Saturday, August 1, 2009

The White House Ruins

"White House Ruins" - Canyon de Chelly, AZ
Archeologists have determined that various peoples have been living in Canyon de Chelly for 5000 years. The structures I photographed here, known as The White House, were built approximately 1000 years ago and were occupied for another 300 years, until the builders decided to move on for reasons unknown... perhaps over population, lack of food supply, drought, or just feeling the need to move, we will never know for sure.
Although administered by the National Park Service, mainly to preserve what is left of these valuable sites, the canyon and surrounding area are completely owned by the Navajo people, many of whom still reside here in the canyon during the summers, running small farms and living in traditional Hogans (round, low profile log cabin-like structures.) Closed to outsiders unless accompanied by a Navajo Guide, horses and cattle wander around freely among orchards and small fields, making it seem a pastoral and peaceful place now, but there is a long and complex history of struggle and violence in the whole of the southwest.. some of the most important of it happened right here. I'll get into a bit of that in another post.
This particular ruin is the only site down inside the canyon that you can visit on your own, by hiking down from the rim. The accompanying photo looking out over one section of the canyon, which you can click for a detailed view, was taken at dawn from the spot on the rim where the trail begins. I'm including it here as a good scene to put the place in some kind of context.. I took it while waiting for the sun to come up enough to start down the trail; my theory was to get down and back before it got too hot since there is no shade and the days were running in the 100° range, but I ended up having to endure it anyway because I spent so much time at the bottom shooting the ruins. The trail is about 1.5 miles and 500 ft. elevation gain which is not too bad, but with the heat and having to carry my photo gear, I was complaining to myself at the start back up when I met an old Navajo lady, at least in her late 70's and probably older, dressed in a colorful full length skirt and wearing a jacket even in such heat, hiking down all by herself. She seemed to be fine and happy, so I had to tell myself that if she can do it at her age, I should be able to make it up without complaining.
I decided on a black and white treatment for this image due to the way it highlights the textures of the rock and especially the dark streaks of desert varnish trailing down the sheer rock face from high above.

10 comments:

Dr. Jay SW said...

Gorgeous...Canyon De Chelly is actually just about the only major Native American ruin in Northern Arizona I haven't visited...and, as such, one I really need to get to next time I find my way out there...

Gary Heller said...

Beautiful and well crafted photography as well as an interesting background to this wonderful place.

donnie said...

beautiful - visually stunning - nice to see some archaeology

Shinade aka Jackie said...

Wonderful Mark. The lack of color really sets it off. Excellent choice for this shot!
Jackie

Dr. Lauren said...

As an archaeology student, my favorite aspect of the study is the geology. This is an amazing shot.

Amy Lilley Designs said...

makes me feel tiny tiny tiny...I love the Navajo lady...no words necessary...bet she had a real sparkle in her eye too...

Mook said...

A really striking shot Mark with great texture and I love the b&w!

Aye and when it comes to heat you can literally feel your strength being sucked out. This shot was worth it I say!

storybeader said...

black and white looks great on the rocks. Such a massive area, with the ruins looking so small. The lines in the rocks... looks like centuries of falling water, but I know that can't be it!

Mark Alan Meader said...

Thanks, Dr. Jay. If you're interested in the subject, this canyon is the place to be, largely because the Navajos still live here and treat it as it deserves. And relatively easy to get to, as opposed to a similar place like Keet Seel which is a difficult 17 mile round trip hike. And you can find many different ruins here instead of just one.

Gary: Thank you.. always glad to hear your input. I spent quite a bit of time in this spot to make sure I would get something that I could be happy with.

Donnie: Thanks.. I'm glad some people enjoy a little historical context to go with the images.

Jackie: Color works real well here too because the colors really are incredible, but for this particular angle I liked the contrast concentrating on the rock textures in simple B&W. It's always a dilemma which way to go.

Dr. Lauren; I thought you might enjoy this series.. more good stuff to come from this area.

Amy: thanks for visiting.. My guide the next day and reports from other hikers seem to have seen the same lady... wonder what her story is?? I bet it's interesting to say the least.

Mook: Cheers.. Glad you like, and it was for sure worth the effort.

Deb: No, you are right..The dark streaks are actually minerals leached out of the rock by water and digested by a certain microbe. As you and Mook noticed, it was the main subject of this composition, kind of like the sky in a traditional landscape. It rains here more that you might think.. thunderstorms in the summer and snow in the winter.

Glen Hartjes said...

Yes, Canyon de Chelly is a magic place.
I traveled there twice to photograph.
That was a few years ago, before I started my blog.
Your shots are very nice and they bring back many memories for me.
I will watch for your new posts.