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The Making of My Last Photograph as an Artist in Residence

Article written by 2009 National Park Service Artist in Residence, Adam Schallau.

Adam Schallau Grand Canyon Yaki Glow

On this date, 15 years ago in 2009, I made my final photograph as an Artist-in-Residence at Grand Canyon National Park. This is a photograph that I almost missed.

After spending nearly a month getting up early every day for sunrise, hiking throughout most of the day, and photographing the sunset, I was spent. I planned to sleep in, pack up my stuff after breakfast, and then make the long drive back home to Taos, New Mexico. Thankfully, I woke up about an hour before sunrise, looked out my window, and realized that I couldn't see any stars, which meant there were clouds in the sky. With limited time to find a location to photograph from, I took advantage of being an Artist-in-Residence, allowing me to drive anywhere in the park and made a beeline for Yaki Point.

As I made the drive, the sky was already beginning to light up, and I knew I was running out of time. I parked my truck and ran to this spot as fast as I could, extending the legs of my tripod along the way to buy myself a few extra seconds as I feared I would miss the best color of the morning, but Mother Nature was just getting started.

As I began to make photographs, a few people showed up and walked out to the rim, equally enthralled by the brilliant display of light and color. The color became more intense with each passing moment, and the light seemed to spill over the rim and into the canyon. As this happened, a crack in the rock began to glow, reaching a point where it appeared to be illuminated from within. I've seen similar displays of reflected light in nature, the most well-known being Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, which glows at sunrise. Still, this was my first time seeing something like this at the Grand Canyon.

My fear that the colorful sunrise would be short-lived was put to rest. This morning, the sunrise glowed for almost twenty minutes, and by the time it was over, I was exhausted. The adrenaline rush faded away, as did the colors, and I was left standing on the rim, grinning from ear to ear. This was my last day as an Artist-in-Residence, but it was at this moment that I knew the canyon had forever become a part of me and that I would return.

I returned to the canyon later that summer to photograph on the North Rim of the canyon, and I returned to the South Rim in March of the following year to deliver the first print of this photograph to the National Park Service. That print is now part of the Grand Canyon Museum Collection and hangs in the Park Headquarters building. In 2019, Grand Canyon National Park celebrated its centennial, and the Grand Canyon Conservancy created a special book titled Grand Canyon National Park 100 Views, which features this photograph on the cover.

I owe so much of what I do today to that magical experience of living at the canyon, interacting with the visitors, and learning from the rangers and others who work in the park. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my journey by sharing with me what you love about the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.

Article written by 2009 National Park Service Artist in Residence, Adam Schallau.

Originally Published: 04-04-2024 Last Updated: 05-01-2024