A little over a year ago I was on my way to an appointment and passed Willow Lake in Prescott. I didn’t have time to stop, but the Eastern sky was dark and ominous and the sun was low above the horizon to the West. The granite formations, trees and hills surrounding the lake were lit brightly against that richly dark backdrop and I knew immediately what I wanted to do and it had nothing to do with Willow Lake.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Willow Lake and have a lot of photographs to show that I’ve spent some quality time there, but my heart belongs to another. Just east of Willow Lake is another small body of water nestled between the jutting boulders of the Granite Dells – Watson Lake. I’ve not only got plenty of photos to show my love for Watson Lake, but I find myself taking visitors there, telling tourists on the Square about it and even using it as a backdrop for portraits and engagement sessions. It’s just a beautiful treasure and with sincere apologies to Willow Lake, I love it (Now Lynx, Goldwater and Granite Lakes are all going to be jealous).
As I drove by Willow Lake that day and saw the light and the sky and the water….. my mind immediately visualized Watson Lake under the same conditions and knew I didn’t even have time to take a quick detour to see it. I had someplace to be. But, I vowed to wait for the conditions to be right and I would be prepared to create a panorama of the vision I now had locked in my head.
Last week it happened. We were in the middle of monsoon and thunderstorms rolled in and out every day. Some in the mornings, but most in the afternoon. We’d get a little rain now and then, but in the distance you could hear the low grumbling of thunder beyond the hills. Sometimes you could see the storm to the West of Thumb Butte, or South, up in the pines, but that Monday evening, as I got ready to grill some chicken breasts, it was due East…… and the sun was starting to get lower in the Western sky.
Turning the grill off, I tossed my camera bag and tripod into the car as quickly as I could and headed out. I turned at the Square on Gurley Street toward the junction where 69 and 89 split and I headed up 89, passing the Veteran’s Hospital at old Fort Whipple. As I pulled into the park and reached into my pocket to pay the attendant I groaned. “Oh great…..” the attendant overheard me say to myself, “I ran off so fast I forgot to bring any cash.” I was dejected. You never know how long a particular set of weather and lighting conditions will last. “Why not just drive on up as my guest today?” it was more of a statement than a question. I’m sure my face brightened up as quickly as lightning traverses the clouds. “Thank you! I really appreciate it!” You gotta love this town.
Parking at the top of the hill overlooking the lake, I quickly unloaded, walked the short distance to the overlook I wanted and set up. The first set of shots I took were just to make sure I got something in the camera that had some of the elements in my head – mainly the dark Eastern sky. The sun, just over my shoulder, was hidden behind a cloud. After getting the first shots in the can, I waited……
I could hear geese honking occasionally from the boulder they were sitting on in the midst of the water. Cloud to ground lightning flashed to the Southeast. It seemed like minutes passed before the low rumble of thunder followed. Using my other camera I tried to capture a bird of prey as it wheeled silently over the dells and the water. The wind tugged at my hair and water lapped against the rocks below. I closed my eyes and pulled in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. As I opened my eyes sunlight began to creep across the hills to the East. Another round of photos covering the North end of the lake to the south. I gazed at the San Francisco Peaks just outside Flagstaff to the Northeast. More sunlight on the hills as the Dells on the far side of the lake began to light up. Another round of photos. If only the near side Dells, where I stood, would come out of shadow, then my near foreground and the hills across the lake would all stand out bright against the dark backdrop of the storm. After waiting a bit longer the foreground boulders also lit up and I began taking several shots spanning the lake from North to South to be stitched together into one impressive panorama later. As an added bonus, a rainbow decided to drop in behind the hills across the lake. Welcome, friend….
So, how closely do they match – the panoramas I created and the vision in my head? Meh, not bad. All of the elements were there, but not quite in the right configuration. In my head the lake is full and the storm spans the entire Eastern sky. On that day the lake was down quite a bit and the sky to the Northeast was fairly clear as the storm kept moving away to the Southeast and it wasn’t quite as dark as when I first saw it. Am I disappointed that I didn’t get the shot I want? Nope. I enjoyed every minute of the hour or more that I was out there and I got closer than I would have if I’d stayed home and barbeque’d some chicken. And the vision is still there. It’ll happen, but the vision is a bit revised now. There are a couple of new elements.
One day, on some afternoon or evening in the future, I’ll hear thunder in the distance. I’ll run outside and look up to see a massive storm front to the East. When I arrive at the lake I’ll have a pass that allows me to drive in without having to pay. As I set up, I’ll look out to see the lake as full as I’ve ever seen it. Sunlight will flood the distant hills and you’ll be able to see the rain falling in the distance beyond the first new element – the finished shot needs a rainbow. Don’t know why I didn’t think of that before. As I click through the shots, panning from North to South the other new element will come into play. Lightning! I can’t wait…….