Oak Creek Reflections

early one still morning

The fault of Oak Creek changes direction, here it turns east/west through Schnebly Hill Formation red sandstone for which Sedona is famous.

West Fork (108) Trail, Sedona, Yavapai County, Arizona

“Hello” from Oak Creek Canyon, “Photo by Pam Wills”

Click this link for my Fine Art Photography gallery. You can find Oak Creek Mandala in the Arizona gallery.  The gallery description gives more information about the site.

Click this link for another Arizona post, “Cochise Dawn.”

Sandstone Gallery

early one still morning

The fault of Oak Creek changes direction, here it forms a north/south gallery through Schnebly Hill Formation red sandstone for which Sedona is famous.

West Fork (108) Trail, Sedona, Yavapai County, Arizona

“Hello” from Oak Creek Canyon, “Photo by Pam Wills”

Click this link for my Fine Art Photography gallery. You can find Oak Creek Mandala in the Arizona gallery.  The gallery description gives more information about the site.

Click this link for another Arizona post, “Cochise Dawn.”

Portrait of a Navajo Guide

a window in time

On November 3, 2004 my son, Sean, and I made our way to Chinle, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly.

The next day, driving a rented 4 wheel drive, we arrived at the visitor center, at dawn, and there met Peter Tsosie who worked as a guide. This is how you do it, if learning about the Canyon is your goal. It is possible to walk, unaccompanied, into the canyon to view the “White House” and this I highly recommend. Tourists can also drive around the rim to various overlooks. This is what most people do.

The canyon is still farmed and the tribe only allows visitors when accompanied by a guide. Only Navajos are certified as guides. They know the rights of way and the preferences of the landowners.

Click for my OnLine Gallery of Arizona photography

We negotiated with Peter to take us for half a day for our interest in petroglyphs and ruins. It is important to start early when the sun is low in the sky, when directly overhead the details of ruins and petroglyphs are washed out by the light. Catching the late afternoon/evening sun is also an approach that requires detailed knowledge of the route, taking into account the time of year.

Peter was an excellent choice, though he was our only option on that day. He was fluent in Navajo beliefs, the lore of the canyon and generous in sharing what he knew.

Here is Peter, approximately 6.2 miles into the canyon with the “Ledge Ruin” behind. We arrived at the junction just in time, before the sun was high enough to wash out the ruin. It is slow going into the canyon what with the deep sand and water that must be negotiated. Peter did the driving and was expert. We passed other parties bogged down in the wet sand. I do not believe it was luck that kept us moving . We stopped many times to talk and admire the petroglyphs and pictographs.

Petroglyphs are symbols incised, or cut, into the surface (the name means petro, “rock”, glyph, “symbol”). In the desert climate of the southwestern USA a thin, dark pigment forms on rock surfaces of overhanging cliffs. The pigment forms from infrequent precipitation, in the form of water, flowing downward over the surface or even dew. The high heat of the desert drives a chemical reaction between water, clays, iron and manganese oxide to form a coating on the rock surface. The dark coating, called “desert varnish”, contrasts with the underlying rock. When it is scraped away a line forms. Many of the petroglyphs were of this form. Others were carved into the rock itself, more time consuming and durable. No one knows when the petroglyphs were made, they were always there are respected. People have inhabited Canyon de Chelly for over a thousand years.
The word pictograph has a different meaning when used to describe prehistoric art. The earliest writing were symbols incised in wet clay, then allowed to harden. The pictographs we viewed was prehistoric art, mostly white pigment on the red rock, outlines of hands. There were also kokopelli, the outline of a flute player and jagged lines, symbolizing, Peter told us, lightening.

In November the cottonwoods were in fall foliage, a brilliant yellow under a cloudless sky. The sun is lower in the south and rises later. The Navajo Reservation follows daylight savings time, unlike Arizona. This November morning the sun rose around 7:45 am, so if you are not an early riser this time of year is an excellent choice for a Canyon de Chelly tour.

Click for the next posting in this series, “Junction Ruin Musings”

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills Photography

Canyon of Music, Wind, Light

there if you want to see it

Canyon de Chelly View
Looking southwest from the Canyon de Chelly visitor center toward the eastern escarpment of Black Mesa of the Hopis.

The village of Chinle is a “census designate place”, in other words it only exists because people live there, it was not formally recorded in “official” records. On the Navajo reservation, people lived here beyond recorded time. It is called in their language “flowing out”, where live giving water flows out from the canyons.

There is a fine Best Western in Chinle, better than most of that brand and the only choice for mile and miles and miles.

Navajo Hogan
This is a cribbed log hogan. The domed earthen roof keeps the interior cool in hot weather and, along with a fire, warm in the winter. The Navajo hogan entrance faces east.

In Junction Ruin Musings, the previous post, a ruin from the Anasazi people was contemplated. Above is a traditional Navajo dwelling from a later, more secure, time.

Ramadan for shade
A good place to cook, read and sleep in hot weather. The entrance faces east and, for this one, the view was superb.

Ouch!!
Ouch!! Everywhere in the southwest, watch where you tread.

Click for my OnLine Gallery of Arizona photography
Pictographs Canyon De Chelly

Music

A Native American, seeing the flute playing Kokopelli, hears in the mind the sonorous melodies of their native flutes carried in as if on the wind. The hands waving in rhythm, “Here we are.”

Clan Sign Petroglyph
Canyon de Chelly symbol carved into red sandstone cliff representing a clan sign.

I recall our guide, Peter, describes this as a scorpion.

Desert Varnish Petroglyph
Canyon de Chelly petroglyph, desert varnish over red sandstone. Image is dated by representation of horses, brought by europeans.

The feeling of movement and the story invoked viewing this drawing etched carefully on the rock demonstrates we are in the presence of an accomplished artist. The story of the times for us to learn from.

Raven Woman
Red sandstone formation on ridgeline, north side of Canyon de Chelly is remember by the Navajo for the story of the Raven Woman.

A Navajo woman, fleeing Apache captors, flew over this cliff, or seemed to. Survival depended on knowing how to run over slickrock without stumbling and to know where and how to disappear into the rocks.

South Cliffs below Junction
Canyon de Chelly below the first division into tow arms, the junction. This is looking south east. The cottonwoods are in autumn foliage.

Light

Click for my OnLine Gallery of Arizona photography

Juniper o Slickrock
Cahyon de Chelly is is possible here to climb out of the canyon over these lower slopes over what is called slickrock. In the foreground is a juniper tree.
Breadth, Light, Shadow
Canyon de Chelly vista from a slickrock ledge
Beetle on Slickrock
A two inch dung beetle crawls up sandstone slickrock, the origin of this stone apparent from the visible sand granules within an apparent clay matrix. The stone grain, described as cross bedded, suggests this was a former dune of wind blown sand composed of remnants of the Ancestral Rock Mountains.

Wind

Click for the first posting of this series, “Portrait of a Navajo Guide”.

Click for the next posting in this series, “Moon Fin”

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills Photography

World at our Feet

On Peter’s Mesa

View North / Northwest from Peter’s Mesa. At our feet is a mature Saguaro Cactus towering over Charlebois Canyon, to the right Black Mountain. Bluff Spring Mountain, middle distance, then Black Top Mesa. Flatiron Peak, of the famed Superstition Mountain, is in distance. Photographed from Peter’s Trail on a March afternoon 2008. Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest, Arizona

Bluff Spring Mountain, middle distance, then Black Top Mesa. Flatiron Peak, of the famed Superstition Mountain, is in distance. Photographed from Peter’s Trail on a March afternoon 2008. Superstition Wilderness, Tonto National Forest, Arizona

Click Me for the first post of this series, “Bluff Spring Mountain.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Morning / Evening

Can you see the Needle’s Eye?

The eye of Miner’s Needle is clear in both these South / Southeast views from Peter’s Mesa looking across the Music Canyon.

Many wildflowers, sprinkled like stars through the foreground of the morning photograph with Prickly Pear, Cholla and Saguaro cactus. Beware of “Jumping Cholla”, named for its seeming ability to attack passers-by. Another name, “Hanging Chain Cholla”, is more appropriate. Each chain with many hooked barbs is lightly attached to the branch, ready to snag a ride from unwary hikers.

Light rakes across the landscape in the evening photograph, taken from another vantage point on Peter’s Mesa. Miner’s Needle is four (4) miles away “as the crow flies,” i.e., line of sight distance.

Click Me for the first post of this series, “Black Mountain.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Panoramic

Superstition Glory

View North / Northwest from Peter’s Trail looking back the way we came. Black Mountain on right, Bluff Spring Mountain left with LaBarge Canyon running to the Red Hills center. On a March afternoon 2008.

Click Me for the first post of this series, “Black Mountain.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Hear the Music

Roasted Yucca

Here we are climbing Peters Trail to the eponymous mesa and facing East to Music Mountain. Scattered in the brush are desiccated and live Prickly Pear cactus. Poles of young saguaro cactus like randomly placed telephone poles poke up around the lower slopes.

The first published record of Music Mountain is by Ray C. Howland of Mesa Arizona who sent a letter to “Everybody’s Magazine” that appeared in a feature called “Everybody’s Meeting Place: Where writers, readers and the editor gather for informal discussion,” May 1928, Volume 58, Issue 5, page 173. I reproduce Howland’s letter here with minor editing:

“I am in the deserts and mountains of Arizona most of the time. I go into town once each month for mail and provisions. I meet many things as I ramble around, many strange things, things that are beyond my ability to comprehend. One particular was in my mind as I read your printed thought in the back of Everybody’s. Far in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, in the deepest, most rugged canyon, there are three caves halfway up a great yellow bluff. In these caves are mud dwellings. There are not the cliff-dwelling as found in other parts of Arizona.

The mud walls of these dwellings were made by people with very small hands. The handprints of these ancient masons remain as though they were made yesterday. Just below these caves a beautiful pool of crystal-clear water lies between grassy banks. Tall ghostlike sycamores grow there in great numbers.
I have camped many times beneath those sycamores. It is a beautiful spot. Such a difference between there and the hot desert that lies fifteen miles to the south.! As one lies there, just at twilight, begins the most wonderful music one could imagine. I have never heard music that could compare to it, vague, elusive at times, then again of greater volume. It is my opinion that no living being could record it.

The music is, I believe, beyond description. It seems to take you out of your moral self and transport you back ages and ages, almost to the beginning of things. For the time being one feels as though he were in another world.
I have often tried to solve this little private mystery. I can’t explain it. I can’t even describe it intelligently.

You will probably say as you read this that is is the wind among the pinnacles, caves, trees, etc. that make this wonder phenomenon. It cannot be, for usually there is no breeze in the mountains at twilight. It is still as a tomb except for that music. Besides when the breeze is blowing at any other hours of the day there is no sound.”

Here is a copy of that issue for you to see for yourselves.

In my photographs the bluffs described by Howland are seen clearly in the distance. During our expedition we were never able to visit the caves, though Dave described the location, caves, and dwellings. On Peter’s Mesa are remains of pits where Apaches and Yavapais gathered hearts of agave to roast. We visited a small cave in the side of Peter’s Mesa showing signs of high heat and possibly used for roasting agave.

Click Me for the first post of this series, “Black Mountain.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

From Music Canyon

Down South

Dutchman Trail follows the outflow of two springs along the canyon floor: Music Canyon and LaBarge springs. Here we are climbing Peters Trail to the eponymous mesa and facing south / Southeast, looking down on Dutchman Trail.

This is rough country below Bluff Spring Mountain. Stag Horn Cholla cactus is lower right with Prickly Pear cactus scattered in the brush. Poles of young saguaro cactus are scattered around the lower slopes.

Click Me for the first post of this series, “Bluff Spring Mountain.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Black Mountain

Million Dollar View

After a respite among the cool spring waters, we headed up Peters Trail for the top of Peter’s mesa where, for all we knew, there was no water.

In this photograph I face northwest, looking down on Dutchman Trail. The peak, upper center left, is Black Mountain. The cleft of Charlebois Canyon is lower middle right. Stag Horn Cholla cactus is lower right with Prickly Pear cactus scattered in the brush. Poles of young saguaro cactus are scattered around the lower slopes. Look carefully and you can make out the pooled water of our rest stop.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved