Unending, excellent conversation with my guest on this trip, fellow photographer Robert “R. E.” Stinson, who was so excited to be on the road shooting that his camera was in his hands more or less the whole time. He’d never seen the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, so for our first real photo opportunity of the trip, I was glad to introduce it to him. He brought a blue shirt, hat and scarf which we used as props for several images.
We also made stops at the famous leaning tower of Britten, several abandoned houses on the road, and an excellent late afternoon long view of the interstate.
• Farmington to Moab, Utah and Arches National Park
We met up in Farmington with Robert’s sister Deb and her son David early in the morning. They had driven from their home in San Diego. Our first stop was Four Corner’s Monument, where Deb and David tried to visit the night before, but were unable because of a time zone miscalculation. We all had some laughs standing in four states at once, and I bought Abby some nice gifts from the local traders. Since my last visit to Four Corners, the Navajo, who own the park, have made some improvements, including paving the ramps to the platforms overlooking the actual state lines marker, and building brick kiosks for the vendors. Also of note was the fact that the actual intersection of the four state lines was recently disputed in media reports, though in practice the notion that the monument might be in the wrong place seems largely irrelevant.
Neither Deb nor David had seen Arches National Park, so we decided to make our way there. We drove from Four Corners up the Aneth highway, and had lunch at Peace Tree Café in Monticello, Utah. Farther along the way we stopped at Wilson Arch and Hole ‘n the Rock and had fun. We made Arches by about four and hiked to Delicate Arch, and while it was hazy, we made a few decent images. To the amazement of Robert and me, we saw three digital Hasselblad medium format cameras, all on heavy tripods.
This was my eighth visit to Delicate Arch, including four times with Abby. This was Robert’s second visit to the arch, the first being my wedding in 2004.
With the light being stubbornly grey, I didn’t shoot very many images, and instead acted as tour guide for Robert and his kin. Everyone hiked well and seemed to have fun.
By sunset we were in The Windows section of Arches, where we had some success with blue hour light.
Our original travel template called for us to camp, but with Deb and David in town and rain in the forecast, we stayed in Moab.
• Primitive Loop at Arches and Grand View Point at Canyonlands National Park
Hiked with Robert, Deb, and David through the Devil’s Garden section of Arches National Park, taking the entire trail including the Dark Angel spur, the Navajo and Partition Arch spur, and the Private Arch spur. Abby and I hiked this trail on the day after we got married, and I hadn’t hiked the whole thing since then. Everyone did fine on the trail. The park service has numerous signs warning that this hike is “primitive, difficult hiking,” but as I pointed out to Robert, even though this is the most difficult hike at Arches, almost every hike at Canyonlands is more difficult and primitive.
Among other sites along this excellent trail was the remains of Wall Arch, which we passed and photographed on two occasions in 2004, but which fell during the night of August 4, 2008.
With three hours of sun left, we drove to the Island in the Sky district at Canyonlands for the sunset. Robert, Deb and David shared excellent family time together, and after a period of grey and clouds, we were treated to intermittent sunshine right around the golden hour. As always, a quiet, reverent feeling gripped me as the day was ending in this place, one of the most beautiful in the world.
• Needles Overlook, Slickrock Foot Trail and Pothole Point Loop at Canyonlands
Drove from Moab with a brief stop at the Needles Overlook, which I had not seen since Abby and I were there in 2005. Robert was impressed, but the light was somewhat uncooperative, and a cold wind fought us the whole time.
By midday we were in the Needles district at Canyonlands, where we hiked two short trails I thought would be a good intro to the park for Robert, and also keep us close to the car due to the threat of rain. For much of the day we were greeted by grey skies and intermittent sprinkles. Despite this, we both made some excellent images. Robert was so blown away by the scenery and simply by being on this adventure that he photographed every stone, every twig, every cloud.
Our first trail was one I hiked in 2005, the Slickrock Foot Trail. This 2.4-mile affair offers reasonably easy hiking to several impressive overlooks. As in 2005, the light was quite grey and flat, so I ended up making quite a few of my images in black-and-white.
We also scrambled around for a while at the Confluence Overlook trail head, where Robert became fascinated by a pair of ravens that stayed quite close to us for a while. Robert speculated we might have been near their nest, but I think the birds were more interested in a handout.
With just a couple of hours of daylight remaining, we hiked the Pothole Point trail, which we explored in depth. The trail circles a formation of rocks we dubbed “The Speloetherm” after a phrase Robert had in his head (The actual word is speleothem), and two unusual formations at its base we dubbed its children, Frick and Frack.
Sunset seemed to be headed toward a cloudy nothing, but at the last minute, we were greeted by a spectacle of color to the west, just as we exited the park.
• Peek-a-Boo Trail at Canyonlands and Sunset at Squaw Flat, Canyonlands
Despite some trepidation on Robert’s part about hiking a very long trail, I was able to convince him to hike the Peek-a-Boo trail at Canyonlands, which has been one of my all-time favorites since I first hiked it in 2005. The trail leads east from Squaw Flat, crossing through spectacular canyons and washes, through one small natural arch, and ending at the Peek-a-Boo backcountry campground, for a total of about 10.6 miles. The trail includes some scrambling and uses two steel ladders bolted to the sandstone. Robert wisely decided to leave his heavier cameras behind and travel light.
Unlike more popular and crowded trails like those at Arches, the Peek-a-Boo trail was sparsely populated, and most of the people we saw were bearing backcountry packs, indicating they were hiking and camping deep in the labyrinth of Canyonlands. It is one of the reasons I like this area best.
We returned briefly to the Confluence trail head area, looking again for Robert’s ravens. The light was more striking than the day before, and while we didn’t find the birds, the experience produced better images, at least for me.
Since we were off the long trail before sunset, we also had time to explore the Squaw Flat area. We hiked around for a little while on the Campground trail, then followed it up a ridge via handhold cables to the top, where, despite ferocious winds, we made spectacular sunset images. The light was soft, but still had a pleasing color about it. The wind continued until right at sunset, when it died down. Robert described the experience as spiritual.
• Mesa Verde National Park, Kirtland Valley and Angel Peak, then drive to Santa Fe, New Mexico
We started the day by driving from Monticello, Utah to Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. I hadn’t seen Mesa Verde since Abby and I were there in 2005, and I wanted to take the ranger guided tour of the cliff dwellings. Unfortunately, the tour season wasn’t open yet, so we walked down to Spruce Tree House and made a number of images. One park ranger told me he believed that was the best way to experience Mesa Verde anyway. I was particularly pleased with my kiva images, and Robert and I both experimented with our fisheye lenses.
From Mesa Verde we headed south across the border through the Chimney Rock Draw area toward New Mexico, passing the bean mills and low, rolling valleys of southwestern Colorado along the way. Our next goal was what we have alternately called Kirtland Valley or Fruitland Valley, thought Robert repeatedly referred to it as “The Valley.” The area is a stretch of highway that follows the San Juan River, leading Robert to quip, “If you’ve San Juan, you’ve San them all.” This region is also home to The Hogback, an impressive stone ridge just north of the highway.
According to Wikipedia, Kirtland, New Mexico was founded in the early 1880s by Latter-day Saint settlers who named it after Kirtland, Ohio. Kirtland is the largest of a series of small towns between Shiprock and Farmington where Robert wanted to photograph an assortment of odd abandoned buildings and businesses, as well as The Hogback.
By late afternoon we were in the vicinity of Angel Peak, where we stopped for a while and made pictures when the sun occasionally emerged from the clouds.
• The Plaza at Santa Fe and the Drive Home
Robert was extremely excited to wake up in Santa Fe. We drove to The Plaza, where it was weekend business as usual, with tourists and locals crowding the sidewalks. We photographed the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, then walked in concentric circles around the square, tightening our route to end up in the middle. We stopped at two photography stores, one of which was also a black-and-white fine arts gallery. Despite both stores being loaded with spectacular cameras, lenses and accessories, Robert and I managed to escape without spending any money. It was nice to actually be in a photography store again, since they have become increasingly rare in recent years due to internet sales.
While I was photographing two street musicians, Robert went directly to a native American woman who was selling her wares on the sidewalk. He struck up a conversation and they became friends. I found it interesting that he went directly to her without even really looking at any of the other vendors.
During the drive from Santa Fe to Clines Corners, on a road that runs north and south, we saw a semi-tractor-trailer rig staying on the shoulder and maintaining a 15-degree crab angle against the wind.
Our discussions continued unabated as we made the long drive home.
• New term: Force Op. It means that I am in a situation in which I wasn’t going to shoot a scene, but I feel like I am forced to shoot it because other photographers, particularly photographers in my party, are shooting it.
• Robert shot a total of 4876 images, and I made 2055 images plus four video clips.
• We shot tons of images of each other, and the most of the images of me you see here are by Robert.
• 2010 National Parks visitation statistics for the parks we visited:
Arches: 1,014,405 visitors, ranked 68th of the 363 facilities operated by the Park Service.
Mesa Verde: 559,712 visitors, ranked 113th.
Canyonlands: 435,908 visitors, ranked 127th.
• Other possible names for this trip besides “Art in Every Stone”: The Raven, Nevernmore, Unicorns with Rocket Launchers, In My Pants, Like an Idiot.