Photo Essay

The American Southwest

The Throne Room of the Sultans

When I was in grade school I remember my father once helping me study for a spelling exam. I couldn't remember the difference between "desert" and "dessert." I asked him how I could remember which one had more S's. He replied, "Which one do you want more of?" I had not yet been to the desert, and so my thoughts turned to chocolate cake and banana splits. I remembered the trick and did well on my test. Had I known then what I know now, I believe that to this day I would reverse the spelling of those two words.

The first time I got a look at the bare rock and canyons of the American southwest, my eyes wept. And not just because of the incessant sand that blew from far across the barren desert landscape and seemed to hone in mercilessly on my eyes, my nose, my mouth, etc. Which it did. Of course I pretended to my girlfriend (now wife) that any tears I might be shedding were certainly due to razor sharp, microscopic pieces of sand burrowing into my corneas. In fact though, the landscape had moved me in a way I had not experienced before, but I was afraid to tell her the truth. I wasn't afraid out of any sense of manliness or fear that she would think I was a sissy, but rather self-preservation. The simple fact was that as I sat there with my arm around my girl, I was falling in love ... with the desert. If I had turned to her and proclaimed my undying love for the fins, hoodoos, towers, and goosenecks spread out below us (rather than her), I am fairly sure she would have tossed me into the canyon and ended me there.

So I kept my mouth shut, and the gritty consistency of my tears gave plausibility to my lie.

We were sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon, and as the day ended I couldn't take my eyes away from the impossible reds and oranges that magnified in intensity as the sun sank deeper to the horizon. My heart broke as the light faded, and I determined to be up before dawn the next morning to watch the canyon spring back into glory, something out of the norm for me at the time as I had not yet picked up a camera with any serious intent. It was perhaps the first time I had voluntarily and cheerfully gotten up before sunrise in my life.

While my love affair with the desert began with the overwhelming view of the Grand Canyon, it has changed over the years. While I still love gazing out over huge vistas, glorying in just how small they make me feel, I have come to have a deeper appreciation for the finer details within the desert. There is nowhere I would rather be than tucked into a slot canyon, up to my hips in murky water with beams of light falling through the dusty air like gifts from above, looking for Alcove Columbine and glorying in the graceful curves of the rock. Few things are as rewarding as rounding a corner in a tight canyon to come upon a perfectly serene waterfall waiting to clean the dust and muck from a long day's hike off a weary photographer. It always makes it worth suffering through hiking with a half a cup of sand in each shoe, the danger of flash floods, the 45 minutes of cleaning your camera each day, spiders the size of you head, quicksand, rough roads, bandits ... well, if there were still bandits roaming around it would still be worth the risk. In fact, it would be worth just about anything to spend those quite moments floating on your own and then getting out the camera and going to work.

See you on the slickrock!

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3 responses

  • Natalia Presztolanszky

    Natalia Presztolanszky gave props (27 Jan 2009):

    Wonderful topic, amazing, breathtaking pictures! I voted!!!

  • Becca Bornstein

    Becca Bornstein (Deleted) gave props (4 Jun 2009):

    Wonderful story and amazing photos =]

  • Catherine Kurvink

    Catherine Kurvink gave props (4 Jun 2009):

    Fabulous images and wonderful story. You get my vote!

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