Chaco Canyon Redux

2016-05-06Chaco-Pueblo Bonito1513

As alert readers you may have noticed a decided lack of fresh new posts with their scintillating images and incredibly succinct prose lately. That’s because The Director here at The Institute said “OK, I’m taking a break. We have not been on one road trip this year and I’m tired of looking at all these Monet’s and Rembrandt’s here in The Institute’s main art gallery. I’m tired of looking at all these first editions in the Presidential library. You can only look up so many words in the Gutenberg Dictionary before it gets to be boring. I want to go out and experience life again amongst things and places that are real. That have relevance in the real world. “So fire up the Bokeh Maru. Load the stores. Find room for the interns and we leave at first light.” The Bokeh Maru as many of you know, is our smaller research vessel and is used primarily for our shorter excursions.

That was it. About a week or so ago we followed the moonlight down the mountain having rigged the Bokeh Maru for silent running so as to not disturb the neighbors and turned her bow South by Southwest. We had two main agendas to complete. First and foremost we were headed to the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the largest gathering of Native American tribes in the United States and Canada for a weekend of dancing, competitions, fellowship and fun, (much more on that in future posts) and secondly, we needed to stop and revisit *Chaco Canyon Historical Park, one of the singularly magical places you can visit.



It was a brisk morning with the sun just rising and burning off the light fog that covered highway 287. The Bokeh Maru was in rare form wanting to run into the wind as she hadn’t had a real outing since last fall. It was a trial just holding her back to maintain the speed limit. It didn’t help that the interns were frisky as well and had taken to bouncing up and down in the back of the rig just aft of the head causing the Bokeh Maru to wallow and list and nearly raising the front wheels off the pavement. After several admonishments and stern warnings to cease that childish behavior we stopped, tied several of the ring leaders to the back bumper and set off down the road. The anguished cries and sweating faces pressed up against the rear window soon had the rest quieted down and our progress became smooth again.

Our first stop was Chaco. Chaco is a place every human being should visit once in their lives. Not all of you at once of course, but make sure you do it. Check with your neighbors so you don’t all cram in there at the same time. It ought to be in the top ten of your bucket list. Above is an image from Pueblo Bonito, one of the main building sites in the park, there are many more of course, but Pueblo Bonito is the largest building constructed by the ancient ones and feels like it has the most magic.

You can enter into the ruins and wander and sometimes crawl through the small openings from one room into another. Touching the cool walls deep in the recesses of the palace, calling it a palace is no exaggeration by the way, feeling the reflections of past lives pass by you, listening to the quiet that is so deep and profound until the wind finds its way through the passages, rubbing against the cool stone walls to finally brush up against your face, is an experience that cannot be duplicated. TV and movies just don’t cut it, you need to be there. Occasionally you will hear a raven call as it flies high up against the cliff face that stands behind the building it’s plaintive squawking filtering down upon you. This is a special, special place and the feeling you have is not unlike entering a cathedral, the same feeling of exhilaration and profound peace is there.

It was at Chaco that several of our interns wandered off into the desert in search of whatever was in their minds at the time. This happens. We start off with a dozen or so interns and as the trip progresses there is a certain attrition and we come back with fewer if any when the trip is over. That’s why we always take more with us than we need. One word of caution to the potential visitor to the park. You must want, really want, to get there as the last 16 miles of dirt roads will test your resolve. Anything over ten miles an hour will have a disastrous effect on your vehicle. The Bokeh Maru made it without mishap but it let its displeasure be known to us by showing everyone all the new squeaks and rattles and fallen off bits that it incurred during the trip there.

After Chaco we returned to roads that had blacktop and concrete on them and things got easy again. We arrived at the Gathering of Nations without further mishap and although we had been told it was big, we were unprepared for the enormity that greeted us. It was held in the West Pies arena in Albuquerque and the word was thousands upon thousands of visitors attended it. This was probably an understatement as it felt like a lot more. There were over 2800 registered dancers and competitors alone registered for the show. It is almost beyond words to describe the cacophony of color and sound and whirling bodies and drums and singers that assaulted your senses in a good way when you walked into the arena. This was a huge event and we’ll be posting images from it for some time trying to give you some feeling for how it felt to be there.

This is where we lost the rest of our interns. There were only seven or eight left by that point anyway. We should have known better. It was just too overwhelming an event to thrust these young minds into. Occasionally we would see one of our interns out in the middle of the arena floor dancing with abandonment, eyes rolled up into their heads, oblivious to the modern world, then they would be lost in the swirling crowds of dancers on the floor and that would be our last glimpse of them. We were sorry to lose them of course but it did improve the Bokeh Maru’s gas mileage on the trip home.

Soon, as our processing department catches up on the several thousand images taken while we were there we will begin posting them for you viewing pleasure. As always it feels good to make it back to The Institute unscathed, or perhaps just a little scathed. Everything connected to The Institute’s grounds survived our absence and we’re beginning to regroup and prepare for the next excursion. The summer is filled with exciting events to attend and we’ve scheduled many of them. Stayed tuned for details of our travels and adventures. Maybe we’ll see you out there.



CrowHeart Butte

As you drive up that magical highway, highway 287 which runs from Port Arthur, Texas to Choteau, Montana, you will find many amazing and curious things. As the song said “You can’t get to heaven on 287, but you can get as far, as you can get by car.” Along the way there are landmarks and geological features and places where famous and infamous events took place and this is one of them.

This is Crowheart Butte, a place famous for a huge battle that took place here in 1866. The event took place, but exactly how it played out, is still open to discussion. There are several versions of the story but the one that has the most legs is this one I’ve passed on below.

Crowheart Butte is located on the Wind River Reservation somewhat East of Dubois, Wyoming. It is the home of the Shoshone tribe but this wasn’t always the case. In 1866 the Shoshone considered the entire Wind River area their own hunting grounds and vigorously defended it from any incursions by other tribes. The Crow who chose to also hunt here disputed that fact and lay challenge to the Shoshone that they would hunt here as they pleased and the conflict took shape. There were several tribes involved, The Shoshone, the Bannock and the Crow. The Shoshone and Bannock were allied against the Crow. The battle commenced and lasted for five days during which there was great loss of life on both sides.

The chief of the Shoshone, Chief Washakie, challenged the chief of the Crow, Chief Big Robber, to a duel to the death to reduce any further loss of life on either side. The chiefs would fight on the top of the Butte and whoever was the victor would decide who the valley belonged to and the other would leave to hunt there no more forever.

The one who was victorious would cut the heart out of the other and eat it as a symbol of his strength and power. Chief Washakie was the ultimate winner and defeating Chief Big Robber did cut his heart out. This is where the stories differ. Some say he did indeed eat his opponents heart and others say that he impaled it on his lance and brought if back to prove his victory. Supposedly when asked about the incident later in his life he replied “One does reckless things when you are young.” Regardless of the ending of the story regarding what was done to Chief Big Robber’s heart, the Shoshone were now the owners of the valley which later became the Wind River reservation as it is known today.

Because he was so impressed with his enemies fighting abilities, Chief Washakie chose to give Chief Big Robbers tribal name, the Crow, to the butte and the small town that grew up near there. Crowheart butte is visible from miles away and is the prominent feature in the area. It can be seen clearly from highway 287 as you travel from amazing place to another.



Unattended Landscapes



Listen up America! we have just discovered a huge and growing problem in our favorite National parks. That problem is “Unattended Landscapes”. That’s right, some of our most desirable sought after landscapes, the very reason many of us go to these National parks, are being left unattended. Look closely at this image and you will see that there is not a single attendant anywhere. We even went down there and looked around the corner at the river and yelled a lot to see if anyone would answer and there wasn’t a soul.

This particular landscape happens to be on the Firehole river in Yellowstone National park, a park known for its attention to wildlife and the comfort of its visitors, and we found that not only was this portion of the landscape unattended but there were great huge stretches of the river that did not have a single person watching it. We were stunned. What is happening here? We pay enormous taxes to run this country right and we find that there are huge gaps in the allocation of that money. At least as far as protecting our scenic treasures goes. What is that money being used for? Sneaky, stealthy new bombers that we can send to wreck other people’s scenic areas? What about us. What about our important problems?  Where are the concrete attendants shacks? Where are the white hybrid cars with the big national park stickers all over the doors? Where are the attendants? Where are the klieg lights to turn on to see if anything is messing with our landscapes after dark? This is shameful. Is this happening in our other National parks as well?

This is a question we intend to pursue and we will get to the bottom of this situation. There are the makings of a national disgrace here and we’re not going to stop until we have examined every national park, scenic highway and byway, every national monument, state, county and local park, all those scenic areas on federal land that are visible from the highway, anything that looks landscapey, until these areas are fully attended and protected. We believe the problem of Unattended Landscapes is going to be our next national crisis.

Some of you may be saying “What’s the big hairy deal, some of these places have been unattended for a long time.” Well our response is “Yeah, So what ? What are you a communist?” There’s lots of reasons we need to attend to our scenic areas. Things have changed since Teddy Roosevelt was around. We’ve got more people now and some of them are bad. We’ve got people who want to mow down all the shrubbery and drill for oil in the middle of the Firehole river and there’s terrorists that want to sneak in and blow up a tree or something. We’ve got no idea what can happen. Some of these scenic places are irreplaceable. You don’t just go in there and stand them up willy-nilly wherever you feel like it.

We know that some of you may have already noticed this situation and perhaps even begun acting on it but we need everyone to support this important movement. We cannot leave our God-given scenic areas to the happenstance of nonchalance. Get involved. Volunteer. If nothing else go to an unattended scenic landscape and park your car and watch these places. Be an attendant. If you’re unable to spend weeks or months at a scenic site, write your congressman. Send emails to politicians running for office, find out their viewpoints about this problem, then vote your convictions. We’re going to. Several times if it will help. OK then, this is our month to attend to a particularly scenic site along Highway 287 here in Colorado so we have to go. Remember, Pay Attention, Do Your Part, and Be Involved, it’s the right thing to do.



Can’t Get To Heaven



Cue blues riff: slow steady, talking blues style, capo on third fret

Bring bass up: There, right there

Cue singer: 5 4 3 2 ….

          Well, You can’t get to heaven

            On 287

            But you can get as far

                   As you can get by car…….

I’ve mentioned this blues song* before in a previous post but it was brought back to me this morning as I was traveling up highway 287 in my Yellowstone portfolio looking for an image for today’s post. I was cruising along noticing that the grass was going golden as it always does this time of year, seeing the images change as I drove through Fort Washakie towards Dubois working my way up towards Togwotee Pass, hoping to get there in time for the sunset over the Tetons. Dark was coming on fast and I knew I wasn’t going to make it in time.

The clouds were building  over the mountains and there was more than a hint of snow in the air. I wasn’t looking forward to running Togwotee in the dark in a snow storm so I put the hammer down and thanking the traffic gods for not having a Wyoming State Trooper in sight, hauled my keester down the road at a very high rate of speed.

But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and photographers oft-times get screwed up. Just when I thought I was going to make it I looked over and saw the sun breaking through the clouds, highlighting the mountain and I knew I was doomed.

As a shooter when you see light like this you have to stop and take the shot. It’s the law. You have no choice. If it means running Togwotee in the dark, in a snow storm, which I did, you have to. These things don’t happen every day. Every time is unique. You miss it you lose.

Later as you’re squinting through the windshield wipers into the driving snow, exercising fully every descriptive phrase you learned in the Navy, your headlights fully illuminating the highway 10′ in front of the truck, you think about the wisdom of what you’ve chosen to do. The trip over the pass which would normally be about an hour takes three, but you know you wouldn’t have done it any differently.

Fortunately I can review this image now, sitting here in my bathrobe, drinking English Breakfast tea, knowing I can see this sight on my screen and I won’t have to drive Togwotee in the snow. Plus you get to see it too. See, cool things are happening all around. 2015 is going to be a good year.

* I attended a concert one time some years ago and the singer talked about a singer/songwriter friend of his that was writing this song. He may have mentioned his name but if so I’ve long forgotten it unfortunately, but I never forgot the lyrics.

Dark Days

DarkDays0885click to enlarge

Summer is the time when we seem to have the most radical changes in our weather, especially as it concerns light. It can start out bright sun and clear skies and suddenly a storm will roll off the mountains and create huge towering clouds and everything goes dark. Then within moments the storm moves on and it’s sunny again. The trick is to be somewhere cool when all that changing is happening.

Fortunately that isn’t difficult around here. This place is so cool that just going to the dumpsters to dump the trash is neat. The place pictured above isn’t near the dumpsters however, I had to travel nearly five whole miles to be in the right spot for this shot. Yeah I know, epic journeys like that are the stuff of legend but when it’s an everyday occurrence you sort of just take it in stride. Coloradoans are an adventurous lot and when you’re a photographer to boot, well, there’s nothing we won’t do to get the shot. Even if means standing next to a busy highway with dangerous semi-trucks whizzing by blowing their horns because they think you’re parked too close to the roadway and you went and forgot your dumb sunglasses and there might be rattlesnakes somewhere nearby  and so on and so on. The risks are mind-boggling but we don’t care we’re bred for it. I must admit I’ve done even more riskier stuff to get the shot but those are stories for another time. And I can make up only so much of this stuff at one time, I mean with so many adventures under my belt it becomes difficult to remember them all.

With all the varied types of scenery we have it almost becomes a chore to decide where to shoot. This view is looking east, if you turn and look west you will see the foothills and towering mountains. To the south and slightly east the plains roll on forever and you can see straight ahead for two days. And that’s just the overview, as you look closer there are countless details that would take several lifetimes to photograph. Then add the seasons in the mix and you don’t know if you’ve been snakebit or struck by lightning because when it comes to making choices, you’re paralyzed. Now before I make this sound like it’s an impossible task I must confess that it’s not as difficult as I may make it sound, Jeez if you stumble and press the shutter right before your face smacks the pavement you’re going to get a great shot. It’s much more difficult to stay cool and suave looking while you’re working than it is to make magnificent photos. I mean you don’t want to look like some dweeb when you’re out here

So remember to look in your backyard when you want to take pictures, you might have a view out there just like this one that you haven’t noticed before. If you do grab your camera and get out there while the storms still here. There’s pictures to get took.