Dusting Off My Hard Drives
Hunts Mesa Area Navajoland
During these difficult times due to COVID-19, I decided to look at old images and old draft articles on my hard drives in order to keep myself busy at home while in self-isolation. What follows is one product from this endeavor.
Hunts Mesa is a rock formation located in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, south of the state line between Utah and Arizona in the United States and west of the border between Arizona’s Navajo County and Apache County. Hunts Mesa gives one a panoramic view of the popular sandstone formations of Monument Valley. This destination requires a Navajo guide. 1.)
Hunts Mesa forms the southeastern edge of Monument Valley and the northern edge of Little Capitan Valley. Its elevation is 6,370 feet (1,942 m). Access to Hunts Mesa is not through the general entrance of the Tribal Park, but rather through the sand dunes northeast of the town of Kayenta, Arizona. As an aside, on October 16, 1984, a United States Air Force B-52G bomber crashed on Hunts Mesa, killing two of its seven crewmen. 1.)
As photographers, we all have tales to tell of how we captured a certain special image and I am no exception.
Years ago a well known Navajo guide, Tom Philips, was often hired by the Arizona Highways Group when they visited Monument Valley. Tom loved sunrises. One time when I was with Tom, he stood in front of my camera blocking the lens so that I would appreciate what the Gods were about to show us. We were standing with the location called Yei Bi Chei in view and looking toward the sunrise to come. Tom wanted me to see and appreciate God’s Rays that were about to appear. He knew I was itching to start clicking off some shots with my slow Medium Format camera and just wanted me to slow down in order to see it for myself before capturing the event with the camera. Later he explained to me that he knew I was a lover of Navajo history, geography, and sunrises, but he wanted me to be at one with the elements just this once. I have never had the patience when getting up at 4 am to not first capture the event and then appreciate it. This morning was different. The way Tom looked at me when standing in front of my camera was contagious. With a very serious face, he said, “Watch this unfold as you will have plenty of time for capturing your images”. I was almost in a trance watching the event unfold in a quiet and simple way and it was the respect and reverence of this event that Tom wanted me to see and appreciate so that one day I could communicate this event to the world without words. Sadly, as it turns out I was the last person Tom ever guided in the Park since that eventful morning. Today his children and close relatives continue his tradition and Tom’s terrific vision as to what is important in life. What follows is an image of that event and another image of the nearby sand dunes taken that morning.
THE TRIP UP TO HUNTS MESA
During that sunrise event, Tom and I discussed what other locations I could investigate while in Monument Valley during my trip. He suggested Hunts Mesa where his cousin Ray was an expert overnight guide. Eager for more adventure, I met Ray and we headed out with a few others. The first question Ray asked was how should he cook my rib-eye steak for dinner. With that, I knew I was in a for a great trip. We headed out of the Park by making a left turn onto the highway toward Kayenta, AZ. After perhaps 15 minutes we made a left turn onto a dirt road passing many horses grazing under Agatha Peak, an interesting rock formation.
After many miles, we again turned left onto another road of sand which looked much less traveled. It soon became a two-track trail. We began to climb until the 4×4 Suburban was entirely on rocks. Then it looked like the road ended since we were looking at a huge 15 feet high boulder right in front of us. I looked at Ray and asked if it was time to get out and hike now. He said “No way!” while putting the vehicle into low 4×4. Little did I imagine what was to come next as I looked down to my right onto a drop-off of perhaps 200 feet below. Ray engaged the motor and right up and over that enormous boulder we went. After my heart rate settled down I looked ahead only to see more of the same as far as I could see. I fastened my seat belt even tighter and gritted my teeth as at times we were on three wheels leaning to the right and then three wheels leaning to the left slowly grinding up the rugged way to Hunts Mesa.
Suddenly the track smoothed out and we could see the Valley ahead to the left. Ray said to take out our camera gear, tripods, flashlights, and some water and he would be back to collect us after sunset.
After giving us directions out to the point where we could witness sunset above Monument Valley, Ray set off on what eventually became a flat road running along the top of Hunts Mesa. This road continued to the campsite where Ray pitched the tents for us all and started the fire for dinner.
Ribeye steak, baked potato, BYO red wine and roasted marsh mellows for dessert if you did not want cake or fruit, etc. No one starved that evening.
Once the moon set, it got extremely dark and the skies became not only full of stars but also the Milky Way became visible. I stayed up until about 3am not wanting the evening to end while walking around looking for various locations for night shots, but I finally tired and into the tent, I went. I am no star expert, but after this evening I very much appreciated what some can accomplish with night time captures.
Sunrise created many opportunities for warm captures with deep shadows. Pano stitches were fun to create with these early morning captures.
After sunrise shooting and right on Q, Ray had coffee, eggs and bacon plus hash brown potatoes waiting for us. While we ate Ray packed up the tents and other no-food essentials and we were soon on our way back down the mountain, but Ray took a different direction down and eventually we followed what seemed like a dry river bed. We stopped at a narrow, dry creek bed and followed it for about 5-10 minutes on foot where Ray showed us a beautiful 3 feet in diameter Cactus head starting to bloom and then we continued to Arch Rock which even had an old Indian ruin inside.
We finally returned to base camp and sadly the adventure was over. I have since returned to Hunts Mesa with my wife who was terrified of the trip on the way up while giving me dirty looks all the way up to Hunts Mesa. After dinner and roasted marsh mellows and a huge double tent provided for us, not to mention the sensational sunset and sunrise views she was extremely happy to have made the trip and might even return one day once she feels adventurous again.
As for myself, I cannot go to Monument Valley without thinking of Tom and his love of the Tribal Park. Maybe he is helping bring us those fantastic God’s Rays every morning. Keep them coming, Tom.
1.) Sources: Wikipedia
After nearly loosing my eye sight, the decision in 2011 to buy a digital camera in order to leave something on earth if blindness were to set in has given me the energy and drive to capture images of all sorts. In one word it is Life that I capture in all its shapes and forms. Life has various meanings to each of us, but it is Life that is crucial to me no matter where it is found. I very much like to see Life and live Life. On one hand, I am a photographer who captures earthy, gritty, emotional and moving street scenes with a worldly emphasis. And on the other hand, I am also a photographer who loves the openess and solitude of the beautiful and moving landscape environment where ones artistic juices are allowed the freedom to flow to their maximum. Sometimes that means dramtic colors and other times it means capturing the scene in stong and intense black & white images. In January 2016 I was again fortunate enough to receive the coveted Jay Colson Portfolio Award at FOTOfusion where 50 professional photographers and photo editors voted my portfolio the best. Winning this Award once is an honor, but now that I have won it three years in a row, it is an overwhelming achievement. Below are links to various articles written about my photography and what moves me to capture my images. Cuba Article-Leica User Forum My Street Photography-Leica User Forum My Landscape Photography-Leica User Forum