Into the West: One pack of Black & White I Type Polaroid Film

Following on from last week’s post, where I shared one pack of Color I Type Polaroid film all exposed the same day, this week I am sharing one pack of Black & White I Type Polaroid film, exposed in a similar fashion. All but the last image were made in the same place: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

This was the second National Park we visited on this trip, and it was fabulous! It might have been my favorite - not that I am any good at picking favorites, but it was wonderful being in a park that wasn’t jam packed with people, didn’t require a huge amount of hiking to see the highlights, and was honestly so visually stunning that it took my breath away every single time I looked. We went in via the lesser used entrance, and high 5’d each other for a choice well made when we saw a huge tour bus pull up on the opposite side. We also were fortunate with the light; it happened to be shining on the far canyon walls, which is good for photography!

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The trail we followed was full of pinon and cedar trees. I could have spent the entire day just photographing those. Something tells me there are many, many frames of them on the roll film that waits to be developed.

The play of light on the rock of the canyon itself was wonderful to see. This photo is badly exposed; I turned the flash off to try and keep it from being overexposed but it still ended up that way. . . . . guess I need to re-read the manual. . . . but what I wanted to capture was the shadowy fingers reaching up toward the sky, so I suppose it’s kindof a win.

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It was surreal driving the road along the edge of the canyon, knowing the river roared far below, looking out at the surrounding landscape dotted with mesas as if no water had ever interrupted the earth there. The guide we picked up talked about how the canyon was a place to feel time, a place beyond time, outside of it - the geology nerd in me was blown away by the idea of how long it took for the layers of rock to be laid down in the first place, followed by how long it took that river to make its indelible mark there. I loved it!

The final photograph in the pack was made in Gunnison itself. I can’t say exactly why I chose this, besides finding it unusual to have seen so many payphones still available for use in Colorado. Also, the truth is that in general I have a thing for relics.

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Into the West: One pack of Color I Type Polaroid Film

I am not ready to write about my recent road trip yet. I am just barely back; the journey is still percolating through my senses. Very little has registered besides the fact that I am home, that there are tasks to do, that my brain is mostly suspended in some kind of in-between place right now. But I promised myself I would make one blog post a week happen, so here I am!

What I am sharing with you today is one pack of color Polaroid Originals I-type film, shot with my One Step 2 camera. It is the last pack of instant film I exposed on this year's Big Trip; it was the last pack of instant film that I had brought with me. It also represents the next to last day of the trip: our final day in New Mexico (for now. I need to always add that caveat).

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It began in Santa Fe, led us down the Turquoise Trail, and into Albuquerque, then came blastoff time down I-40 to Amarillo. All familiar places, the experience of which is generating a kernel in my mind. . . . something about the familiar - delving deeper - scratching a bit more than just the surface of a place. When something is familiar, you can start to dig in & explore. Your view can expand beyond first impressions. Appreciation can deepen; there's always more to see than initially meets your eye. But I will come back to this idea a little further down the road, when all the roll film is developed and scanned, and I have some time to digest the results in addition to the experience itself.

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I love Santa Fe. You could drop me off there with a camera and leave me to wander for 4 or 5 days just photographing quite happily: to my eyes it is such a beautiful, photogenic city. I was thrilled to return there again; we even ended up staying in the same motel. We were up and out early, and the light was gorgeous. I doubt that comes through very well through these instant photos, but the memory of it is a happy one for me.

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We made a visit to the Georgia O’Keefe museum that morning, bookending the time we had just spent in Abiquiu, walking some of the same streets as the year before. I was delighted to see the morning sun on this building, which I remembered well.

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From Santa Fe we headed down the Turquoise Trail, another well loved familiar place. I was super excited, as close to the edge of my seat as I could get in the truck. We stopped at Cerrillos (Los Cerrillos?), which we had not visited before. I made a lot of photographs there with other cameras that I am hoping turn out well; the church in particular really pulled me in, with so many interesting lines and shadows (and lovely little grottos).

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Next stop was Albuquerque’s Old Town, with the specific purpose of visiting a couple of shops there, but it was nice to see it again. I noticed new things about it this time, things I had either not taken the time to see or simply overlooked before. (This doorway wasn’t crooked; parallax error on the viewfinder, and undoubtedly user error as well, provided the tilt.)

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The final stretch that day was on I-40, a fast flat highway that flies through many historic towns that boast Route 66 fame. Last year we visited all the iconic stretches; this year we motored on through. But there were pit stops, under glorious New Mexico skies, bathed in glorious New Mexico light. My obsession lives on. . . . .

In the Forest

We were going to go somewhere entirely new. We were headed for lakes, hills, cypress trees, forests & mountains in states that we haven’t really taken the time to explore yet. The weather had other ideas, and sent us west instead.

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We were going to go somewhere new: and we did! Last year we drove through more than one National Forest, but not Lincoln. It may not have been a new state for the adults on the trip, but it was for the youngest member of the family; it was a place that may have taken on mythical proportions in her mind after hearing us talk about it for 12 months. It was a thrill to get to take her somewhere that had such a deep meaning for us.

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None of us knew much about Cloudcroft, only that, according to the kind couple who spoke to me in a coffee line last summer, it was a wonderful place, worth visiting. I’ll say more about that another day. The town may have been our destination, but the forest turned out to be a happy home for us while we were there.

The moment we pulled into the campground we knew we wanted to stay there; the moment we got out of the truck was even more memorable: it was cool and smelled of pine! It was going to just be a spot for one night, but we ended up staying three, and it was hard to leave even then.

There’s something absolutely magical about camping in a forest. The view from our tent was amazing - but then again, the view from everywhere around it was amazing too. The sound of the wind in the pines was new for me: like the ocean, but more soothing; a whisper of comfort rather than the roar of destructive power. It was a wonderful place to just BE.

We sat and read, wrote, made drawings; my daughter got to roam around, gather firewood. Just the fact that we were able to have an actual campfire, and one that was welcome for the heat as well as atmosphere (and marshmallow roasting) was a huge bonus for us Texans who are used to constant burn bans (and hot weather). We were buzzed by hummingbirds, and awoken by a chorus of their song-singing cousins. One of the days we explored a waterfall formed by a natural spring; this included a hike to the source, through forest meadows graced by water flowing downhill in a little stream.

These are the things that embed themselves in your memory, build a relationship with the land, with time, with life as a whole.

We never know exactly where the road will lead us. The child that I was so many years ago never could have believed I would get to sleep in a forest; that’s the sort of thing that usually only exists in daydreams. I’m thankful that we got to live this experience together. The woman that I am now hopes that eventually we will be brought back to that place.

All photographs Ondu 6x6 pinhole camera and Kodak Tri-X

White Sands

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I went to White Sands National Monument for the first time a few weeks ago. I was super excited about it, especially since my daughter got to go with us on this trip, and I had heard from friends that it was a fun place to visit with kids. I had been hoping for this for over a year.

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We did a minimal amount of research in advance, mostly finding out opening hours and other general information. Fortunately, missile testing wasn’t going on when we wanted to make our excursion (things I never thought I would have to take into consideration: a missile testing schedule). Fortunately we also located the shower station in Lincoln National Forest, where we were staying; I had a feeling we were going to need it when we returned at the end of the day.

Minimal research meant maximum thrill when we first saw the sands in the distance. It was definitely a family “ooooooh! aahhhhhh!” moment. Unfortunately it also meant that we weren’t entirely mentally prepared for how hot it was going to be. Stepping out of the truck at the visitor’s center brought that reality home with a quickness, a reality that was especially shocking to us since our temporary home in the forest was so blissfully cool and refreshing. We piled on the sunscreen and took our time in the gift shop, where we picked up a sled, sled wax, a hat, an awesome sticker for the cooler, a graphic novel of Native American trickster tales, and a book on ice age animals that was my daughter’s special request (she did read it!).

Even if we had thought it out, nothing could have really prepared us for the heat on the dunes. It was debilitating. Being out there, surrounded by brilliant white gypsum powder, reminded me of the old sun deck at my dorm in college: it was painted white, and we had a perfect view of it from our window; I referred to it as the Fry Daddy, because that’s basically what you did if you laid out there.

We stopped at the boardwalk first. I had no idea how long the walkway extended. People moved slowly under the punishing sun, managing little more than weak smiles at each other as they passed. A crowd had gathered under the awning. It was so bright it was difficult to read the plaques posted at intervals along the way, or to look out at the area they referred to. We saw a lizard racing across the sand, and the tracks of other hardy animals that manage to live there. At the end of the boardwalk, we took turns making group cell phone photos with a family who ended up being our neighbors at camp for the next two nights.

Everybody was glad to get back in the truck after that activity, except for me who climbed a dune a couple of times to photograph a yucca. The landscape there might be difficult to look at, but it’s visually astonishing; it’s a place like nothing I had ever seen! I knew it would be a challenge to get the exposure right; I felt like I was photographing on the surface of the sun.

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Once we left the boardwalk area, we drove (slowly) through the dunes until we got to the end of the road where it was best for sledding. It certainly hadn’t gotten any cooler, and the trek up a dune over and over again to make a good path for riding down was far from enjoyable. But there we were, at White Sands, maybe for the only time ever, so I happily subjected myself to the exertion - and the hilarious slightly humiliating trial of sledding on sand that hadn’t been worn into a track. . . . . I thought I would slide right down, but I sunk into the surface immediately like a bowling ball dropped on a memory foam mattress. My family laughed from the shade and then took turns riding down the track.

It really isn’t like sledding on snow at all, but it sure was an experience and one of those situations where you know that one day you’ll all look back it and laugh. Another family was there at the same time, and the parents managed more trips down the dune than the kids (which was also the case with us).

Last stop was the iconic picnic shelters. Garry Winogrand’s photograph - that I had seen, appropriately enough, for the first time in the wonderful photobook The Open Road (equal parts obsession & inspiration) - came to life before my eyes. . . . minus the people, and I can’t say I blame them, because we all asked each other “who would picnic here?” My family waited in the relative cool of the truck while I photographed to my heart’s content. It was a big moment for me as a photographer, as a woman who had been the girl who pined for the open road. I don’t really have the words to describe how I felt, but it was marvelous.

From there we headed slowly back out, and I made a bunch more photographs from the passenger seat, since it meant we could keep the a/c on even if I rolled the window down.

White Sands is a place of wonder. A place of living history, of geology and time in action. A place of incredible beauty, and astonishing survival. A place I would very much like to see again - in cooler weather!

All photographs are Kodak Ektar, either in Hasselblad 500cm or Nikon FM2. I realize some of them are a little pink; I underexposed them on purpose and chose to leave them pretty much just as they turned out. So what if it’s a little pink? That just means if you want to see how blinding the sands actually are you’ll just have to make a visit there yourself - it’s worth it! (Just don’t go in the summer if you can help it)

Rocket City

My infatuation with New Mexico began when I was 17 or 18, around about the time that I was similarly infatuated with the idea of the American Road Trip: I devoured On The Road and Dharma Bums by Kerouac, Travels with Charlie by Steinbeck, and I remember a book by a woman who traveled across Australia with her dog and maybe a horse for company (I didn’t like this one quite as much because, typically, the dog died). I would scour the bookstore for titles that seemed relevant, and read them all: anything, everything that let the spirit within me roam and fly free while my feet remained safely planted within the comforting walls of my parents’ house. When I think about my teens (especially mid-to late teens) what I remember most is that restlessness, and if I could go back and talk to the girl that I was, I would say for goodness sake quit mooning around, just get up and go do something; you’ll get to roam plenty one of these days.

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So, my infatuation with New Mexico began in that hotbed of hormones & dreams, when I found a wacky novel called Rocket City at my local Barnes & Noble. I don’t know how many people read that book, but I adored it, probably in part because the story was infused with so much that was strange (and yet not strange), and the fallout from that love affair was a powerful attraction to a state I had never given any thought to before. Last year I finally got to visit, and it certainly didn’t disappoint me; this year I have already been back once (and will hopefully get to go again before the year is out), and on that second visit I got to see the fabled city of my teenage dreams: Alamogordo.

It’s fine if you’re laughing at this. I honestly don’t know a dang thing about the city, other than its proximity to White Sands, besides what I read about it in that book so long ago, which is mostly that it was a kinda odd place with lots of signs in the shapes of rockets. Last year we were planning on heading that way after we left Roswell, but the weather forecast was bad so we went north instead. This year, our main destination was White Sands, so I knew we would be going through Alamogordo and I was full of a ridiculous amount of excitement that I mostly kept to myself because I didn’t want to make my family crazy.

We approached from Cloudcroft, where we were staying (sort of, in the forest), which meant a long lovely descent out of the mountains. Then suddenly, there in the distance, we saw the glitter of white sand, spread out like a mirage on the horizon. Before it lay the city of Alamogordo, in what is possibly the most obvious display of an area’s geologic past I have ever seen: there on a flat plain, buttressed by mountains, so clearly to my eyes the site of an ancient lake or sea. I shifted in the passenger seat, got my camera ready, and prepared myself for the fun onslaught of rockets.

Well, there weren’t any. Not that I saw. The city was flat as the Texas panhandle, and we drove right through what was probably the outskirts since it was the fastest route to our destination. The best I could do was this one, later, after we returned from an afternoon of frying in dehydration on the gypsum dunes, hot, dirty, thankful for the ice cream place I had found thanks to a search on my phone.

We didn’t stay long; just a quick drive through the historic downtown, and then a hasty retreat back to camp for the hot showers we had seen advertised. We had to be there by 5.

I seriously doubt that my brief visit to Alamogordo did it much justice. It’s difficult to do that when you pretty much only stop for ice cream. Maybe I’ll be back there one day, with a little more time; maybe I’ll find the rockets. . . . or maybe, like so many teenage dreams, they were something that existed only in the made up world of the author’s mind.

Many of these photographs were made from the passenger seat of the truck, and it’s possible some of them are not actually in Alamogordo; it’s hard to remember everything precisely when you’re living moment to moment, and I don’t write down records of where & when I hit the shutter button. All color images are Nikon FM2 and Kodak Ektar; the black & whites are Hasselblad 500cm and Kodak Tri-X.