Tuesday, August 5, 2008

This morning was dedicated to getting a photograph I've wanted to make since my first trip to Monument Valley, a wide-angle shot of Highway 163 disappearing toward the reddish towers in morning light. Waking up a little after six, I thrilled at the sight of ribbons of clouds glowing in sunrise. Then I grew wary at the darker and thicker clouds further off. When Jenny joined me I was in an absolute funk, cursing that we'd come so far, only to see that glorious image that had glowed in my mind for years would be lost in the shadows of clouds. Driving from Bluff back around Mexican Hat toward the Valley, I kept looking through the rear view mirror, hoping to see some sun, but seeing none.

Jenny, of course, was far more patient than I, certain that the clouds would shift eventually. We drove through some of the most impressive monuments, catching sight of glorious radiance shining upon distant cliffs. Why not these monuments, I railed. Then I noticed that the sunrise and the cloud movement were aligning for a potential burst of blue sky and decent light. We raced back to our vantage point and saw, gradually, that the shadows were beginning to drift away from the most spectacular cluster of buttes. Within about ten minutes, I stood in the middle of the road, happy and content at last to have the shot I always wanted.

All the while, Vienna enjoyed sleeping in; she'd seen enough monuments the previous afternoon. Jenny and I returned to our hostel at around ten and enjoyed some downtime -- checking email and rearranging the trunk. We three grabbed a nice meal (while Jenny photographed the Navajo Twin Rocks) at a nearby cafe before heading out of town toward Four Corners. About that site, there's not much to say. A road tripper should visit the spot where four states share a common point at least once. If you haven't been there yet, you pay three bucks a head, queue up on a platform, and photograph family members who assume various poses while positioning themselves in all four states. Then you wander the various stalls where locals sell fry bread, t-shirts, and trinkets. A half hour later, you drive out thinking, "well, that was that."

Vienna took the final shift, driving us to Mesa Verde. I didn't know much about this spot as Jenny had selected the park for our itinerary. But as soon as we passed through the gates and began our steady climb, I quickly developed a liking for the place. The road circled the green hills, bringing us to cooler weather -- I'd thought for weeks that we might broil in this place -- and overlooks that revealed vistas that stretched for miles below. We found our tent site, thinking we'd want some shade, and then we headed further into the park for a brief tour of the Spruce Tree House. Storm clouds gathered over the horizon and I wanted to ensure that we'd get at least some decent photographs of this place, just in case.

The site was one of several well-preserved ancient pueblo peoples' homes, gathering spaces and living quarters, passageways and kivas, built within the cliffs that have stood for centuries. Jenny loved learning about the planning and meaning of this dwelling, which was said to house more than 100 people. We even climbed down into one of the underground kivas, enjoying the sight of children playing amid the beams of dusty light. We've gotten tickets for two guided tours tomorrow, and we're excitedly anticipating what we'll see then.

After grabbing a meal at an overlook restaurant and gift shop, watching the clouds gather, we returned to the campground. Vienna needed to do some laundry, so we all hung out together. I thought it'd be cool to buy a jigsaw puzzle of the Cliff Palace, and we settled into forming borders. More than an hour later, even after finishing the edges and working on interior sections, we recognized that we'd need more time than we had, so we boxed up our completed sections as well as possible and headed back to the tent -- just as raindrops from those formally distant thunderclouds began to fall.

I write this in our tent. The rain is falling steadily and Jenny is telling me stories of previous camping trips, nightmares of collapsed tents and flooded sleeping bags. I suddenly regret keeping my laptop in here with me and we all wonder: what's ahead of us tonight?

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.