To end the month of ‘places’ I figured I’d share a picture that doesn’t really require many words. Sunrise in the San Rafael Valley, in southern Arizona along the border, is some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever set eyes on, traveled through, camped in. There’s no other place in the world like this little pocket of heaven; it’s high desert, remote, dangerous, and hot, but it’s also unique, majestic, and largely untouched by man.
It’s the picture of heaven – at least, if you were to ask me.
Farewell, May. Let’s see what June has in store…
The town of Urique is at the bottom of the valley Barranca de Urique, formed by the river of the same name. In today’s photograph, you can see this river winding through the frame, and the small town huddled around it (a population hovering around one-thousand). The road down into the canyon is a series of switchbacks that wind back and forth toward the village. It’s a low-maintenance road, and a reasonably harrowing experience to drive down. Stories abound about rocks that have crushed cars, and vehicles that have tumbled over the edge.
I bought a bus ticket and put my life in the hands of somebody more skilled at making the journey than myself, and we crawled down the dirt road.
Due to its relatively low elevation above sea level – Urique is about 550 meters – the climate is nearly tropical. The town only has electricity for a fixed number of hours every evening (for light, mostly, once the sun goes down) and, during the hot days of summer, most of the village goes down to the river during the day to keep cool in the water, saving work for the early morning and for sundown.
Papayas, lemons, oranges, and bananas grow wild in the surrounding areas on the outskirts of town, and the villagers actively cultivate their own fruit and vegetable gardens. On hikes through the forest, you can find a shady spot, pluck a fresh orange from a tree, sit down and take a rest. It’s a glorious and unspoiled little corner of the world.
The San Rafael Valley is a well-kept secret in the borderlands of Cochise County, Arizona. Micro-climates make this a surprisingly fertile territory for wine grapes, and several wineries are dotted throughout the area, surrounded by BLM territory and a collection of independently operated ranches. There are the odd ‘desert rats’ that live on these lands, too – individuals who prefer to live a more solitary life, away from the noise and bustle of the city.
This largely unmanicured region can seem threatening. The rules of the west are fully on display. If you trespass on the wrong property, you will most-assuredly come face-to-face with an angry rancher and a shotgun. Landowners are wary of outsiders; many are hardened against trespassers as a result of drug-muling and human trafficking. But for the casual traveler, if you play by the rules, the only sign of human life you will ever encounter are Border Patrol trucks and the occasional unmanned drone flying overhead.
I feel at home out here, looking down the deep valley, where the wind gliding through the dry grass is the dominant sound. Where the sky opens up and reminds one how small they really are.
Landscape photography is about as old as photography itself – it has reached a level of cliche that’s hard to escape. At the same time, it isn’t the easiest art-form, either. We all have friends who have taken that ‘epic’ sunset photograph, replete with power lines and ugly houses in the foreground that completely distract from the colors, the clouds, and the experience.
I’m not a naysayer – I love that we all have cameras in our pockets, on our phones, that allow us to document majestic moments. But this doesn’t make us all artists. There’s something to be said about composition, intent, and execution. Cameras allow us all to be witnesses to nature’s majesty, but that doesn’t make us all artists. What I love about camera technology is that it hints at the possibility that we all CAN be artists – the tools to make exciting images are completely democratized, totally universal and, as I already mentioned, in each and every one of our pockets.
Get out there, guys. Keep your eyes open. Make something. Nature does all of the heavy lifting – all you have to do is recognize the beauty, pick up your camera, and give it a go.