The Grand Canyon! It may not be the deepest canyon in the world (That title goes to Yarlung Zangbo in Tibet), it may not be the widest canyon in the world (we take that crown with the Capertee Valley in Australia), but it is certainly one of the most visually spectacular canyons in the world!
With such stunning beauty, it is unsurprising that the Grand Canyon has had a long relationship with photography.
In 1901 Ellsworth and Emery Kolb arrived at the Grand Canyon. At the beginning of the Bright Angel Trail they setup their tent and photographed tourists as they set off on the trail. But, taking cheesy group photos of tourists would not make them famous.
Ellsworth and Emery quickly became adventurers and soon enough everyone in the USA would know them! The Kolb brothers, as Roger Naylor has written, ‘dangled from ropes, clung to sheer cliff walls by fingertips, climbed inaccessible summits, ran impassable whitewater rapids, braved the elements, and ventured into unknown wilderness of the Grand Canyon, all for the sake of a photo’.
The Kolb brothers documented every adventure and escapade they embarked on, with stunning results. It is their work that really made America aware of the Grand Canyon. As Mindy Riesenberg, director of marketing and communications for the Grand Canyon Conservancy has noted “They really were the folks who got the word out about the Grand Canyon to Americans who didn’t know anything about it, and their photos really publicized the canyon.”
The brothers most famous adventure though, was probably their 1911 adventure. With no rafting or boating experience, they decided to raft down the Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon. With specially designed flat boats, so as to be able to navigate the shallow water, the brothers set out. For 101 days these boats were their homes. As Daniel Kestenholz explains ‘They slept on mattresses on the river edge, fed on fish and travelled through the canyon always aiming to make impressive movie images. Ellsworth said to his brother before they navigated some dangerous rapids: “If I capsize, I’ll film it first.” Saving himself came second’.
At the end of their trip the Kolb brothers, having repeatedly capsized and constantly having to dry out the camera equipment, had shot enough film shot for a 45-minute movie. This movie saw the Kolb brothers set out on their next adventure, a nationwide tour to show their latest work. At one particular viewing in Boston, as Kestenholz explains, ‘the two brothers attracted the attention of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. He introduced them to the President of the National Geographic Society and made sure the August 1914 magazine issue was dedicated to a large extent to the “big trip.” The article immediately transformed the Kolb brothers into national heroes.’
In the end, the Kolb’s movie became the longest running film in history. It ran daily in their studio at Kolb Studio at the Grand Canyon from 1915 until 1976, when Emery died. You can still visit Kolb Studio today, at the head of the Bright Angel trail perched on the side on the Grand Canyon. When you do, you’ll see what it was that captured the Kolb brothers.
Like the Kolb brothers, I was completely mesmerised by the Grand Canyon. I could have spent days there. As the sun rose over the Canyon (you can see those photos in a previous blog) it slowly revealed spectacular colour, contours and crevices hidden by the darkness. As we drove around the rim, stopping at various official and unofficial lookouts, I couldn’t help but be awe struck at this incredible natural phenomenon.
But, the natural beauty doesn’t stop there! As we continued out journey across the USA, we also checked out the Petrified Forest in Arizona. Like the Grand Canyon it is visually stunning, with incredible colour, shapes and textures. And no trip to the Texan panhandle is complete without and trip to see the collaborative artwork of an eccentric helium millionaire and and art collective, Cadillac Ranch.
Once in Dallas, The Chapel of Thanksgiving is definitely worth having a look at! As you lie on the floor and gaze up, you’ll be swept into a stained-glass colour vortex!