In the summer of 1998, my newspaper finally made the conversion from conventional cut-and-paste production to desktop publishing, which meant instead of printing, I would be scanning my images. I happily began using my new Nikon LS-2000 scanner, and abruptly stopped making photographic prints. It happened that I still had over 1000 sheets of black-and-white glossy printing paper in stock, so I began to ponder what to do with it. Eventually I concluded that I wanted to shoot something new, preferably medium format black-and-white with my Fuji GW670III, and preferably somewhere in the desert.
By the spring of 1999, I knew I wanted to do a New Mexico tour, so I asked a friend if he wanted to join me, which he did. Another friend’s uncle had a vacation house in Villanueva, New Mexico, and agreed to let us use it for a week in July.
We arrived in the tiny desert hamlet near the Pecos River by about 2pm on our first day, and after settling in to our borrowed adobe abode, began shooting.
•Day 1: Day hike in town, with a sudden downpour. Hiked across the Pecos to an overlook to photograph clearing storm at sunset. Hiked up to grotto for view overlooking town.
•Day 2: Fort Union National Monument. We had it almost entirely to ourselves. We bypassed the campy exhibits and concentrated on photographing the ruins against a perfect morning sky. The shapes reminded us of Stonehenge. On to Capulin Volcano National Monument: excellent views of the Folsom volcano field. Nice hike. Later, Cimarron Canyon: five minutes of success, then rain.
Cool idea: Photoshop about 30 cell towers into Ansel Adams 1943 image of Hernandez, New Mexico.
•Day 3: Pecos National Monument; bad light, didn’t shoot much. Nice drive up into the Pecos Wilderness Area. Next stop: Puyé Cliff Dwellings; shot some nice stuff, and nice climbs and hikes. In the afternoon, drove the legendary Chama Valley; made a few decent images before a thunderstorm ruined our light.
At Puyé, I guessed a woman’s camera’s date of manufacture on the first try. It was a 1970 Nikkormat FTn.
•Day 4: Sandia Peak; good light, both sunshine and when the mountain was enshrouded in cool clouds. Midday, Petroglyphs National Monument; bust, both in harsh light and unimpressive sites. Long drive to Very Large Array; bad light, but excellent drive and breakthrough conversations. Dinner at Luna Mansion in Los Lunas.
•Day 5: Relaxed hike at Villanueva State Park, then Madison Winery and The Sad Café. After dinner, got about a million sticktights on my socks and shoelaces going into the back yard to photograph the sunset.
•The Drive Home: We stopped at Cuervo, a nearly-abandoned town along Interstate 40 in east central New Mexico; nice church, lots of abandoned homes. Also stopped at Newkirk, which we nicknamed the “Plague Town,” in honor of its appearance.
My time in New Mexico is, as always, some kind of journey home to a place I’ve never lived.