This magic moment at an Indian ruin in Arizona appeared. But only after I confronted my deep-seated fear of heights.
The changing moods of the Grand Canyon.
And how nature helped me in overcoming fear.
Inspired by a 10-day river rafting tour of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with Tour West and Adam Schallau.
Our afternoon hike uphill on Escalante Trail from our Cardenas camp by the Colorado River blazed in the sun in late April. I felt flushed, and tired. My nerves were on fire, not from the heat but from fear. I love the Grand Canyon and have such a passion for finding abstract landscapes within it, but my mind was consumed with terrors.
On the inside, every cell in my body rejected standing close to the edge of the cliff overlooking the Unkar Delta. In about an hour and a half, the red rock would glow at sunset. Everyone else would line up for photos. My fear of heights, or rather, the fear of falling into the dark depths, resides deep in the marrow of my bones. I would love to overcome this irrational feeling so I, too, could take part in this stunning overlook. Though I try reasoning, my reaction is primal and unshakable.
Why am I feeling so unsettled?
Practicing the reverse of prayer. I needed a magic moment to remind me of that.
While this fear of being close to the edge gripped me, I hadn’t anticipated this reaction as we set out on this hike. However, once those feelings rose, I knew it wouldn’t take long for anxious thoughts to consume my awareness if I didn’t take action.
There was a time in my life that I lived in an almost constant state of anxiety. I worked long and hard at self-discovery to understand why I felt that way. To boil it down, I practiced the reverse of prayer.
Where other people use prayer to stay in the moment and to connect to something that is larger than themselves–something timeless, I practiced fear because I felt alone. How incredibly limiting life is at that level.
To release habitual worrying, I learned to focus on the present moment. I also reminded myself to be an observer of what I was feeling.
So I went back to those basics on that afternoon. I reminded myself that fear of falling is human and is a function of keeping myself safe. I had not heard of anyone falling at that location. Our group was focused on practicing safety first. There were people around to help me if I needed a hand.
I also reminded myself I could choose what felt best for me and I didn’t have to shoot this particular site. I took some deep breaths, and I decided I wanted to explore the Indian ruin our guide had mentioned was in the area instead.
Walking into the past: Indian ruins in the Grand Canyon.
A striking structure punctuating an abstract landscape.
That is how we chose to walk the path to Hilltop Ruin, and Indian ruin in Arizona’s Grand Canyon. I felt guilty that Bill wouldn’t get the sunset shot at the cliff edge. And relief. I urged him that if he wanted, he could stay. We’d be within eyeshot of each other. He chose to walk with me to the ruin. We were both curious.
The ruin is a one-room structure of dry-laid masonry: large rocks gathered by Puebloan people perhaps around 900 A.D. when they farmed the river delta below.
The view around the structure is stunning. The temple walls of the Grand Canyon dwarf the hilltop structure, namely Vishnu and Apollo Temples. The summits of many of the landmarks in Grand Canyon National Park are named after mythological deities. I bent down to see through the frame of the south window, and Apollo was centered perfectly. I wondered what these people called those summits?
Around the west side of the structure, there are three windows. Since archaeologists have eliminated an entrance that would invite exploration, erosion, or destruction, I can only speculate. Windows take a lot to construct. Perhaps they showed the seasons as the sun sets by the time of year across the horizon?
Romantically, I envisioned this as a spiritual place, a kiva or shrine. Indeed, there seems no reason to live on a hilltop and port food and water uphill unnecessarily.
Here’s Bill and I in the abstract landscape of the Grand Canyon close to the Indian ruin. Behind us is the Colorado River that we rafted for 226 miles in ten days.
To learn how I started with photography and writing, click here.
For more about our Grand Canyon photo guide, Adam Schallau, click on the photo.
What inspires you? For me, it is about connecting and sharing.
My nephew is an archaeologist, and his passion for what he does is inspiring. Seeing this Indian ruin and hoping he might try to visit all the wealth of archaeological wonders the canyon holds, I wanted to document this structure to share with him. Walking a distance away to achieve the vantage that included some vastness of the canyon setting, I thought about how little I knew about photographing the canyon.
Massiveness affects how light moves around the walls in all directions. Deep shadows go almost black, yet the sky above is in bright contrast, a juxtaposition in getting the exposure correct. I confessed to Bill that it might take several visits to get into the rhythm of the canyon’s interior before I’d be able to photograph anything really significant. I told myself, “just enjoy the experience.”
This setting is intimidating, inspiring, and humbling. This was my first trip below the rim with a camera in hand. I had completed a rim-to-rim hike a few years before, which was rushed. I had one task that day and it was to make it from the north to the south rim. So I could hear waterfalls, I could glance down side canyons, but I had to keep my course so I wasn’t hiking in the cold and dark that night.
“Ancestral Light,” the first photo I worked when we got home from our 10-day rafting trip. This abstract landscape with a touch of the day’s last light reveals a magic moment at this Indian ruin in Arizona.
When magic happens in photography.
A spontaneous moment. A magic moment.
Looking at the sun coming close to dropping below Vishnu Temple to the west, I decided to take a shot before the structure faded into shadow. I snapped a few photos, checked my settings, zoomed in on focus.
Then I looked up.
The most moving scene transcended. The light seemed to be lightly touching the hill’s edge, running its finger right down to the ruin and highlighting the walls in a golden bath of light. Shadows swallowed almost everything else in the landscape. What a magical moment in photography.
What a beautiful connection to all that was and all that is. At that moment, it seemed the ancients had heard my doubts, then conspired to show me a fleeting miracle. In mere seconds, the light faded.
“Reflect then, that your ancestors set up those trophies, not that you may gaze at them in wonder, but that you may also imitate the virtues of the men who set them up.” –Demosthenes, Greek Orator
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Ann Newman is an abstract photographer, writer, and creator of Annstracts. As a former, professionally-trained salesperson, Ann understands that people want to solve problems or accelerate growth for a better future. Exploring the symbolism in abstract photos, she lets them tell stories that offer hope. You might find Ann near her home in Phoenix, bent down looking at the tiniest details of a bug, patting any nearby dog, or looking up at a tree to figure out what bird she just heard.
My absolute favorite image from the trip! Incredible light, capture, and story! Great work Ann!!!
Well, thank you for understanding my fears and for sharing that special ancestral moment!
Your work is absolutely amazing!
You are so kind, Renae! By the way, I think of you whenever I look at my photo called Kaleidescope. 🙂
You captured this amazing place so beautifully with this image and your story.
Thanks for sharing the peace and solitude that below the rim offers. I honestly don’t think there is another place like this. It has my heart.
Thanks, Sally! I agree, it is so different deep within the canyon. I’m so glad to have experienced it with you guys. Being below the rim adds another dimension.
Your magical experience of being in the flow of life reminded me of this quote: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao-Tzu Loved you article full of lessons for all of us.
Ah, Terri, I love Lao-Tzu’s messages! It was a magical moment, and I’m printing this one to remember it!
Loved reading about your adventure and your photos are stunning. What a trip of a lifetime. I am sooo jealous. You are so creative and talented, please continue to share!
That WAS an adventure! Thanks for your kind words and for being such a loyal reader! Love it.
Absolutely one of my favorite shots as well. The light and story of this instantly popped off the page but the words behind it made it even better. Love the adventure!
Thanks, Chris. Light does amazing things, it certainly was trying to get my attention.
Ann, your stunning photography coupled with your beautifully written stories, never cease to impress. You are a true artist!
(much more inspiring than socks)
I’m so laughing! Yes, this photography is much more entertaining than how I used to find random socks on the ground. But maybe those taught me to look around? Thanks again for reading and commenting. Means a lot to me.
I have been very impressed with your photos, writing quality and chosen subjects. Its always a pleasure to see your new pieces and read the story behind them.
Randy, that is so appreciated. I love sharing what I am seeing and feeling. Thanks for making it a less one person event.