The Road to Nowhere

"Stupid is as stupid does."  Many of you will remember this line, as well as many other particularly memorable quotes, uttered by Tom Hanks' character in Forrest Gump.  Believe it our not, that movie, based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom, turned 20 years old this year.  Winner of several Academy Awards, as well as many other accolades, and also making a few bucks at the box office, I guess you could say that the movie was well-received.  Who could forget the memorable cast of characters, including Lieutenant Dan, Jenny, 'Bubba', and of course Forrest Gump.  

As you may recall, Forrest decided to go for a run one day.  And he ran a lot.  In fact, he ran for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.  That's a lot of running.  When he finally decided to stop, claiming, "I'm pretty tired...I think I'll go home now", he was on Route 163 just north of Monument Valley.  Courtesy of a Google image search, this familiar scene is shown in the image below.  

Route 163, more affectionately known as The Road to Nowhere, runs from Kayenta, Arizona, through Monument Valley, to Bluff, Utah.  After spending a couple days exploring the desert backcountry, we headed down this road toward Mexican Hat and our final destination in Bluff.  This epic scene is a popular stop along the way, so we decided to make a few images while we were passing through.  

The Road to Nowhere

I hadn't planned on going for a run that day, or any day of the trip for that matter, but thought why not recreate this scene from the movie.  Starting at the maroon Explorer on the right in the image below, I made a slow jog up the hill to where Phil and Bob were parked.  Phil was shooting the images for me as I trudged along.  Thanks Phil!  (Check out some of Phil's amazing photography at this link.)    

I didn't have a group of followers like Forrest did in the movie, but there were a few other photographers with the same idea.  The vehicles and other distractions were removed in Photoshop to make the final image below.

It was another fun day on our whirlwind tour of the Desert Southwest.  Check back for more as we travel to Mexican Hat and visit some ancient ruins around Bluff!


Face Rock & Honeymoon Arch

It seems that every rock formation in the Monument Valley area has a name.  Now, a few weeks later, it's difficult to remember them all.  Harry, our guide, for the tour, could rattle them off easily, having long ago committed each one to memory.  The passage of time, and the forces of wind, water, and ice, have left their mark on this grand landscape.  I felt it a privilege the opportunity to experience it first-hand, taking in these iconic views and making a few images, both in the synapses in my brain as well as the card in my camera.    

There's certainly no shortage of interesting shapes that have been carved into the Shinarump and Moenkopi Formations, the de Chelly Sandstone, and the underlying Organ Rock Shale.  Oh yeah, the rock formations have a unique nomenclature as well.  Those crazy geologists...!  Enjoy some images of a few here, and don't forget to click on the image to see it full size.  All of these were taken on our tour of Mystery Valley.  Glad to have you along for the ride...

Face Rock

As soon as you see Face Rock, there's no doubt why it is named as such.  Whether from a distance or up close, the unique shape of this rock is quite telling, having been carved by the hands of a great Sculptor.  The mid-afternoon sun was harsh, but a few nice puffy clouds in the deep blue sky made a nice backdrop for these images.  As I hiked up close to the base of the rock formation, I noticed a particularly wispy cloud taking shape right overhead.  From this angle, the cloud gives the appearance of smoke coming from the top of the rock.

Face Rock Smoking

Being a sucker for lots of vivid color, I don't do a lot of black and white conversions of my images.  However, I thought this one might be a good candidate.  The blues have been toned down in this one to provide a more dramatic scene and make the rock and 'smoke' seem to pop off the page.

From the images above, you can see that vegetation is sparse in this arid climate.  Believe it or not, the image of this colorful leaf was taken near the base of Face Rock.

Touch of Color

There are several natural arches in this area and we got to visit a couple of them.  I'm sure there is a story behind the names for these, but I'm not sure how that story goes.  Both of these are known as pothole arches, formed by chemical weathering from water that accumulates in depressions on top of the formation and gradually eats through the underlying layers of sandstone.  

Stout Arch

Honeymoon Arch

As the day drew to a close, we were sure to set up on a bluff overlooking Mystery Valley to capture a sunset scene of this vast open space.  From the petrified dunes capped with saucer-shaped rocks in the foreground to the buttes and mesas in the distance, there is little doubt that we were in the backcountry.  

Mystery Valley Sunset

And another black and white of this great landscape...

The sun had long settled down for the night, but the high clouds were still showing some nice color that just begged to be captured in this image.  

More to come...

Desert Oasis (and Fall Color?)

Monument Valley sits at an elevation of around 5,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level.  Summers are generally pretty hot; however, being in the high desert, temperatures cool down rapidly when the sun goes down.  On the flip side, winters here are cold, with temperatures well below freezing and even dropping below zero at times.  It is a harsh place.  Precipitation is rare.  The valley averages just over 4.5 inches of rain annually.  The driest months are lucky to get any rain at all.  As you might suspect, vegetation is sparse.  Other than an occasional juniper, there are few trees to provide habitat for wildlife.  

One of our stops on our tour of Monument Valley was in an area with a wet creek bed.  There wasn't much water flowing, but there was enough moisture to provide for the explosion of vegetation along the banks.  I think this was the most green that we saw in the valley that day.  There was even a large cottonwood tree along the creek with yellowing leaves, showing the tell-tale signs of autumn.  The color contrast in this area was amazing, with the deep blue sky overhead, the red rock formations and sand all around, and this oasis of green and yellow in the middle of it all.  See for yourself in the images below.  Don't forget to click the images to see them full size.

This bit of color was a welcome site for us on this day.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  

More to come...

The Totem Pole

Monument Valley is part of the Colorado Plateau, formed in the distant geologic past by uplifting of the sedimentary rock.  The mountain building, or orogenic, events that formed the mountains that we see today were caused by the subduction of oceanic plates beneath the less dense continental plate.  The collision of these plates resulted in the crumpling and uplifting of the earth's surface, forming our mountains and plateaus.  Over time, the Colorado Plateau and has undergone many changes, with the forces of earth altering the complexion of this vast landscape.  

The many buttes and other rock formations seen in Monument Valley are remnants left from eons of erosion of the relatively soft sedimentary rock surrounding them.  The Totem Pole is one such formation.  The Totem Pole is the eroded remains of a butte, becoming a much more slender rock spire as a result of wind and water that have gradually peeled away its shell as the rock cycle marches on.  This formation is off the beaten path, and only accessible on guided tours.  But it's a stop not to be missed.  

In 1975, the opening sequence of the lesser-known, and perhaps under appreciated, film The Eiger Sanction was shot at the Totem Pole.  The movie shows a young Clint Eastwood climbing this formation, meeting George Kennedy at the summit.  The Totem Pole is sacred to the Navajo people, but an agreement was made to allow filming in exchange for removing pitons that had accumulated by climbers over the years.  Eastwood, who reportedly performed his own stunts and trained for months, was the last person allowed to climb this spire (at least legally).

The Totem Pole

Totem Pole Landscape

I really like the color version of this image, but thought why not try it in black and white.  Now I'm not so sure which I like best...

Totem Pole Landscape in Black & White

More to come….



Tour of Monument Valley

Well, it's been almost two weeks since we were in Monument Valley.  How quickly time goes by!  As expected, I fell behind in posting about our trip to the desert southwest.  With being so busy every day out shooting and with limited internet access where we were staying, there was just no way to keep up.  Now that I'm back home, my plan is to slowly make my way through all the images, selecting my favorites to process and share with you here.  Post-processing is part of the fun of photography, and gives you an opportunity to express yourself artistically.  

For our second day in Monument Valley, we had booked a guide to drive us to some of the more remote areas of the park.  Since the park is located on Navajo reservation land, most of it is inaccessible to the public without a guide.  So Wednesday morning, we met Harry of Navajo Spirit Tours in the hotel lobby, piled our gear into his Suburban, and began our journey into the backcountry.  There is so much to see here that there is no way to do it all in one day, but we would do our best to take in as much as possible.  The image below was taken from my hotel room balcony just before sunrise.  With views like this, it's pretty easy to get inspired.  

Monument Valley Sunrise

There is a 17 mile dirt road through the park that visitors can travel on their own.  We started our tour on this road, stopping along the way for some iconic views and to make some images.  Even if you've never been to Monument Valley, it may still look like a familiar place.  That's because of the large number of movies that have been filmed here.  These sandstone rock formations may be some of the most recognizable in the world, made famous by so many movie sets that have used them as a backdrop.  The opening scene of Mission Impossible II, with Tom Cruise scaling a sandstone wall, was filmed here.  Indians on horseback chased Marty McFly in Doc's souped up DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future III here.  And who can forget Clark Griswold wandering through the desert after his unfortunate accident in National Lampoon's Vacation.  That was here too.  We set off in our own version of a 'family truckster' to see the sights.   

Monument Valley Tour

The Mittens and Merrick Butte

Mitchell Mesa and Sand Ripples

The weather was perfect for the day.  A few high clouds, lots of sunshine, and lots of photos captured of this amazing place.

It turned out to be a long day, with the tour starting at about 9 AM and staying out until well after sunset.  But what an awesome experience it was.  There are so many more images of the wonderful places we visited, and I will be posting them here as I get to them.  Check back for more...

Monument Valley Adventures - Day 1

Monument Valley is a magical place.  Who would think you could say that about a place in the middle of the desert, far away from any sizeable city?  But it is.  Maybe it's the scenic vistas and vastness of the land or perhaps it's the majestic sandstone formations that tower above the desert floor, seemingly standing guard over the landscape.  Whatever it is, millions of people flock to this place each year.  It has become one of the most photographed locations on the planet.   

Driving into Monument Valley from the south on U.S. Route 163, a peculiar formation will quickly come into view that rises over 1,500 feet above the surrounding terrain.  This is El Capitan, or Agathla Peak, and one can't help but wonder how this huge monolith got here and what forces were at work to create it.  This is just one of many geologic wonders dotting this region, which is more broadly a part of the Colorado Plateau.  This mountain, considered sacred by the Navajo, is a volcanic feature formed by a breach of the earth's surface by magma and the resulting gaseous explosions.  

El Capitan

Arriving in Monument Valley, we proceeded to check in to The View Hotel, which would be our home base for the next couple of days.  It is a beautiful hotel, and situated at the entrance into the valley, certainly lives up to it's name.  The view from this place is spectacular.

Room With A View

By the time we arrived and got unpacked, it was getting close to sunset.  We decided this would be a great time to capture some images from one of the most iconic settings in the park. This is a scene that has been photographed countless times and seen in magazines, books, on television, and in several movies.  Regardless, it was awesome to experience it in person.

East Mitten & Merrick Butte

Monument Valley Sunset

The familiar scene in the image above shows the West Mitten (on the left), the East Mitten (center), and Merrick's Butte (on the right).  This scene and the surrounding area has served as a backdrop for a number of movies that have been filmed here, beginning in 1939 with John Ford's Stagecoach, starring a young John Wayne in his breakout role.  Over the years, John Ford returned nine times to film westerns in Monument Valley.  Other more recent movies filmed at least partially in Monument Valley include National Lampoon's Vacation, Thelma & Louise, Back to the Future Part III, Forrest Gump, Mission: Impossible II, The Lone Ranger, and Transformers: Age of Extinction.  The exposure provided by the many films, television, and commercials really put this place on the map and people from all over the world come to see for themselves this amazing location.

Having a room with a balcony overlooking this iconic landscape, as well as clear skies and a meteor shower means that night time is an opportunity to make some star images.  Lots of photos, not much sleep.  The Orionid meteor shower was peaking early the next morning, so I set up the camera on a tripod on the balcony to see if one would pass through my frame.  It's not very prominent, but it's there in the bottom left of the image below.

Monument Valley Meteor

That's all for now...more to come.