(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.)
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.”