Spirits Dance Over Tsé Bitʼaʼí

July 03, 2014  •  1 Comment

Long before my ancestors travelled across this country (and that was actually quite some time ago) there was a Navajo tribe living, thriving and doing what Navajo tribes do. The only problem was, there were other tribes in the area that weren’t quite so friendly. A wise medicine man saw the threat these warring tribes posed to his family and his people so he prayed to the gods for deliverance. He was heard and the land rose up like a giant wave, lifting his people and caring them on its crest far to the south and west. The wave slowed and stopped leaving this people safe on top of a great wave-like rock. Unfortunately, legend tells us, that as the braves were hunting, lightning struck the rock and sheared of the lower half of the rock leaving the women, children and aged stranded on top. Unable to climb down they all remained on the rock and slowly starved to death. To this day, the rock known today as Ship Rock remains a sacred location and climbing it has been forbidden by the tribe. _MG_4998Ship Rock in the disatnce

Many years later, a somewhat lost Idaho photographer shows up in a small blue rental car with a couple cameras, a tripod and a great desire to listen for, hear and capture some of the voices that must be associated with such a sacred place. This photographer, of course, is me and I was only a little lost. Geologically speaking, this huge rock sticking out of the middle of the desert is ‘the erosional remnant of the throat of a volcano.’ I like the magical earth wave thing better but the ‘throat of a volcano’ thing is pretty cool too. There are several of these big rocks in this country but there is something different about Tsé Bitʼaʼí. This is the Navajo name for this place. It means rock with wings.

As I arrived and pulled into what appeared to be a parking area, I found myself alone except for a small group of Native Americans taking pictures. There is a young, teenage girl in beautiful full ceremonial dress standing on a rock. The wind was blowing beautifully through her hair and what had to be at least four generations of family were watching as one of the men took her picture with an IPad. It was a cool and fascinating family moment but I totally felt like I was intruding. I left the area and drove down the road a little until I found another little road that looked like it wandered out towards the enormous rock.


It was my intention to pull out all the stops, use all the techniques I’ve developed over the years and I was going to ‘hear the voices’ of this place. I drove the little car over roads that it was never intended to be on but I think it wanted to hear the voices too. I wandered up, back and all around. There was a lot of dust in the air and the sky was empty and boring. I found some flowers and some cool rocks and set up a few classic foreground/background shots but nothing was really exciting me. The only ‘voices’ I was hearing was those of last week’s party emanating from the various piles of beer bottles and trash (just like home). I was disappointed but I did something that almost always works. I sat down, emptied my mind and waited.

Strong winds are common and they were in the forecast. An hour or so later, just at the head of those strong winds, the voices came and they came loudly. Wispy clouds started to form. They moved fast over Ship Rock as the formed and dissolved. They were literally dancing over my head. It was truly like the spirits of the rock had come out to tell me their story. Over the next ten minutes I took a series of exposures. At one point a dust devil formed at the base. How cool is that?  I had my shot! In fact, I had the same shot at least three times.    It was a good thing because right behind the spirits came the high winds and their companion dust storm; a dust storm that later shut down the main road.

I returned to Farmington to meet an Indian family, I had met at my hotel, at the local buffet. I told them of my experience. They thought it was cool but didn’t seem too surprised. I guess they either thought I was crazy or thought it happened all the time.  I returned to Ship Rock the following morning but, although very beautiful and imposing, the magic was gone. I ate all the food I had swiped from the continental breakfast, said goodbye to the rock and moved on.


Shari Hart(non-registered)
Way cool story........and even cooler images. Just incredible, Mr. Dixon. Love the dust devil and ghost clouds....they gave you quiet a show. And you captured their spirits perfectly.
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