“Be still and the earth will speak to you.” Navajo proverb
One of the things I loved about my recent tour of US National Parks was the diversity of scenery that we covered in only two weeks. From the sheer scale of the Grand Canyon compared to the narrow confines of Antelope Canyon; from the steep cliffs in Zion National Park to the strange-shaped hoodoos in Bryce Canyon; from the stark landscapes in Death Valley to the lush green meadows of Yosemite National Park.
I was lucky enough to experience most of these landscapes through hiking, but there were occasions where hiking wasn’t possible – such as Monument Valley. Here, I joined a jeep tour with Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours, run by Navajos who were born and raised in the area. It was such a privilege to learn about this place from the people who call Monument Valley ‘their Motherland’.
Monument Valley is located on the Arizona-Utah state line and is part of the Colorado Plateau. It’s a place that is immediately familiar, even if you’ve never set foot there, because the towering rock formations have featured in Hollywood films including many John Wayne westerns. The strange sandstone buttes rise majestically from an undulating desert floor with the highest being about 1000 feet (300 metres).
At the visitor centre I saw the incredible panorama of the Mitten buttes and Merrick Butte (in the photo above), while on the tour we travelled 17 miles (27 km) via an unpaved loop road stopping at scenic locations including John Ford’s Point, Totem Poles, Artist’s Point and the Three Sisters. We got out of the vehicle on many occasions to see the detail and colour in this incredible landscape – the saturated reds and browns of the rock formations and shifting sands, the brilliant green of the shrubs and trees, and the intense blue of the sky (on a perfect September day). At times I really did feel like I’d ventured back in time to the old wild west – dust and all! Here are just a few of my photographs from that day.
“And now my comrades all are gone; naught remains to toast. They have left me here in my misery, like some poor wandering ghost.”
Anyone who knows me knows I love a good ghost story so, on my recent trip to California, I was very happy to visit the old gold mining ghost town of Bodie.
“By 1879 Bodie boasted a population of about 10,000 and was second to none for wickedness, badmen, and ‘the worst climate out of doors.’ One little girl, whose family was taking her to the remote and infamous town, wrote in her diary: ‘Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.’ The phrase came to be known throughout the West.” Bodie Foundation
The town was named after Waterman S Body (also known as William S Bodey), who discovered gold here in 1859. Apparently, there were plenty of street fights, robberies and stage-coach holdups, and regular deaths. The Reverend FM Warrington described it as “a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lusts and passion.”
Of course, it lacked that kind of atmosphere on my visit – being empty and desolate – but I had such a great time wandering around this old town. I took photographs of broken-down cars and wagons, and buildings that were literally propped up by pieces of wood. The only thing that could’ve made it better would’ve been a visit after dark – when ghosts are more likely to be active – and if Sam and Dean Winchester had turned up to help me hunt some evil spirits.
*did I say that out loud? sometimes I confuse fiction with reality… it’s a problem*
Now, where was I? Oh right… Bodie! Here are a few photographs of my visit.
“You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted. To see it you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths.” John Wesley Powell
There’s a sign-board at the beginning of the Bright Angel Trail, which says: “Grand Canyon hiking differs from almost all other hiking. Here the easy part – downhill – comes first; the tough part – up and out – comes when you are already tired. You are responsible for your own safety. Don’t underestimate the Grand Canyon”.
When we set off, we didn’t have a plan for how far we would descend. But the ease of the walking was tempered by the knowledge that we did in fact have to go back up.
“The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon – forms unrivalled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span the diapason from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain.” John Wesley Powell
The Grand Canyon has been on my ‘bucket list’ for a long time and, this year, I finally made it. Words can’t describe what it’s like to stand on the crater rim or to walk part of the way down into the canyon, but what I can say is this – the experience surpassed my sky-high expectations. And that is no mean feat.
My first look at the Grand Canyon was from the Desert View Watchtower. It was late afternoon and the light was golden; intensifying the colours of the landscape. The shadows, in all the nooks and crannies of this remarkable chasm, ebbed and flowed, as the sun drifted behind the clouds and back out again. Then, further along the canyon rim, I walked from Mather Point to Yavapai Point – just as the sun was setting.
Have I mentioned that I love any landscape in the late afternoon light? It could be a rolling patch of farmland or a rusty car abandoned in field. There is beauty in everything at this time of the day. But here, an already awe-inspiring view was increased a thousandfold.
The timing of my first view of the Grand Canyon was perfect; a gift from nature!
Here are some photographs, which, like words, don’t do it justice. I think the Grand Canyon is one of those places you just have to visit, to really understand how amazing it is.