The Zion Expedition cannot be captured by camera nor by the cortex in one trip.
“The majesty is too great for one man, it must be shared to be interpreted.”
Having made his preliminary flights, Steiger now opens the gondola to selected artists, photographers, poets and journalists committed to conveying the immensity of their experience into their chosen formats for conveyance to the world.
Local passengers have begun to sign the ship’s manifest and join the expedition for the once-in-a-lifetime crossing.
Three Flights into the 10-Flight Expedition, the locals begin to recognize the once in a lifetime opportunity afforded by this fleeting expedition.
Steiger is the First pilot to balloon across the monumental geologic formations and vast wilderness of Zion National Park; November 16, 2011.
Team Members for this flight included:
Joshua Sams: Photographics, Panoramic, Barographic Instrumentation and Google Maps Virtual Tour
Stephen West: Photographics
GT Thomas (Zion Party Rentals): Mobile Catering and Ground Crew
Robert Dennis: Ground Recovery and Extraction
Tim Campbell: (DeZion Gallery) Artist Coordination and Collaborative Consulting
Hank Landau: (The Center for True North) Written Impressions and Observations
Mike Scully: (Scully Design) Illustration, Graphic and Technical Consulting and Design
Video Equipment by GoPro™
World-class photographer and gallery owner, David J. West, immediately recognizes the opportunity and acknowledges his own inner spirit of adventure and joins the expedition.
Steiger makes a test flight and rises to eye-level with West Temple to take a peek by launching downwind of the park with no intention of making the crossing on that day. Landing occurs downstream on the Gooseberry Mesa one hour later, as planned.
Flight 2 is an excuse to focus on Steiger’s second formation of interest, the Eagle Crags and launches from Rockville, over the Crags, Canaan Mountain, and the Vermillion Cliffs into Apple Valley. On this flight the decision is made to bring in “The HMS Dauntless”, his affectionate name for his 10 passenger gondola to make room for additional fuel reserves, and a wider range of artists to help record the overwhelming majesty of expedition. During this flight Steiger was so impressed as to realize that the project is far greater than the personal interests of a mere Modern Adventurer.
The scope has expanded to include a variety of artists, photographers, documentarians and journalists. A coffee table book with a focus of attention on not only the vivid and unique photographic perspective but the behind-the-scenes adventure and technical challenges of obtaining those shots.
So moved was Steiger by his glimpse of the Angel’s View of Zion from his celestial vantage point that a conversion of sorts occurred in that moment. A transformation, a realization….a revelation “from on-high”.
Included within the context of sharing the experience with the world through a collection of impressions and images by several artists, is the running theme learned as a Boy Scout of “Leave no trace”, which simply translates into a form of respect for the timeless beauty of this incredible place. Sharing his experience with veteran Park Rangers who have dedicated their lives to preserving such places, Steiger determines to include a subtle yet clear message within the context of sharing this grand experience.
The Dauntless arrives and Flight 3 departs Kolob Reservoir landing Coral Pink Sand Dunes as planned in a 5 hour and 15 min. flight that makes history.
Steiger arrives mid-October to conduct the preparatory research of typical weather patterns and winds aloft.
Location Scouting and permissions to launch are required from a variety of locations in order to have the freedom to make last minute launch decisions which correlate the winds aloft for the day with the relatively sparse landing zones across the park.
National Weather Service Imaging does not accurately depict Zion and the Google Earth satellite image for the area was taken on an overcast day, making ground detail appear to be friendly landing conditions until actual onsite inspection reveals pinion pines, juniper and Enchanted Forests of sage brush at 100% density as high as 5 feet tall.
Pilots must take the necessary time to familiarize themselves with the typical weather patterns and winds aloft in order to plan a crossing over unforgiving obstacles such as mountains, bodies of water and vast wilderness.
In one sense an Alpine Crossing is a simple matter of ascending into a flowing river of wind and riding it over the obstacle then descending to the tranquil meadows beyond.
That is all very fine….until you find there are no tranquil meadows beyond.
The specific challenge with Zion is that there quite simply is no place to land.
Buffalo Ranch and Clear Creek Ranch offer beautiful fields on the eastern border of the park, but since the launch point is so far away from the landing zone the range of winds can vary less than 5 degrees.
Steiger takes advantage of optimal winds to fly over The Guardians, West Temple, Eagle Crags, Canaan Mountain, and the Vermillion Cliffs into Apple Valley.
Under the right conditions he will navigate into the Canyon outside the park and ride the river of airflow downstream and away from the park only to ascend into the upper winds to continue on to Apple Valley and the Arizona Strip.