or Making an Impression
The rock crumbled beneath my hand. I had leaned on it for balance to take an odd-angled photo, expecting it without thinking to be solid. Instead it was ash, pumice, tuff—I'm not sure which, but one of the softer volcanic layers comprising the white cliffs of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The cliffs and hoodoos there look strong and imposing, but at a touch the edges wear away, filling your regretful hand with dust, the six million year old relic of a cataclysm. You let it fall, and it leaves delicate, white traces on your palm, as if you've just set free a moth.
On the last of my vacation outings a couple of weeks ago, I spent the afternoon wandering the short trails at the monument. I think of Kasha-Katuwe (White Cliffs, in the Keresan language of neighboring Cochiti Pueblo) as a "heart of New Mexico" place—it embodies many of the most distinctive features of the region, all in one exciting area. The rock formations, where wind and water have worn away the softer layers beneath hard capstones, are certainly fascinating.
|I apologize for my bad habit of photographing light-colored rocks in the desert at noon on sunny days. In the center left, though, you can see more of the hoodoos with capstones; another clearish one is at the lower right.|
|When the hoodoos lose their capstones, erosion takes place more quickly (and maybe even more dramatically).|
The contrast between extremes is strong: one minute you're driving through sleepy settlements in hardscrabble land, aware of boarded-up windows and dust in the little village of Peña Blanca, and the next you're walking through wonders in Kasha-Katuwe's Peralta Canyon while crows hint of darker mysteries in the sky just out of view.
You are conscious of the elements not in the gentle, domesticated way we play with them in gardens—a pool of water, a set of wind chimes—but as untamable dynamos with weight and strength and power and relentlessness behind them, as mindless forces before which you are soft and small. You see how the wind chisels away layer upon layer of crumbling stone.
You walk through a slot canyon formed by flash floods and (always) more wind.
|I'm 5 foot 7 and don't recall bending under that huge stone in the left-hand picture to go into the slot canyon.|
Even in the mild days of autumn, you're aware of the fiery strength of the sun and grateful to the trees and hills that shade you from it.
You see life—stubborn, insistent, resilient life—in all its creativity and passion for continuity:
|The people in the first two photos give a sense of scale to the roots on the ponderosas.|
and you are aware of it hanging in the balance, walking the razor edge with oblivion:
In many of the earth's other extreme places you can be aware of existence both reduced and exalted to its bare bones. This is the corner I'm walking in now.
Sometimes all you can do is wander in awe.