Western Road Trip
I’m starting this mini-road trip through the Western United States with a look at some of the unusual geography that draws road-trippers and hikers to northern Arizona and southern Utah. In the next couple of weeks we’ll look at a variety of books that reflect on the West.
Destination: Arizona and Utah
Book: Plateaus and Canyons: Impressions of the American Southwest (NEW 2011) by Bruce Barnbaum
This breath-taking book of Western photography will stoke your dreams of wandering through undiscovered, dramatic scenery built of sculpted rock and space that seems as solid as the rock.
Bruce Barnbaum has been photographing the Western United States for decades, and teaching classes in photography in some of his favorite locations on the Colorado Plateau for many years. Most of his teaching expeditions have been out of Page, Arizona on the mesas and in the slot canyons near Lake Powell. This land generally makes up part of the Navajo reservation. I’m a sucker for that country from just south of the Grand Canyon north into Utah and the unbelievably beautiful lands that fortunately are largely protected as national parks and monuments. That makes this location a great place to a start our short road trip through Western States.
An experienced travel writer once told me that his editor said “Don’t write about geology. It puts people to sleep.” But you will not want to shut your eyes as you page through Plateaus and Canyons: Impressions of the American Southwest which is all about geology. But this book is for the most part “show” not “tell.” The visual delight of the endless variation of patterns Barnbaum discovers and records are enhanced by his small essays.
Most scenes bear no trace of humans, and many make you doubt that they could have possibly exist on the same planet on which you live–they are that exotic and that varied. The bizarre pinnacles of Bryce Canyon or rocks of unfamiliar colors–like blue, green, purple or turquoise in the Petrified Forest and Capitol Reef National Monument and the Grand Canyon–are puzzling and disorienting.
Photographers–serious or striving–can learn a lot from this book, but the technical details are thoughtfully tucked away at the end of the book so they do not distract from the aesthetic enjoyment.
In the afterword to the book, Barnbaum offers an apologia for his role in turning these undiscovered lands–particularly Antelope Canyon– into a tourist haven, which in his view now too crowded with people who do not take the beauty seriously enough.
Antelope Canyon is the most sacred place I have ever experienced. I felt that way starting with my first step into it. That feeling never diminished. I was not the only one who felt that way about it. During my workshops I always imposed a rule on students before entering Antelope Canyon…from the first workshop in 1981 when we drove there in our own vehicles, without anyone caring or bothering us, up through the times we were taken there by guides. Students first had to experience the canyon without their camera.
He goes on to say:
It moved me each time I was there. I never found it less than overwhelming. On my final visit, in 1998, as I slowly wandered in behind the wave of workshop students, I found myself unconsciously rubbing my hands along the wall, perhaps in recognition that this was to be my last time there.
I have been to a few of the places pictured here, but never to Antelope Canyon, so I asked my friend Donna Hull if I could borrow a photo and a video from her blog, My Itchy Travel Feet to illustrate this article. The photo is at the top of the page, and the link to the video is just below this paragraph. When you view the video (please do take time to click through–it is a short but moving experience) you may question the colors of the rock walls. Barnbaum talks about that color in relation to one of his own photographs of Lower Antelope Canyon:
Are these colors real? They are surely not the actual colors of the wall, but they are the true colors created by light reflecting off the walls and off the sky. These are not film or digital recreations, but actual effects of light in the slit canyons. It’s a unique light not replicated anywhere else.
I want to thank Donna L. Hull very much for the use of her photo and video of Antelope Canyon. Please respect her copyright. I might not have discovered Plateaus and Canyons without the kind offer of a review copy from RockyNook. A link to the book takes you to Amazon where A Traveler’s Library is an affiliate. If you buy anything after following that link, we profit by a few cents, but it doesn’t cost you any more. Magic!