Northeast of Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah is a vast wild area– a complex of eroded sandstone landscapes known as the San Rafael Swell. For those impressed with numbers, the area occupied by the San Rafael (pronounced Rah-FELL) is approximately one million acres. By way of analogy, it’s about the same size as Long Island where I live– but unlike our Island, the Swell is not home to several million people. There are generally more canyons here than conversations, and you will sometimes encounter more rattlesnakes than visitors. Its seemingly endless array of stony washes, hoodoos, slickrock and isolated pools can be difficult to describe and sometimes hard to photograph with any justice. We’ve hiked and camped the Swell so often, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been there.
Anywhere else in the country the San Rafael would’ve been declared a National Park or Monument years ago. But in Utah (a state not lacking anything spectacular) the affairs of the Swell have fallen largely into the hands of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. There are several wilderness study areas under consideration, but the BLM (in case you haven’t heard) has had the occasional affair with mining, off-road vehicle interests and gas exploration. Currently, the Swell exists with both ongoing threats and a growing push to create a National Monument. For those motivated toward preservation, The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is the principle group trying to save the place. http://www.suwa.org/site/PageServer
This past summer, we made several day trips in from Hanksville or Green River. In the silence and heat that can transform a summer’s stroll on slickrock into something that’s really gotten your attention, the camera can be a playful device to bring to that awareness.
On these hikes it was random passing stuff that stopped me. The look of a rock or a stick — the tread across sandstone. Textures and color — hidden corners of big places — the small things in a huge landscape.
In the canyons I collect details like I used to collect postage stamps when I was a kid. Back home I sort through the photographs and see how they look in groups. Once in awhile when sequencing pictures like this something comes together. I settle on an arrangement of three:
A Cottonwood leaf… polka dots raindrops on a rock… a dry image of lichens.