Foreword | Introduction

Foreword by Jon Ortner

I STAND TRANSFIXED IN THE TWILIGHT OF DAWN, in a state of reverie at the lip of Bryce Canyon, the chasm below enveloped in deep blue shadow. As the sun begins to peak over the eastern horizon, its first golden rays stream into a vast amphitheater of sandstone spires. A forest of towers and pinnacles begins to blaze in rich, radiant shades of pink, mauve, crimson, and yellow. A few weeks later, at Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, once again the dreamlike landscapes of The Wave and White Pocket astound me. I am profoundly changed by the unimaginable beauty of nature.

Many explorers and artists have marveled at these wonders, and there is a rich body of literature describing the sublime colors and surreal shapes found in the desert Southwest. John Wesley Powell, great explorer of the Grand Canyon, wrote, "Beside the elements of form, there are the elements of color, for here the colors of the heavens are rivaled by the colors of the rocks. The rainbow is not more replete with hues." Ellen Meloy wrote in her book Raven's Exile, "This place, and no other, is my desired land, where color and light, nutrients as essential as food, live in sublime balance, a tranquil ecstasy."

Light and color have become my nutrients as well, and in an attempt to possess them and to somehow gain the deepest understanding of the desert, I make photographs. I have tried to capture on film those exquisite moments, tiny fractions of the ever-changing light and the infinite horizon upon which it plays. It is no less than the suspension of time. My reason for being there has evolved into a meditation upon that fleeting reflection of the divine. The more I photograph in the desert, the more I have been inspired and compelled to seek out not only that special quality of light, but the myriad secret places, the hidden slot canyons, the ochre dunes just over the next rise. Slowly, I am discovering a hallowed land of unparalleled grandeur.

As miles of trails pass under my feet, I begin to understand more about the geologic process that has created what I observe. Each layer, each sharply defined line in the sedimentary rock, represents the passage of incalculable eons. By seeing below the surface, I look down into the history of the creation of our planet. The layers of rock take me deeper into a past and into another reality that was here, millions of years ago.

How can a place characterized by emptiness be important, full of mystery and meaning to so many? It is in part because this vast and austere land still offers the rare opportunity to explore, discover, and be fulfilled by the splendors of nature. The desert is severe, intimidating, dangerous, yet it is able to engender love, passion, and loyalty. For me the Colorado Plateau has become a passion, even an obsession. Like my other passion, the Himalaya, it is vast, complex, and filled with exquisite and overpowering beauty, able to fulfill a lifetime of desires for adventure and aesthetic superlatives. In his 1933 book, Beyond the Rainbow, Clyde Kluckhohn wrote, "There is no zest like that of exploration, no longing like that for the desert places, no call like that of the unknown."

I feel that call and have found what the Hisatsinom, or the "ancestors," have always known; here one feels a palpable and mystical connection to the spirits that inhabit this place. What is discovered in the desert, in the worship of the desert, rings with clarity, intelligence, and truth. We now have a last chance to save what will be in the future the most coveted treasures of all: a breath of clean air, a sip of pure water, the silence and solitude that allows one to hear the rush of the wind across the unspoiled landscape.

Besides its scientific and scenic significance, this extraordinary wilderness is America's most precious spiritual resource. It is a priceless gift that, once destroyed, can never be created again. By preserving it, we recognize and honor the sanctity of the earth itself. Through the photographs in this book I not only convey my profound love and veneration for this place, but also hope to capture and preserve those moments of bliss, that however fleeting, reveal the soul of Nature herself.