So how cool is this? The shadow is me. It’s called a brocken (named for a mountain in Germany), and the rainbow is a solar glory. This extremely rare phenomenon requires the perfect alignment of sunlight, moisture, and observer, and I just happened to find myself at the fortunate convergence of these conditions.
Yesterday evening Don Smith and I photographed the vestiges of a summer storm at Lipan Point on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. We were there because Zeus had washed out the overnight trip to Toroweap that Don and I had been planning for many months.
Toroweap is a many-thousand foot vertical drop to the Colorado River on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, at the end of a 60-mile unpaved road. We’d rented a 4-wheel-drive Jeep for the adventure, but after talking to several Grand Canyon rangers who strongly advised against going out there in the rain. So we jettisoned Plan A and quickly improvised Plan B: leave the relative peace and quiet of the North Rim and jet back to the South Rim (where our next workshop is scheduled to start Friday).
The storm broke during our four-plus hour drive from the North Rim to the South Rim, and we were greeted with the kind of river-hugging, monolith-draping clouds I’m accustomed to seeing after a Yosemite storm. Our first stop was Navajo Point, but after some great shooting there we saw that the cloud making machine was working overtime below Lipan Point, just a short drive down the road.
Arriving at Lipan Point about an hour before sunset, we grabbed our gear and scrambled out to the point beneath the railed (tourist) vista, a rocky, knife-like ridge jutting into the canyon with sheer drops on both sides. I was happily photographing a scene up-canyon when Don called out, “Hey, do you see that?!” I looked up and saw a cloud drifting up from the chasm on our ridge’s east side, no more than 100 feet from us. The cloud was fully lit by the low sun, and right in the middle was my shadow encircled by a full rainbow. I know enough about rainbows to understand what’s going on: a rainbow makes a full circle around the anti-solar point, but terrestrial viewers usually find the bottom half interrupted by the horizon. But understanding a phenomenon doesn’t make me any less awestruck by its manifestation. I’d seen this once before, on a plane taking off through a rainstorm—I looked out the window and saw a rainbow encircling the plane’s shadow, but by the time I retrieved my iPhone the plane banked and I lost it.
But this time I had my camera ready for action—I shifted a few feet up the ridge to juxtapose the rainbow against a snag and clicked away. For my first few frames I stood off to the side and the shadow my camera captured was of my camera on the tripod, so I moved behind my camera and squared my shoulders. Those frames included my outline, but it wasn’t until I spread my arms and legs that I got the shadow you see here.