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Red Rock Road Trip

 Wednesday, 9/10/97 

Monument Valley: I meet my Spirit Guide

"If a thing is worth doing at all, it's worth doing right. We'll need some decent equipment and plenty of cash on the line---if only for drugs and a super-sensitive tape recorder, for the sake of a permanent record."
---Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas."

Sunrise over Lake Powell (9kb)

I arose early to hunt for a place to shoot the sun rising over Lake Powell, having seen a few possible locations the previous day. Each spot I tried was marred by massive power lines, marinas, RV's, and other man made intrusions. Unable to find a suitable overlook, I headed for the shoreline, where I still had to work around dozens of RV's, campers, houseboats, and buoys. Once the sun was above the horizon, I was outta there, as it was time to move on to The Promised Land. I was going to be late for my appointment to meet my Spirit Guide for this vision quest, Chief Broom, because I hadn't factored in a change in time zones (Navajos don't do Daylight Savings Time).

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Goulding's Lodge (11kb)

After a trip at near warp speed on deserted desert roads, I arrived at Goulding's Lodge (at right), where stars from John Wayne to Michael J. Fox have stayed while filming in the area. I've never had a room with a better view. After determining at the office that it was too early for me to check in, a Land Rover descended upon me from the top of the hill. I knew it was the Chief by the symbol of *his* spirit guide on his hat, Mickey Mouse.

"Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to then, few of them willed or determined by the will-whatever we may think." ---Lawrence Durrell

The Road (14k)

I've been drawn to Monument Valley since before I got into photography. So it was a bit disconcerting that the first thing we did was head away from it. But the midday light was flat on the buttes, so we headed north, searching for a shot I *knew* was there, the Classic Road Shot (at left). I knew we'd found it when we crested the hill in the background of this shot, and said, "Chief, see that guy a half mile ahead standing in the middle of the road? Stop there." Being a bit over-prepared for this trip, the Chief broke out a hard hat, orange vest, flares, and a red flag, and began stopping traffic while I shot. Even when I was on the side of the road. But I didn't want to spoil his fun.

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The Goosenecks (11k)

With time to kill, we headed north to Goosenecks State Park, in Utah. The picture at right is of an "entrenched meander," about a thousand feet deep, in which the San Juan River twists 22 miles to travel 1 air mile. Chief Broom had pulled into this park after dark the previous night, intending to camp. Unfortunately, a crowd of three was there, and since the Chief doesn't like being around people (other than a fellow curmudgeon like myself), he drove his Rover down a very rocky ill defined trail in the dark until it ended. There, he threw his sleeping bag on the ground, and slept with the tarantulas. In the light of dawn, he found he'd driven out onto a 35 yard wide butte, with sheer drops on all sides. This is why I sleep in motels.

"You perceive I generalize with intrepidity from single instances. It is the tourist's custom."
---Mark Twain

Monument Valley (12k)

Finally, we headed for The Valley itself. The road to the visitor's center is paved, but to descend into the valley, you must travel on some fairly rough dirt roads. In places, they are barely passable in a passenger car, but with 4 wheel drive you can travel with impunity. Either way, don't just settle for the view from the visitor's center. Drive the valley loop, or take one of the native guided tours.

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Chief Broom at Ford's Point (13k)

Pictured at right is the infamous Chief Broom. He & I "met" via the Internet. Over many months we've traded barbs on Usenet (often convincing others we actually hate each other), and laughs via e-mail and analog phone connections. In my opinion, we are kindred spirits who would never have "met" if not for the Information Superhighway. I've called him my Spirit Guide for this trip as he has spent much time in Canyon Country and was generous enough with his time to make a long drive so we could finally shake hands. I just wish he showered more often.

"I like a friend the better for having faults that one can talk about." --- William Hazlitt

View near The Window (10k)

The Chief is a mover and doer. I could tell at times he chafed at the pace of my shooting. How? We took a short hike down a trail, which revealed a wonderful view, including another "photographer" shooting his "girlfriend". He had her lying on her back with her legs straight up, as he crawled around at ground level to shoot her legs with the sky as a background.

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Right Mitten & Merrick Butte

As I leisurely shot the scene (not including them), the Chief said loud enough for his voice to carry, "Yeah, but isn't it kind of cliched?" I tried to ignore him, but I could feel him mentally pacing from the lack of activity. He confirmed this when I next heard him muttering, "I oughta go down there and kick his ... ", so I said, "OK, OK, we can move on now, Chief."

"I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them." ---Mark Twain

Mitten and tree (11k)

As we pulled out of the turnout after doing the shot at left, a tour group unloaded, and a lady with a wide- eyed look of overjoyed bewilderment, and point-n-shoot camera raised-n-ready, walked right in front of the Chief's Rover in her hypnotic hurry to record the scene. The native guide politely corralled her in, saying, "come over here, ma'am, and I'll teach you all the tricks of the professional photographers." The Chief hit the brakes, looked at me with faux innocence and said, "should we go back?" I said no, but I wouldn't have spent all that money going to school to learn photography if I'd known all I had to do was take a $10 tour of Monument Valley.

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Monument Valley shadows (10k)

About those tours. There are good things about them, as you'll see in Day Six. But this ain't no luxury cruise. The standard is a heavy duty 4 wheel drive pick-up truck, the bed of which has been replaced with a widened platform that seats maybe 12 people. Other than a fabric roof, it's open to the elements. There are other options, such as an enclosed Jeep, but the vast majority of tour vehicles were of this type.

"To be a tourist is to escape accountability. Errors and failings don't cling to you the way they do back home. You're able to drift across continents and languages, suspending the operation of sound thought. Tourism is the march of stupidity. You're expected to be stupid. The entire mechanism of the host country is geared to travelers acting stupidly. You walk around dazed, squinting into fold-out maps. You don't know how to talk to people, how to get anywhere, what the money means, what time it is, what to eat or how to eat it. Being stupid is the pattern, the level and the norm. You can exist on this level for weeks and months without reprimand or dire consequence. Together with thousands, you are granted immunities and broad freedoms. You are an army of fools, wearing bright polyesters, riding camels, taking pictures of each other, haggard, dysenteric, thirsty. There is nothing to think about but the next shapeless event"---Don DeLillo

Butte & cloud at dusk (8k)

The Chief & I saw one of these vehicles, rocking to and fro on the rough dirt road, driving through an endless cloud of dust, carrying a dozen of the most down-trodden looking tourists you ever did see. It was like a scene out of "Schindler's List," but with brightly colored polyester. We both had the same thought, but being much quicker verbally than the Chief will ever be, I said, "Gee, *that* looks like fun." However, the next day I would have to eat a few of those words.

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Horizon with Mittens 10k)

After the sun fell, we went back to my room at Goulding's and had a beer. We would have smoked a peace pipe if they'd had one in the souvenir shop. We talked of many things, both real life and Net life, and carried on so long we missed dinner because the only restaurant for 20 miles had closed while we yapped.

It was the best of days, among a week of great ones.

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