some sleep somewhere. I was not in Arizona too long before I had to stop and found a parking area with a scenic overlook area and laid back the seat to get some rest.


I woke up the next morning as the sun was rising and got back on the road shortly thereafter. Still didn't get much sleep but I was ready to hit the Grand Canyon and see if I could find a secluded area to get some Light Painting Shots in that evening.


I arrived at the Grand Canyon at about noon after a few pit stops for food and fuel and there were people EVERYWHERE! As I walked around the Grand Canyon Village area taking pics here and there, I was also watching the people that were obviously here from all over the world to see this awesome spectacle of nature! So many different languages being spoken that I could not even start to guess what most of them were. It was pretty cool to be standing in the middle of this big melting pot of people from every corner of the planet.


With all of the people around this main area, I decided it was best to venture to the east a bit and see if I could find a nice overlook area not only to catch a nice sunset with the canyon in view, but a spot that would be a good place for some light painting a little later when the moon came up. It was now Monday, May 7th and the full moon occurred two days prior to this. So it would rise roughly two hours after sunset... Plenty of time to get settled! :-)


I drove down East Rim Drive towards Cameron, Arizona. (Cameron loved the fact that "the town was named after him!" when we made a trip to the Grand Canyon in 2001!) Ha! I was so busy looking at the forest and the occasional views over the canyon that I didn't pay much attention to the signs along road as I went. This would come back to bite me a little later! ;-) I stopped at several overlook areas along the way and finally made my way to Navajo Point which is about 20 miles away from the main visitor center. The view from this point was awesome! The canyon made a bend here and the sun would set over the canyon to my west, and you could see the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon in spots towards the west and in a large area heading to the north east from here. I took a few photos and looked around a bit and found a spot where I could do some Light Painting without fear of falling off into the dark canyon below. At least not TOO much fear! ;-)


So after a little more exploring of the area, I settled down in a good spot to get some shots of the sun setting and just kicked back for a while enjoying the view. Off to the east, I noticed some clouds and it looked like they might have some rain mixed in with them as well. Rain is sort of an unusual thing and you really don't see clouds that often here either so I didn't think much about them other than the fact that I thought it would be cool if some clouds would make an appearance in some of my shots. Well, be careful what you wish for! As the sun was getting closer to the horizon, an overcast moved in and caught up with the sun as well and it was starting to look like there wasn't going to be any sunset shots at this point. It was also looking pretty bad for the Light Painting shoot that I had planned for later as well since this would block the moon from making the landscape visible during the session! 8-O Wow!


Well, just as the sun was getting close to the horizon, it broke back out of the cloud bank and did end up putting on a bit a a show for us. I say "US" because at this point, there were probably 50 other people gathered at the same area hoping to get a shot of the sunset also! ;-)


Anyway… After getting some shots of the sunset and letting it get a bit dark, I headed back towards Grand Canyon Village to see if I could find a place to get some food and do some waiting to see if the clouds would break up at all. On my way back though, I spotted some of the signs that I had missed on the way in! There was one that REALLY stood out and was on the road near the point I had chosen for my Light Painting session that night! It was like the familiar Deer Crossing warning signs that most everyone has seen before, but this was different! Instead of the silhouette of a deer on the sign, it was the silhouette of a Mountain Lion!!! 8-O A Cougar! A Puma! A BIG Cat!! One that HAS been known to attack and kill humans!! I distinctly remember reading that these cats are normally shy and solitary animals, BUT, they DO occasionally attack people, usually children or solitary adults, and that there are about four attacks per year with one fatality each year!!! Great!!! Here I am, in an area where they thought it NECESSARY to put up a sign warning drivers about them and I was going to be a SOLITARY ADULT out in the middle of the night in the middle of NOWHERE!!


I have said it before and I will say it again! One my biggest fears is being eaten alive! Particularly by one of these cats!! It is not the first time I have been in an area where they are known to be, and I am sure it wont be the last! But usually I am with someone else! This time, it was just me! So.. as I dwelled on that thought all the way back to civilization and on through dinner while waiting for the moon to pop out of the clouds, I wondered if I should try to find a different area in the dark or go through with my plans. Things were really not looking too good anyway with the cloud cover so I was starting to think that I would not get any Light Painting shots at the Grand Canyon this go around anyway. :-\


As it starting getting close to midnight, I was getting ready to give up on the moon when I noticed it lighten up a bit outside! Sure enough! The clouds were breaking! Cool! I was at least going to see if I could get a few shots in before hitting the road again to get back to Dallas! So... I made my way back out to Navajo Point and was reminded of the Mountain Lion threat several times along the way! I had convinced myself that I would just try to play it as safe as possible and keep aware of my surroundings as much as possible, but if it was my time to go at the claws of a big cat, then I guess it was time! :-)


When I reached Navajo Point, I got all my gear together and made the short hike over to the rim of the canyon and got things set up. I kept a very bright flashlight turned on and searched the area for glowing eyes at every chance as I got everything ready to shoot. The moon was still at an angle that was causing some unwanted shadows but I just had to deal with the situation I had at the moment and started shooting. Each shot was a little over a 10 minute exposure and it was difficult to NOT turn on the spotlight to look for eyes during the exposures but I refrained. The wind was blowing fairly strong as well, so it was hard to hear anything but the wind blowing through the trees. As soon as I would end an exposure, I would turn on the spotlight to scan for glowing eyes and keep it on the entire time that I was checking the shot. I would scan the trees again before taking the next shot and this went on like this for the next two hours.


After I had created several shots, and at about 2:30 in the morning, my nerves were shot and I was exhausted once again! So I packed things up and high tailed it away from any further threat of being eaten alive that night! I still felt good about the fact that I was FINALLY able to Light Paint the Grand Canyon! :-)


Light Painting - Single Exposure

In the style of Denis Smith (biskitboy)

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Taken on May 8, 2012