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Monday 30 Sep 2013
Page, USA

A photography dream and a political nightmare

Verity and I had booked a photography tour of Antelope Canyon on the strength of a photography exhibition I had seen in Zion five years ago.  Michael Fratelli took his photographs of the red and orange streaked stone in the slot canyon using old-fashioned box cameras, with stunning results.  Antelope Canyon is part of the Navajo Territory, located just outside the town of Page on the southern shore of Lake Powell.  By booking a photography tour, we were given priority in the canyon.  Guides would squeeze us past the queueing tourists and give us the best position for the sunbeams with nobody else in the shot, albeit only for a couple of minutes at a time.  I gave up on my tripod before too long as I was not familiar enough with it to be able to adjust it quickly enough in the brief windows we were given.  Verity knew hers a lot better and took the more serious shots, while I took advantage of my new camera’s stability enhancements to take freehand pictures instead.  It was an hour and a half of non-stop excitement and adrenaline as we charged right through the slot canyon, squeezing past all the other groups, in order to be in the right place at the right time when the sun came overhead.  The guides knew exactly when each light beam would appear; knew which shapes could be seen in the swirling lines of the canyon walls; and knew when a shovelful of sand tossed into the air would add extra effects to make a perfect photograph.  I was mentally exhausted by the time we’d finished and had blitzed through a 16GB memory card in no time at all.

We decided to stay an extra night in Page, rather than race down to Monument Valley tonight.  This gave us time to explore Glen Canyon National Park, which included the whole Lake Powell area.  We’d also seen pictures of Vermillion Cliffs National Park so were interested to see if we could squeeze that in too.  Little did we know what the evening would have in store…

Lake Powell is over 100 miles long, fed by several tributaries, including the Colorado and Dirty Devil Rivers.  Its branches feel their way into all the  surrounding canyons.  The lake is held in by the Glen Canyon Dam, a smaller version of the Hoover Dam which created Lake Mead, at the opposite end of the Grand Canyon.  Smaller, but certainly not small.  It too has a bridge across the front and offers great views across the lake and down the canyon on the other side.  At the Visitor Centre, we asked about local walks, looking in particular for a viewpoint over Horseshoe Bend that Verity remembered from her previous trip here.  The ranger gave us directions to that and Vermillion Cliffs, but said it would depend on the outcome of the potential Government Shutdown as to whether any of the National Parks would be open tomorrow.  Misunderstanding her, we asked, “But surely they wouldn’t shut down all the Parks?”, to which she replied, “Well, it looks like they might.  Watch the news tonight and see.”  Completely nonplussed, we didn’t think much more about it at that stage.

Instead, we headed out to the Canyon Overlook that she had recommended.  This was a short walk to the rim of the canyon, offering a great view upstream toward the Dam and downstream as the Colorado River snaked its way out of sight a long way below us.  The rock we were standing on was rich with iron deposits, so it glowed a brilliant red in the afternoon sunlight, and had weathered into layers, which flowed in different directions.  It made for fantastic textured photographs and stood out boldly against the blue sky and green river below.  By the time we’d finished there, we had just enough time to drive up to Wahweap on the north-western side of the Lake to watch the sunset.  From our vantage point, we looked across the lake and the Wahweap Marina to a set of huge cliffs on the far side, which were lit up brilliantly in the setting sunlight.  We enjoyed a nice peaceful drink as we waited for the colours to start changing, when suddenly a coach pulled in behind us and unloaded a huge crowd of Chinese tourists.  They appeared to be on some kind of photography tour and between them had enough expensive camera gear to finance a small country.  They bustled in, took up position along the side of the viewing area and clicked away furiously as the sun crept up the distant cliffs, then just as abruptly piled back in their coach and were gone.  So much for our peaceful sunset…

We found a motel in town and settled in to watch the news.  CNN were discussing the political crisis, with a countdown clock in the corner of the screen indicating the remaining twenty minutes in which to strike a deal.  As they talked, Verity and I gradually realised that this was a much bigger deal than just shutting down the National Parks.  We hadn’t been able to think of a reason why the politicians would do such a thing to their biggest tourism attractions, when it dawned on us that this was, in fact, just a side effect of closing the entire government. 

To use an appropriate Facebook shorthand: WTF??

Why on earth would America be shutting down the government?  It must be something pretty serious, right?  Well, from an outsider’s perspective – and one whose entire working life has been involved with a National free health service –  this radical upheaval appeared to be triggered by something as rational and easily justifiable as affordable healthcare.

I say again: WTF??

And then the countdown clicked over to zero, the government went into Shutdown and the clock began to count upwards as the madness took effect.  Just then, CNN handed over to the British journalist, Piers Morgan.  I’m not usually a great fan of his, but I have to say he was brilliant: cutting through the American political waffle and pointing out with typical British no-nonsense sarcasm, the insanity of closing the Statue of Liberty – the biggest symbol of democracy and freedom in the entire world – because a few rebellious Republicans objected to the name Obamacare and were determined to sabotage the President.

We eventually gave up and went to bed with no idea what the morning would bring.  Hopefully this would just be a storm in a teacup and it would be sorted out quickly.  Monument Valley would still be open as it is also on Navajo land, but after that, we just didn’t know.


Mileage: 1095


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