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Field Notes
Melford
Photograph by Michael Melford
Michael Melford

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

Everyone told me that the Cathedral in the Desert is the jewel in Glen Canyon's crown. So I went there at the beginning of the assignment in April. Coming into it, I steered my little powerboat around the bend in Clearwater Canyon and saw a waterfall spilling down the walls of the huge cavern. I discovered a small beach right at the base of the waterfall where I could pull up my boat and set up my cookstove. I spent the night there.

It was a special way to start the trip because the waterfall and beach had been revealed only recently by the fall of the lake level. My visit may also have been the only 24-hour period in the month of April when no one else was there. I went back to the spot several times and was never alone. After I left, the water rose 53 feet (16 meters), and the waterfall and beach disappeared again.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

I wanted to make a picture of a canyon by looking down from its rim. I moored my motorboat out in the main channel of Lake Powell, but there was no sediment, beach, or sand to anchor it. Only rocks. I soon found a tiny alcove with a little bit of silt where I could dig an anchorage. But I had to secure it well; if it broke away, I'd be stuck without a boat. So I used three anchors.

While I was on top of the rim, a storm blew in from the west. By the time I hiked back down to the boat, waves were coming up over the stern and pushing it into the rocks. Luckily, the anchors held, but I was in a mild state of panic as these incredible winds and waves pummeled the boat. I fought to bring in the anchor from the bow, start the engine, and get the two anchors off the stern while the waves were coming over it. I was terrified. The ordeal lasted somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

At one spot in the canyon, I had to carry my kayak across some dry land to get back to the water. I beached the kayak, got out, took three steps, and began to disappear. The whole ground gave way in slow motion under me. It was like being in quicksand, only it was mud. It was a good thing that I was still holding onto the kayak because if I hadn't, I don't think I would have gotten out. It was amazing to me that a five-feet (two-meter) patch of damp silt that had piled up at water's edge over the years was just sucking me in.