Mario Dennis Photography

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. G.K. Chesterton


Photographing the Begays: Monument Valley


Mrs. Y. Begay, Monument Valley, UT

Before my second visit to photograph Monument Valley, I asked Phillips Tours, if they could arrange for me to photograph some residents, rather than limiting myself to landscapes. They agreed and, as it turned out I was able to photograph my guide, Ray Begay’s mother and father at their winter camp in Monument Valley. Ray had guided me three years before on sunrise and sunset photography tours of the Valley. During our tours we talked about life in the Valley, which extends far beyond what visitors see in the Tribal Park from the loop road. I was very pleased to travel with him again.

I was not completely comfortable with my request. I did not want the Begays to feel they were on display or were objects of curiosity. Instead, I wanted to capture who they were as people, if only for a few minutes. They live in the Valley closer to Kayenta, and have two camps, each with a hogan and pens for sheep, goats and horses. They move between them from summer to winter. Although they are within walking distance of each other, the two locations experience different weather during the warm and cold seasons. Mrs. Begay is a medicine woman and healer, and she advises Navajo visitors from all over northwest Arizona. Mr. Begay is a retired uranium miner and told me he was a cowboy. He chuckled when I complimented him for being a “handsome cowboy.”


Mr. R. Begay, Monument Valley, UT

We met at their winter camp, where a fire in the small stove warmed the hogan to a comfortable temperature in the December chill. Mrs. Begay was working on a basket and I began shooting. A hogan is a small structure, maybe 20′ in diameter, and I decided to shoot with the limited natural light that came in from the door (which always faces east) and the stovepipe opening. I shot at ISO 2000 and came away with some good portraits. Mrs. Begay concentrated on her work and after about an hour I moved outside to photograph Mr. Begay, who was dressed in his finest clothing and turquoise jewelry.
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Photographing the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is Chama, New Mexico’s premier attraction. While there are other narrow gauge railroads in the country, including in nearby Durango, we heard a number of passengers say that the C & T trip is the best in the nation._d502079

We took the C & T trip from Antonito to Chama. (There are several trip options. This one suited us best and takes a full day. Check their web site for more information.) They transported us via bus from Chama to Antonito, where we boarded for the return trip to Chama. Many of the folks on the train were clearly fans of train travel and knew a great deal about trains. The hosts in each car pointed out landmarks, described the C & T’s history, and explained railroad operations. (It’s more complicated than you may think.)


Traversing the Chama Valley

We took our trip in early October, when the aspen were at peak. Unfortunately, a strong front came through a couple of days earlier and blew off some leaves, but the trip timing was definitely worth it. (Note: reservations are an absolute must and should be made weeks in advance.)

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Photographing the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Although I’ve been to New Mexico many times (I have family roots there), I had never had the opportunity to attend the Balloon Fiesta, held every fall for the last 45 years. Kathy and I scheduled in three sessions at the Fiesta’s opening weekend during a recent photo trip to NM. (A session is a morning launch period or an evening glow event; virtually nothing takes place mid-day. Each session’s admission requires a separate ticket. For comprehensive information, visit their web site.)


Inflating for the Dawn Patrol

The Fiesta is efficiently managed and they shuttle thousands of visitors in and out on buses from satellite parking lots. Be sure to get tickets online ahead of time: you’ll save a few dollars and avoid standing in the ticket line at 5:00 AM, not an appealing proposition, but we saw plenty of people doing it. We got to our shuttle at the Coronado Center at 4:30 AM. (Yes, you read that right. If you want to capture the Dawn Patrol, roll your butt out of bed, grab your equipment and move it, Sparky.) The ride to the Fiesta was about 30 minutes. Dawn Patrol inflations began about 5:45 and they lifted off about 6:00 AM.  Even at that dark, early hour there were plenty of people at the Park. There is food and coffee available, so don’t worry about eating breakfast first. Continue reading