NPS 100th Birthday & KC DenDooven

NPS 100th Birthday and KC DenDooven

2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and this past Thursday, August 16, was the actual date. Here, in Moab, we’ve been celebrating for a while. 2014 was the 50th anniversary of Canyonlands National Park and I had the privilege of creating a 3-program set of radio features on the park and its founder and first superintendent Bates Wilson. And besides, when you live in Moab, you pretty much live in the parks so every day is a celebration.
The birthday headlines caused me to reflect on my relationship to the parks. There are three of profound significance – family camping trips, home, and KC DenDooven.

YOUTH. I was raised on family camping trips in the national parks. When we three kids grew just large enough our family would take the annual prescribed 2-week summer vacation from our Salt Lake City home and visit the national parks. With our 1955 Chevy loaded with our Coleman everything (tent, stove and grill, lantern, and Dacron 88 sleeping bags with duck scenes on the inside) we’d either head north to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone or turn south for Zion, Bryce and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. On occasion the parents would get a wild hair and we’d go all the way to Glacier, coming dangerously close to visiting my mom’s siblings, and then we would much to my father’s chagrin. We once went to Mount Rushmore and several times visited Rocky Mountain NP. Those were great days. We saw all the sights. Rangers would check our camp at night and we’d invite them in for hot chocolate……….and they’d stay! We saw wolves, bears, bison, mountain goats, deer, moose, elk, squirrels, and at 14 I saw my first bare-breasted woman walking down a trail in Rocky Mountain NP! Dad quickly scattered us into the forest where we nearly got lost trying to avoid the natural wonders awaiting there!

Canyonlands Birthday,Canyonlands NP,Canyonlands National Park,Chesler Park
My Favorite View : Prints Available

HOME. The camping bug bit hard then and has never let go. While most of my high school friends involved themselves with football and debate, I took to backpacking, first with a few of my errant Lutheran boy scout troop buddies and later on by myself and with my long-time Moab buddy Glen. Trips became more and more epic and we were not limited to the national parks. When it came time for me to move out of Salt Lake City I tried to find work in Moab, but didn’t. Serendipity played her hand and I moved to Montezuma Creek, Utah to teach in a Navajo school. Ten years later I bought the house that became my home in Moab, moved to Santa Fe for 9 years and returned to stay in 1999. This is home……well, almost. If I could up and move my little home to Squaw Flat I’d be content to live my years out there without ever going anywhere else. The Needles District of Canyonlands and its sister, Cedar Mesa, are my refuge. Home is not a numbered address but a state of being. My “immediate” backyard runs for 250 miles in all directions!

kc 1001

KC. When I think of the NPS turning 100, I quickly think of my friend and publisher KC DenDooven, who has published over 100 books on the national parks all with the subtitle: The Story Behind the Scenery. KC pioneered the publication of books on the parks by having park naturalists write the texts that would be illustrated by some of America’s most celebrated nature photographers. When first in Santa Fe I was fortunate to befriend one Dan Murphy who worked at the regional NPS office in interpretation. He also authored the historic trails book series for KC. Thanks you serendipity. Dan liked my work and suggested to KC that he hire me for the upcoming Santa Fe Trail book. KC agreed and my publishing career began. I have produced 11 books for him, mostly on Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts and was allowed to write the one on Pottery. KC is an integral part of the history of western parks. He was the first publication to feature an article on the brand spanking new Canyonlands, an article penned by Secretary of the Interior Udall. His Monument Valley book bears the first color photographs made of the Totem Pole, the Mittens, and the people of the valley by legendary photographer Josef Muench. In 2000, a year after Josef passed away, KC asked me to write and photograph a 16-page Monument Valley Today insert for the re-issue of the publication. The first thing I did was to take copies of the original book to Monument Valley and begin the long process of tracking down the descendants of those in the original. In some cases a child from the first book had just grown much older. It was a great circular weaving of history and perceptions of landscape. The land had not changed much and neither had the valley resident’s devotion to that landscape. Park management and the level of tourism had grown significantly, and though there has been threat of paving the 17-mile loop road you can drive in your personal vehicle it remains as it has been – dry and sandy, rocky and rutted and subject to flooding when it rains. As the valley residents say, “It makes you see this place on HER TERMS, not yours.”

That is essentially the mission of the National Park Service. It is a mission that we can cherish and participate in. The national parks are subject to issues of budget, management, diversity, development and divestiture. They are threatened politically. At the end of the day, though, they still take our breath away.

Happy Birthday National Park Service! You’ve given me a sense of place, a sense of self, a home in the homeland and friendships that will last a lifetime! And thanks to you as well KC – you are the first two-legged, living, walking, scuba-diving national park!

First Blog – Welcome!

Greetings and welcome to my blog –

I’d like to begin this experiment in verbal discourse about a visual subject by talking to a subject that, for me, lies at the heart of what we do.
I believe that how we think and speak about our work determines how we perceive and go about it. Therefore I believe that we need to think about and change the language of our medium.
The first word that needs replaced is “take.”
May I “take” your picture? I’m going to “take” a picture of that mountain.
Take suggests that you are acquiring something that is already made or completed. In my mind it is dangerously close to steal, possess without permission, or worse – to gain control over something that you did not exert any energy in creating.
The definition of the verb is “to lay hold of something,” “to get into one’s possession, power or control,” “to seize or capture,” or to “carry or bring.” Synonyms include get hold of, bring, bear, transport, convey, transfer. Nothing in there references the creative process.

Those who know me, especially via the Moab Photography Symposium, know that I promote the term “make.” Let’s go make a photograph. Or we could simply replace take with “Let’s go photograph.” The root of photograph is “light-drawing” which suggests the action of drawing. Drawing requires a combination of intently perceiving, thinking, talking to oneself, visually measuring to calculate placement of objects, tones, etc. on the paper, adjusting, selecting what to include and exclude and a host of other active decisions.

The verb form of “make” is defined as: form something by putting parts together or combining substances; construct; create; to cause something (in our case an image) to exist or come into being. Synonyms include construct, build, assemble, produce and form. Is this not what we do?


When we are out for a hike and come across an interesting landscape subject we start assembling an image in our mind, we start working the scene by moving slowly to begin finding the best position and angle. As we gather objects before our eye and placing them in our composition by adjusting our position and selecting the tools (lenses) we want to use, we also turn to our inner landscape to gather our thoughts and emotions that in some fashion match the forming external scene. We keep honing in on the juncture of the external and internal landscape. I view the process as having a conversation. I employ objects in the natural world to help express thought and feelings from my internal landscape. I listen quietly and intently to what the elements in both landscapes saying. Sometimes they shout with glee. At other times they whisper. We set our final composition. We set our camera functions and re-check the firmness of our tripod. The shutter is triggered. We go home and re-enter the process of bringing the image into being via post-processing, printing and sharing. All along the path of creativity we have engaged with our subject, with our equipment, with ourselves. We have “taken” nothing….for granted. We make photographs.

The other word that needs replaced is “shoot.” I’m a pacifist. I get the jitters when I see children making a gun with their folded fingers and pointing them at a friend. With a gun we “shoot” and “take” a life and there is far too much of that happening in the world today for me to be comfortable using that term in the beautiful and personally sacred creative act of expressing the beauty of self and the natural world with a camera.

“Shoot” implies an element of speed – the force of a racing bullet, and a target. A target is usually outside of us – a deer to feed the family, or antlers to hang on the wall – an avowed enemy who is training his weapon on us – the person shot in the act of self-defense outside of a military conflict, or the innocent victim of a robbery or murder. Do we now hold the gun? I guess I’m influenced by too many western movies, spy novels and murder mysteries, and the constant barrage of TV shows and video games that advocate, highlight and celebrate gun violence, not to mention the ongoing headlines of shootings in many cities in America.


My photography is a refuge from all of that.
In stark contrast to “shoot” in the aforementioned environment is the use of “shoot” to describe the fresh growth of a new plant as its young, slender form just emerges from the nurturing soil. New life. New life full of possibility that will eventually grow, blossom, flower, seed and even provide sustenance to animal, human and even its own kinds as it completes its life journey.

Aw shoot.
Shoot. Photograph.
One syllable. Three.

Select Definitions of “shoot” from Merriam-Webster (online)

* to eject or impel or cause to be ejected or impelled by a sudden
release of tension
* to drive forth or cause to be driven forth by an explosion
* to discharge, dump, or empty especially by overturning, upending, or
directing into a slide

* to wound or kill with a missile discharged from a bow or firearm

* to engage in the hunting and killing of (as game) with firearms
especially as a sport
* to pass swiftly by, past, or along
* shoot from the hip: to act or speak hastily without consideration of
the consequences

The most common uses of “shoot” have far too many negative overtones for me to want to infect my creative process by using it. I prefer my photographs to be considered, thoughtful and usually paced a bit slower than a speeding bullet.

To “make” a photograph takes considered time.
Photographing invites a more lyrical and poetic approach to image making. Drawing with light takes time and the “target” is internal – it is ourselves.

Let’s honor the entire process and MAKE photographs!

Coast, Coast Trip 2016, Highway 1, Highway 101, Northern CA Coast, Oregon Coast, Redwoods, Salt Point State Park, northern CA, road trip 2016
Fence Line : Prints Available