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Anatomy of a desert storm

Monday, April 10th, 2017

“Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By “they” I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness.” – Thomas Merton, from Raids on the Unspeakable


Here in the desert southwest, we’re coming off an amazing winter of rain. The color green seems a color more appropriately likened to Ireland than the Mojave Desert, but the grass popping up between very happy creosote and salt bush doesn’t tell any lies: it was a good winter. The big, soaking storms are long gone as we transition into summer, but some spring squalls are still hanging on. Desert rain storms are really quite remarkable; they are swift, powerful, and incredibly rewarding.

You’re sitting on the rock in the late afternoon, enjoying the warmth of the sun, perhaps enjoying a beer after a long day of hiking. Dark clouds hang on the horizon, but they look like they are quite far away. As the wind starts picking up, you realize that your beer bottle might get blown over if you don’t take cover, and that perhaps those clouds weren’t as far as you thought.

photograph of mountain ranges and rain in nevada

Fortunately, you save your beer from a near complete loss, and as you do, you look towards the storm and realize there’s an incredible light show taking place behind it. Backlit virga hangs like tattered curtains and you stand there admiring the desert mountain ranges–which appear in various shades of blue–receding behind the squall. The wind begins to sandblast you and you start to feel the first drops of water hitting your face.

Soon, rain begins to fall in earnest, but this lasts approximately 10% of the entire length of the storm; the whole thing is really just a big tease. The clouds pass overhead, and you look towards the horizon from whence the storm came; any trace of the storm that just blew through has been hidden.  Then, you turn around, and discover what the storm has left you as it moves away into the distance.

photograph of a rainbow at sunset in the gold butte national monument

The sun is setting now, shining on the storm clouds which are no longer backlit. The trailing wisps of the storm catch the light, turning bright orange and pink, while the storm itself maintains its deep, menacing blue. You look above your head to see a rainbow arching overhead, completing this amazing sunset.

The entire thing lasts about 20 minutes and the landscape takes 25 degree temperature drop from start to end. Several times over the course of the storm you’ve nearly forgotten to take photos, but you make images, which you’re grateful for. But mostly you just stand in awe, thankful for what you’ve just experienced, and where you’re standing. This is meaningless joy, and it’s wonderful.

photograph of sunset after a rain storm in gold butte national monument

Guest post: Finding Grounding in the New Year

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

It’s been a while since I’ve had a guest post on my blog, and this is really more a cross-posting than a guest post, but I’m honored to have Dawn Chandler’s essay here nonetheless.  Dawn is a long-time friend from New Mexico and I asked her to post this blog post as a follow up to my own Bosque del Apache images, partly because I can’t get those birds off my mind, partly because I wanted to share another artist’s perspective of the Bosque, and partly because I really admire her art and have been looking for an excuse to post some of it here.  So many thanks to Dawn for allowing me to share.  You can see more of Dawn’s artwork here.  


finding grounding in the new year

I never would have thought I’d find grounding in the sky; in flight.

This new year loomed for me with a feeling of. . . . . . lack of focus? Imbalance?
My birthday is in the week between Christmas and New Year’s—a weird time when I always feel kind of in limbo, what with a sort of post-Christmas deflation coupled with contemplation about the year’s end, and uncertainty of what the new year may bring.
This winter in particular, coming onto my 51st birthday and flipping through my new 2016 calendar, I felt oddly vulnerable by the blank pages, the lack of plans. I felt a little lost in the shadow of such big accomplishments and huge travel last year. In a rare wave of uncertainty, I felt unsure where to place my focus, both in my studio and really kind of life in general. This wasn’t a sharp uncertainty, but more a kind of sluggishness.

We—[My Good Man and I]—had plans to travel over my birthday and New Year’s, but the voice of frugality (which sounded uncannily similar to my dear late mother’s) whispered to me, and so with much disappointment I cancelled those plans.
But I like doing something special on my birthday, to make the day stand out. And so, Plan B.

We rose in the wee hours of the morning on My Day and headed down to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, some 100 miles south of Albuquerque. Established in 1939 and comprising some 57,000+ acres on either side of the Rio Grande south of Socorro, ‘The Bosque’ is the wintering ground of thousands migratory birds, especially snow geese and sandhill cranes.

I like birds, and always have. My mother used to feed them back in our New Jersey home with an almost religious fervor. If ever there were a question of who to feed first during a blizzard—her own children or the birds—she very well may have chosen the birds (fortunately her loyalty was rarely tested on this). She tended several feeders in our yard, including a beautifully crafted wooden one that sat front and center in a dining room window—a handmade gift from my father in the early years of their marriage. Nearly every meal of my childhood was spent in the company of birds dining on the other side of a thin pane of glass or veil of screen.

But I don’t think I ever really saw birds until a few weeks ago when the sandhill cranes of the Bosque glided into my awareness.

And now I’m infatuated.

I don’t know, but it was as though there was this tiny shadowed corner of my being that I didn’t even know was there, but when I witnessed these graceful, elegant birds soaring, gliding, cooing and flying close overhead, that shadowed corner in me suddenly became illuminated with pure joy.

And so we returned in January, again…and again…and again, making a total of five excursions to the Bosque, two by first light, three by last.

Because all I can think about now are birds—about cranes especially—and their movements and their staggering journeys.

4,000 miles.

That’s how far the sandhill cranes will travel this spring.

Think about that.

From New Mexico to the northern most reaches of Alaska and Canada. Some even fly from Mexico to Siberia. SIBERIA!

They can live 20 years or more in the wild.

They mate for life.

And in some western states in the US, it’s legal to kill them for sport.

~

~ ~

I’m kidding, right?

~ ~

~

I wish I were.

~

~ ~

The first book I read this year is Sandhill and Whooping Cranes: Ancient Voices Over America’s Wetlands, by Paul A. Johnsgard. This paragraph—like every crane I’ve had the joy of observing—takes my breath away:

Considering the incredible hardships that lesser sandhill cranes must undergo to complete their epic spring migrations, to raise chicks under the most severe environmental conditions, and to accompany them back [thousands of miles] to traditional winter grounds while enduring a threat of gunfire from Alaska to the southern United States or Mexico, one must wonder about the humanity of people who think that killing cranes can possibly be sporting.

Well, I’m bringing those cranes who have been shot back to life, if only with paper; if only with paint.

a flock of five origami cranes, crafted by dawn chandler

The cranes and snow geese and hawks and so many winged spirits of The Bosque are converging in great flocks in my studio, some in flicks and flecks of paint, some in inky calligraphic swirls, still others in folds and creases.

'bosque morning rising' ~ by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 12" x 24"

‘bosque morning rising’ ~ by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel ~ 12″ x 24″

 

three origami cranes, crafted by dawn chandler

 

'finding community' ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6" x 12"

‘finding community’ ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6″ x 12″

 

'our spirits gliding' ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6" x 12"

‘our spirits gliding’ ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6″ x 12″

 

'evening dawns' ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6" x 12"

‘evening dawns’ ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6″ x 12″

 

'as they soar' ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6" x 12"

‘as they soar’ ~ by dawn chandler ~ mixed media on panel ~ 6″ x 12″

But of all the birds I’ve observed this winter, it’s the cranes who keep haunting me. . . .
Many cultures revere the crane as a symbol of good fortune, prosperity and peace. And yet the peace I find when I think about and observe these majestic beings leads me to understand that they are more than creatures, more than a symbol.They are peace in motion. And they’re moving across the pages of my calendar, the pages of my art, deep into my new year.

I can hardly wait until November, when they soar back to New Mexico, grounding me again.

~  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

To see more of my photos of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, check out my Instagram account at instagram.com/taosdawn/ as well recent posts at the Travel New Mexico instagram account at instagram.com/travelnewmexico/

Potsherds

Monday, March 11th, 2013

I am writing this sitting at a desk that my dad made for my eleventh birthday. In the second drawer is an old pipe tobacco can–Captain Black–filled with Native American potsherds.

My family moved to the Four Corners region in northwestern New Mexico when I was six years old.  Many of my earliest memories of New Mexico involve the typical sight-seeing outings families do;  I remember going to Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.  At that age, the significance of these world-class archaeological sites did not really mean much to me.  However, I started to draw connections to the ancient residents of this area one September day while deer hunting with my dad; we walked through an area filled with potsherds.  I was probably a little bored after several hours of hiking through the seemingly endless piñon-juniper pygmy forest, and the potsherds made for an exciting treasure hunt.  We picked up some of the nicer ones and brought them home.  Since then, they’ve largely lived inside of the pipe tobacco can inside my desk drawer.

I am not sure how old they are.  Some are really lovely bowl rims, with simple triangular black-on-white patterns painted on them.  Others are pieces of corrugated bowls.  Many of the archaeological sites in that area of New Mexico are Navajo–about 400-500 years old.  However, the areas we used to visit do not lie far from Salmon Ruins and the Great North Road.  So, it is entirely possible–probable even–that these pieces are much older Ancestral Puebloan potsherds.

Pueblo Bonito, Tse-biya hani ahi

Archaeologists say that we learn best about ancient cultures by leaving artifacts in their place, admired but untouched.  After all, they tell the stories of the peoples who came before us.   Indeed, much science is lost by looking at these pieces of pottery ex situ.  However, when I look at them, I think of the people who made them.  What were they thinking when they left them?  Did they walk away unflinchingly from their home, or did they take a longing look back, thinking they may someday return?

These fragmented pieces of pottery tell the story of a people who eeked a living off of the land, who knew the landscape and probably felt a deep sense of place here.


I looked down upon hillside after hillside of slopes clear-cut for their timber.  Traversed back and forth by logging roads, the hills were deeply scarred and patterened.  All I could think of were pottery designs.  Beginning there, the entire flight was an aerial Anasazi visual feast of basket weaves made of farmland plowing, river ways drawn out like rock art, and cloud patterns resembling rock forms.”  — Bruce Hucko, Cave to Cave–Canyon to Canyon

Flying from my home in southern California to Colorado at 30,000′, I can relate to Hucko’s evocative impressions of the Western landscape (Bruce Hucko was the photographer for the  Wetherill-Grand Gulch Research Project).  I see landscapes–monoliths, cliffs, and mesas–that are part of who I am, so much so that I can recognize them without having seen them on a map, or even visiting them, in years.  A floodplain in the Mojave desert, the Grand Canyon, the Vermillion Cliffs, Navajo Mountain, Cedar Mesa, Mesa Verde, the San Juans, the Sawatch, and finally we touch down in Denver.  Terra firma.

Mojave Desert

Two hours in the air filled with fragments of landscapes that conjure memories–in the same way those broken pieces of pottery tell the story of a people, these landscapes are my potsherds of the American Southwest.  This is where I have spent my life and I’ve had adventures with friends and family; these stories would fill a hundred books.


It has been over 25 years since my first visit to Chaco Canyon, but it feels like many more.  It’s a sunny and warm December afternoon, and many of the other tourists have left, leaving the halls of Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito quiet and a little lonely and the moon is rising over Fajada Butte.  I sit for a while, watching the reflected winter light bounce through the rooms, which are now open to the sky.   For what feels like the hundredth time, I find myself thinking about the journey of the people who lived here, and of their great road north toward my childhood home, near Salmon and Aztec ruins.  Potsherds lie across the high desert for nearly 100 miles; the stories of these travelers are being told in fragments.

So it is that we tell our own stories in broken, scattered pieces. Our own beautiful stories are being shared and discovered by the people in our lives, just as we discover our own pieces of others.  If we are lucky we find an entire, unbroken, pot now and then.

 Fajada Butte Moonrise

Zion Canyoneering

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Can•yon•eer•ing /ˌkænjəˈnɪərɪŋ/

noun

The sport of exploring canyons by climbing, rappelling, hiking, swimming, or wading.


It might seem like a silly way to spend a vacation, but I recently met some friends to go through several technical canyons in Zion National Park.  As the definition implies, there are all sorts of obstacles that you encounter in these canyons, from tight squeezes into slots, to extremely cold pools that you have no other choice than to swim through, and very large drops (sometimes several hundred feet) that you have to rappel from.

A technical canyoneer in Das Boot Canyon

A canyoneer moves through Das Boot Canyon

Of course, that’s part of the fun.  Problem solving, using your brain and working as a team to move past these obstacles.  There are times when I feel like I’m literally walking into the heart of the earth, the sky disappearing above me, as I move into some sort of subterranean wonderland.  The aspect of adventure is always there; canyons can change quickly, and often do with flash floods.  But also, there’s the aspect of having the privilege to see these wonderful places.  These are the parts of our national parks that very few visitors get to see–most don’t give much thought to their existence.

Reflected light in a southern Utah canyon

Even in darkness there is light

Das Boot Canyon, Zion National Park

A tight squeeze inside Das Boot Canyon

In three days, we went through four different canyons, each with a different story to tell.  First we went through Das Boot, which is the technical start to the much more popular Left Fork of North Creek (The Subway).  Even on a dry year, Das Boot is wet and cold–at the minimum wetsuits are a requirement, and swimming multiple (sometimes stinky) pools is unavoidable.  It is a stunningly beautiful canyon, though, with some of the most amazing reflected light I’ve ever seen.

Reflected light, Orderville Canyon, Utah

Into the heart of the earth, Orderville Canyon, Utah

The next day we went through Birch Hollow, which is a technical start to Orderville Canyon; Orderville ends in the Zion Narrows.  It’s a long day, but there’s a little bit of everything in there, ending with some classic Zion scenery.

A canyoneer rappels into Pine Creek, Zion National Park, Utah

Rappelling into Pine Creek

Finally, we went through Keyhole, which is a very short, but cold and wet canyon, and Pine Creek, right in the heart of Zion, and a true classic.  The last rappel in Pine Creek is a lot of fun, about 120′, and you’re hanging free of the rock face for most of it.  I was able to have my friend belay me while I made a few images on my way down.

A canyoneer's beat up and dirty hands

Hard on the hands

Being able to explore these canyons, to get up close with the earth, and see something very few get to experience is good for the soul (if perhaps a little hard on the hands).  That’s not a bad way to spend a vacation.

Floris van Breugel also recently has done some canyoneering in Zion; check it out here (fantastic images), and if you are interested in even more canyoneering, check out Dan Ransom’s work.  He goes into some pretty serious places, and comes home with some beautiful images.

Photo of the Month–October

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

With the first day of autumn just a few days ago, I have been reminiscing about the fall mornings I remember from growing up in northern New Mexico.  I remember chilly mornings that gave way to pleasantly warm days, snow-dusted mountain peaks, and as Jackson reminded me with my September photo of the month, the smell of roasting green chiles.

Autumn arrives in the high country much earlier than October–those cold mornings and changing colors can arrive as early as August, when lower elevations are still sweltering in summer heat.  This summer, on a visit to the canyon country of southern Utah, we were able to escape for a night to 11,000′ on the Aquarius Plateau.  Made up in part by Boulder Mountain, just outside of Torrey, Utah and Capitol Reef National Park, the Plateau is nothing like the ecosystems that surround it.  It is the highest elevation plateau in North America, and has hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny lakes.  On the August morning I visited, it was about 35°F–a virtual paradise compared to the desert located less than 10 miles away, as the crow flies.

A beautiful sunrise on the Aquarius Plateau in southern Utah

August Sunrise, August 2011

Here in southern California, summer is hanging on tenaciously, and the ability to “fast forward” to fall would be much appreciated, just like I was able to do this summer on the Aquarius Plateau.

 

On Reverence

Friday, September 16th, 2011

For August in the Southwest, the air is unusually humid.  Dark clouds are rolling in from the west as we walk into the wide, shallow canyon.  A narrow trails has been worn in the horsetail reeds; they rise up past my waist and I put my hands out, letting my fingers run along their tips.  The leaves of the cottonwoods that dot this canyon are moving faster and the cool air of the incoming thunderstorm acts as a natural swamp cooler.  After about twenty minutes of walking, I look up onto a sandstone outcropping and see what I’ve came here to visit–an 800-year-old Ancestral Puebloan ruin nestled into the cliff.

I’ve returned to this area of southeastern Utah for my first significant visit in nearly 15 years.  Growing up, my Dad and I spent many hours backpacking the wild canyons of Cedar Mesa, and for the last several years, I’ve longed to come back for a visit.  My motivations for returning–I suppose–are many.  I’ve returned to slow down, hoping to escape the nonstop movement in southern California.  Similarly, I have returned to revisit my past; as an adolescent, I have suddenly realized that I took many of my early wilderness experiences for granted.  Photographic motivations also played a role–I want images of these places that define me.

An Ancestral Puebloan Dwelling near Moon House in McCloyd Canyon, Cedar Mesa, Utah

Ancestral Puebloan Dwelling, August 2011

I think, ultimately, I’ve returned because this is my epicenter: this is the place I fell in love with the Colorado Plateau.  Light-colored Cedar Mesa sandstone with its bold desert varnish seemed to always be a part of my early wilderness experiences.  Its is part of me–occasionally when I accidentally cut myself, I look closely at the blood, perhaps hoping its become the color of the Organ Rock or Moenkopi shales that top the Cedar Mesa formation.  I’ve come back to pay reverence to the natural and cultural history of this landscape.

Ancestral Puebloan Handprints, Cedar Mesa Utah

Paul Woodruff describes reverence as a virtue; the more reverence you have, the greater your capacity to feel respect, awe, shame.  As a visitor to the canyons of Cedar Mesa, all of these emotions are evoked inside of me.  I feel a deep respect for the Ancestral Puebloan people who settled here, multiple times, to make a living.  Although the landscape was likely different centuries ago, it was still a hot, dry place, but they made a living, farming the verdant canyons and carving out a life on the cliffs.  The work that went into these structures is tangible–look closely and you can see ancient finger and palm prints in the dried mud of their walls.  The forces that shaped this labyrinth of canyons are nothing less than awe-inspring.

Yes, one even can feel shame here, although it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I am ashamed I didn’t appreciate my early visits more, that I am just now realizing the full impact of the history available to us up on this small mesa in lovely, remote southeastern Utah.  Indeed, for the individual willing to open his heart and mind (and sometimes to close his mouth), these canyons can speak to you.

Moonhouse Ruin, McCloyd Canyon, Cedar Mesa Utah

The Gloaming Hour

Friday, July 15th, 2011

“The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”

–John Muir

 Not many people can say it quite like John Muir.  It wasn’t until I read this passage years ago that I’d even heard about gloaming–that time right before dawn or after sunset in which light present in the upper atmosphere illuminates the earth, which is not lit directly by the sun.

During the gloaming, one of my favorite atmospheric events occurs–the earth’s shadow can be seen on the horizon.  The dark blue band at the horizon is the shadow of the earth as the sun creeps nearer the horizon.  At this time, another phenomenon can be seen; the Belt of Venus is the pinkish band in the sky above the earth’s shadow.

Hoodoos during the gloaming hour in the Bisti Badlands of northern New Mexico

Gloaming, July 2011

There’s a lot of emphasis placed on capturing the sweet light as the sun rises or sets.  Indeed, it is sweet…long light on a mountain peak or on desert red rock almost always makes for a pretty photograph.  But, one of my favorite times of day is the gloaming hour, when there’s a subtle, but just as grand light show occurring.

What’s your favorite time of day for photography, or in general?

Persistence

Friday, June 24th, 2011

The ability of nature to persist and overcome challenges is something that continues to amaze me.  I remember, when I lived in Wyoming, driving to the Medicine Bow Mountains for the first time, and seeing the wind-battered pines that have been successful despite decades of cold temperatures, howling gales, and heavy snowfall.  Many of them seemed to grow (albeit somewhat crookedly) out of solid granite.  We read all the time about organisms that persist in some of the world’s most hostile environments (see here and here).

I just returned from a fantastic trip to southwestern Utah.  High on the wall of a slot canyon, I noticed these trees–a maple and a piñon pine–clinging to the rock, about 60′ in the air.  Surely, these trees have not had an easy life.  While they probably never see flood water, they must deal with howling winds, freezing temperatures, and despite the creek beneath them, probably a paucity of water.  Yet, they survive.

Redrock walls of Kanarra Creek, near Kanarraville, Utah

Persistence, June 2011

This sort of persistence becomes an instructive metaphor for photography, too.  Although it may not be the easiest way to survive, these trees hang on and dig in with their roots, making a life for themselves.  In much the same way, it is all too easy for a photographer to get caught up in making images of scenes that have been photographed many times before.  The real art comes from years of persistence, when the image-makers dig deep into themselves, ask the tough questions about inspiration and creativity, and follow their heart.  After all, your art should be about you.  In much the same way as these trees have created art, the photographer does so…with a little persistence.

 

The Grand

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

I remember my first trip to the Grand Canyon in 1992–it was not only my first backpacking trip ever, but also my first memorable trip to a national park.  We went over spring break, in late March, and it was snowing hard at the South Rim when we arrived.  I remember being cold and wet the night before our hike began, being completely terrified on the icy (and steep) South Kaibab trail the following morning, and sweating as we walked into Phantom Ranch later that afternoon.  The rest of the trip was rainy, often very cold, and wet.

Despite all of that, I had a great time.  A funny thing happens after outdoor experiences like this one: we seem to forget all of the “bad” parts of a trip, remembering the good things.   Do the bad experiences really go away?  Not completely:  We learn from them.  As a novice backpacker, I learned several things about hiking in poor weather; I learned them the hard way, but I survived.

The thing that stuck in my memory more than anything else from that first trip to the Grand Canyon was the magnificence of the place.  The sheer drops, layers of sandstone, and of course the power of the Moenkopi-colored mud flowing in the Colorado River.  I’ve returned to the Grand Canyon more than almost any other national park.  During my first trip it was simply breathtaking; since then it has become breathgiving.

Vishnu's Temple at dawn, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Vishnu's Sun Salutation, May 2011

Since 1992, I’ve backpacked the Grand Canyon once more, and have camped on the rim multiple times.  Each time I say to myself, “Why don’t I visit more often?”  Yes, its packed with people, especially on the holiday weekends when I find time to visit, but there’s a magnificent peacefulness that surrounds it.    There are small pockets, places, you can go and hide, and despite the hordes, its almost as if you have this huge amphitheater to yourself.

Just like so many other geologic wonders on the Colorado Plateau, there really is nothing like the Grand Canyon on earth.  Although I’ve enjoyed it for 19 years, I just now have images of it.  Click the image or here to see the rest.

 

The Paria, part III: mud

Friday, April 15th, 2011

In addition to its immense, subtle beauty, another overriding theme of the Paria River is mud.  The river bed has a high clay content, and if you’ve ever been in clay soil when its even a little wet, you know it can be a disaster–its slick, sticky, and vehicles can get stuck in it in a moment.

In the spring, runoff from high elevation prevents some mud (by way of keeping from drying enough to reach that sticky, goopy, phase), but its always a factor.  What I like about clay is that it always forms beautiful patterns as it begins drying out.  This little patch was reflecting the red rock cliffs on the opposite side of the river early in the day.

Beautiful mud formations on the Paria River, Utah

Mud & Reflections, March 2011

I also ended up finding a few areas of quicksand, involuntarily, on my hike in the Paria.  I felt the area with my hiking pole, and feeling solid, I stepped, only to be swallowed up to my thigh almost instantly.  Fortunately, it was easy to pull myself out.  People who haven’t dealt with it have a misconception about quicksand.  It can’t really suck you into oblivion like childhood cartoons and TV shows lead you to believe.  But, as Ed Abbey writes,

Ordinarily it is possible for a man to walk across quicksand, if he keeps moving. But if he stops, funny things begin to happen. The surface of the quicksand, which may look as firm as the wet sand on an ocean beach, begins to liquefy beneath his feet. He finds himself sinking slowly into a jelly-like substance, soft and quivering, which clasps itself around his ankles with the suction power of any vicsous fluid. Pulling out one foot, the other foot necessarily goes down deeper, and if a man waits too long, or cannot reach something solid beyond the quicksand, he may soon find himself trapped. … Unless a man is extremely talented, he cannot work himself [into the quicksand] more than waist-deep. The quicksand will not pull him down. But it will not let him go either. Therefore the conclusion is that while quicksand cannot drown its captive, it could possibly starve him to death. Whatever finally happens, the immediate effects are always interesting.

Finally, the most beautiful effects, in my opinion, happen when the mud begins drying.  Because clay expands so much when wet, it cracks in beautiful, wonderfully stochastic patterns.  You can find little pockets of dried mud all along the bases of the sandstone walls.

Cracked Mud, Paria River, Utah

Sandstone and Mud, March 2011

Mud is a major component of the landscape in the Paria, as well as throughout any ephemeral drainage in the southwest.  While it can be viewed as a nonphotogenic nuisance, sometimes, its helpful to look at it in a new light.