Dave and I, brief companions to witness Spider Rock, were quiet on the way down and eventually over to Spider Rock. I noticed he was shooting with an older model Pentax, quality shit, hipster shit. I asked him if he was a shooter, but he expressed he was a hobbyist and never looked at the photos he shot until he had forgotten about them much later. I nodded and carried on, uncertain of when I’d see Spider Rock. Either the temperature or the hiking warmed me up and I took off my jacket and wrapped it around my waist–the only time that’s ever appropriate along with wearing North Face apparel and eating trail mix. You’d better be hiking/climbing a mountain if you’re doing so.
When I did get to the summit of sorts and began to see the edges of Spider Rock, the air couldn’t have been more still, more completely devoid of movement, and sound. Save the gentlest wisps of wind, it felt as if I had entered the vacuum of space. I can tell Dave felt it too as he ventured off on his own to experience it. I couldn’t believe how massive Spider Rock was, how beautiful, how deep the canyon, everything! I was floored. The canyon cliff was a good 20 feet out, but it felt so present, and I backed up out of respect and fear. I might have been higher, on a plane or helicopter, but I’ve never felt higher. It was humbling. It was enormous. It was forever.
The large spire in the center of the photo is of Spider Rock. Even though I was a ways away, the depth and spirit of the canyon is enough to knock you senseless. It feels like you’re taking in the enormity of our human history in a moment, punching with the weight and force of a million years.
On the way back I got distracted a few times at some of the other outlooks Canyon de Chelly had to offer, increasingly aware that the winter sun would be soon setting. I stopped to chat up a local selling his “art” on the low (a collection of loose rocks he’d found), gobbled up a soggy turkey wrap and washed it down with a flat soda from the airport, and attempted to photograph a shy alpaca. By the time I made it back to the service station, I realized I had an increasingly bad set of choices ahead of me: Forge ahead to Monument Valley or console myself with the visual grandeur of Spider Rock, return to Flagstaff and call it a day. Leaving for Monument Valley would mean I followed the morning’s plan, go the additional 2hrs up and get 45min to figure out the best shot in twilight and then go back another 3hrs. Not doing so seemed to be giving up, white flags. I had been circling the Chinle strip, making illegal, middle-of-the-road U-turns, my thoughts racing to come to a satisfying decision. After some consternation and a touch of shame about bumming a free pinch of wifi from the local Subway, I mapped a course, not to Monument Valley, not to Flagstaff, but to the Meteor Crater in Winslow, AZ.
Radio stations like cell phone signals in the Navajo Nation were spotty at best. To be fair, this was typical across the state but seemed to plague the reservation with greater intensity. I’d catch a country station here, a talk station there, and even a local reservation/public radio style station broadcasting relevant events–weddings and the like–but nothing stuck for more than a few minutes at a time. In the increasingly golden light of the setting sun, the contours of the various mountain faces appeared differently, in deeper contrast than they had earlier in the day. I picked a few spots along the way to snap a few shots as the sky reddened in color. I knew there was a limit to all of this though: The firmament between the light and the land’s majesty and the inevitable blanket of the formless night.
I was 10min ahead of schedule by the time I made it to Meteor Crater. The air had regained its chill as I jogged up the stairs to the concierge. My brief recon on the crater prepared me…kinda, for the $18/person sticker shock of seeing the meteor. As the sun was setting, I thought I could perhaps negotiate a better rate or a quick peep, but to no avail. The upside of it all was that the $18 tickets were that they were good for a couple weeks of re-entry so long as I kept my receipt. Realizing this, I decided to jump in and buy the ticket, rationalizing that I could go again (I wouldn’t). At the urging of the window attendant, I checked out an educational video before going up to the observation deck. It explained how the meteor hit where it did and, without spoiling the process too much, I’ll say that a rock flew in from space really fast and slammed into the ground really hard. Being a bit of a space nerd myself, I understood the mechanics of meteorites. Shamefully, I found myself focusing on more on how the piece was filmed, audibly groaning at the editor’s font/shot selection, unable to contain my jealousy at the fact the DP got to go down into the crater and I wouldn’t.
I had been aware that my breathing was somewhat more labored and forced throughout the day, but it took me aback on the climb up to the highest observation deck on Meteor Crater–they’re 4 accessible and a view further out via the complimentary tour. There’s no sign that says you’re nearly a mile up in altitude, that the air is as thin as floss, but you certainly can and will feel it. There was still a speck of sun in the sky when I got a full look at the devastation the meteor wrought on the land, both transfixing and foreign; simple and clean. Meteor Crater is a bowl in some ways, albeit a very large bowl, but a bowl nonetheless. Over time it had grown various shrubs and trees around the crater rim, but nothing in the interior. The video said that if the crater were a stadium, you could watch 20 football games simultaneously with an audience of 1 million people to give a sense of scale–American’s love measuring things in “football fields”. It reminded me of the fact that we’re not alone here in this universe as a people, though it may sometime feel that way, and that there’s so much more than this Earth to which were inextricably tied. Being there also reminded me of something else.