Every photo is worth 1,000 words.
For longtime Paradise Valley resident — and former three-term mayor — every photo of his represents a lifetime of memories with friends and family riding the rapids of the mighty Colorado River.
More than 50 years of experiences and memories traversing the Colorado River at the base of Grand Canyon culminated in a local celebration, when Mr. Lowry introduced his photography to the Town of Paradise Valley.
On Tuesday, Oct. 23, more than 100 people filled Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, to honor Mr. Lowry at the 23rd annual Paradise Valley Artist in Residence exhibit opening.
Addressing a packed room, which left many attendees standing in the back, the former Paradise Valley mayor detailed several special and unique memories he’s cultivated during 53 consecutive trips leading groups down the river.
Images showing sunlight, water and millions of years of natural change, Mr. Lowry provided the guests in attendance a front-row seat to rafting down the Colorado River.
Over the 53 trips, Mr. Lowry says he believes he’s spent over a year at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
“No one can be more lucky than that,” the photographer said.
Camping, hiking and rafting are only a few details in Mr. Lowry’s stories, as he recounted meeting interesting people along the way, bonding with his companions during tough times, margarita parties, experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime concert and immersing himself in Mother Nature’s creation.
The walls of Town Hall will don Mr. Lowry’s photographs of the Grand Canyon for the next year.
Several members of Paradise Valley Town Council, town staff, neighbors, friends and family joined Mr. Lowry to celebrate his artwork, including his son, Ace, who flew in from Denver to surprise his father.
In an unofficial poll conducted in the room, several people in attendance raised their hand when asked how many people have joined Mr. Lowry on one of his trips down the Colorado River.
“Over those 53 trips, he’s enabled over 1,000 people to experience the beauty that you see in these photographs,” Paradise Valley Arts Committee Chair Janie Russo said at the exhibit opening.
“For those of us who have not rafted the Colorado River, I feel like this is a virtual tour of the Colorado River for me. It’s definitely on my bucket list now to do that — he definitely captured that incredible beauty of this Unesco World Heritage Site.”
Ms. Russo noted that it’s particularly fitting for Mr. Lowry’s exhibit to be featured this year, as 2019 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Grand Canyon being named a national park. While the Grand Canyon its about 5 million years old, the rocks at the bottom of the canyon are closer to two billion years old, Mr. Lowry said.
“When the canyon was formed, northern Arizona was just a flat plane, sitting on top of one of the tectonic plates,” he said.
“As time went on, there was a meandering steam that came down Colorado, and it came across northern Arizona. But as the geologic uplift of this whole northern part of Arizona occurred, this steam — because it was so slow and so gradual — the river just kept cutting down.”
Mr. Lowry says the best demonstration of how the Grand Canyon was formed is to imagine a cake with many layers. When holding the knife to cut the cake, instead of pushing the knife down through the cake, the cake is pushed upwards against the knife.
“That’s what was happening — the ground was rising very slowly, with rocks falling inward being carried out by the water,” he explained.
Tales from the canyon
Standing at a podium more than 200 miles south of the Grand Canyon, Mr. Lowry explained details of his historic trips before recounting some of his most memorable experiences.
A trip duration of about eight days is the “perfect amount of time to be in the canyon,” Mr. Lowry says, noting that rafters travel more than 150 miles down the canyon. And, the summer month of June is the best time to travel down the Colorado River, he says, because it’s warm but not hot.
The rocks that make up the canyon, are different colors and shapes. One time in particular, Mr. Lowry says, the shadows created on the cliffs were reminiscent of faces and people, not dissimilar from Native American symbols found around Arizona.
“Across the river, as it was getting dark there was this great cliff made of limestone and we started looking at it, and there were faces — you had to look at it a little bit, but there they were. It was really neat,” Mr. Lowry recounted.
“At about 2 (o’clock) in the morning, I woke up, I looked to see the faces and they were gone — no faces — but there were shapes of people, they were more like the Anaszai types of things you see drawn in the caves. This was on a night when we had a full moon.”
In the morning, the troops were discussing what they witnessed last night, asking “Did you see it too?!”
“About everyone who was there was watching this crazy play of moon and the shadows,” he said. “You can’t underestimate what your imagination can do.”
Another time, Mr. Lowry and his group found themselves in the middle of a daytime rainstorm.
“Storms in the bottom of the canyon are something else, and the sound of the thunder, you just won’t believe,” he said, describing blowing wind and raindrops made of frozen ice.
“We’re out there — the river temperature was 50 degrees and you’ve got a wind-chill of about minus 10,000 (degrees). We were just freezing to death. There were waterfalls coming down both sides of the canyon, and big boulders the size of cars were just rolling down and clunking on the bottom.”
Eventually the group found a small cove they could find solace from the storm. While hiding out — and trying to warm up with a few swigs of tequila — another group came down the river.
“They had these big yellow boxes, and they were just getting blasted in this big car wash,” he said.
“We shared our shelter and our tequila — it turned out this was a group called the Bow String Quartet. They were from Canada, and at that time they were the No. 4 string quartet in the world.”
Come to find out, the quartet was transporting their instruments in those yellow boxes to play at the mouth of Blacktail Canyon — a very narrow area about four-days down the Colorado River, Mr. Lowry explained.
“They never asked anybody to come listen, but since we saved their lives, we were invited to be there,” he said.
Being instructed to stay very quiet, Mr. Lowry and his group hiked up to the mouth of the canyon to sit in on a special moment.
“Eight o’clock in the morning, the sound we were hearing behind us was the river. It began to fade away, and then it was unbelievably quiet,” he explained. “Pretty soon we started to hear Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi. We spent almost two hours in this fabulous concert.”
After the concert, the group tip-toed their way back out of the canyon.
“So we got down to the mouth of the canyon, no one said anything, no one wanted to break that spell. It was such a magical moment,” he said. “You just never know what type of treat the canyon will serve up for you.”
A special town program
Paradise Valley Councilman Mark Stanton says the artist-in-residence program is a point of pride for the town of Paradise Valley.
“The program recognizes and celebrates talented town residents while offering an attraction for visitors to Paradise Valley Town Hall,” Mr. Stanton said. “The character of our Town is reflected in the residents such as Ed Lowry.”
The first featured artist was Carol Critchfield in 1999. Since then, the program has continued featuring a new artist every year. The biggest criteria needed to apply is the artist must be a resident of the town.
“The kick-off event was a great success and the Paradise Valley Arts Board worked for months to create a memorable evening to launch this year-long artist-in-residence program featuring our former mayor, Ed Lowry,” Mr. Stanton said.
“As a councilmember and Paradise Valley Arts Board liaison, I am very proud of our town, the residents support of the program and the warm reception that Ed Lowry received. It was a genuine pleasure to participate and hear his entertaining and informative stories of his Colorado River rafting legacy.”
Mr. Stanton says he is one of the lucky people who have gone on one of Mr. Lowry’s excursions.
“I have had the privilege of traveling with Ed on a 7-day trip down the Colorado River. His photography captures the unmatched adventure, beauty and sheer grandeur of the Canyon,” Mr. Stanton said.
“Programs like the artist-in-residence are an example of our special Paradise Valley Town spirit and helps create a genuine sense of community. I encourage residents and visitors to stop by Town Hall and enjoy Ed’s amazing photography exhibit, especially as the Grand Canyon National Park will be celebrating it 100-year anniversary in 2019.”
News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Mrosequist_