Last week we ventured fifteen miles past alpine lakes and mountain passes into the depths of the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. We camped beneath Mount Hooker, a historic, if seldom seen big wall, whose steep face was first scaled in the 1960s by Yosemite climbers Royal Robbins, Dick McCracken and Charlie Raymond over a monumental three-day effort.
For several days we camped and hiked within the shadow of this continuously looming wall. We attempted to climb a lesser wall, but loose rock the sent kept us low
On the final evening after the sun set and the light was replaced with cold darkness I ventured across the lake near camp.
I had scouted a spot earlier to photograph the Mount Hooker. The lake was shallow; at it’s far end the low water revealed stones half out of the water. Following the narrow tunnel of my headlamp’s beam I leapt from rock to stone across the water, hoping another stone would reveal itself. The night was below my feet, above my head, close to my skin.
The sky was clear and the wind calm, stars shined above and reflected below. In the darkness I sat on a rock about twenty feet into the lake. Unworldly musical notes from a small herd of bugling elk accompanied me as the shutter from the camera rhythmically clicked.
Sitting calmly on the stone, engulfed in dark beauty, for me this type of photography is almost primarily about the experience, a beautiful photo is just an extra.
Last Thursday evening as the sky darkened the celestial conjunction of the crescent Moon and Jupiter gradually became illuminated. I pushed the exposure to pull out the detail moon’s aspect hidden from the sunlight and to draw out the faint moons of Jupiter.
In the bottom left you can see Jupiter with four of the Galilean moons. The two small dots to the right of Jupiter are the moons Ganymede and Callisto, and to the left are the two moons Europa and Io. These two on the right are too close to be resolved by my camera, hence only three dots are visible.
In 1609 Galileo was able to observe these moons due improvements he made to the telescope. It was this sight which began the dismantling of the millennia-old geocentric world view, that the Earth and humans are the center of the universe and everything revolves around the Earth.
This was the first time is could be started irrefutably that not everything revolves around the Earth. This was an extremely bold statement for the era and the beginning of his notion that the Earth orbited the sun and not the opposite.
This was a profound shake up of the current world view and cosmology, one that brought into question the validity of almost everything believed about humans position in the cosmos and the religion
It was this scientific discovery that eventually placed him in prison for heresy, where he eventually died under house arrest.
Galileo’s life of study was ultimately one of rebellion, a life scientists need to continually look to for guidance and to emulate regardless of the cultural or political climate.
The other evening, I ventured into a salt valley in the western Utah desert hoping for a glimpse of the sky. Smoke from California’s three hundred thousand burning acres drifted in acrossNevada and into Utah.
Ghostly tendrils fill our valleys and lungs with stinging haze. Is this the new normal for summer in the Western States?
The evening deepened as the sun sank well past the horizon. It’s light diffusing into red fumes, I watched the slow moving wall of smoke from the west cascade upon me and blur the nightsky into indistinct point of color.
Mars, the red planet, is close to us now visible to the left of the Milky Way. At night I feel as if it is a small sun shining it’s ocher light upon us, reminding us it once too flowed with water.
The other evening, I wandered the southern shoreline of the Great Salt Lake. The sun painted the sky red through the smoke and smeared ocher light upon the salty water. Gulls flew overheard and millions of tiny black bugs nibbled my ankles. I keep feeling the pull of these Great Basin Desertscapes and hope to explore saltpans more and more. Many folks of Salt Lake City seem to disregard the Great Salt Lake. I’m continuously pulled towards it.
This Lake is a remnant of another era, it is literally the remaining puddle of the massive Lake Bonneville which covered most of western Utah for almost 800,000 years, expanding and contracting in a rhythmic cycle as the climate changed over those millennia. The remains of its shoreline can be seen on the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City.
When I first moved to Utah I was confused by what looked to be old flat roads running level on the hillsides. I learned those “flat roads” were remains of a primordial shore, places where waves carved away the rock and soil. Animals like Mammoths and Saber-Toothed Cats lived and drank there and possibility where some of the first people who ventured into North America lived out their lives. Gazing westward from the Salt Lake is a desolate view, but it feels like a small remaining glimpse of a world that use to be.
Just south of the border of Utah and Arizona lies this petroglyph. Not too far from some high voltage powerlines, but alone in the desert.
No trail or cairns take you here. A small two track road, which I foolishly drove my old van down, passes by a few hundred feet away. This road lacked any tire tracks, no vehicles had passed since whenever the previous rain fell.
Maybe most people think there is just nothing to see out here. But things are out here. The entire desert across the southwest is strewn with memories of the ancestors of people alive today.
These lands need to be protected and remembered.
Next month on April 21, I will be participating in an Earth Day Market in Salt Lake City with Wild Earth to raise funds for the Friends of Cedar MesaVisitor Center. Their mission is to educate people how to visit the land around Cedar Mesa with respect. They strive to preserve the memories encased in the precious landscape of the Bears Ears
Human Memories Across a Landscape
This is an ancient petroglyph referred to as a waterglyph, they are estimated to be at least 1000 years old and found along the Utah/Arizona border.
This was my third attempt at this photo. I first had the idea about a year and a half ago when I was shown a picture of this glyph. So August a year I loaded up my van and headed down the long and bumpy road up the desert mesa, only to turn around due to the roughness of the road. My 30 year old vehicle was reminding me of it’s age and the remoteness…
A year later in July I returned with only to have the forecast change to torrential downpour!Not good for night photography and especially terrible when solo in the desert miles from a paved road without phone service… so I spent the night in the rain the drive home.
So this time I returned with my mountain bike. I discovered a shorter route up a MUCH rougher road. Loaded down with camera and camping gear I biked the 7 miles to the cliff’s edge.
After sunset the winds picked up, the clouds rolled in and the rain fell. I cowered in my bivy sac and sleeping bag for about 45 minutes as the rain pelted and the wind ripped branches from the surrounding pinyon.
When the wind stopped I crawled out and the sky cleared, allowing me about 1 hour to shoot with the light from the crescent moon.
This past weekend I visited this petroglyph, known as a waterglyph, along the Utah/Arizona border.
The nigh was frigid and the landscape was desolate. I didn’t see another living soul the entire time. However, it seemed as if at one time this was an important place, a place where things occurred.
The petroglyph points straight east to where the sun would rise and for me the rising moon, as seen sitting in the core of the milky way.
Places like this need to be kept as the are, far from city lights, and the noise of roads. We need places like this that allow us to have one foot in this world and one foot in the other.
This is my first photo in this style of this year. Hopefully more will follow. However, It’s a challenge to do many in this theme.
Driving, finding the sites… Then trying to photograph the site in a way that I can be sure not to damage it. This usually involves predicting composition in the daylight, setting up the camera and leaving everything in place until the appropriate time.
Sometimes I’ll program the camera to take photographs at a specific time, especially if I don’t feel comfortable or if it seem disrespectful to be bumbling around at night. Other times I’ll return at a certain hour and take the photo.
Usually these photos consume an entire weekend and I usually come away with a single image, sometimes two.