Notes on Kite Aerial Photography: Photo Gallery

A Trip through the American Southwest
Bryce Canyon, Southern Utah

An abstract view of strata in the upper layers of the remarkable Claron Formation. Various layers of colored earth have been exposed by erosion to give Bryce Canyon an otherworldly landscape (Canon 24-mm, June 1998). 

It turns out that Bryce Canyon is not a canyon at all. Consider this description from the Bryce Canyon National Park WWW site:  

"Bryce Canyon National Park is named for one of a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones and mudstones into thousands of spires, fins, pinnacles and mazes. Collectively called "hoodoos," these unique formations are whimsically arranged and tinted with colors too numerous and subtle to name."

The area was originally peopled by the Paiutes, a native-American tribe. Legendary explorer John Wesley Powell visited the area in 1870 and settlers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were remarkably close behind. These included early homesteaders Ebenezer and Mary Bryce who used the area for logging and cattle ranching. 

A ground-based photograph of the canyon wall near midday (left, Canon 80-300) and one taken later in the day near Inspiration Point -- this one from the kite with the cradle at a low altitude (right, Canon 24-mm, June 1998). In general, I tried to fly the kite away from the large tourist crowds -- didn't want to spoil too many Kodak moments.

Bryce Canyon's breathtaking collection of spires, eroded pinnacles, and columns quickly became an attraction for visitors and the area was set aside as parkland in the 1920s. They now receive 1,500,000 visitors a year -- among them in 1998 were the Bentons from Berkeley. We had a great time during our visit at Bryce and combined day hikes with mule rides and stargazing.  And of course there was a kite aerial photography session.

Toward the end of our second day at Bryce Canyon a somewhat fitful breeze sprang up. I headed toward Inspiration Point with the family and soon had my trusty Sutton 30 flying from the edge of the canyon rim. The lift was not particularly convincing nor could I detect a trend in wind patterns. After flying for around  40 minutes I decided to send the camera up as well -- the scenery was just too compelling to forgo taking photographs. The camera seemed to fly reasonably well. However, the wind would dissipate on occasion, the camera would sink, and then a freshening of the breeze would raise it again. Under these conditions I completed a roll of film. 

Bryce Canyon hoodoos as seen from above. These are photographs taken while the camera rig was still flying (Canon 24-mm, June 1998).

On one occasion, however, the breeze did not freshen. In a very slow sequence of events the camera descended to become level with the canyon rim. There it hovered for a long time. When the breeze slackened further I found myself inhauling line like mad. It was not fast enough to raise the camera which promptly descended into the canyon, coming to rest some 200 feet below the canyon rim. The kite, meanwhile, continued to fly but only in the most fitful of manners. This was the first time in a very long while that I feared the Sutton would collapse.

I was in a pickle. I couldn't pull on the kiteline without dragging the camera across rough terrain. So, I waited to see if the kite, which was still flying, could save the day. It couldn't. After five long minutes of languid flying it too collapsed and descended to the canyon floor. Oops, an altogether difficult place to have one of my relatively few "unscheduled landings."

Charlie Benton at the Bryce Canyon rim gearing up for our rescue operation. Charlie served as a spotter by watching the camera cradle through binoculars (Canon 15-mm, June 1998).


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