Archive for ‘Philip Hyde Books’ category

Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 3

August 26th, 2014

Excerpts From The Text And Photographs of Drylands: The Deserts of North America by Philip Hyde, Part Three

Continued from the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 2.”

Capitol Reef from Cohab Canyon, Capital Reef National Park, Utah, 1978, by Philip Hyde. Nationally exhibited and first published in "Drylands: The Deserts of North America" by Philip Hyde. A stronger, more majestic photograph than a similar earlier image published in "Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah" with Edward Abbey.

Capitol Reef from Cohab Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, 1978, by Philip Hyde. Nationally exhibited and first published in “Drylands: The Deserts of North America” by Philip Hyde. A stronger, more majestic photograph than a similar earlier image published in “Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah” with Edward Abbey.

Drylands: The Deserts of North America with photographs and text by Philip Hyde, developed out of nearly 60 years of exploring and defending western North American wilderness, with special emphasis on the five deserts of the continent. Yolla Bolly Press, which also packaged Mountain Light by Galen Rowell and other foundational landscape photography titles, recently donated its archive to Stanford University, where Drylands and its production can be viewed. Drylands is now out of print, but can be found at various online booksellers including Amazon under Drylands: The Deserts of North America by Philip Hyde.

The previous blog article in this series, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 2,” tells the story of the making of the book. The first blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 1,” contained the beginning of the first chapter of the text of Drylands itself. We continue now where that blog post left off…

 

Passing through vast expanses of land that appear to be nearly bereft of any living thing, I wonder at the sight of a small plant braving the harsh environment. Its difficult circumstances do not evoke sympathy; I wonder that the plant grows in spite of difficulties, that it conserves what little moisture it gets and responds to the slightest moisture by blooming exuberantly.

Still another delight feeds the photographer within: the light. Desert light is crystalline and brilliant, making deep shadows and sparkling highlights. This is at least partly a result of the scarcity of moisture in the air—and, until recently, the scarcity of humans and their activities. When there were fewer people, the light everywhere must have had the clear quality that is still to be seen in some of the more remote quarters of the North American deserts.

As a mountain lover, I especially appreciate a characteristic that our deserts share with most of the country from the Rockies west: the deserts of North America are uncommonly mountainous. The two snowiest mountain chains in the country, the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades border the northernmost deserts on the windward sides. Scattered throughout all of the deserts are a large number of lesser mountain ranges that cast their own rain shadows on the adjacent areas. Some of these lesser ranges are high enough and wet enough to support forests on their upper slopes. Rising high above the parched plains and valleys below, they may be snow capped in winter, like the higher ones to the west. The White Mountains, Toiyabe, Snake, Ruby, and other ranges in Nevada, along with the high plateaus of Utah and Arizona and the Sierra Madre in Mexico, create their own microclimates: islands of plenty surrounded by desert.

Nowhere in the world is there as much diversity of desert weather as there is in western North America. In western Oregon, California, and Nevada precipitation occurs mostly in winter, in summer only rarely. In the eastern and southern parts of the Mexican deserts, summer is the rainy season. Where rainfall records are available for desert locations, they show radical irregularity. Downpours may occur at random intervals and locations, sometimes exceeding the year’s average in a few minutes or hours. In some places droughts can last several years, with no rainfall at all. The North American deserts are second to none for intensity of summer heat, but the dryness of the air makes the heat more bearable. Death Valley can be as hot on a summer day as any place on earth, while at higher elevations a sweater may be necessary when the sun sets and the air cools.

The great diversity of the vast desert landscape of North America suggests natural divisions that coincide with most scientific classifications. But the actual boundaries of these divisions are not so easy to draw within those of the larger desert region. In most cases, one desert shades into another, so boundaries must be somewhat arbitrary and indefinite, as are all attempts by humans to circumscribe nature. As I write this I think of Sir Francis Bacon saying: “Nature is a labyrinth in which the very haste you move with may make you lose your way.”

Continued in the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts of North America 4.”

Which is your favorite desert?

Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 2

January 15th, 2013

Excerpts From The Text And Photographs of Drylands: The Deserts of North America by Philip Hyde, Part Two

Continued from the beginning of the text in the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 1.”

Where Drylands Began

 

Lava, Flowers, Craters Of The Moon National Monument, Idaho, copyright 1983 by Philip Hyde.

Lava, Flowers, Craters Of The Moon National Monument, Idaho, copyright 1983 by Philip Hyde. From the book Drylands: The Deserts of North America.

(View the photograph large: “Lava, Flowers, Craters Of The Moon National Monument, Idaho.”)

Yolla Bolly Press, the same book packager and agent who put together Galen Rowell’s famous book, Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, collaborated with my father, pioneer color landscape photographer Philip Hyde, to select images and plan the concept for what became one of Dad’s most important books: Drylands : The Deserts of North America. Drylands, with photographs and text by Philip Hyde, introduction and notes on plants and animals of the North American deserts by renowned award-winning naturalist David Rains Wallace and drawings of desert plants and animals by Vincent Lopez was the culmination of Dad’s “wandering in the desert” as he put it, quoting the New Testament. Recently, Yolla Bolly Press donated its archive to Stanford University, which will be the home of Drylands in perpetuity.

In the next blog post in this series, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 3,” we will get back into Dad’s text, but first, I will start at the beginning and share some important insider background to round out the story. Also, I will give you a preview of what is to come by presenting the dust cover jacket flap blurbs below.

After he had been the primary illustrator of dozens of books, Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich blew Dad’s mind by sending him his only advance ever on a book: a check for $50,000, which is large for a photography book. HBJ then released Drylands: The Deserts of North America in 1987. Reviewers from several major newspapers reviewed Drylands, but the only major review reproduced online today is in the Los Angeles Times. After Drylands received the following review from Library Journal, libraries across the nation purchased the large format book for their collections.

In this beautiful exposition of the five deserts of North America, Hyde’s photographs capture the desolate and sometimes haunting beauty of the desert landscape. Hyde has been exploring the desert for over 30 years and his love for the land is obvious. Unfortunately, his essays here are rather slight compared with the photographs. There is, however, an enlightening introduction by David Rains Wallace about evolutionary mysteries the desert presents. Libraries that can afford this book will not be disappointed by its quality.

By Randy Dykhuis, Grand Rapids Public Library, Michigan.

Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

When I looked up Drylands on WorldCat, I was surprised to find that dozens of university, state and municipal libraries in most states have a copy of the book, including Harvard, Yale, Cornell and even Cambridge in the UK. Many libraries in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand have copies of Dad’s classic color film desert tribute as well.

The Dust Jacket Flaps

Distinguished photographer Philip Hyde and award-winning writer David Rains Wallace pool their talents here, in this dazzling book depicting in words, photographs, and drawings the many faces of the deserts of North America. What emerges is an unforgettable portrait of harsh yet lovely lands with diverse animals and plants and landforms.

Philip Hyde has been photographing the deserts of the North American West since 1951. Drylands reveals 95 full-color brilliant image of the five major deserts:

PAINTED DESERT with souring cliffs, deep canyons—including the Grand Canyon—and varicolored hills

GREAT BASIN DESERT with climatic extremes and long, parallel mountain chains and mountain “islands” surrounded by dry flatland

MOJAVE DESERT with many-armed Joshua trees and the vast, empty expanse of Death Valley

SONORAN DESERT with high mountains and oversized trees and cactuses—including the saguaro, which grows to spectacular heights

CHIHUAHUAN DESERT with two great rivers, the Rio Grande and the Rio Conchos, yet with the driest country.

Hyde’s superb photographs are complemented by luminous descriptions of geographical and geological features and by journal vignettes of his encounters with the drylands.

In his introductory essay, David Raines Wallace looks at the deserts in time: the evolutionary past, the evolutionary future, and today. In his notes, Wallace provides a valuable guide to the characteristic features and habitats of desert plants (ocotillo, paloverde, desert evening primrose) and animals (the sidewinder, mountain lion, kangaroo rat), illustrated by Vincent Perez’s striking line drawings. The book also includes six relief maps.

Drylands is designed and produced in the grand tradition of fine art books. It gives continuing pleasure to those who delight in the splendors of the desert.

PHILIP HYDE’S landscape photographs have been exhibited nationwide. He is represented in several major photograph collections, and his work has appeared in books and magazines. He has written and collaborated on many books on the American West.

DAVID RAINS WALLACE has been writing about nature and conservation for almost ten years. He is the author of six books including The Klamath Knot, for which he was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for natural history writing in 1984.

Continued in the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts of North America 3.”

What are your experiences in the desert? What does the desert mean to you?

Drylands: The Deserts of North America 1

April 3rd, 2012

Excerpts From The Text And Photographs Of Drylands: The Deserts of North America By Philip Hyde, Part One

Celebrating Landscape Photography Blogger’s 200th Blog Post!

On this special occasion Landscape Photography Blogger presents an excerpt from Drylands: The Deserts of North America, with photographs and text by Philip Hyde. Besides Slickrock with Edward Abbey and a few titles in the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series, Drylands is considered Philip Hyde’s magnum opus, or great work. Yolla Bolly Press, which also packaged Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light, recently donated its archive to Stanford University. Help celebrate Landscape Photography Blogger’s 200th Post by reading a page from the great book that is becoming more rare all the time…

Drylands: The Deserts of North America 1

The Five Deserts of North America

…nature is already in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Let us interrogate the great apparition that shines so peacefully around us.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

White Domes, Valley of Fire State Park, Mojave Desert, Nevada, copyright 1970 by Philip Hyde. Cover Photograph of “Drylands: The Deserts of North America.” Color Transparency: 4X5 Baby Deardorff View Camera. Dye Transfer Prints, Cibachrome Prints, and Archival Digital Prints. See PhilipHyde.com for Image Info and pricing.

(See the photograph large: “White Domes, Valley of Fire.”)

Webster’s dictionary defines a desert as “an arid region in which the vegetation is especially adapted to scanty rainfall with long intervals of heat and drought…a more or less barren tract incapable of supporting any considerable population without an artificial water supply…Desert rainfall is usually less than ten inches annually.”

This bare bones definition needs expanding. For one thing, barrenness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Ancients regarded the desert as a place to avoid—literally, to desert. The biblical “waste-howling wilderness” is a description of the Middle Eastern desert, a fearful place for most people. But even then it was for some a place for contemplation, a retreat from the cares of daily life. In our times, the desert is commonly a refuge, though we can be grateful that the deserts of North America were avoided by so many early travelers, and thereby protected. More recently, parts of these great deserts have become increasingly attractive to sun-worshipers. It is an irony that the climate, attractive to so many people, is being gradually altered by air pollution generated by population growth and its attendant requirements for industries and automobiles.

Webster’s definition doesn’t explain the aridity of the desert. High mountain chains intercept moisture-laden storms, keeping rainfall from the land in the lee of the mountains. Wind also contributes to desert dryness. A map plotting the course of trade winds in relation to deserts around the globe would show most arid lands to lie in the path of the trades. Though our deserts are not as directly in the path of the trades as some, strong winds persist over most of them for long periods, particularly in the spring.

The North American deserts are unlike most deserts in that they are not confined to the interior of the continent. They reach to the sea on both coasts of the Baja California peninsula and along the west coast of mainland Mexico as well, creating some unusual meetings of desert and water.

The scarcity of rainfall in the desert has one advantage. The surface of the land in well-watered regions is often obscured by dense vegetation. In the desert, land forms are readily apparent, the often beautiful sculpture of their contours revealed. This may be why geologists are drawn to the desert and sometimes inspired to near-poetic descriptions. A classic example can be found in Clarence Dutton’s monumental Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, first published in 1882. Here is his description of the Vermillion Cliffs in the Painted Desert:

During the midday hours the cliffs seem to wilt and drop as if retracting their grandeur to hide it from the merciless radiance of the sun whose very effulgence flouts them. Even the colors are ruined. The glaring face of the wall, where the light falls full upon it, wears a scorched, overbaked, discharged look; and where the dense black shadows are thrown—for there are no middle shades—the magical haze of the desert shines forth with a weird, metallic glow which has no color in it. But as the sun declines there comes a revival. The half-tones at length appear, bringing into relief the component masses; the amphitheaters recede into suggestive distances; the salients silently advance toward us; the distorted lines range themselves into true perspective; the deformed curves come back to their proper sweep; the angles grow clean and sharp; and the whole cliff arouses from lethargy and erects itself in grandeur and power as if conscious of its own majesty. Back also come the colors, and as the sun is about to sink they glow with an intense vermilion that seems to be an intrinsic luster emanating from the rocks themselves.

The stone landscape of which Clarence Dutton writes might appear austere and unfriendly to the casual traveler suddenly thrust into it. Many people would not recognize it as a part of their familiar world, but something about the place immediately appealed to me. Perhaps it struck some of the same harmonic notes evoked by the clean expanses of granite in the High Sierra Nevada I had learned to love in my youth. The place spoke to me of the same kind of purity that Ralph Waldo Emerson was alluding to when he wrote of the integrity of natural objects.

I am not able to take up full-time residence in the desert; my roots are too deep in the northern Sierra Nevada where I live now. I can, however, happily spend a season there and feel quite at home. It was not always like that. The ease I feel now is the product of many experiences, not all pleasant, but all valued for what they taught. Nor did the ease come without struggle, but as a result of an effort to understand, to penetrate the discomforts, to clear away the debris of prejudice and preconception that can so distort one’s view of a natural environment. It is not necessary to change the country—or to develop it. As Aldo Leopold put it so well: “Development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.”

As a forest dweller and desert traveler, I am especially aware of the contrasts between an arid landscape and one that is well watered. The creek that flows beneath my window as I write; the groundcover, trees, shrubs, and flowering plants; the seasonal and atmospheric changes I observe here are all expressions of water abundance. In the desert it isn’t just the paucity of water that impresses me. I am delighted to discover water’s surprising, often beautiful presence in hidden places, as for example, the spring in Monument Valley that flows from beneath a high sand dune—or those few, small, spring-fed pools surrounded by the vast, sere, rocky landscape of Death Valley.

I also enjoy the contrast between desert vegetation and that of my home environment. In the southern part of the Baja California peninsula, the array of strange, even unique, plant forms is the result of the plants’ special adaptations to water scarcity…

Continued in the future blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 2.”

Toward a Sense of Place by Philip Hyde 1

February 9th, 2012

Marble Gorge, Grand Canyon National Park, 1964, by Philip Hyde. From Navajo Wildlands, Sierra Club Books. Two miles from proposed Marble Canyon Dam site.

(See the photograph full screen: “Marble Gorge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.” To view other photographs from the same Exhibit Format book see the photographs: “Stormlight, Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Arizona” and Navajo Wildlands Photographs In The Deserts Portfolio.)

From Navajo Wildlands: As Long As The Rivers Shall Run, Text by cultural geographer Stephen C. Jett, Photographs by Philip Hyde, with Selections from Philip Hyde, Willa Cather, Oliver La Farge and Navajo Myths and Chants, Edited by Kenneth Brower, Foreword by David Brower, Sierra Club—Ballantine Books 1967–Exhibit Format Series

*Landscape Photography Blogger Note: Clarence Dutton was like the ‘John Muir’ of the Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau. As you look to explore the Colorado Plateau yourself, please be aware that the areas where people are allowed and the approaches to them have changed since 1965, especially in Canyon De Chelly National Monument. Also note that the politically correct term for the native people now is their own word, “Dineh,” in its various spellings, rather than the Spanish word “Navajo,” in common practice then.

Toward a Sense of Place By Philip Hyde

When Clarence Dutton explored the Plateau Province a hundred years ago, he saw that a visitor conditioned to the Alps, if he stayed long in this new country, would be shocked, oppressed, or horrified. While in Dutton’s days emotion about scenery was still all right, today, indifference is popular, and we tend to take someone else’s opinion about what is beautiful and flock to the recommended places. Noting this, Aldo Leopold, in A Sand County Almanac has identified the “trophy recreationist,” and urges that recreational development is “not a job of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the…human mind.” Indeed, a great increase in individual sensitivity might be achieved if park authorities spent as much effort on interpretation as on road building.

Dutton lead the way, and his insight about what would happen to a traveler in the Plateau Province certainly worked for me in the Navajo Country. The traveler needs time enough, he wrote, and: “Time would bring a gradual change. Someday he would become conscious that outlines which at first seem harsh and trivial have grace and meaning, that forms which seem grotesque are full of dignity, that magnitudes which have added enormity to coarseness have become replete with strength and even majesty. The colors which had been esteemed unrefined, immodest and glaring, are as expressive, tender, changeful and capacious of effects as any others. Great innovations, whether in art or literature, science, or in nature, seldom take the world by storm. They must be understood before they can be estimated. They must be cultivated before they can be understood.”

A woman we met at the gas station in Newcomb volunteered that she and her husband had just driven through the Navajo Reservation and that, “there’s nothing there but little round shacks. We’re headed for Colorado!”

We had reached Newcomb, about halfway between Shiprock and Gallup, crossing the Chuska Mountains on a magnificent little dirt road. It wandered in the pine forest on top, discovered little aspen-ringed ponds, and found us a superb view of Shiprock, fifty miles to the northeast. It also climaxed our afternoon with an enormous thunderstorm we watched from an eminence above Two Gray Hills. I wanted to tell the couple something about what our old road had let us see, but they were off with their tank full of gas, to collect place names in Colorado like a good trophy recreationist should, ever hurrying over the ever-increasing highways that penetrate lovely country and either lacerate it or pass it by unseen.

John Ruskin said, with the invention of the steam engine: “There will always be more in the world than a man could see, walked he ever so slowly. He will see no more by going fast, for his glory is not in going but in being.”

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

Mitchell Butte from Mitchell Mesa, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah-Arizona, 1963, by Philip Hyde. From Navajo Wildlands, 1967.

Do you see Monument Valley now by whizzing past its monuments on a paved road, taking lunch in Tuba City or Kyenta, and spending the night in Moab? Or are its greatest rewards still reserved for those who take the dusty little dirt road that goes down among the great buttes and who feel the rocks and sand under their wheels and feet? I recommend especially the great reward of winter time, when there may be a light skiff of snow in the dune shadows. This reward is even greater if you have also experienced Monument Valley in the heat haze and dust of mid-summer. The crisp winter air is then a special elixir.

To me, Canyon de Chelly is another scenic climax of Navajo Country, and at its best in the fall. The cottonwoods lining the canyon’s fields and sandbars glow with their own inner light, and the sun arrives with that low-angled brilliance that drives photographers into ecstasy and exhaustion. Canyon de Chelly is perhaps the most Navajo of all the park areas on the Reservation. It speaks eloquently, in the present tense, of the Navajo and Anasazi past. Here is probably the Reservation’s most spectacularly beautiful combination of colorful rock, canyons, and ancient ruins. You can drive on pavement to its fringe and soon will be able to drive the rims on high-standard highways; but travel in the canyons, where the most exciting visual action is, is subject to nature’s whims. High water, or sand quicker than usual, can stall the most ingenious mechanical substitute for feet.

There is still a lot of foot travel in the canyons. The White House Trail that drops over the rim from an overlook on the rim road crosses the wash and leads to the area’s best known ruin, perched on a ledge above the canyon bottom, with a great wall sheer above it.

In the Spring of 1965, when heavy runoff in the canyons kept even the Park Service vehicles out…

(Originally posted January 17, 2010)

(CONTINUED IN THE BLOG POST, “Toward a Sense of Place 2“)

RELATED POST: “A Sense of Place and A Changing World.”

Many museum curators, gallery owners and photo buyers consider the image all important and often overlook the significance of place, even in landscape photography. Do you feel a sense of place is important in landscape photographs? If so, why?

Toward a Sense of Place by Philip Hyde 3

January 30th, 2010

(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST “Toward a Sense of Place 2“)

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

Horse and Cottonwoods at the Mouth of Canyon de Chelly, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1963, by Philip Hyde. From Navajo Wildlands, Sierra Club Books.

Toward a Sense of Place 3

By Philip Hyde

From Navajo Wildlands: As Long As The Rivers Shall Run

Sierra Club—Balantine Books

*Note: Beware of using this as a travel guide. The areas where people are allowed and the approaches to them may have changed since 1967. Also, the politically correct term for the native people now is their own word, “Dineh,” in its various spellings, rather than the Spanish word in common practice then, “Navajo.”

Our Navajo Mountain adventure took on a new aspect two mornings later when our packer brought up his retinue of three horses, four people, and two dogs. Walking down into Painted Rock, where we would set up our base camp for exploring the westside canyons, we learned that the first four miles don’t prepare you for the spectacular climax. The trail traverses the slopes of the mountain—lightly dusted with snow on that early morning—crosses several incipient canyons, climbs a bit, and passes through a narrow sandstone defile called Sunset Pass on one side and Yabut on the other. Then the trail peels off like a dive bomber into a funnel-shaped abyss, Cliff Canyon, and its great sheer cliffs of warm yellow sandstone. The canyons that twist their way eventually into the waters of Lake Powell come into view, and the long backbone of the Kaiparowits Plateau recedes in a straight line northwestward into the blue slopes where the Escalante River begins.The isolated bulk of Cummings Mesa intervenes to the south. If you look when you are high enough, and it is a clear day, you will see the great arch of the Kaibab Plateau on the far southwestern horizon. We saw it. To the north, Waterpocket Fold, and its Circle Cliffs are partly cut off by the northwestern shoulder of Navajo Mountain. Within this arc you see what is left of the climax of the Glen Canyon system. They still have beauty, but to those of us who knew Glen before it was flooded this remains a supreme act of bureaucratic vandalism. Happily, little of the unnaturally—and temporarily—blue water of “Lake” Powell is visible from the trail.

Two miles beyond the great drop into Cliff Canyon is First Water. A mile beyond that, our trail turned out of Cliff Canyon to climb through a narrow cleft in the sandstone, Redbud Pass. At this turn, we saw the pictographs that gave Painted Rock its name. We camped, and spent one day exploring Cliff Canyon and Forbidden Canyon. The second we went as far as Oak Canyon on the trail leading around the Mountain. On the third day we reached around the Mountain. On the third day we reached the perigee of our five-day orbit when we decided to walk down to Rainbow Bridge.

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

Rainbow Bridge from Downstream, Navajo Mountain in the Distance, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Arizona, 1964, by Philip Hyde. Before Glen Canyon Dam filled and Lake Powell flooded Forbidden Canyon. Reached Hiking with a Backpack.

Our first view of the Bridge had been some years before, after coming up five miles from the river through a magnificent canyon of beautiful rock sculpture and delightful long, narrow pools. We were almost reluctant to go to the Bridge again after that fine, wild memory of it, knowing that it was now only a mile and a half from the rising edge of Lake Powell that is engulfing the stream that created the bridge.

We had been three days in the wilderness, with all that is implied in getting close to the land and letting it get close to you. For more on wilderness see the blog post, “Wallace Stegner: The Wilderness Idea.” We rounded the last great curve above the Bridge and began to see tourists. I sniffed the air and—sensed something extraordinary about it, but was not quite able to name it. Then I knew: it was perfume, emanating from some immaculately clad yachtsmen—or was it the yachtwomen among them—busily signing the register under the Bridge. The Bridge looked the same, or did it? Was it only an illusion that it looked a little like a reasonable facsimile, a little plastic? To know what the real Bridge looks like, don’t you have to participate in the finding of it, a little arduously along the stream that made it possible, the heat and the cobbles and the water and the time that all combined to build that Bridge? Can you merely sit, throttle, steer, and saunter and still begin to know what it was? For more about the color photograph of Rainbow Bridge see the blog post, “The Making Of ‘Rainbow Bridge From The Upstream Side.'”

I think of the land of the Navajos as a living entity of moods—of light moments and gloomy. Above all I think of color—color constantly changing with the light, color that infused the life of the people who have passed over this land.

Overpoweringly, this place testifies to man’s transitory nature—and yet confirms his continuity. That continuity may end if this should ever cease to be a land of time enough and room enough. The automobile could obliterate both, and along with them, the wilderness experience.

I still remember the climax of that experience for us. It was the walk to Keet Seel, and what we felt there. Keet Seel, the most remote of the three great Anasazi ruins in Navajo National Monument, is about eight miles by trail through the sandy canyons of the Tsegi system cut into the mesas just west of Monument Valley. The great ruin itself is not visible until the last quarter of a mile, and then it seems diminutive. Not until you are under the edge of the great sandstone shell sheltering the ruin does its scale become apparent.

Great Kiva, Mummy Cave Ruin, Canyon del Muerto, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, by Philip Hyde.

We climbed up the ledge, into the ruin, and suddenly believed we were the discoverers. There were few footprints, and we saw only a lone Navajo looking for strays. The silence was so pervasive that we found ourselves speaking in low tones—I guess out of respect for the people who had just departed 700 years ago. The wind blew everywhere we went that spring, but it was still now. The silence grew as we cooked supper and rolled out our bags on a lower level beneath the ruin. A tiny seep, with a depression beneath it just big enough for a cup, gave us our nightcap, and we went to sleep where the ancient ones had gathered food and looked out and talked, and had put their children to sleep.

Philip Hyde, April 1967

To read more about Navajo Country go to the blog post, “The Making Of ‘Rainbow Bridge From the Upstream Side.'”

Toward a Sense of Place By Philip Hyde 2

January 20th, 2010

(CONTINUED FROM BLOG POST, “Toward a Sense of Place 1“)

Anasazi Big Horn Sheep Petroglyphs, Monument Valley, Utah-Arizona, 1963, by Philip Hyde. From Navajo Wildlands.

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

By Philip Hyde

From Navajo Wildlands: As Long As The Rivers Shall Run

Sierra Club—Ballantine Books 1967

*Note: Beware of using this as a travel guide. The areas where people are allowed and the approaches to them may have changed since 1965. Also, the politically correct term for the native people now is their own word, “Dineh,” in its various spellings, rather than the Spanish word in common practice then, “Navajo.”

Toward A Sense of Place (Continued)

In the Spring of 1965, when heavy runoff in the canyons kept even the Park Service vehicles out, many of the Navajo men walked into the canyons to start their spring plowing and planting. There are more horse-drawn wagons in the Canyon de Chelly region than almost anywhere else, with good reason—they still rely on dependable foot power in traveling the canyon bottoms.

The best way really to feel the country is to visit it in many seasons and to know something about it beforehand. In a region where so much geology is laid bare, a smattering of geology is illuminating, and of prehistory, for the evidences of ancient occupation a searching eye will discover. The petroglyphs and pictographs fascinate me. We were delighted by the humor in a petroglyph some eight centuries old—with its wonderful incised figures of Kokopeli, lying on his back with one knee up, playing the flute. Some of the pictographs in Canyon de Chelly are sheer drama. The Ute Fight Mural, a Navajo charcoal drawing of about a hundred years ago, portrays a battle between Navajos and Utes. A short distance farther up the same canyon is a drawing depicting the coming of Spaniards on horseback.

The pictographers knew with assurance what they wanted to record. My own processes in deciding what a photographer should report were less sure. I started out with several ideas, rejected them, and reluctantly concluded that I should emphasize the land, not the people. I had read more about the country, been exposed more to it. I found the Navajos fascinating and beautiful. They fit their land far better than whites fit theirs. Yet, I felt that emphasis on the people would preclude the sense of place, a sense that I think the Navajos themselves feel strongly.

They also value highly their personal privacy. One can try to make grab shots, which violate that sense of privacy, or spend enough years living and working with the people to know how not to violate. I would not do the former and couldn’t do the latter. I hoped that the absence of a human figure would not suggest the absence of a human eye, and that mine would be sensitive enough to the Navajo’s own sensitivity to his land. This hope was the basic challenge. There were other challenges.

Some Navajo areas are nationally known and celebrated; others are neither. I wanted both. Photographers must also fuss with logistics, and I would try to do my share. They also need intuition and luck. I rarely wait for something to happen. I haven’t the patience, and besides, there are usually too many things around already happening. So I hoped to be in the right places when the light said now!

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

Stormlight, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1963, by Philip Hyde. From Navajo Wildlands.

I remember a storm-lit view of Canyon de Chelly. It had just stopped raining heavily when my wife came charging into the back office of the Visitor Center and said, “Come out and see what’s happening over on the rim.” Together we grabbed camera and gear and ran half a mile or more to the edge of the canyon. A shaft of sharp yellow light was burning its way through a rent in the clouds. Still breathing heard, I managed to set up the camera, calculate the exposure, and release the shutter. Thirty seconds later the clouds closed, and the light was gone.

I begin to see when I leave the car behind. The immensity of the Navajo country, however, made working with the car essential in many places. Nevertheless, the times I remember with most pleasure are those when we were walking around Navajo Mountain into the canyons of the Rainbow Plateau, or backpacking to Keet Seel. These were the wilderness experiences, and the others are pale. For more on wilderness see the blog post, “Wallace Stegner: The Wilderness Idea.”

Navajo Mountain was another adventure, thanks again to the primitiveness of a road. There is something exciting about a rough dirt road into new country, particularly if its remoteness is famous. At Rainbow Lodge Trading Post, you are about as far from pavement as a Navajo can get. Kayenta once had such remoteness, as did Monument Valley. Remoteness vanished when the high-standard paved highway came.

We arrived at the Rainbow Post in late afternoon to find Myles Headrick, the trader, busy with several groups of customers. We sat on grain sacks piled against the wall and we watched the trading process. We couldn’t understand the soft exchange of words in Navajo, but we could watch facial expressions and gestures, hear the modulations and occasional chuckles.  We spent an hour or more cultivating what Sally Carrighar, in Moonlight at Midday, calls the Quiet Mind. She speaks of it as an Eskimo trait, but the Navajos share it. I think we could expect to find it in any individual or any people who have kept touch with what the land is saying and who lack the benefits of instant dissemination of the human troubles that make news.

Relaxed and willing, we waited out four days of rain before starting our descent into the canyons of the Rainbow Plateau. But first we had to go down about four miles to our Navajo packer’s Hogan. We navigated more than drove, for the road was all too often a sea of mud. Somehow we made it down to the sandy flat below the Mountain’s shoulder, and found our way among the maze of tracks to the Hogan. We were pleased to be asked in, but the darkness that had begun while we visited was not too reassuring when we left the hogan’s snugness. How would you put on film our apprehension of that slippery slide to Rainbow Lodge? Or how we kept moving, foot by foot, grateful for the rocky places that had once worried our tires? Or how time was suspended in our concentration until, an infinity later, our headlights found the Trading Post? This is the kind of adventure that highway engineers seem determined to wipe out, and what diminishes this diminishes me. Whom does an overtamed world serve?

Our Navajo Mountain adventure took on a new aspect two mornings later when our packer brought up his retinue of three horses, four people, and two dogs….

(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “Toward a Sense of Place 3“)