Published: March 2007
Frans Lanting

What did you most enjoy about shooting this story?

It was great, after photographing the Colorado Plateau by air for the May 2005 issue, to take a closer look from the ground. This gave me a chance to work with canyon light, which is something unique to this kind of landscape. It's an overhead light that bounces off the canyon walls, deflecting from surface to surface. The luminosity this creates is otherworldly. It's comparable to what you might see in a cathedral with stained glass windows. You see it most remarkably in narrow slot canyons, which I was privileged to capture for this article. Photographers often talk about magic light. This light was truly magic.

What difficulties did you face in the field?

I was on a day hike through Pariah Canyon with my wife, Christine Ekstrom, and two other companions. There'd been some rain, and we were sloshing through ankle-high water. Suddenly, out of the blue, a wall of water comes at us from down the canyon bed. We were immediately swamped in water up to our thighs, and forced to slog through it upstream to our camp. We were fortunate that we were close enough to the camp to make it back. Once there, we had to sit it out for two days, waiting for the water to subside. Flash floods are a real hazard in this kind of terrain, and you have to be constantly alert to the weather.

Did you have any quirky experiences on this assignment?

Part of my assignment included shooting some of the rock art in the canyons, including one piece in Utah that is considered quite significant by archaeologists. To get to it we literally had to drive off the shoulder of the interstate and onto a dirt track. But it was just a stone's throw from the highway, and within earshot of the 18-wheelers rumbling by. Looking at these images, one is transported back into another way of being. Normally, this could be a transcendental experience. But the sounds of a busy interstate superimposed another reality. This was all about time. For a moment, I seemed to be caught between two times, two worlds, and two realities.