A truism ... in some sense, no matter how much I add, this site will forever be under construction, because there will always be far more that I haven't added, yet - and am going to, later. Sometimes, because these are photos I haven't taken, yet, and sometimes because having taken the photos, I find that there is always more to say.

Photos are already up, with more to come, so in the sense of this page just being a placeholder for things to come, or having broken links that aren't fixed, yet - no, this site is not under construction. That's all stuff that one can take care of on day one, and I did. But there is so much more to do in covering this subject matter than just uploading a few dozen photos. The desert southwest is one of those places where, as the saying goes, the bones of the earth come to the surface, breaking its skin. One can see the geology of the land right in front of one, very dramatically in Arizona, more subtly but still noticably in New Mexico.

Sunset on the Santa Catalinas, about 15 minutes out of Summerhaven.

That subject alone could keep me posting for decades. The immediate impression one gets, looking at the sharp, angular forms south of Phoenix and the softer, more rounded shapes of the Sandias outside of Albuquerque is that in Arizona, we're looking at youthful mountains that haven't had time to erode into the more mature forms of Northern New Mexican landscape. In fact, reality is the reverse - the mountains are older in Arizona. They look newer because they are made out of harder material, and this is where it starts to get interesting. Near Bandelier Monument, where some already uploaded shots were taken, one finds the Jemez mountains. "Pretty", you think, "but they don't seem to go anywhere, the way most mountain chains do; they just seem to go in a circle" - and there's a reason for that. They're the eroded remains of the lip of a giant volcano, one that someday will probably erupt again, but not anytime soon.

Looking up through the ice cave in a lava tube at Bandera volcano.

Aside from the wow factor of being so close to something that big, this bit of geology made history. The volcanic eruptions that molded the area, long before modern humans evolved, tended to be explosive, creating some extremely porous rock. This was significant in the case of Bandelier, because the very quality of the rock that made it erode so unusually quickly in nature, left it soft enough that with no more than a neolithic level of technology at their disposal, the indigenous inhabitants were able to dig into those hillsides, right into the rock.

This fact gave civilization a chance to develop in the region, because it meant that when hungry nomads came in raiding from off the Great Plains, not so very far away, the local farmers had a defensible position to retreat to, with enough space available in it for them to store their grain and withstand a siege. Agriculture is not going to be a very feasible proposition if starving, armed warriors are going to keep stealing the crop out from under the farmers, which desperation would inevitably drive them to do. Remember your basic ecology - in nature, man is at the top of the food chain, and like any other top predator, has his numbers limited by starvation, which will periodically occur as the local population hits a peak. So, while the great plains were, themselves, far better watered and more fertile, and not so very far away, this land became ideal for farming purposes. Ideal being a relative term: settlements in the area were often abandoned in response to prolonged drought, and attendant famine. But stays were long enough for some kind of sedentary civilization to develop, and culture along with it.

Cultures, actually, very old cultures that are still there to be seen, not as museum pieces, but as going concerns with futures of their own. This next image is huge (400K); if you have a slow connection and it doesn't download, let it go.

Papago Altar Set by Joseph Dunphy, on Flickr. Note the use of Tohono O'odham (Papago) basketwork. Photographed at San Xavier del Bac Mission, near Tucscon.

The Southwest offers a wealth of surprises. In the piece that follows, I deliberately start with some stock photography; they're reflective of what we saw before we (I and my father) chose our destination, the expectations that we had of it, which I'll follow with my own images and, later, observations, comparing expectation with reality. The reality was far more interesting.


Powered by WebRing.