Dean M. Chriss
Going Home Again, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, Landscape Photograph by Dean M. Chriss

Going Home Again

(Click image to enlarge)

Roughly forty years before capturing this photograph I stood here in complete darkness for the first time, anticipating the sunrise. It was amazingly quiet. While waiting I took measurements with a hand held light meter and fumbled with the controls on a camera holding Kodachrome 25 film. I remember the excitement of witnessing the sublime spectacle unfold. I saw no one else since the previous evening at dinner in the town of Moab, 1.5 hours away on steep, bumpy, corrugated, and dusty dirt roads. My photo that morning was terrible by today's standards but alright for minutes long exposures on ISO 25 film in near darkness. I thought I'd improve on it in the future but it would take forty years for that to happen.

I had no idea that this region would become my home in a most profound sense, or that I'd return to the area several times each year and accumulate a couple of years there during the rest of my life. I'd have laughed if someone told me the couple running the motel I was staying in, and some of their extended family, would become as close as my own family.

In the dead of winter in early 2022 I made one last and desperate attempt to go back home again. There are much nicer times to go, but the hordes brought to this part of the country by tourism have made it unbearable when the weather is nice. I drove 1,800 miles (2897 km) in 3 days through two blizzards to get here, where the temperatures were well below freezing. Few others would do that, so discomfort was my friend.

My last trip home was mostly successful, but I was not very happy with this improved photograph. I returned on a different morning for another try. Unfortunately the weather in surrounding states improved and the crowds flooded in. The photographic situation at this particular location became nothing short of paparazzi trying to photograph tay tay with a wardrobe malfunction. I walked away without even opening my camera bag. Whether good or bad, this is the best photograph of the scene that I will ever capture.

I am the last member of my Moab family to leave the area permanently. That saddens me, but on the upside I am the only one who is still breathing.