Posts Tagged Navajo Country

A mysterious lack of mystery

Last post I talked about the desert and how I came to believe it is my soul’s home. There are several reasons for that feeling, I suppose, and I’ll list a couple here.

First the desert has no mystery. It’s nothing more than rocks and sand and scrubby plants that can barely survive the harsh climate. Juniper trees that are hundreds of years old form beautiful shapes that testify to their struggle for life. Cactus protect their internally-held water with spines that will make you wish you’d never touched them. There are poisonous critters throughout the area: scorpions, rattlesnakes and all-terrain vehicles. The desert will kill you as readily as it will tolerate you, so you’d better come prepared for the worst if you visit the desert.

Second, the desert has great mysteries. I’ll share a few examples today.

Long ago—estimates suggest 1,000+ years—there were thriving civilizations in the desert. I say civilizations, plural, because archaeological evidence suggests that there were actually several different periods of occupation over the centuries.

The first European-descended settlers in the area named them “Anasazi,” a term they picked up from Navajos. The disappearance of the Anasazi became a great mystery and was ballyhooed around the region in an attempt to lure tourists in to spend their dollars. Problem is, Anasazi is an insult to the people who lived here way back then. According to interpretations of the term that I’ve seen it means “Enemies of Our Ancestors.” Not a very nice name for the ancient ones.

Craig Childs, in his book House of Rain, explores several sites and reports conversations with archaeologists who, he says, reports that the “Anasazi” were actually Pueblo people who were nomadic and ranged from the Cedar Mesa areas of Utah all the way into Mexico, finally staying in New Mexico after the European invasion. A guide at Navajo National Monument, a place with great examples of Ancestral Pueblo dwellings told the story of Monument staff bringing some Pueblo elders to the site of the Betatakin ruin in the Monument. The elders read some of the rock art and pointed out where the springs were, where the kivas were and accurately described some of the features of the ruin without having ever been there. A pretty good indication that they know who the inhabitants were.

Another sign the mysterious inhabitants of the area left behind was rock art. I just love petroglyphs and pictographs that are found in the area. They are truly mysterious. Sure, there are representations of desert bighorn sheep and elk or deer, clearly an indication of the source of food in the area, but there are other far more indecipherable figures. What looks like people, or maybe space aliens, footprints that may indicate a clan association or what to look out for, plants and possible crops and wondrous birds. Maybe. It’s impossible to tell. Few today really know what they’re all about and they aren’t telling because it’s none of our business. So we look at the art and speculate and wonder and enjoy the mystery.

Here are a few examples of some fine rock art (As usual, click on the images to see them full-size).

 

 

There are several panels in Capitol Reef National Park. One is labeled and easily accessed. The art seems to come from the ancients named the Fremont People.

 

Fremont Petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park

Fremont Petroglyphs, Capitol Reef National Park

 

As you approach the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, you go by a fascinating Utah State Historical Monument, Newspaper Rock. The site was so named because of the incredible display of rock art. Here is a look at the whole panel:

 

Newspaper Rock State Hitorical Monument, Utah

Newspaper Rock State Hitorical Monument, Utah

 

And here are some detail shots:

 

Newsapaper Rock State Historical Monument, Utah, Detail 1

Newsapaper Rock State Historical Monument, Utah, Detail 1

 

 

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument, Utah, Detail 2

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument, Utah, Detail 2

 

I’ll share more rock art captures as time goes on. There are so many examples, all so mysterious. It’s a great treat to stumble across an ancient drawing, especially one that hasn’t been trashed by some more recent arrival. Some of the finest panels have bullet holes from high-powered rifles marring the art. But the art has outlasted the defilers. Good.

 

More to follow.

Bob

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More from the Desert

Our recent expedition into the desert was only a week long, but, man did we take pictures. The total for the five of us was a little over 8,000 images and I actually did more than 1,000. Back in the day, I would have likely done twenty or thirty, but digital photography offers a lot of options that require a lot of exposures. You might remember a couple weeks back I posted a panorama from the Totem Pole. That was made of about seven separate images. I’ve posted some High Dynamic Range images that take somewhere between four and seven exposures to blend into the final product. So it’s not all promiscuous shooting, sometimes the multiples are there for a reason.

Sometimes it’s necessary to do a lot of images just to get the one right shot. That’s the situation at Horseshoe Bend. The light is constantly changing, the framing always seems to be a challenge, so the photographer has the choice of either figuring out the exact right shot and being in the exact right position at the time the light is exactly right or finding a good frame and waiting, taking several images until the right one is there. (click on the images to see them full size and in the right color space.)

 

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend

 

Or one might be driving up the road to Monument Valley and see a stunning sky outlining El Capitan. If you’ve watched the John Ford/John Wayne movies filmed in Monument Valley, you’ve seen El Capitan off in the distance. If you’ve driven by it, you’ve undoubtedly been impressed. I had to stop in two different places to make images. Again, if it had been in the old view camera days, I’d have carefully composed, metered the scene and waited for the clouds to be perfect and the light on El Capitan to be just right. With digital, we have the option of shifting our composition, our exposure and our zoom to capture the right image. It’s tempting to just blast away, but I hope that I’m thoughtful enough only to capture good scenes and only blast away when the light is constantly changing as it was in this situation.

 

El Capitan Navajo Nation

El Capitan Navajo Nation

 

I kind of like what I found in both circumstances.

More to follow,

Bob

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The Frameup

It’s been a busy week. Lots of time in the field making photographs, not much time to process and post before doing a nose plant into the pillow to be ready for the next day’s adventure. On a very auspicious day we hooked up with a guide. He asked us what we wanted to see and we told him.

That started a long day of traveling the back roads of Monument Valley Tribal Park. Harry, our guide, often made suggestions about where to find good photos and he was seldom wrong. Harry suggested the framing below and it turns out it was a good idea. We all stood in line to get the right position and framing for the West Mitten.

Here’s what I found:

West mitten framed

West mitten framed

 

More to follow,

Bob

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Sunrise Silhouette

It’s easy to get up before sunrise as the year wears on. I was up and fiddling around yesterday so decided I should take advantage of our great room at the View and set up the camera on the balcony.

Here’s what I saw:

Monument Valley Sunrise Silhouette

Monument Valley Sunrise Silhouette

 

More to follow,

Bob

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A day with Albert

Albert took us into the back country, a place visitors don’t usually get to go without a guide. Well, Albert lives in the Valley, so he was just taking some friends to see his home. We visited Susie Yazzie, who, at 96, still cards wool and spins it into yarn, saw some interesting sights and heard some great stories from Albert. Some were about his youth, some about Navajo culture and some were, well…

 

We saw some good stuff here, too.

 

Petroglyph, Monument Valley

 

Petroglyph, Monument Valley

Petroglyph, Monument Valley

Sand Ripples

 

Sand ripples

Albert getting a wild ride at John Ford Point

Albert at John Ford Point

Albert at John Ford Point

More to follow,

Bob

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What the…

Well, the Wifi is getting cranky and I’ve got a lot to post tonight, so this and the next will be brief.

We started the day off to find Albert, who would guide us through the park. But as we left the motel, we realized that there was going to be a balloon launch, something of a rarity in the park. We told Albert we’d be right back, then went to take a couple images of the balloons.

500 exposures later we got into the van and headed off to tell Albert that we’d catch him a little later. Back at the motel, we uploaded our images, talked Photoshop a while, then left to find Albert again. That will be covered in the next post. Meanwhile, here is what greeted us this morning.

 

Sunrise behind Merrick Butte and the East Mitten.

 

Sunrise, Monument Valley

Sunrise, Monument Valley

Skywalker approaches…

 
Skywalker approaching

Skywalker approaching

 

And then…

Skywalker

Skywalker

More to follow,

 

Bob

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Back in Monument Valley

It’s great to be back here. We have a good group of photographers and a beautiful location to work with, so I’m looking forward to another three days of spectacular scenics and with luck good images.

I’ve been here before, taking a daylong tour in the open bed of a truck. This time we’re traveling in comfort in a van, densely packed so we can’t bounce too far and with a guide who can take us to the nicest places.

Here are a few shots from today. Don’t forget to click on the images to see them full size and with the right color.

 

John Ford used to sit here and watch the scenes unfold. What a place to work!

John Ford Point, Monument Valley

John Ford Point, Monument Valley

The Mittens are prominent in all of Ford’s movies. Here they are just after the sun sank below the horizon:

Mittens, Sunset

Mittens, Sunset

It’s a rule for photographers that they should turn around when they’re photographing something. Moose reminded us of that and we found this shot:

Sunset, Monument Valley

Sunset, Monument Valley

That’s it for today.

More to follow,

Bob

 

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Monument Valley Tour

I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and finally got to Monument Valley. We took a day-long trip through both Monument Valley and Mystery Valley. Mystery Valley is only accessible to non-Navajo people with a guide. We had a great guide, Don, who had a good sense of humor was courteous and shared a lot of information with us. Of course, when I asked some questions that I probably shouldn’t (about Navajo culture and beliefs), Don just chuckled. What a great way to handle a stupid question.

Mystery Valley was the highlight of my day. I believe we saw some very ancient ruins, pictographs and petroglyphs. As an added bonus, they were pretty pristine because the grave robbers and looters have been kept out of the valley. Here are a couple images from there.

The first is an anthropomorph similar to the ones we saw in Horseshoe Canyon, but, I think, much older. As we looked at the panel, we could see more and more glyphs and this one finally kind of showed up. I’ve done very little enhancement on this image and you’ve got to look at it a while to see all the goodies.

Pictograph, Monument Valley, 1

Pictograph, Monument Valley, 1

 

I thinks glyphs like the hands are just fun. I can see a couple of explanations for them: first, the kids fell in the paint bucket and simply dabbed the paint onto the rock. Or, the kids decided that if Dad could paint a person, the kids could play finger paint. Or, it’s the artist signing the work. Any way, the hands bring a real sense of who was here waaaaaaaaaaay back when.

Hands, Monument Valley

Hands, Monument Valley

More to follow,

Bob

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