Skellig Peek

A Trinity of Skellig Images

Now’s time to share a trinity of images from a morning spent about the Skellig Islands May 2014.

Pam and I have many stories from that day, a favorite is from the parking lot of Portmagee where we met the fast boat to the island. I prepared for the day by making a reservation for our ride. We traveled from Killarney, where an early morning breakfast feast spread by The Killarney Royal Hotel fortified us for the adventure. Throughout our tour, experiencing Ireland was like taking blinders off, this first experience on The Ring of Kerry was no exception, driving on a tight timeline to reach Portmagee with minutes to spare, every turn of the road presented a new delight.

Grateful to have made it to Portmagee, we quickly pulled our kit together. As I closed the bonnet, Pam exclaimed “our umbrellas.” At this point of the story we laugh together. Umbrellas indeed. I had a dim clue of what lay in store for us and insisted the umbrellas be left behind, a counter-intuitive decision for a rainy Irish day the Wild Atlantic Way. Regardless of the time, we needed a bathroom break as there will be no facilities on the fast boat or the World Heritage Site where there is no space for human waste products.

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Skelligs from Valentia Island
I was here perched on a cliff of Valentia Island across from Portmagee looking southwest across Valentia Sound.

The humor is in our welcome aboard the fast boat, like a fishing boat with a small cabin and small deck dominated by the engine hatch. We crowded on, handed a full set of fisherman slickers. This is a heavy coat with hood and pants, all waterproof. Our close timing guaranteed the worse seat, away from the cabin in the open. It was a new experience for us and we felt a sense of dread as the craft left the protection of Valentia Sound into the open Atlantic Ocean.

We faced a west wind, driving 12+ foot waves, as the boat breached each wave the crest went over the cabin in a waterfall of salt water. Up and down, up and down. Thankfully neither of us lost breakfast as some did. I do not have photographs of the trip out or the approach to the island, my equipment was safely packed away.

In the above photograph you see the entire course of our approach to the island, a bit more than 10 (land) miles from Portmagee. We toured Valentia Island that afternoon.

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Skellig Steps
Climbing the side of Skellig Michael, approach to the peak and monastery.

There is a fair climb to the top to view the former monastery buildings. The steps are uneven and, when wet as it was that day, slippery.  I wore a waterproof North Face shell with hood for the low threatening clouds.  There was no rain as such, a constant fog on the top kept all exposed surfaces wet.

From the point on, until the top, was the most exposed and uncomfortable (frightening, chilling…you get the idea).  Spare yourself the experience if you are afraid of open spaces and heights.  Here was a stiff wind blowing from the right, on the left the cliff falls away to the ocean.  Ahead, the path narrows to about 10 inches with a cliff wall on one side, the precipice on the other.  Then come the monastery entrance and rock wall safety.

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Monk Cell
Monk Cell, Grave and Cross

This single image gives a succinct impression of the monastery setting.  The bee hive shaped stone monk cell requires a stooped crawl to enter.  Inside, the space is small and, thankfully, dry.  The structure keeps out the rain and wind, a marvel of stone construction. This cell is off to the side, on a cliff balcony, over the wall an ocean precipice.

My closing advice is to plan your time wisely.  The ship boards in less than an hour, in that time you climb the 700 steps and explore.  There are people all over the place, in waves. To capture the structures without humans, you need to wait until the cohort become bored and leaves.  There will be a space before the next wave of tourists breaks. Leave enough time to descend the steps safely.  People have suffered fatal falls on the steps and cliffs, it is easy to do.  Make your personal safety a priority.

Click for another Ireland Posting, “On the River Cong.”

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserves

Around the Kiva

a fascinating lecture

This diverse group of fifty three individuals are gathered around a kiva of the Mesa Verde Cliff palace on a July afternoon.

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Interested in Ruins? Here is another interesting post, “Loughan Bay Ruins, County Antrim, Ireland.”

Copyright 2021All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

A Visit to Proleek Dolmen

Romance of Ruins

I have an update to my post “Proleek, Grandfather McCardle’s home” where we explored the site of the boyhood home of my grandfather, Peter McCardle, on great grandfather James McCardle’s Proleek farm. April 2018 an email arrived from the brother of the owner of the house across the road.  He recognized the property from the blog photography and reached out to introduce himself and share information. His own genealogical research suggested we shared a great aunt.  We now work together to define this connection.

Our tour of Ireland was bookended by a visit to the farm site and, located little more than a kilometer away, a 5,000+ year old portal tomb, the last site Pam and I visited. We parked at the hotel / golf course built around the monuments.  There is no fee to visit the site, number 476 on the list of Republic of Ireland National Monuments (Irish: Séadchomhartha Náisiúnta), protected at the level of guardianship by the National Monuments Act of 1930.  The townland is named after the dolmen.  The anglicized “Proleek” is derived from the Irish for “bruising rock”, as in a millstone. The grave is attributed in folklore to the resting place of the Scotch Giant, Para Buidhe More Mahac Seoidin, who came to challenge Fin Mac Coole.  

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Ballymascanlon House Hotel is on the R173, on the left heading from the M1 towards Jenkinstown.  Path to the monument is marked here and there and requires attention.  It helps to understand the general location of the monument on the property.  The parking lot and hotel are on the southern end, the monument is on the north end.

The path leads through the hotel grounds….

….and golf course…

…and you first encounter the megalithic Gallery Grave of a type named “wedge shaped.”

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The 22 foot long tomb gallery supported stories of a giant burial. Pam poses for a sense of scale.

These are the only ancient monuments in Ireland were a stray golf ball may be encountered.

A short way ahead is the dolmen, or portal tomb. The informational placard is in English and Gaelic.  There is an illustration of the stones covered with earth with a stone façade.

Some describe the formation as a giant mushroom with warts. The posting feature image is of the same aspect as the next photograph, with me for scale.

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We are surrounded on three sides by the golf course.  The “entrance” to the tomb, through the two upright portal stones, faces northwest toward Slieve Gullion, a mountain with its own Neolithic burial site next to a lake on the summit.  The mountain and the flat land, such as Proleek township, feature in the story of how the Irish hero Cú Chulainn came by his name.  To learn more, click this link for “On the Tain Way” the first of my posting that includes some stories of the hero.

The fifth hole.

We had a beautiful day, so I took time to capture all aspects.  The hedge is the northern property border.

The “warts” are stones. There is a local saying that success in placing three stones on top will give a wish or lead to marriage within the year.

Click for more Ireland stories.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Loughan Bay Ruins, County Antrim

Deserted Cottages above the Irish Sea

We pulled off the side of Torr Road for this fine view on the way to Torr Head to take in this view of the Irish Sea.  The steeply rising distant headland is the Mull of Kintyre. Loughan an Lochan, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

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We parked on a turnout above the Loughan Cottages, near this farmer’s sheep pen.  He drove up in a huge tractor and conversed with Pam while I was below shooting the cottages. He made a good impression.

Loughan Bay Farmer – CLICK ME for my Getty Portfolio.

Roofless walls of a cottage more substantial than the other deserted ruins above Loughan Bay, with two fireplaces a walled porch with a view. A number of outbuilding foundations lay around. The integrity of the walls, chimneys and gables speaks to the quality of construction. A freighter in the North Channel of the Irish Sea is visible in the distance above the upper ridge. Beyond is the island of Islay, Scotland, about 30 miles distant. Loughan an Lochan, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

I am happy to report a series of thirteen (13) photographs of these ruins were accepted for publication by Getty.  You can click any of the photographs in this posting for my Getty portfolio.

Loughan Cottages Ruins above Crockan Point – CLICK ME for my Getty Portfolio.

The land slopes steeply to a rocky beach.

Ruin Above Loughan Bay – CLICK ME for my Getty Portfolio.

A thick growth of ferns, grass on the gable was once a home with a view of Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre 13 miles across the North Channel of the Irish Sea.  The Isle of Sanda just visible on the right of the far gable.  A landform named Alisa Crag is just visible in the distance, to the left of the nearest gable. 

Single Room Loughan Bay Cottage – CLICK ME for my Getty Portfolio.

Please browse my reasonably priced stock photography. License a photograph, download and use it for your website or blog. Click this link to browse all my Getty IStock Photography offerings.

Or click this link or any photograph or this link to select a print with custom framing from my “Ireland” Fine Art Gallery.

Interested in learning more about this site?  I have a series of postings on Loughan Bay.  Click for the first posting in this series.

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills, All Rights Reserved.

The Cloigtheach of Glendalough

A fine round stone tower of mica slate and granite

Cloigtheach is the Irish language name for a round stone tower.  The word’s literal meaning is “Bell House.”  This fine example of mica slate and granite is found in the Glendalough valley of County Wicklow, Ireland.

The sun was past noon when we arrived at this glacial valley of the Wicklow mountains.  In the few hours available I shot the tower from numerous angles and chose this because the tower is placed in the larger natural environment, viewed as a singular object apart from the monastic city the tower is placed among.

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Saint Kevin founded a monastic settlement within Glendalough valley almost 1,500 years ago, in the late 6th century A.D. As a religious center the monastery flourished for 600+ years, becoming a monastic city. Destroyed by English forces in 1398, it was disestablished at that time. Still, Glendalough served as a pilgrimage destination through the intervening centuries. The surviving buildings date from the 10th through 12th centuries.

Rebuilding and restoration efforts began 1876, including the roof of this tower using original stones. At 30.48 meters (100 feet) tall the Cloigtheach of Glendalough is the landmark by which the site is known.

Here is my previous Ireland Posting……

Here is my next Ireland posting….

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Moon Fin

Gibbous Moon and Red Rock

Driving from the Petrified Forest National Park my son, Sean, and I arrived at Chinle, Arizona the evening of Monday, November 2, 2003.  No time to rest or eat after checking into the Best Western he and I reached the White House overlook and trail head with the sun low in the sky, the sun sets 6:45 pm these last few days of Daylight Savings.  The Navajo Reservation observes Daylight Savings, so the click jumps crossing the border from Arizona to Reservation.

I was 50 at the time and with Sean graduated from SUNY Maritime and fresh from a tour at sea we made good time to the canyon floor.  I wanted to catch the White House in the setting sun.

This morning, 14 years later, I published a fine art photograph from that trip.

Looking along the canyon, over thick stands of Russian Olives, I caught the risen moon, in gibbous phase, against a mid-canyon freestanding fin of red sandstone of the southern canyon wall.

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Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills Photography

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.

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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

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.

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.

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

Here the camera setup waits out the sun…..

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.

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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

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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 2017 Michael Stephen Wills Photography