Searching for New Places (Part One)

Searching online information led me to these multi-colored handprints made by Native American Indians in Northwest Arizona.

Searching for Neon Handprints

I spend a lot of time searching. Searching for food to eat, movies to watch, locations to photograph, hidden places to find as well as searching for the meaning of life. It seems searching is a full time job in itself. I seem to juggle a lot of thoughts and plans at the same time and I have always said I would rather plan one hundred things and get to do ten of them rather than plan ten things and get to do one.

Maps have been an important tool I have used throughout my life when searching for places to go or new things to see. As a kid it was paper maps or maps in a book at the library. You remember libraries, don’t you? As an adult I literally had a large box full of maps that I would pull from each time I went on a trip. Technology changed and the need for paper maps diminished and digital maps have now replaced my box of physical maps. As useful as digital maps are there is always something to be said for a paper map you unfold in front of you and run your finger along the various roads, rivers and mountains.

Each and every day I open Google maps and embrace the ease and availability of having maps of everywhere on my computer or in my pocket on my phone. Not a day goes by that I don’t open Google maps ten, twenty or more times. It is not unusual for me to have more than five browser windows open with various maps to view.

A few years ago I saw some images of Sky Rock – a large rock facing upward towards the sky with many Native American petroglyphs carved in it. Searching the internet I found that people were understandably tight-lipped about the location. People wanted to protect the location – the more people that know about it the better the chance that people who would damage it would be able to find it. That just meant that my search would require more work and maybe a little more ingenuity.

It took about two years of researching on the internet and boots on the ground searching before I first saw Sky Rock in person. I was able to narrow down my search to a certain area, which turned out to be correct, but when you are looking for one single rock narrowing your search must take you within a few feet. During my research I saw many images of Sky Rock showing many different angles. Although Sky Rock itself is pretty large – the top of the rock with the petroglyphs is about ten feet off the ground so you can walk right past it and not know you were there.

I flew to the mainland from Hawaii two times to physically search for the rock. I hiked up steep rocky cliffs in 100+ degrees hoping to be lucky enough to walk up to a rock and say “Hey! There it is!” but that was not in the cards. Each time I went there and left unsuccessful giving me even more motivation to find the elusive Sky Rock.

The petroglyphs on Sky Rock. It took me two years of searching to find this.

Sky Rock

I spent a significant amount of time inching across mile after mile of satellite images until I found a view that was taken at the time of day when shadows cast by Sky Rock and surround rocks made a distinct pattern. Based on the images of Sky Rock I had seen this had to be the spot. Success! Now I just had to wait until my next trip to the mainland to put my research into action.

When I was finally able to make another trip to California with my new found information tucked away in my I was certain this trip would be the one. I have to admit that I was pretty excited to finally put this search behind me. Looking at the maps of the area my route was planned – but as often happens Plan a had to move to Plan B. A small glitch that delayed me only a couple of hours but after a short hike up a slippery cliff and squeezing through crevices and over boulders I soon had Sky Rock at the glassy end of my lens.

Sky Rock

The Sierra Mountains in the Distance

I have gone back to Sky Rock many times. Almost every time I am alone with nothing to interrupt a serene sunset or sunrise other than the wind and the sounds of a few birds flying overhead. I have seen the sun creep below the Sierra Mountains and watch the sunrise light up the snowcapped mountain peaks from the opposite direction. There are few places on this earth where the place is more of an experience, or a sense of being than it is a location, and this is one of those places.

Many years ago while in Moab, Utah I stopped at Tom Till’s Photography Gallery. I saw this one image, which I call Neon Handprints, that caught my eye. I have seen many Native American handprints before but never in vivid colors like the one I was looking at in Tom Till’s image. I knew immediately that I needed to find these handprints.

It took me a total of five years before I was able to find this location. All of my research was online and there was almost nothing to be found about these handprints. I always kept a copy of the image on my phone so I could show people as I travelled through the southwest United States. Over the years when I showed it the response was basically the same “No, never seen it”. I always hoped that I would show it to someone who knew of the place because their grandfather told them or they used to play near the handprints when they were kids.

Determined as always I would head to the internet every few months to search a little more. Very infrequently I would get a little tidbit of information that lead me nowhere. Although I was discouraged I was not deterred. Some day I knew I would find these neon handprints.

Native American Neon Handprints Pictograph. Five years of searching to find these.

Neon Handprints Closeup

During a winter trip to the southwest I planned to photograph a canyon in northeast Arizona. In this area I needed a Navajo Indian guide to take me in a four wheel drive vehicle to get to the canyon. When I was corresponding with him via email I asked about the handprints and he said he knew where they were. Seriously??! I was reluctant to believe him until the day of the trip when I showed him the image on my phone and he said he goes there all the time. Damn! That made my whole six week trip worthwhile. All of those years of researching and I end up finding it purely by chance. I will take it any way I can get it.

Nogales Cliff House in New Mexico was another location that took a little research to find. I saw a single reference to the Indian ruin and the name of a small town nearby. In the winter of 2013 I headed to Cuba, New Mexico hoping to get some information about the ruin but I arrived and left the town with the same amount of information.

I knew I was looking for a canyon about thirty miles north of Cuba so I headed out looking for a canyon in the middle of nowhere. I found the road I was looking for but by the time I made it there it was too close to the winter sunset for me to head out wandering around aimlessly so I decided to turn back and hit this location in a day or so. This would give me more time to search for more information.

ON my way back to the canyon my phone rang with a New Mexico number. I didn’t know who would call me from New Mexico so I answered and I found out that I had left my camera strap (with business cards in it) at an Indian ruin in Bandolier National Monument. Okay, turn around drive back more than an hour. No Nogales Cliff House for me again today.

A few days later I returned to Cuba and my canyon north of the town. I found out that I was at the wrong opening of the canyon so my delays allowed me to find better information. I parked my car as close as I could get and headed into the snow covered canyon with my GPS telling me that my goal is just a little more than a mile ahead.

A mile on flat land with no snow is not problem. There were no human tracks to be found so I knew that no one had been here in weeks. There were many animal tracks that I followed through the canyon hoping they knew the most direct route since any trail was covered in snow. Without their tracks I would be searching through a blanket of white never knowing what might be underneath the snow.

I became a little worried when I notice some pretty large paw tracks in the snow with claw marks on the end of each toe. I was sure that these were made by some kind of a large cat and I stopped to ponder my options for a bit. I didn’t need to keep going even though this was my third attempt and I was close. I chose to continue knowing that chances are any cat would steer clear of humans and I was probably going to be okay.

After a bit of scrambling up the snow covered walls of the canyon the ruin came into view. The information I found said that you can’t get close to the ruin so a telephoto lens would work best. Wanting to lighten my load I only brought my telephoto lens and I was now faced with a ruin that you couldn’t see from far away – you had to photograph it standing right in front.

This made me use a little ingenuity. I made a grid of eighteen shots. Six up and down and three across. These eighteen shots were overlapped a bit so I could stitch them together in the computer later on. For each shot I made three exposures so the image below was made from fifty-four images. The file size of the finished product is huge but it can be scaled down for easy use.

Nogales Cliff House - Northern New Mexico

Nogales Cliff House – Northern New Mexico

I enjoy the hunt and the research. Almost always I will find new things either during the research stage or the actual search stage. There will always be new things that interest me leading me on yet another search but these are the things that I find exciting. I look forward to the next quest – always wondering what it is and where it will take me.

Make no bones about it. My ‘adventures’ are mild compared to those of people in the past and present. I have technology at my hands to help in the searching and planning of my mini adventures. I carry a cell phone and I can communicate over the internet with people half way around the world while I search many remote areas. I have motorized transport and plenty of available food and water. I usually don’t have to fear wild animals although some exist in the areas I wander. Had I been born in the 1700’s or 1800’s I wonder how brave an explorer I would have been. The likes of Magellan, Columbus, Boone and Hillary would chuckle at my testicular girth. My adventures pale in comparison.

But I go where many would not go either due to their lack of desire or some other reason keeping them from going. Money is one of the biggest restraints followed by fear. New things scare people and familiar things make people comfortable. Moving outside your comfort zone brings a sense of satisfaction whether you move slowly or face-first full force.

My next post will be part two of Searching for New Places. This time I will talk about  how my search took me to some old carvings in a remote area of Cambodia.

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