By Angilee Wilkerson
From left: Earl, Angilee, Thom and Sally
the long journey north from Flagstaff, Ariz., to the border of Utah.
It's a perfect day for a road trip the crisp October air
smells of pine and juniper, the sun is warm and bright and the sky
has big puffy picture-book clouds.
I will be
meeting Earl Zimmerman late in the morning and will follow him out
to the Kaibab Paiute reservation where we will hook up with Thom
meet up with the first of the two scientists, my objective is to
find a health food store and stock up on trail mix and fruit, then
check out a local coffee shop, a routine I have picked up on my
location assignments. You can really get a feel for the locals this
way, and the locals of Flagstaff are very down to earth. I feel
right at home in my favorite faded jeans. Coffee in hand, donned
in my warmest flannel and lucky cowgirl boots, I am ready to meet
north takes all day. The desert is like a chameleon changing repeatedly,
dotted with sagebrush and cacti morphing into dense pine and aspen
forest, ultimately spilling out onto a plateau cut so deep by a
massive gorge it's hard to wrap the mind around. The light dances
around, creating negative space as prominent as the mountains themselves.
off the side of the road to check out a little makeshift jewelry
stand. It seems so odd to see anyone out here, but there she is,
the little old jewelry maker surrounded by nothingness, wrapped
in a thick woven blanket the colors of turquoise and rust. She has
patiently been waiting for someone like me to drive by. Her face
has so many little lines and creases it's almost mesmerizing. I
buy a strand of juniper berries, "to keep the nightmares away,"
she quietly tells me.
I stand outside my hotel room in the freezing dark, once again mesmerized,
this time by the twinkling, dancing stars active and bright in a
sky that envelopes me.
day Thom, Earl, Thom's friend Sally and I load up the truck with
all our gear and drive into the reservation. There are only dirt
roads, and Thom has to drive fast and curvy to avoid getting stuck
in the thick sepia dirt. It's like a roller coaster ride; I can't
help but laugh each time my butt bounces off the seat.
ponderosa and deer and ridges, finally arriving at the burn site.
It starts to sprinkle, so I cover my camera with my bandana and
start shooting. The light is incredible, the sun gives the raindrops
an iridescent glow and a huge rainbow forms. The charred trees are
slick from the rain. I can't believe my luck the light is
so intense, and I keep running back to the truck, grabbing more
The shot of Earl (left) and Thom building a fire takes real
I know what
I want for the "hero" shot. The challenge is pulling it
all together. I want Thom and Earl to be standing behind a roaring
fire and in front of an orange and pink sunset-lit mountain ridge.
I'll light them with a large strobe and soft box from the front
and rely on the ambient light to illuminate the landscape.
a few significant variables to contend with finding a safe
place to build a fire but still fulfill my vision of a background
is one of them. The winds are high, which will make building and
maintaining the fire difficult and dangerous if not well thought
out. We have to guesstimate the exact time the sun will fall on
the cliff we've chosen as our background.
a prediction and determines we have about 30 minutes before optimum
light. He's right on the money; his instincts are sharp.
of us are like bees, buzzing around, each with a task. Sally gathers
wood, Earl shovels sand, Thom builds the fire and everyone helps
me keep the equipment from blowing away and the sand out of my gear.
I work on getting all three sources of light balanced. I'm pulling
Polaroids like mad.
it all comes together without a hitch. It's real teamwork. That
shoot is my second roller coaster ride of the day, a real rush.
We end with Mexican food and stories.
my hotel room which, by the way, has a tree stump for a table
I crack the window so I can smell the desert night and thank
the lucky stars hanging so low in the sky for such an incredible