A Day in the Desert

A Day in the Desert

In March we made a trip to Arizona with friends. On one particular day I shot black and white film. These are the photos I took.

My camera wasn’t fancy: a reliable Canon Ae-1p with Ilford Panf Plus 50. I had a lab here in the Twin Cities develop the film and then I “scanned” the film using my DSLR and a 100mm macro lens—a process that is new to me. You can see some strange textures in the skies of these pictures. That’s because I used a piece of glass between the camera and the film to flatten the film, but evidently it was not a perfect piece of glass. Nonetheless, I’m excited about these shots! I’d love to make some silver gelatin prints from them.

We started the day at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, walking the Lava Flow trail. From the National Park Service:

“The cinder cone volcano's rim is the dusky red of sunset, but the crater is only part of the story. Around 1085 the ground began to shake, and lava spewed high into the air. When the eruption finished, it had changed both the landscape and the people who lived here. Today, it teaches how nature and humankind affect each other—and how rebirth and renewal happen in the wake of disaster.”

Trees, shrubs, and grasses growing through layers of volcanic rock at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Bonito Lava Flow trail. Humphrey’s Peak is in the distance.

Trees, shrubs, and grasses growing through layers of volcanic rock at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Bonito Lava Flow trail. Humphrey’s Peak is in the distance.

A decaying tree set against shrubs just beginning to wake up from the winter at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

A decaying tree set against shrubs just beginning to wake up from the winter at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Can you believe in one day we saw so much? We started in Flagstaff and headed to Sunset Crater Volcano, then Wupatki National Monument, Doney Mountain, and the Grand Canyon. At home, we are lucky if we get to a new park with the dog on the weekend. Doing as much in one day takes its toll though. It’s so much to see, learn, take in. I admit that I get road-trip happy when I’m in a place as special as Arizona, a state with destinations every 20 miles.

We drove a loop north of Flagstaff that takes you through Sunset Crater Volcano and through the pueblo ruins of the Wupatki National Monument.

A broad view of the pueblos at Wupatki National Monument, Coconino County, Arizona

A broad view of the pueblos at Wupatki National Monument, Coconino County, Arizona

The ruins were surrounded by nothing for miles. It was amazing to fathom a whole community of people living out here, sustained by a land that feels barren. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to be out there in mid-July in full sun. And then I imagined what it must have been like every night after the sun went down, stars falling down around them with no interruptions on the horizon. And such silence. We could see the edges of the Grand Canyon in the distance.

The colors were just as amazing: muted green, evergreen, minty green, light pink, salmon pink, burnt yellow, soft yellow, burnt red, rusty orange, sandy brown.

Pueblos at Wupatki National Monument with an amphitheater near the center of the frame

Pueblos at Wupatki National Monument with an amphitheater near the center of the frame

Deteriorated dwellings that used to be bedrooms at Wupatki National Monument

Deteriorated dwellings that used to be bedrooms at Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki ruins set against grasses

Wupatki ruins set against grasses

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Napping in the middle of nowhere—the Doney Mountain Picnic Area

Napping in the middle of nowhere—the Doney Mountain Picnic Area

Near the end of our driving loop we stopped at a picnic area called Doney Mountain. There are two generously sized hills that you can climb and get a spectacular 360° view. I have trouble putting in to words exactly how I felt about this place. I was a stranger to the terrain, brought up among shade trees and running water. But there was something about its extremity and loneliness, but also softness, that makes it endearing.

The US Forest Service gives the area some context:

This out-of-the- way picnic area is located in the most recently active portion of the San Francisco volcano field. That doesn't mean they're dangerous, however. The volcanoes in this vicinity have been dormant for 800 years. What it does mean is that this scenery is some of the most unique in Arizona. Cinder cones and lava flows dot the landscape. Hardy desert plants stand in sharp contrast to the dark volcanic soils in which they struggle for survival. On the horizon the pastels of the painted desert add a streak of color. There's even a guided nature trail at the Doney area to help you get a better perspective on the landscape, history, and culture of this colorful land.

From an ecological perspective, it seems so unlikely that anything grows or lives here, yet it does.

Vegetation along the base of Doney Mountain

Vegetation along the base of Doney Mountain

The small footpath curling around to the top of Doney Mountain with the desert all around

The small footpath curling around to the top of Doney Mountain with the desert all around

Terrain around Doney Mountain, Coconino County, Arizona

Terrain around Doney Mountain, Coconino County, Arizona

Descending Doney Mountain in late afternoon sun

Descending Doney Mountain in late afternoon sun

Open terrain in Coconino County, Arizona

Open terrain in Coconino County, Arizona

We ended the day at the Grand Canyon, arriving for sunset and staying through dark to stargaze. At this point I only had two shots left on my roll of film, but they are beautiful.

Grand Canyon around sunset, facing west

Grand Canyon around sunset, facing west

Claire and Dane at sunset at the Grand Canyon

Claire and Dane at sunset at the Grand Canyon

Kelsey and Eric, a September wedding in Minnesota

Kelsey and Eric, a September wedding in Minnesota

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