September 1, 1999

Click on the photos for a larger view.

The San Juan River from the boat launch below The San Juan InnThis river doesn't really flow.  It oozes.  The water is thick with clay and mud.  Watching the San Juan River ooze through the channel here at Mexican Hat, UT makes me think of lava flows I've seen on film.  But that image seems to go more with the rest of the terrain.  Rocks.  Lots of rocks.  Laying on the ground.  Huge rocks sticking up out of the ground.  There's very little green here.  Mostly reddish brown.  When we saw the San Juan down at Farmington, NM it was definitely flowing.  But somewhere between here and there, it picked up a lot of baggage, slowing it down.

We've arrived here on the weekend of our anniversary, led by the free night at the San Juan Inn given us by my wife Lucy's sister Mary Jane and my best buddy Mark.  (sometime I have to get around to telling that story)  Neither of us have ever been here before, and even though we haven't seen Monument Valley yet, we're already describing the country as moonlike.  The place so far is actually reminiscent of a county-sized rock quarry.  All the rocks look like they've been blasted with dynamite, laying around in piles at the foot of natural monoliths.

This little weekend trip is also significant for me as a digital artist because I have the opportunity to use a new Nikon Coolpix 950 digital camera, that my employer (with a little direction from me) decided to purchase.  I own a Sony Digital Mavica, and it's a lot of fun, but using analog cameras as a gauge, the Nikon is like a fine 35mm instrument which professionals use, and the Sony is like an instamatic.  The Sony has no independent focus and only minimal light compensation, though it does have a macro lens for closeups and offers two resolutions.  With the Sony you pop in and pop out standard diskettes.  Very easy.  Like an instamatic.  The Nikon however allows you to use the built in light meter and automatic focus, or you can go the completely manual route if you're a perfectionist.  The Nikon offers three resolutions: the smallest is 640x480 (which is the maximum on the Sony), to 1024x760, all the way up to 1600x1200; AND gives you three different quality selections: basic, normal, and fine within each resolution.  Ya gotta a lotta leeway here.  For memory the Nikon uses the flashcard arrangement common to digicams: a little wafer that holds 8 megs of data.  This is the main challenge offered by the Nikon on this trip.  Because I've only got one flashcard and no computer in access, I've got a limited number of exposures available.  The Sony is only limited by the number of diskettes you can carry.

But I digress.

One of the Mittens at Monument ValleySomehow I'm going to twist a digicam review in with descriptions of our trip to Monument Valley and another really far out place -- Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, which we caught on the way back.  And if I'm lucky I'll be able to work in a review of the book I read on the trip: A Feast of Snakes, by Harry Crews.

I won't get it all up tonight.  I will add on daily (I intend) until I get it all out.  The rocks, the cameras, and the book are all very strong in my consciousness right now, and therefore merit my literary attention.

Anyway, this river does not look like anything I'd be willing to swim in.  And I don't really care to look at it either.

The road west into Monument ValleyWe've arrived in the late afternoon, so we get checked in, unloaded, loaded, and immediately head west out of Mexican Hat toward Monument Valley.  We want to see some Really Big Rocks, and watch 'em turn red at sunset.  And that's exactly what we do.  We are extremely fortunate that we go past the Visitors Center/Lookout Vista and then come back, because when we do it puts us at the VC right at sunset.  Below is what you see from the Visitors Center -- at sunset that is.  I get a good workout with the Nikon right off the bat, and I get to take advantage of its capabilities.  Click on any of these photos if you want to see bigger versions.

View from Monument Valley Visitors Center, Monument Valley, Utah

One thing that strikes us upon visiting this area, is that nearly everyone is speaking German or maybe French, but definitely a foreign language.  Some of the signs in town even have German translations.  This area is very popular with young European travelers.  I think it must be the close proximity to the Grand Canyon.  Everybody from Europe goes there.  The Canyon is The Main Attraction stateside.

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