Solitude & Light

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Often, it is beautiful light that brings solitude into focus.

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There’s a difference between solitude and loneliness. —Maggie Smith

Recapture Pocket

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The little town of Bluff, Utah, is one of my favorite places in the Southwest—I could devote an entire trip to the area and discover but a fraction of the surrounding landscape. Add in  friendly people, a variety of lodging (or camping), a good coffeehouse…and it’s pretty hard to beat.

Recapture Pocket is a small area about ten miles away from town; half on paved highway, half on a bumpy sometimes-4WD-track. Get directions at the Bluff Fort Visitors Center before you go out.

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Cathedral Valley

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The Temple of The Moon at Sunrise, Cathedral Valley, Utah

After our rewarding stopover in Delta, Ulrich and I angled southeast, to Capitol Reef National Park and Cathedral Valley.

We made an early start from Duke’s Campground in Hanksville the next morning, driving west on State Route 24 to Cathedral Valley Road, near Caineville. We weren’t making the entire loop tour, only the fifteen or so miles out to The Temples of the Sun and Moon, but it was slow-going due to frequent World Class Washboarding. I parked near the Temples barely five minutes before direct sunlight began spilling into the valley.

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Befitting its name, the valley was q-u-i-e-t, and it was all ours. Shouldering our tripods, we wandered pleasantly until the light lost its edge and shadows began to recede. I cooked bacon and scrambled eggs and potatoes for breakfast then, and was cleaning dishes when the first Jeep tour arrived.

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Who can resist cracked mud? Not me!

The washboards felt even worse on the return leg, so I took it easy and stopped several times for pictures. Back in Hanksville, we ate lunch at Blondie’s before continuing south on Highway 95.

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Midday light, ideal for a harsh landscape

 

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Narrows

In the American Southwest, narrow may be found almost anywhere.

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A narrow band of sunset light.

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A sandstone canyon, narrowing in on itself.

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Time and water flowing through a gooseneck.

Early The Next Day…

When we awoke the winds had gone to visit elsewhere, the sky was scrubbed clean, and the tent, although a bit rumpled, had regained its regular shape. We dined on Clif Bars while we drove out towards White Dome, and a short distance beyond the Visitors Center we passed a group of desert bighorn sheep, who were also breakfasting.

Out at White Dome we were politely turned away by a Utah highway patrolman, who explained that another photographer was shooting a top-secret new Mercedes next to the rocks. Have to keep an eye out for that. They had great natural lighting, but probably used flash anyway.

Fortunately, other rocks were available.

At Wupatki National Monument


I learned from a Wikipedia article that, in Navajo, Wupatki is called Anaasází Bikin, which translates as Houses of the Enemies. This dates back long before photography was imagined, and coincidentally parallels my feelings about the site—I always fight with it, visually, returning home empty-handed after every visit, every failed attempt at capturing the ancient spirit that moves in sync with the shadows.

Initially, I thought this occasion would be no different. (And in fact, it hadn’t been in our plans.) We’d hustled down from Monument Valley and Kayenta along the ragged eastern edge of a powerful storm, breaking only for fuel and a fast-food meal in Tuba City. Heavy rain and hail remained a threat, the rocking winds a reality. I thought of John Ford’s Stagecoach more than once as we neared Flagstaff.

But as the sun declined toward dark clouds the rich light on the landscape was irresistible, and so we diverted into the monument and were soon parked at the Wukoki ruin, its most desolate example of ancient architecture.

Let the fight begin.

With a half-hour of light remaining, I walked a widening loop well away from the structure, out through the scattered brush, keeping to hard, rocky areas. I’d noted several new signs planted near the ruin itself, warning visitors to stay on the main path, and countless footprints around the signs.

I took several shots as I walked, including foreground rocks or sage as a lead-in to the ruin, but I was again feeling that something was missing, an element I couldn’t exactly put my finger on, and then the obvious became obvious—clouds. On prior visits here the sky had been blank, either too blue or harsh and cloudless—wasted space in the photo I wanted. Now, spreading out in every direction, these evening clouds added a big-sky sense of expansiveness, whether of time or distance, and the ruin huddled beneath it took its proper scale.

Walking back to the truck, it felt good to finally win a round.

Next Week: The final post from my trip to the Southwest.

White Pocket


I can’t add significantly to what’s already been said about White Pocket, except to note that alongside fancier adjectives used to describe it—chaotic, kaleidoscopic, other-worldly, phantasmagoric—I’d offer subtle. It’s not apparent at first, overwhelmed as it is by colorful volcanic leftovers, but it’s there, at the edge of transient pools of rainwater, under rock overhangs, or simply etched in the rock itself.