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Grand Canyon
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In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Mark Thiessen

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On Assignment
Grand Canyon



    What is it about a big hole in the ground that stirs up something in so many people? For me, it's like a passage through time. The Grand Canyon is such an overwhelming place, that it makes me feel small and understand my place in the universe. So that's what I tried to celebrate in my photographs. I didn't do the wildlife. I didn't do the issues. I just did the majesty of the rocks, water, sky, and lighting.
    My family came with me when I did Lava Falls, one of the biggest whitewater areas in the Grand Canyon. While I rode with my equipment in a large motorboat, my wife, Reba, and her friend Sarah went in one small dory boat, and my son Eli and Sarah's son Will went in another. Reba's boatman was a little nervous going down, and that made me feel like something was going to happen. And sure enough it did. He lost an oar early on and their boat flipped. I didn't see anyone but him come up. So I was just sick because I had no idea if my wife and her friend were safe. Then I got a call from Reba on my walkie-talkie, and she told me they were OK. Eli and Will's boat had rescued them. As soon as I heard her voice I started crying. Reba and I are mates for life, and I didn't want to go home without her.
    I was at Cape Royal, a famous North Rim tourist spot, with my assistant John Burcham. We had climbed over the guardrail to get a better vantage point. I had my tripod set up and was watching this storm rolling in when the guardrail started buzzing, meaning lightning was close. It was a really dangerous situation. Then I turned and looked over my shoulder, and there were all these Japanese and European tourists standing right behind me. They had followed us over the guardrail. And John, of course, had told everyone that we were from National Geographic, so people were posing and taking pictures with us. Some were even holding their babies up. I remember thinking to myself, Oh my God, we've really done a bad thing here. So we never did anything like that in front of a group of tourists again. 

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