Dine Bikeyah (Navajoland) is larger than 10 of the 50 states in America. The people of this land have achieved something quite rare: the ability of an indigenous people to blend both traditional and modern ways of life . . . a nation within a nation. Scarcely anything depicts the Native American more eloquently than their love for dancing, singing and fine jewelry making. The Navajo have its own government, police force, tribal laws, and cultural differences. It’s only fitting to start this post with a little understanding of its people and land.
Continued from “The Jewels on the Colorado Plateau” . . . It took about five hours for CJ and I to make it to Page, AZ from Moab, UT. The drive, as long as it was, is a scenic display of large rock structures, mountains, and colorful desertscapes. We did pass by Monument Valley but saved that stop for our return trip.
For the next three days, Page, AZ would be our base of operation. We had a lovely room at the Marriott Courtyard with a REFRIGERATOR, surprise, surprise.
Even though I am not a food blogger and I don’t take pictures of food, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I had some of the best bbq I have ever tasted. And I should know being from the capitol of bbq, T E X A S. DC’s Backyard BBQ baby back ribs, dripping with a secret sauce, were so tender it just fell right off the bone, and their homemade coleslaw was so pleasing to the palate without all that hot, spicy seasonings.
Upper Antelope Canyon
The most important part of this segment of our journey was to photograph Upper Antelope Canyon. I reserved two different photographic tours on two different days with idea being any screw ups photographing the canyon, I had a second chance on Day 2. The first day at the canyon the weather was overcast. You need bright sunlight to catch the “light beam.” The second day, we had our full sun. Mid-day (11am – 1pm) is the best time to photograph these slots with the shafts of light shining down from the openings above.
The Canyon cannot be visited without a representative of the Navajo Nation, hence, that’s why we had to go with a tour group. And, because we were there during the most ideal months (March through October), as well as the most crowded time, we had reservations. It is best to make your reservations well in advance of your arrival. I highly recommend Antelope Canyon Tours’ Photographic Tour, mainly because it’s a smaller group, and the guides do a wonderful job of helping you “chase” the light and fend off the crowds of tourists. The transport to the Canyon is usually dusty and a rough ride, but CJ and I covered our cameras with plastic bags, and off we went, bumps and all. Just a side note: The herds of tourists were mostly from foreign countries . . . Germany, Poland, France and Japan.
Antelope Canyon is home to one of nature’s most wondrous creations – slot canyons. Carved from the red sandstone millenniums by rain and wind, the canyons are narrow passageways that lead several hundreds of feet from the opening. “Abstract on steroids” comes to mind. It’s a photographer’s paradise, but to the Navajo, its spiritual. As the sand flows through the canyon, forms and shapes are carved into the rock by water and wind. This creates a plethora of interesting shapes and psychedelic patterns. As I waited for some of the many crowds to squeeze their way through narrow passageways and disperse, I looked for unseen “creatures.” I couldn’t find shapes of creatures in the rock but I did find shapes of “ghosts” in the dust.
The photography you see in books and/or on the internet, including my images, does not do it justice. It’s a phenomenal to actually witness. I consider my photographic adventure to Antelope Canyon to be an experience of a lifetime.
Horseshoe Bend is another of Mother Nature’s little tricks in the world of Navajo Sandstone and slick rock that result in some of the strangest formations. It’s three-quarters of a mile round trip to the overlook and a 500-foot drop off. There is no path down to the Colorado River below unless you have a parachute and a death wish.
At the entrance, a large sign warns of the danger at the Overlook. Be careful where you stand because of the weakness of the sandstone. Apparently they lose 10 people a year to carelessness while at the “edge.”
The hiking trail is downhill but the deep sand makes it difficult to walk especially since its uphill coming back. It’s a short walk from the parking lot up to the plateau, but once reached, I could see the edge in the distance, and from there it is downhill. However, that’s when I realized what goes down must come up!
Once I arrived at the edge and looked down at the Colorado River far below, it became quite clear just how dangerous it is and why the large warning sign. I was standing precariously on the edge with the fisheye lens pointed outward to get the whole “bend” in the shot. Wheww! I was glad CJ was there to hold the back of my pants!
Photo tip: I do recommend a polarizer and a graduated 2-stop Neutral Density filter when photographing Horseshoe Bend due to a late afternoon timeframe to get a nice shot of the “bend.” Sunset would cover it in shadows.
It was hot, and it was extremely difficult for me to make the trek back uphill but, hey, I did Delicate Arch, so whats the beef? Right?
As I stated in the beginning of this post, we decided to stop and photograph Monument Valley on our return trip to Moab, UT. Because we only had a few hours to spare, we stayed within the Visitor Center. I did get some nice shots of the two Mittens — West Mittens and East Mittens, and to the left (picture on the right) Merrick Butte. Since there are many, and I mean many shots of Monument Valley’s iconic Mittens, I tried my hand at using a plugin called, “Snapseed” that I had downloaded for my iPhone 4, and had good results. I had installed the version for my computer, and opened a PSD file. This time I played around with different effects to get a more grudge look.
One of the centerpieces of beauty on Navajoland, and one of the world’s most recognized landscapes, is Monument Valley. From the desert floor, giant monolith red sandstone formations push skyward creating a striking and dramatic earthscape encompassed by an umbrella of blue skies. This enchanting earthscape is so inspiring and magnificent that it is one of the most photographed sites in America and has become synonymous with our vision of the great Southwest.
It was traders, Harry and Mike Gouldings who convinced John Ford to use Monument Valley as the setting for his Western classic movies of the 1930′s. I believe that’s what put Monument Valley on the map. It became known as depicting the true wild west. Just a few of my all time favorites . . . John Wayne’s The Rescuers, Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow ribbon. Most recent is Forest.
We didn’t do the 17-mile loop for off-road vehicles only. I’m anxious to try this with my own 4-wheel drive SUV on my return trip from Salt Lake City, UT. Also, I hope to hire a Navajo guide to take me to Mystery Valley for some sunset and night photography.
As we headed for Moab, we just had to stop at one of the many Navajo trading posts. I purchased some beaded clips for my hair, and two child’s beaded bracelets for my two granddaughters. The art of entwining intricate beads in a sophisticated designs must be bred into the Navajo people. Their beadwork is exquisite.
Tales of the Grand Slam
While I was on this great adventure through Southeastern Utah and Northern Arizona, my husband was fly fishing in Colorado on the High Lonesome Ranch. The High Lonesome Ranch is a LARGE spread even by Texas standards . . . it encompasses about 300 square miles of deeded and permitted lands on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies. From the high mountain snowmelt comes the pure cold waters which feeds into the ponds of the High Lonesome Ranch valley. These pristine waters are heavy with healthy trout . . . browns, brooks, rainbows, cutthroats and cuttbows (hybrid). The guest house and remote cabins are luxurious but with the feel of the outdoors. The fishing guide and my husband went out every day to fish, well, except the last day, when they did some skeet shooting. Of course, now my husband wants a shotgun.
In Part I, “The Jewels of the Colorado Plateau,” some comments were made asking about the fly fishing with pictures of trout. So back by popular demand are some pictures of my husband and his awarding winning trout taken by the fishing guide. And, if you are wondering — no fish was harmed in the catching. The fish are gently put back in the pond or river and not eaten. The Ranch has a “catch and release” program. What a waste of good, fresh fish . . . imagine it cooked over an open grill, you with a cold beer in hand and a nice mountain breeze. My husband did get the Grand Slam award for catching all four species of trout on the ranch in one day.
Finally, my great adventure has ended. Now, at home, and writing these blogs about my trip . . . my mind still wonders off to those days in the Parks capturing a special look of those giant red sandstone monoliths reaching to the sky, or waiting for the morning light to hit the arch just the right way as to burst into a fiery glow in my viewfinder or chasing after the light in the slot canyons. But, best of all, I think back on my difficult trek to Delicate Arch, and what I accomplished . . . a small feat no less. It still makes me feel good. I am so glad I did it. I guess, in my own silly, stupid way, I now know the feeling of triumph when you have accomplished a sought after goal.
What’s next? I’m anxious to see what’s around the corner as I travel to Salt Lake City, Bryce and Zion. You never know . . . on my way back to Houston, I went through a snowstorm at Monarch Pass, CO, in the middle of May, and photographed a black bear along the side of the road as we made our way into Walsenburg, CO. I have sent an email to the Colorado Division of Wildlife inquiring about the status of this bear. Did you know that bears also love to accessorize? His earrings are stunning. See how well coordinated he looks with earrings that match his surroundings.
UPDATE ON MR. BEAR IN COLORADO
On June 29, 2012, I heard back from Jim Baker, Colorado Parks and Wildlife – Customer Service, on the status of the Black Bear. It turns out that Mr. Black Bear is a Mrs. Black Bear, and she has two clubs presiding in the culvert. The Colorado Parks & Wildlife have been keeping an eye on her and her clubs. Its a good thing I didn’t leave the vehicle but used the vehicle as a portable blind, and shot out of the window. My story might have been different with her protecting her clubs from a crazy photographer.
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