Sun and Shade, Canyon Del Muerto, repost

watch out for quicksand

 

Click me to explore this part of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona.”

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills Photography

Post Thanksgiving Thoughts

Here are links to two postings featuring Native Americans here in Central New York State and Arizona.

Travel to Canyon De Chelly…..

Portrait of a Navajo Guide

The New York State Fair, north of the Onondaga Reservation…..

Native American Dance Demonstration

 

Enjoy!!!

Juniper Sunrise

crack of dawn

In this post we start the day of my posting “Family Trek”, July 19, 2008, when, well before the sun rose at 6:23 am Mountain Daylight Time (the Navajo Reservation observes daylight savings, the rest of Arizona does not), Pam and I were at the Spider Rock Overlook.

Most visitors to the canyon make use of a system of roads and parking lots next to strategic views.  There is the White House Overlook we visited our first day, July 18, to hike from the trailhead into the canyon.  There are also, on the south side of the canyon:

    • Tsegi Overlook, taken from a Navajo word that translates directly to “between the rocks” and usually refers to a deep canyon with steep cliffs.
    • Junction Overlook above the point where Canyon Del Muerto (see my posting “Sun and Shade, Canyon Del Muerto”, and Canyon De Chelly intersect.  There is an Anasazi ruin in the south-facing cliff across the canyon.
    • Sliding House Overlook, another Anasazi run across the canyon.
    • Face Rock Overlook, to view the eponymous formation.
    • Spider Rock Overlook, the most stunning rock formation.  I will have a postings about it later.  That is our location for these shots.
Click any photograph for my Online gallery.

Sunrise Canyon De Chelly
Looking east from the Spider Rock overlook, Canyon De Chelly.

While getting ready I scoped out the location for interesting visual tropes.  Utah Junipers are exceptionally hardy shrubs, stressed individual plants grow into compelling forms shaped by hardship.  As the sun rose, this specimen emerged from the gloom and caught the first sun rays.

 

Click any photograph for my Online gallery.

Juniper Sunrise
A distressed Utah Juniper on the edge of Canyon De Chelly overlooking Needle Rock a few moments after sunrise.

Enjoy!!

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

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills Photography

Sun and Shade, Canyon Del Muerto

watch out for quicksand

In my post Canyon of Music, Wind, Light I shared a different photograph of this beetle crawling on sandstone, naming it as a “dung beetle”. I had assumed it was one from once having seen a beetle in an Arizona desert pushing a ball of dung around. This morning, to confirm my assumption, I searched for images of “Arizona Dung Beetle” and was dismayed to find this beetle shares no characteristics with the photographs. Absent smoking gun evidence, sadly lacking in this photograph, I have to admit my “dung beetle” attribution is in error.

Supporting the beetle, the luminous surface of the red sandstone named “de Chelly,” sunlight reflects from durable remnants of the ancestral Rocky Mountains wore to these bits of rock, piled to mountainous dunes by the winds of tens of thousands years, polished to smoothness each against the others.

Natural Markings
Mysterious abrasion and grooves in a de Chelly sandstone cliff, Canyon de Chelly.

The above photograph is a detail from the brightly lit cliff of the following photograph. The desert varnish and underlying rock was weathered over thousands of years, the sand grains falling to the canyon floor.

Click to view my Arizona fine art gallery

Breadth, Light, Shadow
Canyon Del Muerto vista from a ledge.

The soil of the canyon is composed of these bits of the ancestral Rocky Mountains. What appears to be a white road in the above photograph is not man-made, it is the dried bed of a stream. When a waterway is dry like this, only flowing with rains, it is called a wash. When water fills the wash of the Canyon Del Muerto, the polished sand granules become a dangerous morass, sucking down horses, people, anything unlucky enough to step into it. Every movement, struggling for freedom, pulls the victim deeper down until the wet sand closes over the head and suffocation and death ensues.

Sandstone Stairs
Stairs cut into the sandstone cliff of Canyon de Chelly

The waters Canyon De Chelly National Monument naturally form a vast Y into the Defiance Plateau, naturally because two major streams merge into one canyon a few miles above Chinle. On both our guided trips, heading east from Chinle there is a branch. On the right De Chelly canyon continues. On the left is Canyon Del Muerto. The photos in this post are all from “The Canyon of the Dead”, what the name means translated into English.

Click to view my Arizona fine art gallery

No, it is not named this because of the quicksand. Conditions for quicksand are present throughout canyons of the southwest. It is history of human occupation for which this canyon was named. I will cover it in a future posting. For now, I will say the above views are from the spot featured in “Family Trek.”

My first visit, in 2003, while my son Sean climbed the rocks with our guide, I was left to document the wondrous surroundings. The above shallow cave is reached by that stairway carved into the precipitous ledge. The access to the cave is via those naturally occurring ridges of the cross bedded sandstone. It is another example of De Chelly sandstone formed from the windblown edge of a monstrous ancient sand dune.

Monumental Cliff
A solid block of De Chelly sandstone formed from the central bulk of a sand dune.

Here is another example of rock formed from the solid body of the sand dune, that unbroken and un-striated cliff. Below is the cross-bedded, windblown sand.

Cliff with Foliage
Autumn lights up the floor of Canyon De Chelly, the foliage rivals the cliffs for wonder at this time.

As we proceeded generally east from the climbing spot of “Family Trek”, driving by the golden cottonwood foliage I asked the guide to stop for these photographs.

Canyon de Chelly
Canyon walls

Soon the cliffs hid the sun.

Canyon de Chelly

Notice the modern water distribution system (pipe) at the foot of cliff on right. These vast tracks of shadow adjacent to bright sunlight are a fact of life for canyon dwellers, a source of joy and wonder.

Canyon de Chelly

The canyon here is rather like the Narrows of Zion, without the water.

Canyon de Chelly

Enjoy!!

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

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills Photography

Family Trek

Sandstone Togetherness

The Defiance Plateau of northeastern Arizona declines gradually from its origin, the Chuska Mountains of New Mexico.  Route 191 runs where the Defiance Plateau merges with a valley of the larger Colorado Plateau.  The Black Mesa escarpment forms the western valley wall and is clearly visible from Canyon de Chelly visitor center.  You can see the valley and escarpment in my post Canyon of Music, Wind, Light.

Carved into the Defiance Plateau, the high cliff canyon walls of Canyon de Chelly at intervals belly out into wide alcoves.  For thousands of years, the land between the walls was farmed.  Here is a photograph from our 2008 canyon visit, visible are fields, farm equipment, shed and sport utility vehicle (SUV).  Look closer for the hogan, adjacent to the shed, and, on the lowest sandstone shelf on the left, white goats.

Click to view my Arizona fine art gallery

SONY DSC

Here is a quote from the reference link provided at the end of my post:

“The massive, high cliffs that form the walls of the canyon are De Chelly Sandstone. The De Chelly Sandstone consists of sand deposited in dunes in a subtropical to arid environment in Early Triassic time (about 250 to 230 million years ago).”

In this photograph the goats jumped off the shelf to graze, around them are the two forms of De Chelly Sandstone.  230 million years ago winds driving across the dry lands, piling the eroded bits of ancestral rocky mountains into dunes hundreds of feet high.  The in-stratified rock cliffs are the body of those dunes, converted to stone over the eons.  The cliffs are visible in both photographs.  The dark stains are called desert varnish.  Read more about desert varnish in the first posting of this series, “Portrait of a Navajo Guide.”  The rock in the foreground appear formed from an orderly pile of stone plates, this appearance is called stratification.  Another name for it is Cross Bedded Sandstone, formed from wind blowing across the dunes.

CanyonDeChellyFamilyVisit20080719-1

That entire, northeastern, side of the alcove is Cross-bedded sandstone.  Click on any one of the following photographs for a larger version, to peruse the detail.

Click to view my Arizona fine art gallery

A fascinating detail in these photographs, the subject of this post, are human figures rendered tiny by the distance and the enormous maze of sandstone.

It is four generations of a Navajo family, fathers, mothers, children of all ages down to infants in carriers.  My wife Pam, myself and our Navajo guide watched in wonder as they made their way down to the canyon floor.

Their progress was slow and careful.  Everyone kept together.  Nobody left behind.

Here they inch along a high ledge.

Descend from one ledge to the next.


Most amazing of all, the first person down is an elderly woman wearing sports shoes, steadied with umbrella, accompanied by a pre-teen girl.  Her progress steady and sure from years of experience.

Our guide knew the family.  He and they chatted in the Dine language.  The were travelling for a birthday party.

Click for the first posting of this series, “Portrait of a Navajo Guide.”
Click for the next post in this series, “Sun and Shade, Canyon Del Muerto.”
Reference Link for the quote

Copyright 2017 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.

WhiteHouseRuin20080718-3

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.

WhiteHouseRuin200807-8
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 2017 Michael Stephen Wills Photography

White House Overlook

Thunderhead and Red Rock

Whitehouse Overlook At Sunset
The Whitehouse Ruin of Canyon de Chelly is just visible at left in the far cliff, in the notch of the near cliff. The ruin trail is visible on the canyon floor. Notice the road following the canyon and the plantings with house on the right.

The landscapes I capture, like the face of a missing friend, fade gently from memory. My piece “Moon Fin Canyon de Chelly” became a mysterious vision. I remembered the context, the canyon topology was lost until I constructed the panorama, above, from three shots taken one evening, July 2008, from a cliff near the White House Overlook. Five years after my visit with Sean Wills, Pam and I returned to Canyon de Chelly to walk the same path.

At that time, a 50 mm lens was my widest angle, so I would take multiple images in sequence and use Photoshop later to construct a panorama. This past Sunday afternoon I spent stitching together my work from 2008.  In doing so I see “my fin”, in the center, bordered by the canyon road, is attached to the White House Ruin cliff via a thin ridge.

During that session a photogenic thunderhead, lit by the evening, hovered behind the fin as the gibbous moon did that long ago evening.

Click to visit Rock Fin with Thunderhead in my OnLine Gallery

Rock Fin and Thunderhead

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

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills Photography

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.

Click for my OnLine Gallery “Memories Dreams Reflections”

Moon Fin

Click for the first posting of this series, “Portrait of a Navajo Guide”.
Click for the next posting in this series, “White House Overlook”

Copyright 2017 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 2017 Michael Stephen Wills Photography