Desert Vision

Moonless nights can sometimes feel the brightest. Is this the sight I saw when I took the photo? 

No. 

But that does not make the photo untrue. 

This is 30s of light built up on a sensor. With light adapted eye I saw glimpses of the photo in my peripheral vision. 

Shadows on the ground, cast by photos traveling across the galaxy. One can see, experience, these sights at night with patience. 

This vision cannot be rushed, it must slowly build in your eyes and nervous system as it does in the camera.
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Desert Wash

A small puddle of water in a dry wash reflecting the stars of our home galaxy.

I use to think the space beyond our planet was dryer than our driest desert.

However, liquid water is believed to exist on Mars, Ceres, Europa, Enceladus and Ganymede.

Perhaps Venus use to have a shallow watery ocean as well. 

Liquid water undoubtedly flows through a ravine on unknown exoplanets, currently carving canyons thousands of light years from our home.

And there exists a cloud of water vapor more than 12 billion light-years away and containing 140 trillion times more water than in Earth’s oceans.

It’s difficult for me to image that where there is liquid water the chemistry of life has not evolved.

Water is ubiquitous. Hydrogen and Oxygen are in the top three most common elements in the universe. 

Carbon is the 4th. 

Perhaps life is ubiquitous as well.

Lunar Crater Nevada

I drove into the Nevada desert hoping to find dark skies and a few Eta Aquariid meteors, the remnant dust of Halley’s Comet. I found the dark skies but the only a few meteors ignited in our atmosphere.

Instead I found a crater, a scar that once poured lava across this landscape about 15,000 years ago. A memory of our planet’s continuous metamorphosis.

For two days I wandered the crater’s edge. One other sightseer drove up for about 3 minutes. Took an iPhone photo and left.
A rattlesnake and the yipping of coyotes were the only other visitors.

The first night clouds and rains hid the stars and any chance of burning meteors. The second day the wind quieted and the pale blue sky stretched over head.

That evening, just past midnight, my alarm went off and I trudged around the rim once again. The air was warm. My ears listened for my rattlesnake friend hoping he had other plans for the evening.

The atmosphere meekly emitted airglow, smearing red and green under the Milky Way’s arch.

Rock Art

Rock art I stumbled across in Gold Butte a few months ago.

I saw some stone and a dirt track so I headed across the desert until the road ended.

Joints in the rock beckoned like hallways. Some spiraled to the summits. Other crawled deep and hid from the sunlight.

Memories of those who lived around these stones were etched on innumerable walls.

Many origin stories are tales of emergence. Peoples coming from the earth.

In a sense it’s true. Life emerged 3.5 billion years ago, a product of chemistry and and perfect conditions. Perhaps within deep hot hydrothermal oceanic vents, perhaps with organic molecules that rained upon the earth in comets and meteors.
Our origins are still an open question and perhaps we can never be certain.

However, our cellular ancestors arose early due to our planet’s perfect conditions.

The chemistry of life evolved in complexity and into consciousness, until billions of years later it carved this art upon these stones.

I find it fascinating that this chemistry could create meaning in this universe.

Joints in the rock beckoned like hallways. Some spiraled to the summits. Other crawled deep and hid from the sunlight.

Our galaxy and a hint of sunrise over an extinct volcanic crater.

Why black and white? I don’t know… I guess I like it better.
The feeling of the place. Strong contrast of land vs sky and wind vs silence. Like black and white.
The place feels existential. A small pox mark on a round sphere careening through time and space.
Diminutive consciousness peering into the desert’s big openness. Comparing my moments to geology’s moments… Humbling for humanity
As if my eyes were never there. The wind doesn’t remember.

A kiva just beyond the boundary of the original Bears Ears National Monument.

The cultural landscapes spill beyond our made up lines and ultimately covers the planet..
Some nights I questions why I take these photos. The weekend was hot. The bugs were biting. And the clouds were uncooperative, but my patience ultimately granted a view of the sky.
Long drives, wandering the desert, a lack of sleep, headlamp wandering following the small circle of light.

I go looking for some kind of meaning, foolishly hoping to package that meaning in a photograph. Landscape and signs of human consciousness all beneath the stars which created us and our homes.

Meaning is rarely felt in the act of standing there in the dark. Watching Jupiter glow and fade behind rolling clouds. Anxious. I should have gone to bed.

Then for 10 minutes or so things clear and a window opens outward to the stars which created all of this, a synesthetic round of applause to all of it.

Reflections of Mount Hooker, Wyoming

Hooker Processed1 32

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.