Colorado Plateau 2011: Day 3

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On past trips, my favorite photos are often taken within the first three days. In May of 2010, I shot “Vertigo” on Day 3. In January of this year, my photograph “Genesis” was taken on Day 2 of my trip to Death Valley.

These two photos have one thing in common. They were previsualized. I knew where to be, and when to be there to capture the shot I had envisioned. This knowledge was gleaned from previous visits.

Previsualization has yielded some of my best work, but this strategy is not without fault. Concentrating my effort on one photo causes me to overlook countless other subjects. This is the blessing and the curse of large format.

It is now day three, and I have yet to take a photo. I still need to find my subject, somewhere deep within the canyon.

I drove to the trailhead, and prepared for my second full day of scouting.

Dealing with the Heat

As many of you know, professional film must be protected from heat. Fuji recommends keeping its slide film at 55 degrees fahrenheit. This is difficult to accomplish in such a hot environment.

With the temperature approaching 100 degrees today, the interior of my truck will be in excess of 120. Storing film in an insulated cooler won’t help. Eventually, the heat will penetrate the cooler, spoiling the film. With over $700 worth of film in my truck, the mere thought of this is beyond comprehension.

For this trip, I purchased a Coleman 40 quart thermal electric cooler. This inexpensive cooler ($90 at Walmart), plugs into my truck’s 12 volt cigarette lighter adapter. Much to my surprise, this cooler was made here in the United States. The internal temperature can drop as low as 40 degrees below the ambient temperature. On 100 degree day, the film will be kept only 5 degrees higher than what Fuji recommends. The 40 quart model is large enough to hold several boxes of 8×10 film, several loaded film holders, and an assortment of 120 and 4×5 film.

There is of course one major flaw to this design. What happens when I’m out hiking for the day? I certainly can’t run this cooler off my car battery. It will be dead by the time I return.

I have a two-part strategy to keep the cooler running in a sweltering, unattended vehicle.

Strategy #1: Battery Power.

Since the cooler runs off  a 12 volt car battery, I purchased a second battery dedicated just for this cooler. Based on my calculations, this battery (Goal Zero Extreme 350) will run the cooler for 8 hours solid.

If I head into the canyon at 7AM, it will still be running when I return to my truck at 3PM.  Even if I return at 4 or 5PM, the cooler’s insulation will keep the warm air out. This battery pack will fully recharge in 5 hours, which is possible when driving from one location to another. This battery can also be charged from a solar panel, which leads me to Strategy 2.

Stragegy # 2: Solar Power.  Wouldn’t it be great to harness the power of the sun to cool my film? It’s a bit ironic really. I bought a Goal Zero Escape 30 Solar Briefcase. Rather than plugging my cooler into a battery, I plug it directly to this solar panel using a female cigarette lighter adapter.

Goal Zero Escape 30 Solar Panel Briefcase

My Escape 30 only runs my cooler at around 25% capacity, but that’s enough to run the fan and cooling element. By chaining my Escape 30 Solar Briefcase to my Nomad 13.5 panel, I am able to increase the output, and run the cooler at somewhere around 40% .

Goal Zero Nomad 13.5 Foldable Solar Panel

Yesterday, I ran the cooler on battery power. It kept my film nice and cool, but the battery was depleted by the end of the day. Until I can fully recharge the battery, I will be forced to rely on the solar panels for cooling.

To avoid damage from the predicted high winds, I secured both panels to the top of my truck. The large solar panel feeds power to the smaller solar panel, which connects directly to the cooler. The wire passes through a window that is cracked open.

Though I have experimented with this technique, I have never put it to use in 100 degree heat. Technically, it should work, but I don’t know for sure. As a test, I placed a warm bottle of Gatorade in the cooler. If I enjoy a chilly Gatorade at the end of the day, it means that my cooling strategy was a success.

Into the Canyon

I waited several hours, then hiked into the canyon. It was just after 10AM. Along a narrow trail, I was greeted by a coiled rattlesnake. After exchanging many pleasantries, it slithered away. Unsure of it’s exact whereabouts, I opted for a different route.

Each turn of the canyon was now very familiar. As I walked past the location of my photo “Luminosity,” I felt a tinge of satisfaction. It looked nothing like the sweet glow I captured 13 months ago.

It’s amazing how much different this location can appear at different times of the year. Although these two shots were taken at about the same time, they were shot about a month apart. Unless you know that such a glow will appear, it’s very difficult to be in the right place at the right time. This is the reason for my extensive scouting of Buckskin. I snapped the photo on the left with my point and shoot digital.

Many miles later, I arrived at the first of two locations I hoped to spend more time at. The light was moving fast, so I setup my video camera to record a time-lapse. I wanted to better understand where the light was moving, and if there was a chance of reflected light.

After reviewed the footage, I realized this location held little promise. The angle of the sun limited my chance for reflected light later in the afternoon.

I ventured to my second location. Here, I found an interesting glow at an area I nicknamed “The Dragon’s Lair.” The canyon opened into a chamber, then cut quickly to the left. A sandstone wall jutting from left wall obscured the upper reach of the passage, revealing only a dark triangular entrance. Though the foreground wasn’t compelling, I felt this area might have potential. I sketched the location, noted the time, then ventured further into the canyon.

Finally, I came across a narrow passage with some very subtle reflected light. It was an upstream view, and the sandy path was quite appealing. Though this location did not have a large distinctive glow, I liked the depth that was depicted.

I returned to my truck later that afternoon, popped open my cooler, and enjoyed a chilly Gatorade. Success!

3 Responses to “Colorado Plateau 2011: Day 3”

  1. bob Says:

    that was great, you really can express yourself in words, its like I was there checking the light with you. I was also checking the heat from your battery and sun chargers.
    Great Job Ben

  2. Bill Pelzmann Says:

    I’m glad to hear that you like the Goal Zero batteries and panels. I wasn’t aware of them until a few months ago when they had them on display for a weekend at Costco. I’m still deciding on which model to purchase. It’s great that they offer a nice range of battery capacities and solar panel sizes. Cosidering your cooling needs, I’m surprised that you didn’t get their larger capacity panel(s).

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Their product line is excellent. I used my REI dividend to purchase the Sherpa 50 + Nomad 13.5 setup with my video batteries in mind. I plugged the Sherpa 50 into the cooler just for fun, and found that it ran it for 45 minutes. I did the math, then decided to get the Ranger 350 just for the cooler. According to their site, the Escape 30 and Boulder 30 generate the same power, but the Escape 30 folds in half, which is ideal for protection. It works quite well, but I would certainly consider a second Escape 30 to fully power the cooler.

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