A Journey to Durango and the Four Corners October 2019 - Bob & Lori Henderson

A seven day photography trip with my wife Lori to the Four Corners region in late October. Most of the trip was a Road Scholar photography workshop with 12 others and 2 leaders.

Day 1. Durango to Silverton and back

The first day Lori and I spent riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad from Durango to Silverton and back. This was an all day trip with a layover in Silverton before the return trip.

Leaving Durango, we passed farms, fields and lakes before beginning the climb into the mountains.
Most of the right away parallel the course of the Animas River.
Several stops to take on water as we wound our way past Aspen trees to arrive in Silverton to a welcome of light snow flurries.

Silverton, Elevation: 9,318′, is basically an old mining town that now lives on mining the tourists. Arriving late October most of the stores and restaurants were closed for the season. We were lucky to find a place to eat which was closing the next day. After October, the train does not go to Silverton but turns around half way.

Silverton Colorado

The D&S NG RR had a number of old abandoned rolling stock in the yard at the edge of town. The original station had also been closed and the train came into the center of town.

As the train made ready for the return trip, I made the acquaintance of the "Sheriff" and his "44 Peacemaker". He provided narration in a special car on the train.

On the return trip, a few snow flurries fell before we dropped in elevation. We passed a old mine and a frozen waterfall.

Down hill through the canyon

That evening back in Durango, in preparation for the next day’s balloon fest, they lit up the burners on main street.

Hot time in the old town tonight...

Day 2 - Durango

First on the agenda for day 2, was to go out on highway 550 to a point where the road crossed over the railroad tracks. I had found this location on the map and had noted the time the train passed there. But as we headed out of town, we found the location of the balloon festival launching and we were just in time.

Up up in the air in my beautiful balloon

We arrived at the highway over crossing and waited for that days run of the D&S...

Coming around the bend...

Before we left to drive to Cortez Colorado for the workshop, we spent some time touring Durango and Fort Lewis College which is on the hill overlooking the valley.

1. waiting a long time for the bus. 2. The Animas River. 3. Two "students" of Fort Lewis College.
Durango city and valley as seen from Fort Lewis College.

Day 3 - Kelly Place, west of Cortez Colorado

Kelly Place was the base for the Road Scholar photography workshop. It is located on the edge of Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and has some pueblo ruins on the property.

Our first day there consisted of a talk, then a shoot at the pueblo and kiva on site, followed by free time to explore and photograph what we found while walking around the property.

Inside the Kiva - a chamber, built wholly or partly underground, used by male Pueblo Indians for religious rites.

Kelly Place (one of the buildings) and the cliff behind it.

That evening we did a blue hour (after sunset) shoot nearby in The Canyon of the Ancients.

Day 4 - A long day at Shiprock and Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

Shiprock (Navajo: Tsé Bitʼaʼí, "rock with wings" or "winged rock") is a monadnock rising nearly 1,583 feet (482.5 m) above the high-desert plain of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, New Mexico, United States. Its peak elevation is 7,177 feet above sea level. While it is usually pictured as standing alone, there is a volcanic sharp ridge or "fin" nearby that points toward Shiprock.

Shiprock and the "fin"
Not sure how the fin stays together

A quick scramble up the fin lead to this view along it toward Shiprock. That is Sleeping Ute Mountain on the horizon which is near Kelly Place.

After lunch in the town of Farmington, New Mexico, we proceeded to the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Translated from the Navajo word Bistahí, Bisti means "among the adobe formations." De-Na-Zin, from Navajo Dééł Náázíní, translates as "Standing Crane." Petroglyphs of cranes have been found south of the Wilderness.

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a 45,000-acre (18,000 ha) wilderness area in New Mexico. The area that includes the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness was once a riverine delta that lay just to the west of the shore of an ancient sea, the Western Interior Seaway, which covered much of New Mexico 70 million years ago. The motion of water through and around the ancient river built up layers of sediment. Swamps and the occasional pond bordering the stream left behind large buildups of organic material, in the form of what became beds of lignite. At some point, a volcano deposited a large amount of ash, and the river moved the ash from its original locations. As the water slowly receded, prehistoric animals survived on the lush foliage that grew along the many riverbanks. When the water disappeared it left behind a 1,400-foot layer of jumbled sandstone, mudstone, shale, and coal that lay undisturbed for fifty million years. Sandstone layers were deposited above the ash and remains of the delta. The ancient sedimentary deposits were uplifted with the rest of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 25 million years ago. Six thousand years ago the last ice age receded, and the waters of the melting glaciers helped expose fossils and petrified wood, and eroded the rock into the hoodoos now visible. [From wikipedia]

Do you see the white frog in the photo above? (not a real frog)

Day 5 - Mesa Verde

The Pueblo Indians, whose name is Spanish for “stone masonry village dweller”, are one of the oldest cultures in the U.S. Their ancestors, the Anasazi (Navajo for “ancient ones”) have a history that has be traced back 7000 years, well into prehistory. Read more about them at Tribelpedia.

Another long day spent traveling around and through Mesa Verde with stops at a number of locations. First stop was Coyote Village, a part of the Far View village, consisted of a number of Kiva and sunken dwelling. Far View was one of the most densely populated parts of the mesa from A.D. 900 to about A.D. 1300, predating the cliff dwellings. Nearly 50 villages have been identified within a half square mile area, and were home to hundreds of people.

Next stop was Spruce Tree House (at least I hope I have the name right, I didn't record the sites as I went along). Spruce Tree House is the third largest and best preserved cliff dwelling in the park. It has been closed to the public since 2015 because of a rock fall from above and the fear that the cliff above is unstable.

Spruce Tree House
The vegetation in wonderous shapes...
Square Tower House
Balcony House
Cliff House

Day 6 - Utah and Navajo Reservation land

First stop today was Valley of the Gods, a miniature version of Monument Valley to the south. Formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, Valley of the Gods remains protected public land administered as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and managed by the Bureau of Land Management, as it was before the monument designation.

Next was a lunch stop at Goosenecks State Park where the San Juan River makes a series of tight bends...

From Goosenecks we proceeded to Mexican Hat, the rock not the town of the same name which is near by.

Next stop was the Sand Island Petroglyphs, near Bluff Utah. The petroglyphs panels panel boasts centuries of rock art spanning from the 19th century to 2,500+ years ago. Most of the petroglyphs are from the early Basketmaker through Pueblo III eras.

We had hoped to stop at the Twin Rocks Cafe nearby for ice cream, but it had closed for the day. You can see how the cafe and trading post (gift shop) got its name.

No ice cream, but there were interesting things to photograph...

We wrapped up the day with a night shoot back at Kelly Place, photographing the Pueblo under the stars and I grabbed a Milky Way shot beside Sleeping Ute Mountain.

Day 7 - Hovenweep towers and pueblos

Our last day of shooting took us to two parts of Hovenweep National Monument. Hovenweep is located on land in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, between Cortez, Colorado and Blanding, Utah on the Cajon Mesa of the Great Sage Plain. Although Hovenweep National Monument is largely known for the six groups of Ancestral Puebloan villages, there is evidence of occupation by hunter-gatherers from 8,000 to 6,000 B.C. until about AD 200. Later, a succession of early puebloan cultures settled in the area and remained until the 14th century.

The Twin Towers and the Eroded Boulder House
Hovenweep Castle and Tower Point

Our two leaders had worked in this area for many years as BLM Rangers, patrolling the back "roads". In addition to the main site with its visitor center, they took us down a long twisting route on rutted tracks to the Holly Site.

I would like to know how the Puebloan people built the structure, especially the one sitting on a large rock hanging into the valley...

Square Tower
In the top right, you can see two of the roof rafters which are original from 900 years ago.

In closing...

We would like to express our thanks to the 12 fellow travers, and special appreciation to our two trip leaders, Lanny Wagner and Steven Martin, for their expert guidance, knowledge of the area and especially for putting up with 14 quirky photographers during this trip to the four corners... Their photos and future workshops can be found at https://rangerimages.smugmug.com

Bob & Lori Henderson


All photographs are copyrighted 2019 by Robert Henderson