Colorado River Journal
By Beth Vershure
After months of mental, physical and spiritual preparation for this gig, the adventure finally begins ...
Day 1: Shakedown
Lew and Gail Steiger leave Flagstaff for Lee's Ferry early in order to get our crew boat in the water and video camera in place so they can shoot the group's arrival. Jillian Robinson, Tristan Whitehead and I ride the bus with Jack Dykinga and the workshop participants. This is the first time we've actually hung out with Jack and we're delighted to find that he's an interesting, funny and articulate guy.
We arrive at Lee's Ferry to find the boats in the water and Lew taping our arrival on the mini digital video camera (miniDV). There's much to do fitting lifejackets, loading equipment, getting a wireless mic on Jack, taking advantage of the last "civilized" toilet, and hearing the first of many orientations.
At last, we're on the river Gail takes the DAT (digital audio tape) recorder and rides with Jack and the workshop folks on a very large pontoon boat dubbed "The Mother Ship." Lew, a Colorado river rafter, drives the crew boat, a snout boat, with Jillian, Tristan and me as passengers.
There's a saying in outdoor TV production shoot as much as you can as early as you can for you never know about future weather and/or circumstances. We aren't out for more than 10 minutes when Lew decides he should get some wide shots of the Mother Ship. He idles the engine, gets the tripod and miniDV out, and sets up atop an equipment box. Hopping back and forth from camera to motor, the inevitable happens – the tripod is bumped and nearly topples over; the boat drifts toward shore, backwards, and nearly bumps into a rock. Lew decides to focus on driving.
We stop at North Canyon for our first campsite. Sunset is rapidly approaching so Jack suggests that everyone go down to the river and set up for some shots of water rushing over rocks. Lew arrives with the miniDV and hangs around until Jack finally ambles down to the river's edge and begins to set up a complicated, time lapse shot of water rushing over rocks. Both Lew and Jack return in high spirits Jack because he thinks he got a great shot and Lew because he thinks he got some great video of Jack shooting. After a rough start, we think it's possible we have our first sequence on tape! A most excellent start by all accounts.
DAY 2: On Our Way
The TV crew gets up at 5:00 am to hike up North Canyon in advance of the photogs so they could shoot them on the approach. Gail has the 25-lb betacam in a backpack, Lew the miniDV, and Tristan the DAT mic and recorder. Jillian and I get up at 6:00 am with the rest of the troops, drink a cup of hot coffee, load up still and video cameras, and bring up the rear.
It's a fairly steep and slippery trail but incredibly beautiful. We pass many reflecting pools only to turn a corner and find everyone set up and shooting away in a narrow portion of the canyon with the rising sun reflecting in a large pool of water. It's breathtaking! What a scene 4x5 still photogs shooting nature. TV crew (with two cameras) shooting the still photogs shooting nature. The web crew (still and video camera) shooting the TV crew shooting the photogs. Yikes!
We return to camp. Gail hikes downstream to catch the Mother Ship casting off and shooting rapids. We all wait for Gail in the crew boat. After shooting, Gail hurries back, we all pack up and take off to catch up with the Mother Ship. Gail thinks he got some good, bounce-free footage. I think this might be the drill for this trip race ahead, hold back, try and keep the camera from bouncing around. I can't imagine doing this shoot without the crew boat Lew managed to get for us.
It's a long afternoon on the river and by the time we get to Nankoweap other river trips have already taken the best camping spots. We push on to a campsite Lew remembers just across the river from where it intersects with the pale blue Little Colorado River. As we approach it appears to be occupied but Lew works it out. Since it took so long to get a campsite, it's too dark to shoot.