See the iconic formations around Bears Ears, learn more about this shoot, and check out Renan’s gear picks.
More than anything, we just wanted to put a face to the name. What is Bears Ears National Monument? When you hear about Arches or Yosemite National Parks, you can immediately conjure up some sort of visual of them in your mind. It’s hard to even begin to tackle the issues surrounding Bears Ears if you don’t have any visual images to draw upon. You need something to be inspired by. The dream of this project, which is just beginning, is to put a face to the name of Bears Ears.
It’s really hard to even understand how big this area is. The original monument was 1.3 million acres in southern Utah. It’s now reduced by 85 percent. Anywhere else in the world or in other parts of the United States, these lands would be celebrated and highly protected. Walking down a canyon, at every twist and turn, you see ancient structures, granaries, and dwellings carved into the cliff faces—there are not many places in the world where you can feel history to that extent. You can get lost climbing a single crack, or for some people mountain biking or four wheeling, horseback riding. Until you get into the sky, you don’t really understand how they’re all interconnected.
Once you get in the sky, you see all of the sections from the Goosenecks to Valley of the Gods and Grand Gulch (see them in the video above)—they’re all connected all the way up to Indian Creek, even as far north as the Canyonlands. It’s all part of this same connected landscape. I’m not saying that I understand all the issues. I just want to show people what it is so it can be considered wisely.
Over the course of the last few months, I’ve been working with pilot Chris Dahl-Berdine to try to mount a gyro-stabilized camera system on his ultralight trike and look at this landscape from above. An ultralight trike is basically a flying motorcycle. It looks like a paraglider with a fan on the back and a little lawnmower engine. It was a way to fly slowly over this landscape and really see what’s there. Being able to mount a gyro-stabilized 8K camera with a system called a Shotover was the ultimate dream. It took us multiple tries and a lot of tinkering to pull it off.
And I wouldn’t even say we we pulled it off completely. We had the wrong batteries. The trike was overweight. We spilled battery acid all over the trike which is sort of sketchy in terms of aircrafts—yet we got it to work. It wasn’t perfect, but we were rolling footage. It was super stable. It’s a really exciting moment to finally persevere after all of these tests and a lot of people putting their heads together to make this technology work.
Renan’s Gear Picks: Taking Photography to New Heights
Shotover G1 Camera
“Rock-solid stability in 100 mph winds with full camera control of the RED 8K carrying a Hollywood-level cinema lens! So impressive.”
The North Face Himalayan Suit
“Comfort in sub-zero temps. Also ability to drop things inside the suit without worrying about them falling out the bottom and going for the ‘big ride.’”
“Such a warm feeling to the image, unique ‘spectral’ lens flares and best quality for a high-end cinema zoom covering the Red 8K s35 sensor!”
When you’re flying the trike, the second you take off you’re getting blasted by 50-mile-an-hour winds. It’s so cold this time of year that I wore an Everest Himalayan down suit with giant mitts. The combination of all that gear and trying to control this finicky device just doesn’t go so well together. The wind was so strong I was death-gripping the controller with my left hand. You come down from these flights, and you’re just hobbling from being cramped in this chair in the sky.
But it’s just such an immersive way to experience a landscape. Instead of looking into a monitor on a drone from the ground (which is not allowed in Bears Ears), you’re up there looking around, smelling things, noticing the light changing all around you, and able to capture shots like you never would be able to on the ground.
The projects that excite me these days have to do with combining issues of conservation or cultural impact with new camera technology and different ways of looking at things that people haven’t seen before. I think everyone can come to appreciate images of the place and the beauty of what it is will speak for itself. We probably flew for 600 miles but only scratched the surface. We have plans to do bigger transects that connect the most northern region to the southern boundaries.