A photography post for this hot summer’s day.
Here are some of my images from my last journey into an amazing landscape in southeastern Utah. Please click on any photo for a larger, better view.
I will be heading back into this area this fall to do some more photography and cinematography and I will look forward to sharing some of that with you then.
Here is a manifestly magical landscape where, as the ancients said, “There are more rocks standing up than lying down.”
Entering this land, we feel like we have stumbled into a giant, ancient, Atlantisian cityscape – thousands of massive buildings, scatter far over the rolling hills and loom profoundly next to our tiny forms. They are frozen in time as the wind and sun slowly melt the magnificent masonry into curious shapes. Long, inspiring parks of green and orange still echo the aesthetic design of a masterful and artistic urban planner. It is a scene that seems populated or that seems it should be – filled with milling crowds. When the black raven caws and the wind sighs around the rocks, however, we realize that it is too quiet for such crowds. There are few humans here. The rock pillars themselves form the sense of mass congregation.
Perhaps it is all mere sand and wind. Perhaps.
As we stand, dwarfed, by a reddened wall topped with curious minarets and colorful balanced spires, we may sense that this primordial cityscape was designed this very way by spirit beings or unknowable men and women of mystic vision, serving some need of the soul and heart that still resonates in us today. We feel the rocks ringing and singing their long songs, gazing ever into eternity.
Spirit hand prints of the Ancestral Puebloans who passed this way some 500 to 900 years ago. With time so long and slow in this magical land, it seems that the red paint should still be wet to the touch.
You can hear Time pass by in a soft and curious breeze between the painted walls.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
For I have come forth from You,
And, I return again to You.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
Bless me through my feet.
Bless me through my legs.
Bless me through my body.
Bless me through my arms.
Bless me through my hands.
Bless me through my face.
Give me your blessing
As I gaze at your beauty.
I return your blessing
With every movement and
Every sacred Word.
I am filled up with You.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
I am your Child.
I am Earth.
[Click any image for a larger view.]
Click image for larger size and better resolution.
With my upcoming trip to Peru, I’ve been blogging a lot about Ayahuasca lately. I thought I’d give you some unrelated eye-candy for a change! Here’s a photo I took a few years ago at the incomparable Monument Valley on the Navajo reservation on the Utah/Arizona border. This is a special place not only to the Navajo, but to all Americans. There is no other landscape quite like it or the other great canyon vistas of the Colorado Plateau.
“A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life.”
– Joseph Campbell
The Shape-shifter’s Tale
(a fragment of a myth)
He asked the Turtle, “Would you like to learn about things? Would you like to see what the world looks like for a horse?”
The Turtle replied, “A horse? That big thing? I don’t know what that would be like. It is too different from being a Turtle.”
“Yes, but you would learn what it is like!”
“I like being a Turtle. Turtle makes sense. Turtle is comfortable and safe.”
The Horse whinnied at him and said, “Neigh – OK, that was a joke. So is that little Sparrow. I’m a Horse and I am happy to be a Horse. That’s the mane thing!” And he whinnied several more times causing the Sparrow to fly away in disgust.
He did not bother to remind the Horse that he might learn what other things are like.
He came up to the Boy and said, “Would you like to learn about things?” The Boy smiled at him, so he continued, “Would you like to see what the world looks like for a Lion?”
The Boy said, “I AM a Lion!!” and, still smiling, he ran around the meadow making a roaring sound.
[Click on any photo for a larger image.]
The petroglyph panels above are from the remarkable (and remarkably accessible) Newspaper Rock State Park site, right along the roadway to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah.
Gazing out at this twisted and textured landscape, I ask myself, “Why does the desert interest me? Why does it have a different effect than, say, driving across Ohio or Kansas?” Certainly, the desert is harsh and calls to mind the counterpoint with living things that it represents. Certainly, the desert is hot or cold, but then so can be other places. Maybe it has something to do with what I expect. When I drive across “normal” places like Ohio or Kansas, I pretty much know what to expect. I know that I will see fields, farms, trees, grass, towns, and cities, that all look similar and fit a pattern that man has evoked upon the landscape.
In the desert, things are different – literally. You never know what to expect, or what may be coming next. It is this novelty that I think makes the desert so attractive to us. The key to understanding why we like the desert is the word Curiosity. We are curious animals and the desert is endlessly fascinating to that part of our psyche because it is always showing us something new and mysterious and compelling.
In the high dry lands of southern Utah, near Hanksville, the desert becomes something like a stereotype or parody of itself. It is a cartoon desert with sand and sagebrush for endless miles and the most unlikely orange and white stone castles and parapets sticking up at strange distances and positions. It has a gray-green-tan-iron red coloration and is so arid that what life there is out here is gray and low and crouches sparsely upon the sands.
It is an eerie place, a dangerous place. It sears the eyes and captivates them at the same time.
It is truly amazing.
The top photo is from Goblin Valley State Park, north of Hanksville, Utah. One of the wonderful hoodoos with Wild Horse Butte as a background.
The second photo is of Factory Butte, just west of Hanksville in the Cainville area east of Capitol Reef National Park. This is a particularly strange and wonderful landscape that continues to entrance me after 35 years of visits.
Note: Some of the text for this post is taken from an early website I made called “A Circle In The Desert,” which may be viewed at: http://www.newrational.com/circle
It features many more photos plus commentary, poems, and more.
Sacred Datura – beautiful, powerful, and dangerous.
I was driving along the Potash Road near Moab, Utah, last month and was delighted to see not just a scattered few, but thousands of beautiful white Sacred Datura blooms all along the edge of the great Colorado River and the red sandstone cliff walls that contain that potent waterway. This species of Datura (datura wrightii) can be found from here down into Mexico and has been a ritual, shamanic plant in use for thousands of years by native peoples.
This species contains scopolomine and other alkaloids that are very dangerous when ingested. All parts of the plant are potent. The main issue is dosage, because the amounts of the tropanes are not consistent across individual plants or parts. The visionary experience can be useful and powerful, but it also can cause serious or fatal medical conditions.
Personally, I wouldn’t touch it on its own, although I might like to try what some have said is useful and safe – having a single bloom in my room while sleeping. Even the sweet fragrance is potent.
My only actual experience with this plant teacher was in the Amazon. The chemically identical plant in South America is the brugmansia or “Angel’s Trumpet,” which is the origin species. The bloom or leaf there is used as an admixture plant by many shamans or medicine people in their Ayahuasca brews. It is usually known there by the Quechua term, “toé.” See my previous post on this plant here.My shaman, Don Rober, used a very small portion of toé in his mixture of the Ayahuasca vine and Chacruna (psychotria virdis) leaves. This was to make the visions bright [“la Luz”!]. Like any good cook, he knows that a little spice goes a long way in a main dish.
“Datura may be the single most dangerous visionary plant in North America.
Well, maybe after tobacco.”
Dale Pendell – “Pharmako Gnosis – Plant Teachers and the Poison Path”, San Francisco, Mercury House, 2005; p. 250
A lifetime of knowledge earned
Along the paths of wisdom,
Will one day surely seem to you
Quite meager and in vain.
Not because you have failed to learn,
But that the universe has opened up
Infinitely before you.
– David Crews
The photo is of myself at Bonneville Salt Flats in the NW corner of Utah. It had rained recently, leaving a wonderful reflective mirror for the mountains to float above.
Ah, yes, those Bonneville Salt Flats. Thought I’d set a new speed record – for how slow I could go.
“The earth has music for those who listen.”
– George Santayana
No place on the planet is quite like wonderful Bryce Canyon. Erosion is caught in a still-frame by our short lives, and presented as a complex tableaux. Orange and white ripples and folds appear frozen, but are truly in the midst of melting down through their fractal forms into countless grains of sand, flowing down and down through the magnificent canyons below.
Are we not incredibly lucky to be here right at this moment, when we can see this particular frame of the movie of the Earth?
I have just returned from a lengthy photo trip through southern Utah and other parts of the Colorado Plateau. I hope you enjoy my pictures and I’ll be posting more soon.
(Click photos for larger size & better quality.)
“The crude product of nature, the object fashioned by the industry of man, acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality.”
Mircea Eliade: The Myth of the Eternal Return (1954)
“The Experience of Sacred Space makes possible the “founding of the world”: where the sacred Manifests itself in space, the real unveils itself, the world comes into existence.”
Mircea Eliade: The Sacred and the Profane : The Nature of Religion: The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture (1961), translated from the French by William R. Trask
My elk-hide shaman’s drum, from a spirit circle in Southern Utah. We drummed and danced as visionary artists Alex and Allyson Grey created a mural on the cliff behind us.
“To the intelligent, nature converts itself into a vast promise,
and will not be rashly explained.
Her secret is untold.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Nature,” Essays, Second Series (1844).
Goblin Valley State Park is just one of the wondrous, alien landscapes in Southern Utah. This land casts a spell unlike any other place I know.
Of all the
I do love
– David Crews
“Could the prehistoric artists have been hallucinating and painting their visions? And was it possible that such practices could lie at the foundation of art and religion, the most exalted achievements of mankind?”
Graham Hancock, Supernatural – Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind (Canada: Doubleday Canada, 2005) p. 158
At a special desert place where I go to contemplate the world and life from within a sacred circle, I found a large area of ripple rock. This is slate-like sandstone that actually has embedded or recorded in the rock surface the precise ripple patterns from when that sandstone was laid down at the bottom of a lake or shallow sea. Some natural event rapidly covered it up and locked in that exact pattern of waves caused by the water on that particular day, perhaps 60 or 70 million years ago!
Now, after being buried for all that time, it is being slowly exposed here in the parched desert, a faint echo of water from ages past. The fascinating thing about ripple rock is that the image preserved represents something relatable to a human timescale. In most geologic forms, we are looking at shapes that reflect what happened to the specimen over millions of years, but here is a rock that presents a flash-frozen moment of time, like a time fossil. I can touch this rock and feel the ripples with my hand. I can almost hear the lapping of the waves as they washed over that sand on that one day so long ago. I can relate to it.
I suppose some things human (Pompeii comes to mind) are recorded in similar fashion, but surely most of what we do will never be so preserved. How many lives and stories and wondrous events of nature have happened on this planet over the millions upon millions of years that were not so fortunate to be recorded in a stone panel by a freakish chance?
Sometimes as I watch a particularly wonderful sunset, it occurs to me that there must have been billions of such beautiful sunsets over the history of this earth that went, well, unappreciated.
I wonder if a dinosaur ever paused to look up in hazy curiosity at a red-orange sky?
With my eyes fresh from sleep
Like the naive gaze of a child,
I look out at the world beyond my simple bed.
The dry air is delicious.
The moonlight is delicious.
The sigh of the soft night breeze is delicious.
The stars are delicious.
The backlit clouds are delicious.
One thin veil of cloud has a fish’s shape and a star
Shining through it, just so placed to be its bright eye.
The spirits of the night sky are watching me sleep.
The Freemont Indians would have understood.
If I reached out my hand and held the Moon within it,
Would it burn me? Is its bright face hot or cold?
Would it, perhaps, freeze me so that I would
Quickly let go and drop it in its old track?
Would it scold me, then, in its dusty old voice
For having been so bold?
It is by the Moon’s cool light only that I write these musings,
So perhaps he would just gaze down upon my tiny form,
Then smile and sail away.
©2012 David P. Crews
Delicate Arch is waiting. Standing on the edge.
More than the effort of crumbled and windblown stone,
It is like a letter in some unknown alphabet
Set glowing and hard on the desert wall
Quietly hidden until it is sought, or,
More likely still, an entire word –
A statement waiting for some reader.
Is it then a symbol,
Spoken in a language not of words?
Is the speaker also the audience,
Or does he speak to men?
Does he utter such a thing
That shapes the land in reddened art,
Or say some other thing that lies
Beyond the sand and sky?
Delicate Arch remains, silently ringing.
©2012 David P. Crews
A poem I wrote many years ago, inspired by the incomparable Delicate Arch in Arches NP, Utah.
I once took my father up the trail there to see the arch and I read this out loud. It was very wonderful.
I placed my hand on a huge sandstone boulder, perched on an unlikely column of mud and dirt. Within its stony layer, it has been lifted up to this position over millions of years. Dinosaurs once disturbed the dirt from which it was formed. Now, it has appeared here on its pedestal, emerged out of its matrix of mud which is being dissolved away with every infrequent rain and every howling wind.
Some say you can speak to stones, so I address this one directly. “I know you are slow of time and I am quick, but can you speak to me and tell me of your story? Time is long for you and quick for me, but time is just an illusion – a quirk of space and gravity. Space and gravity are what made you and brought you to this precarious position, but surely we can set time aside so that we may speak to one another? Time is nothing, really.”
After a long pause, wherein only my heartbeat could be heard, the stone answered with a distant and soft voice in my mind, “Time is everything.”
Goblin Valley, Utah
From a website I made a few years back called “A Circle in the Desert”
It can be found here: