Grand Canyon Love Story chapter fifteen

North Rim Magic

Storing our car in southern Utah, we commuted home by bus several times to get more camera supplies and develop our film.

“You people deserve more gasoline,” the chairman of our gas rationing board told me on one of these commuter trips back to California. It was now mid 1945. “We’ve been hearing about your work. You are doing the nation a great service.”

Word had come to him from several cities across America where I had lectured with our motion pictures during the winter.’

“You are taking America to them, so they don’t have to use gas to go out and see it for themselves,” the chairman continued.

Some extra gas, to us, was more life-sustaining than a blood transfusion to a dying man. I followed the chairman’s lead by excitedly explaining that I had also shown our films, as a free public service, to groups of draftees and servicemen.

“We’re going to issue you a “C” ration book.” The chairman shook my hand warmly as he intoned those sacred words.

Journeying by bus back to the North Rim country, with new ration books in our possession, we took our car out of mothballs, realizing that we would not have to coast quite so much — at least in the more dangerous places. But we still had to conserve fuel in every way possible; a “C” book was no magic carpet.

Featured occasionally in our film, in addition to our daughter Adrienne, were Victor and Gail, Tom Blackburn’s grandchildren who lived with Tom and his wife”:- Victor was ten, Gail eight, and Adrienne nearly nine. For a week, we and the three youngsters had been traveling in remote areas of the North Rim country. In far away Europe, Germany had fallen. The war in the Pacific was climaxing; gas was harder to come by than ever.

Coffee and sugar were rationed, too. We used almost none of either. Once, when our gas coupons were nearly exhausted, we effected a trade at the home of a lonely rancher. As a cattle producer, he had all the gas he wanted but was completely out of sugar and coffee. With the tank of gas from that trade we drove first down to North Rim Lodge. It was closed for the duration. But it was far from deserted. Some half a hundred Kaibab deer had taken possession.

“Look, mama, there are six deer on the porch,” came Adrienne’s excited cry.

“Look there. That one’s peeking in the window.” This from Victor, equally excited.

There were deer on the sidewalks and paths, and six or eight grazing in a small meadow close by. Beyond that were more than we could count. Going carefully around to the front of the deserted lodge, we saw two of the graceful creatures apparently taking in the Canyon view.

Cape Royal lay 20 miles east and south — nearly two gallons of gas, roundtrip. We decided to make it. That two gallons was the most productive that any car of ours has ever consumed. Cape Royal provided us with front row balcony seats overlooking a natural stage play which, although in its millionth plus year of continuous performance, was adding new acts, and fresh changes of sets and scenes, every hour. As near to the point as we could get we established camp, as I jokingly said, “for the duration.”

Just ahead was Wotan’s Throne, probably once a part of Cape Royal but now an isolated island — a gigantic rock throne dominating the entire landscape. Its great walls are chameleon in character, as they change color with the rising sun as it turns its orange spotlight on it; and again at evening as the sky and sun become one and their bright red colors dye Wotan to match their own brilliance. It is pure breathtaking splendor — a throne fit for a king!

Now it was sunset time. Helen with her Leica, I with the movie camera, were methodically filming the final act of this day’s stage drama, just before the curtain was due to drop. Through the camera finder I suddenly saw a flash of unrehearsed action.

“Look,” I called to Helen. The youngsters said it was not a call, but a frantic yell. “Look, there’s a hummingbird right in my lens.”

Between camera and sunset-draped Wotan’s Throne was a thistle plant festooned with a score of delicate blossoms. That is what I was filming. But, as though one of those blossoms had magically grown wings and come alive, a nectar-seeking hummingbird was occupying the center stage. It had come for its ambrosial nightcap. That is what I was shouting about.

The vast Canyon in mysterious shadows.

Wotan’s Throne, in sunset splendor, throbbing with reckless splashes of evening sunlight.

A floral bouquet fit for heavenly kings and queens. And a tiny hummingbird, lord of it all.

This, in a single shot! Photographers sometimes get unearned rewards.