I visited King’s Canyon, California when I was a kid. The California park is right next to Sequoia National Forest not too far from Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. And now I’d have a chance to visit the Australian King’s Canyon. I wasn’t sure what to expect but tour guide Reg gave us an earful on the drive there. He explained that King’s Canyon is an oasis in the middle of the harsh desert of central Australia. Due to some unique geological formations water is soaked up into the rocks during rainy season and continues to percolate into the valley all year long. This water provides life to plants and animals that the Aboriginals could snack on when they didn’t have any other food. I can imagine crossing this harsh desert and finding an oasis and what a welcomed sight that must be.
In reflection, two things stand out in my mind about this place. First, it was one of the greatest challenges I ever had shooting a natural setting: there was a huge difference in the contrast between the light at the rim of the canyon and the dark recesses as we viewed it during sunrise. And second, King’s Canyon truly is an oasis – and a beautiful one at that.
We started our hike early and arrived well before sunrise. We began the 30 minute hike up to the rim of the canyon and as we hiked ever higher the sun slowly began spreading its rays across the sky. I began to notice that Reg had done it again; he had put us on the western side of the canyon so that any photos taken would be facing into the sun. It is almost impossible to get dawn photos of any subject unless you have the light to your back. I vowed that I would push ahead of the group and get to the eastern side of the canyon before the rocks started changing color in the rising sun. Just as Reg’s talking group broke up I had someone take my photo next to a white gum tree.
When we reached the summit I began to push ahead with one Swiss traveler that I’d come to know. Immediately Reg tried to shepherd us in saying that we should all stick together. He went into another one of his rants about how the proper way to view the canyon was how the Aboriginals did it, by taking a “mental photograph.” Argh. Why did we get stuck with the militant lunatic? The Swiss guy and I tried to make a getaway but Reg called us back to the group. He wanted to tell us about the gum tree. Again. He explained for the second or third time about how the gum tree spreads its roots to collect water under the soil. No kidding? Really? I just couldn’t take it anymore and I just pushed out ahead to get some photographs. Later I told Reg I needed some “alone” time with nature. I think he bought it.
Some white men built a road to the canyon and began advertising it as a tourist destination in the latter half of the 19th Century. Within the park they built stairs, bridges and quite a few trails. Despite the elevation differences and the length of the hike it wasn’t too difficult.
I was quite frustrated trying to photograph the canyon; my lens wasn’t quite wide enough, the HDR on the camera couldn’t capture the shadows without blowing out the sky or it made a beautiful blue sky but had dark canyons. I kicked myself again and again for not upgrading my camera before I left. I don’t think I’ll ever go on another big trip like this unless I am completely satisfied with my photography equipment. It really is quite frustrating to see something so beautiful that it makes you breathless and a moment later take a photo, look at it and realize that it looks nothing like what you just saw with your naked eyes. The new camera also has the ability to shoot multiple frame wide angle shots something that would have come in very handy at this venue.
Looking at the Canyon in my photographs it doesn’t really look like much compared to how it looked with the naked eye. Just like Uluru, it looks a lot larger in real life. The camera seems to shrink the scale of the size of the valley; it was no Grand Canyon but it certainly had some imposing cliffs. If you can imagine outside of this valley is flat desert with very little vegetation and right here in this little horseshoe shaped valley you have trees and oasis and all sorts of little critters (food) running around. It is quite a contrast from the nearby desert. In the photo below a perpendicular valley runs off to the left side of the photo and the bottom of that little valley is full of pools and trees that are crisscrossed by the hiking bridge that we crossed on (above).
I was surprised again and again as I turned each corner and saw a landscape that looked so foreign; it was red like Mars but had beautiful gum trees and rocks. As the rocks erode each subsequent layer staggers in such a way that they make natural staircases in the side of the rock. I looked and looked and tried to take a mental photo of the place; not sure if I was heeding tour guide Reg’s advice or if I was just frustrated by my inability to capture an accurate photographic representation of this place. The more and more I looked I was just awed by the beauty of this place – the photos don’t really do it justice.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of this place and I’ll give Reg some credit, there is a mystical almost magical feeling about it. I can see why the Aboriginals held it in such high regard. Between Uluru, Kata Tjuta and King’s Canyon I completely changed my attitude in regards to central Australia. On my first day I had worried that it would be just another desert trip with so many rocks and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the tranquil beauty of this place and the camaraderie I’ve found with other travelers.
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