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Red Rock Road Trip

 Thursday, 9/11/97 

Monument Valley: A Day of Surprises

"A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. "
---John Steinbeck

Lightning at Sunrise (8kb)

The first surprise? No, not the lightning bolt at left, but the sign at the entrance to the valley road. "Gate will not open before 8 AM." I interpreted this masterpiece of vagary to mean that the gate will be opened whenever they're ready, and they won't be ready before 8 AM (it opened at 7:45 the next day). So I set up to shoot sunrise from the overlook at the Visitors Center.

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Right Mitten at sunrise (10kb)

I was a marked man. At that hour, the many native guides who provide tours in the valley are hunting their day's quarry. It was a slow morning, and with my tripod, cameras, and multiple lenses, I was like the only pretty girl at the county dance. And I didn't want to do the two step with anybody after witnessing yesterday's Whirlwind Dust Tours. I just didn't see how bouncing through the dust with a dozen polyester clad tourists would enhance my visit, or my photos.

"The modern American tourist now fills his experience with pseudo-events. He has come to expect both more strangeness and more familiarity than the world naturally offers. He has come to believe that he can have a lifetime of adventure in two weeks and all the thrills of risking his life without any real risk at all. "---Daniel J. Boorstin

light and shadow on Merrick Butte (10kb)

When I first told them I just wasn't interested in the standard tourist rides, they'd say, "no, I will give you the Photo Tour" (by industry standards, that means it's the same thing, but it costs 50% more). Finally, I started playing one off the other ... "no thanks, I'm probably going out with Jim tomorrow." This seemed to work pretty well ...

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tree and Mitten (10kb)

For all but one. When I fed Tom my now standard line, he semi-sneered, "Jim doesn't know how to handle photographers." He claimed he could show me places that had made other photographers happy. His approach was different from the rest, somehow more inviting, but I was resolute. The gate finally opened, and the White Whale and I made the first cloud of dust into the valley.

"The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off." --- Henry David Thoreau

The Three Sisters, version 1 (11kb)

Why the hurry? I wanted to get into the southern half of the park while the morning light was still good, and instead I'd spent 45 minutes of daylight fending off guides, waiting for the gate to open. But the quick start got me well ahead of the tour groups, and allowed some solitude.

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The Three Sisters, version 2 (12kb) The Three Sisters, version 3 (13kb)

The play of light & shadow is fascinating, as in these shots of the formation called The Three Sisters. Like the Grand Canyon, it seemed ever changing.

"Nature is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same" ---Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rainbow over the Valley (10kb)

I was at John Ford's Point, shooting the view of The Three Sisters above left, when I felt a couple of drops of rain on my arm, even though there was full sunlight. Instinctively, I looked opposite the sun, and there was a double rainbow. I shot frantically for a few minutes, and when I was done, it vanished. I heard a voice behind me say, "that was nice, wasn't it?"

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Rainbow over the Valley (10kb)

It was Tom, the native guide. He had stopped with his tour truck, which contained only one couple, and came over to chat while they looked around. He told me about some of the commercial shoots he had worked on, and how he'd taken up an interest in photography after he found three cameras in one month out in the desert. He figured someone might be telling him something.

"An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn't know why they choose him and he's usually too busy to wonder why" ---William Faulkner

Petroglyph of Kokopelli (12kb)

When he asked what I planned to do next, I told him I was just killing time until I checked out of my hotel. He paused, looked me in the eye, and said, "we're going to look at petroglyphs and ruins and arches .... I think you should follow us." With that, he turned and walked away.

Despite my earlier misgivings, I got in the White Whale and followed him. I couldn't pass up (and you shouldn't either) seeing Petroglyphs, Ruins, & Arches. I suppose if you're not interested in seeing arches that are shaped like a human eye, or thousand year old drawings of Kokopelli, you could go on to Day 7. But you'll miss some cool stuff.

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