I couldn’t help but think of the story from my late mentor Galen Rowell. He was near the Potala Palace in Tibet. A rainbow touched down on the far horizon. He looked at his tour clients with that wild look in his eye and said, “Anyone want to run down the road? I think we could position that rainbow just above the Palace.” No one joined him for that run. The ensuing image would be an icon in his portfolio the rest of his life.
I made a similar offer to my tour clients to peak around the corner from where we were. I only convinced one of them to join me. My wife had noticed 5 minutes earlier the way light was beginning to strike the West-facing sandstone and glow red on the East-facing wall. I hadn’t seen it myself. But a man knows to listen to his wife.
My client and I jaunted over some dry red rock and around the corner. Flat on my belly, I gently wiggled out over the edge of the cliff, and I knew. I knew right then that this scene was going to go from good, to amazing. And it did. My Feisol tripod scraped on rock beneath my prostrate body. I locked the ball head down solid as camera dangled over 1,000-foot ledge like bate on a fishing rod. Steady gusts of wind filled ears with static and lifted hair skyward. Eyes batted and blinked trying not to dry out and render vision worthless at this crux moment.
From the first image to the last just three minutes later, I refined my focus, my composition, and nudged the whole rig to the right one millimeter at a time, until the setting sun peeked around the glowing stone just enough to spread a star across the glass of my f/22 lens but not enough to flare rainbows all over the scene.
All the elements of light, water, and rock aligned. Eternity paused for a moment, and got stuck in my camera. I rose from that cliff edge smiling ear-to-ear, still blinking out wind from dry eyes. Something had happened. Golden sunshine had burned down into my soul. Peace wrapped around me like the blue waters of the Colorado. I knew. This was not just another photograph.