White House Ruin

iconic image

November 2003 my son, Sean, and I drove up route 191 from the Petrified Forest National Part to arrived at Chinle on a November afternoon. In 2003 my photography kit included a Sony Point and Shoot 5 MP camera with filters, an over the shoulder (purse type) bag and an inexpensive “Kmart” tripod.

We found the White House trailhead, hiked down essentially alone as the sun set at 5:20 pm.  At that time, a thick stand of Russian Olive trees choked the wash.  We stopped at this point in the gathering dark.  I took this distant shot of the White House Ruin against the Russian Olive autumn foliage.  A stand of Cottonwoods growing near the canyon wall had yet to turn their brilliant yellow.  At that time, the White House Ruin was painted white.


When Pam and I visited July 2008, in the intervening 4 years, 9 months the Russian Olives were removed as an invasive species, the ruin was no longer white.

There is one highway headed south in the Four Corners region of Northern Arizona, the same route 191 Sean and I took.  In 2008 Pam and I came from Colorado south on 191, also arriving late afternoon.

That July day the sun set 8:33 pm as the Navajo Reservation observes daylight savings time. My goal was to photograph the White House Ruin I missed in 2003. We arrived at the trail head. My photography kit was expanded from 2003, now included a Kodak DSC Pro slr/C, the “C” meaning “Canon” lens mounting, a Sony 700 alpha slr (I only use a variable lens), Manfrotto tripod with hydrostatic ball head, and the backpack style Lowe camera case. With the tripod it is over 25 pounds.

With this on my back I was prepared to boogie down the trail. At the height of tourist season there were many more people at the trailhead. Pam, being a friendly person, started a conversation while I ploughed ahead along the flat canyon rim. It is solid red sandstone, beautiful, generally level with enough unevenness to require attention. When Pam saw how far ahead I was she tried to catch up, tripped, fell hard.

I backtracked to Pam and we pulled it together. She thought, maybe, the fall broke a rib. We descended, slowly, together. Here we are in front of the ruin. The sun, low in the sky, is moving below the south canyon wall. This is a perfect time and I used both cameras.

Mike and Pam at White House Ruin
Mike and Pam Wills with the White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly, July 2008

The sweep of cliff and desert varnish was my intent to capture. Here it is through the Canon 50 mm lens.

Click link for this White House photograph in my Online gallery.

I captured this version with the Sony Alpha 700 slr, the variable lens set to widest angle.

White House Ruin
Click link for this White House photograph from my online gallery.

Here the camera setup waits out the sun…..

Whte House Ruin Setup
Camera, protected by hat, mounted on Manfrotto Tripod at the White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly. July 2008
Click for the first posting of this series, “Portrait of a Navajo Guide”.

Click for the next posting of this series, “Family Trek.”

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills Photography

33 thoughts on “White House Ruin

  1. Beautiful post Michael. I am totally taken by every photo, so much new to learn and feel
    enchanted by. Your cameras – and you- did a wonderful job. This White House ruin is just
    something and the cliffs themselves!
    Shame about the Russian olive trees.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The sandstone you see is called slickrock. The origin of this stone apparent from the visible sand granules within an apparent clay matrix. The stone grain (the striations you notice) also described as cross bedded, suggests this was a former dune of wind blown sand composed of remnants of the Ancestral Rock Mountains.

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  2. I love the picture of the two of you! My son and I will be rock climbing in Southern AZ in a few weeks. I hope I can get some pictures half as great as yours 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Incredible photos, Michael! I’ve never been to that area in AZ. Is there an explanation for the color change? I assume the tree removal had something to do with it and the different light reflection. 🌷 Christine

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  4. Ouch; that must have hurt… You would never know by the way Pam stalwartly addresses the camera… Was a rib broken?
    This is quite an amazing geological structure, Michael. My partner is an avid mineral collector. I’ll need show him this post; I’m sure it would interest him from this perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Michael, it is wonderful that your family shares in your appreciation of nature’s journey. The Russian Olive trees took me back to Eastern Montana where many can be found, usually in larger groves than the isolated cottonwoods.

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