Get Out Of Your Car
My residency for the Artist in Residence was 12 to 25 July 2015. I had intended to do regular blogs during my time there, but I was too busy exploring the amazing park and there just weren’t enough hours in a day. I actually did more shooting and hiking than I thought I would, and now that I’m home, I have thousands of images to go through and process. Almost nothing was processed while I was there.Now that I’ve been home for 3 days, I’ve had a chance to go a quick scroll through the pictures, pick a few to process and upload and I realize I have a LONG way to go. I owe Petrified Forest National Park one piece of work in exchange for my residency. I “think” I’ve picked my favorite image out – I KNOW it will be a night sky image. I want to give them the best one from my time; I want to represent the park and myself well so I won’t keep the best for myself. I know they will use my image for something they have in the works.
I’ve had some time to reflect on my 2 weeks there and I learned a lot about that park that I didn’t know before. Even though I’ve visited 3 times before, like other visitors I never strayed far from the road and never explored areas not on the park map. My theme for my residency updates in the future will always be GET OUT OF YOUR CAR AND AWAY FROM THE ROAD! 95% or more of the visitors never see what this place has to offer. Many never even leave their car, except for a ‘happy snap’ at an overlook in the Painted Desert. It’s a shame. I’ve seen reviews where people talk about how pretty it is, but complain, “There isn’t a lot of hiking space”. Oh really???? Forget about the map they give you when you enter the park. Ask about the “off the beaten path” hikes. If you have ½ a day and enjoy petroglyphs, take the Martha’s Butte hike. Have a whole day? Try the Onyx Bridge hike – be sure to explore past the bridge when you finally reach it. Do you love amazing landscapes, and think it would be cool to find a dinosaur bone? Try the Historic Blue Forest/Tepees hike – but bring your hiking sticks! Want to see some really amazing petrified wood? Forget Long Logs and Crystal Forest – head for the First Forest hike. After doing THESE hikes, then come back and whine that there’s not much hiking here. If you want more, how about the 8-mile Red Basin/Clam Beds hike? There is so much more than what the park map shows you. Did you know that you could CAMP out in the wilderness areas, if you’re into backpacking?
My favorite hike was probably the Martha’s Butte hike – It’s covered in petroglyphs and I just love searching for them! It’s a pretty easy hike, but you do walk through some washes and brush. I also liked the First Forest hike – the petrified wood here is beautiful. It’s such a shame what they did to those logs before they were protected. Logs were blasted with dynamite and shards are laying everywhere. The Historic Blue Forest trail is actually an old CCC trail from the 1930s. Much of the gravel that was put down then has washed down the sides of the hills, but hiking up in the tepees to the Blue Mesa is almost “otherworldly”. If you’re afraid of heights, you might want to pick another one.
Onyx Bridge and Clam Bed hikes offer GPS coordinates, and it’s a good thing because you’ll need them. I use “MotionX GPS” on my iPhone, and had no problems finding them. At Onyx Bridge, be sure you look behind you as you leave the trail below the Painted Desert Inn before heading into the ‘wilds’ of the Painted Desert. OH! Did I mention the almost straight down descent from the top of the mesa into the floor of the Painted Desert? Easy getting down, but it kicked my butt getting back up! Pay attention to where the trail is when you’re down there, it’s not right below the Painted Desert Inn, the landmark visible almost everywhere you’ll go. I made the mistake of walking back right below the Inn only to be too far over away from the trail, and spent quite a bit of time searching for the way back up. Exploring the Black Forest, Lithodendron Wash (if you can call something that’s as wide as a 4-lane freeway a “wash”), and all the mesas on the other side of the flatland will fill you with wonder! The Clam Beds hike will take you around the base of Blue Mesa out to the “wilds” in the southern part of the park. You’ll see a lot of petrified wood, many mesas, cross some grasslands (might want to wear long pants) and marvel at all the fresh water clams in the desert!
As if all this exploring wasn’t enough – I had the opportunity to see it under the stars! The park closes at sunset, so not many people get to see what I did. I experienced a magical moment up in the tepees as I sat there one night shooting the stars–the moonlight bouncing around the white sandstone hills, illuminating all the valleys and curves. Walking the base of the Blue Mesa in the dark was pretty cool too. An experience I’ll never forget.
Living in the park in a historic cabin, and enjoying (almost) free reign to roam where I wanted was incredible. I was like a kid in a candy shop; I wanted to see and do everything! It was a constant battle against time, weather, clouds and the moon for me to get out and shoot the stars. I wanted to photograph scenes that represented Petrified Forest National Park, but I also wanted images of great landscapes that many had never seen. I think I succeeded in getting both. I did two programs while I was there – one in a historic hotel in Winslow, AZ, and one at the park. First in Winslow, I took a lot of my images to show and talked for two hours about night photography. Then I hosted a night sky workshop at the Painted Desert Inn, and taught people how to shoot the stars and moonscape. I hope people walked away with new knowledge, that I was able to inspire them accomplish their own night sky photographs.
The Artist in Residence program is a mind-blowing experience. I know I will apply again for another one. I’d love to do one again at Petrified Forest, and I’m also looking at other parks, I’ve got a few in mind. If you’re an artist – visual or performance – I highly recommend this program. It’s good for you and for the parks. It’s a great opportunity for you to get away and focus totally on your art, and find inspiration in nature. Many of my images will be posted on Flickr, and the ones I like will be available for purchase in my website as well.