Journey to Four Corners – 10 years ago

It was the first week of December. I was dreading this trip. I’d never been away from my daughter, now almost 4. It broke my heart to say goodbye to her in the car. She managed to tear away part of the restraining harness of her carseat in a desperate attempt to go with me. “No”, she said, “I’m going with you” with all the determination she could manage. I could hear her screams as I closed the door, fighting back my own tears. Was I doing the right thing leaving? The trip ahead was filled with danger. I had such a sense of foreboding I considered many times letting the plane from Dallas to Denver take off without me. But the project was important to us and I was the only one who could capture the needed photos and film of the ancient petroglyphs and pictographs (collectively called “rock art”) that were needed to create the “visual” part of our next DVD. In particular, Randy was interested in the many beautiful spirals these early inhabitants were famous for. 

The flight to Denver was uneventful. But this was just the first leg of the many-staged trek ahead of me. I landed in Denver that evening and worked my way to the small terminal of my connecting flight: a prop plane to Cortez, Colorado. It was zero degrees in Denver and the tiny terminal containing Great Lakes Airlines was frosty since the doors had to be opened to the outside for passengers to exit and enter the small airplanes. Night had fallen and between the utter darkness and cold I again questioned my sanity. Leaving my family behind so close to Christmas? What if I didn’t make it back to them? What would my daughter’s life be like without a mother? I had made sure to decorate the Christmas tree and buy her presents before I left with this very thought gnawing away at me. I silently asked for a sign that I was doing the right thing. At that moment, I glanced down at the rather large camera bag I had to bring, and I saw something I had never noticed before: embroidered in bright yellow was a spiral, exactly the type of petroglyphs I was coming to film. Beneath it, a tiny green triangle, reminiscent of a Christmas tree. I knew then not only was this the right decision to make, but I’d also make it home for Christmas.

The prop plane, a Beechcraft, was late taking off. (Ice was always a worry this time of year.) Nine passengers boarded the tiny craft and we lurched into the inky night. The cockpit was left open to the passenger cabin. There was only black visible through the plane’s windshield. At times we seemed to not be moving at all, as the wind tried to force us backward. When we finally landed in Cortez, Colorado, I was stiff with cold. The door was flung open and we were invited to descend the narrow staircase leading from the plane to the frozen tarmac. We walked across the pavement to a small room. I stood with the others on this late night in that tiny room awaiting further instructions. I had to ask. “Where is the rest of the airport?”, I said, smiling. “This is it” replied an elderly lady, returning the smile. We were then sent back outside into the night to retrieve our own suitcases.

I made my way to my hotel and settled in. Unable to sleep I checked and re-checked my 2 cameras: A large Panasonic video camera with a widescreen (anamorphic) lens, and a new Cannon Rebel XTi. I charged camera batteries, checked tapes and discs and re-charged the laptop and iPhone. Sleep eluded me. I watched the sun rise and at last saw my surroundings: a ring of snowy mountains kissed with an orange fire from a rising sun. breathtaking.

My 2 guides arrived right on time. Susan Northern and Bob Stone from Talking Stones. We loaded my gear into the suburban and headed for the first canyon, located in Utah. The Four Corners region, encompassing Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico is filled with ruins from the early inhabitants: The Anasazi, Freemonts, Hopi and Navajo primarily. That first day’s journey found me traversing miles of rocky trails, fording swollen creeks, climbing crumbling cliffs and learning from Bob and Susan about the ancient Puebloans. Hundreds of years ago, these peoples had created vast cities and works of art in the desert canyons. Many of these ruins survive to this day, but are now in imminent danger from erosion of the canyons. Over-grazing and over-foresting of the area have enabled the seasonal flash floods to sweep away the exposed earth, carrying away bits of ancient homes and writings. I was here to capture many of these, on video and film, to preserve them in some small way, so that their creators would not be forgotten.

As composers of music, we often look for inspiration in the world outside of our own day-to-day existence. The new album in the works was calling out to the ancients. I needed to marry the elements of our compositions with the colors and wonders of the ancient northwest. And so, here I was, truly in the middle of nowhere, laden with heavy equipment and luckily in the hands of my knowledgeable team.

Bob Stone was our chief guide and protector. A modern day Indiana Jones, Bob’s life sounds like the making of a terrific adventure movie. Clandestinely piloting airplanes as a teenager and subsequently self-teaching to parachute out of them (his twin brother was his partner in crime), Bob was finally busted when his parents saw his photo on the cover of the local paper, leaping from a plane. Bob has climed every 13,000 and 14,000 peak in the area, been a bounty hunter for the FBI, and survived many times lost or stranded by sudden floods out in the inhospitable desert. Part Cherokee, Bob can track any animal and he knows the ways of survival. He packed a pistol and knives for our journey, and provisioned us for pretty much any contingency. We saw hundreds of deer and wild turkeys. We had equipment for filtering water for drinking. Even if we were to be stranded, we’d get along just fine for a long, long time.

Over the 2 days we spent in Utah and Colorado, I narrowly missed contact with a colony of black widows, but had an unfortunate disagreement with a prickly pear cactus. I scaled steep cliffs (sometimes sliding downwards almost as much as climbing upwards) and hiked for miles. At times we had to leave behind the vehicle and go where it could not. There were sink holes in the mud “roads” we traveled and cracks in them often 3 feet deep. I saw pristine petroglyphs and pictograhs as well as disturbed ones. Some areas we went through were so remote that the paint on the rock art seemed fresh, even though it was many hundreds of years old. I found a skull and many pottery shards. And I shot 600 photos and over an hour of video.

And yes, I did make it home for Christmas.

You can see a slide the photos and video from this journey on the CD/DVD set “A Word In the Wind”.

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