Mario Dennis Photography

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


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Photographing the Begays: Monument Valley

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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.”

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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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Cheyenne Rouse’s Photoguides

Rouse Utah GuideThere are a relatively limited number of traditional (i.e., printed) photography guides. For many years Laurent Martres’ guides to the Southwest have been the most popular general guidebooks. Anyone planning a photo trip to the Southwest would be well-served by his books.

However, there are two other resources that I want to bring to photographers’ attention, both written by photographer Cheyenne L Rouse. Cheyenne is one of the best-known photographers in the Southwest and she knows the area intimately from her own work and from the tours and workshops she conducts. She has distilled some of her favorite locations in New Mexico and Utah into two e-books available only from her web site.

I have used both guides and have frequently consulted them before trips to the Four Corners area. If a PDF could be dog-eared, mine would be well-worn.

Martres’ books are very useful; however they tend to offer very brief descriptions of many sites. It can be difficult to know whether a lesser-known location is really worth the time and trouble.
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Photographing the House on Fire in Mule Canyon, Utah

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The House on Fire

The House on Fire ruin is another “must-shoot” site in Utah. The ruin is about 25 miles from Blanding. To find it, if you’re driving from the east on Highway 95 it’s the next right after mile marker 102; or N37° 32′ 38”, W109° 44′ 41”.

After paying your fee and parking in the small lot, you’ll hike west about 30 minutes down a wash. It was dry in December; I assume it runs during the wetter seasons. The pathway is marked with cairns and footprints. As long as you stay in the wash, it’s impossible to get lost. You can even hear traffic on the highway.

The ruin will be on your right and is best shot mid-morning or later. When I was there in December it was overcast; however there was enough light reflected off the base rock that I was able to capture the image above (with a little help from Lightroom).

I chose not to enter the ruins, but rather enjoyed them while seated on the slickrock base, and I encourage you to do the same to preserve their physical and spiritual integrity.