photography from the ground up

Treading On Sacred Ground

Blue Canyon is a very special place. Of course it’s special to landscape photographers because of the incredible sandstone formations. But, beyond that, it holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the Hopi people. Blue Canyon sits in the northwestern corner of the Hopi reservation and aside from being a remarkably beautiful place, it also contains the only perennial, riparian ecosystem on Hopi land

I recently spent a day with Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, the director of the Office of Cultural Preservation for the Hopi tribe. We spent a lot of time exploring the area that contains the sculpted, layered formations which draw thousands of photographers to this place. It has been closed by the tribe because they fear that the fragile area will be harmed by too much traffic. I was there to photograph the canyon for a book about the Hopis’ sacred places Leigh hopes to publish.

Most of the sandstone formations are clustered in one relatively small area just off the main road, but I think I could spend a week there and never have to photograph the same formation twice. As I wandered, I recognized several places I had seen as images on some landscape photographers website. I made the obligatory exposures, but I wasn’t there to copy someone else’s work, so you will not see any of those images here. Instead, I tried to get a feel for the place as seen through the eyes of my guide, the people with whom this landscape resonates on an entirely different level.

I mentioned that this place is sacred to the Hopi because it holds the only perennial, riparian ecosystem on their reservation. That can mean many different things depending on a person’s experience. In this arid land where water is scarce, it means a small trickle that brings life to this otherwise harsh environment.

I made this image at the place where the water collects in a small pool before plunging into the deep sandstone slot that it has carved over the millennia. As the stream moves down the canyon it disappears into its sandy bed in places-never far below the surface-and then reappears farther downstream, a constant reminder of the fragile balance between life and death in this hauntingly beautiful place.

12 responses

  1. Beautiful photography! I love the colors!


    April 6, 2012 at 9:29 am

    • Thanks. It’s an amazing place. I thought I might reach a state if visual overload.


      April 6, 2012 at 9:34 am

  2. awesome!


    April 6, 2012 at 12:52 pm

  3. It’s not just the place but your photography skills are just – in a word – amazing!


    April 7, 2012 at 2:36 am

  4. John P. Meyer

    I envy you this guided tour, Jim – and glad to see you made the best of it. Sorry to hear the site has been closed, but probably for the best given the fragility of the landscape.


    April 7, 2012 at 5:00 am

    • They may re-open it in the future, but if they do I think they will require a guide.


      April 7, 2012 at 8:02 am

  5. I really like the top three images in particular, the colours, textures and composition are very striking.


    April 7, 2012 at 3:23 pm

  6. WOW! Stunning photos and very meaningful commentary. I hope the book is a huge success.


    April 23, 2012 at 1:20 pm

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