Sometimes a cherished memory starts with a rumor. I had heard of several ruins lying not quite forgotten in the serpentine canyons of Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah. It was while researching one of them that I discovered another, less well known, but no less visually compelling.
Fallen Roof Ruin,which is actually a group of granaries, is located in Road Canyon which meanders in a, more or less, easterly direction from it’s head, in the heart of Cedar Mesa, to it’s final destination in Comb Wash. The single element that sets it apart from the numerous other ruins in Road Canyon is the staining in the roof of the alcove in which the ruin is located. A large section of the ceiling has fallen, leaving exposed white stains–most likely from minerals in the groundwater which leeched from the mesa top–that are painted across the newly exposed strata.
The hike to the ruin is just under two miles. The trail crosses the mesa top for about a half-mile before dropping over the edge into the upper reaches of Road Canyon. The descent is about one-hundred-fifty feet, and then the trail follows the canyon bottom pretty much staying in it’s watercourse. There is some rock-hopping involved along with some route-finding in the places where the trail leaves the drainage to make it’s way around some of the bigger boulders in the path.
I was not quite prepared for the impact of being in that place. There is something about the essence of these ruins that set them apart from other ruins I have visited. So, as is the case with all of my photography, I attempted to reveal at least a part of the soul of this extraordinary place through my compositions and processing. The large slabs of stone scattered across the floor of the alcove serve to tell some of the story; they are also useful as compositional elements in the images.
One of the most poignant pieces of this nearly thousand-year-old tableau is the presence of several hand pictographs above the entry to one of the small granaries. These were probably made by placing a hand on the stone and then blowing a powdered dye through a reed. Hand pictographs are common in the ruins of the desert southwest, and are thought to be a way of saying: “I was here”.
Last Sunday Robin and I took a drive out through the village of San Luis, and then on through Torreon, and finally to Pueblo Pintado. Pueblo Pintado is located about thirty miles southeast of Chaco Canyon. It was actually an outlying village, and a part of the Chaco culture which thrived in northwesten New Mexico around a thousand years ago.
Both Chaco and Pueblo Pintado are characterized by the intricate, tightly fit stone work of the buildings. Many of the walls are still standing even though they are situated on a ridge with high exposure to wind and weather. This image shows the ceremonial kiva and the walls of the great house beyond. As I have mentioned before, when I stand amidst the ruins of an ancient culture, there is a profound feeling of connection with the people who lived there that comes over me. I try to imagine what it was like to live here at that time, and to be a part of a long forgotten way of life.