September 12, 2022
Last week I hinted at a daring photoshoot I was doing with the girls here. It happened and it went better than I could have ever imagined. Many many years ago I saw and was captivated by a photo I saw captured by Herb Ritts. He famously took beautiful black and white portraits and this particular one was popular in the late 90’s and caught my eye.
I asked some of my friends here at the campground if they would like to go out into the desert to try to recreate this image with me. We all agreed to have Luke be the photographer and scheduled it. We decided to go to our new favorite location as it is local, has beautiful rock formations, and seemed remote enough that we would not be interrupted by other people. The day of the shoot we had a group text going to confirm details and share our nervous excitement about it. One thing that we all naturally have in common is our joy about being wild and free in nature. We are all currently experiencing a time in our lives in which we can do this and it feels so special and magical. This photoshoot became a symbol of our values and dreams and the joy of this lifestyle in some ways. My friends Greer, Sarah, and Gabby all happily agreed to be part of this project. Greer also invited a friend of hers named Dani who I met just before the shoot. We all met up and instantly felt comfortable and connected with Dani and she with us. We arrived at our location and without any hesitation, we all stripped down and started scampering around on the rocks looking for the perfect backdrop composition. I will admit that being bare assed on rocks was not always the most comfortable, but we felt such immense freedom and joy, it hardly mattered to us.
Luke was a brilliant photographer. He gave some direction at times, but mostly let us have artistic freedom to determine our composition and poses. He gave subtle suggestions such as everyone face this way to match the lines in the rock or told me when my hair was covering someone else’s face. He made everyone feel completely comfortable and managed the external lighting we had brought wonderfully. We all felt so tremendously alive, comfortabler with ourselves and each other, happy, and confident. We laughed afterwards about the welts and scratches we discovered in strange places on our bodies and wondered if we had all discovered that we are nudists. I don’t think so though. I just think we all had a special experience of doing a fun art project together. Here’s one photo from the day.
Later in the week, Luke and I decided to go for a little local exploring. We went down Hole in the Rock road in search of the Batty Caves which are further down the road than we had traveled before. The Batty caves are three caves that were carved into the rock by brothers Bill and Cliff Lichtenhanh in the 1950’s and 60’s. Two of the caves were used as workshops while the third was living quarters. The heat wave had not ended yet, but the temps were slightly more bearable in the 80’s that day. As we drove further down the road, we watched the temp monitor on the truck climb though. Thankfully, inside the caves was nice and cool. The brothers who lived in these caves were craftsmen who carved tabletops, chessboards, and other items out of rock and petrified wood. They were known in town as the Cavemen. Inside one of the caves is a laminated article about them called “Modern Cave Dwellers”. The article tells the story that they first came here prospecting for Uranium and their tent leaked in the rain causing them to dig out a suitable shelter for themselves. In their machine shop they had a power drill press, power saws, and lathes. They even had a partially built boat that they planned to use on Lake Powell. People sure are interesting. I did not find any information about what happened to the brothers when they left the caves, but they did leave behind an interesting story and relics.
After this stop we decided to continue down the road. Hole in the Rock road goes all the way to Lake Powell and we thought perhaps we could make it to the end. It is a 62 mile dirt road one way so we knew that this was an ambitious trek to make impulsively. For a moment, we thought the road would intersect with a main road at the end enabling us to have an easier journey home. Just before the turn off for the Batty Caves, we happened upon a dusty wanderer on the side of the road and stopped to see if he needed help. He said he was OK, just hot and had many miles left to travel. He gladly accepted a gallon of water (since we had extra) and was gone when we came back that way. This road was a trail that early mormon pioneers took in the late 1800’s. It is called Hole in the Rock as they dug a hole in the rock cliff at the end in order to cross the Colorado River. We ended up only making it to about mile 36 and the Dance Hall Rock. The early pioneers used this giant sandstone amphitheater to play music and hold a dance in order to improve morale and spirits along their journey. As it was getting late in the day and monsoon clouds were looming, we thought it best to turn around and head back after this stop. We had learned that this road did not intersect with any paved roads and we have also read several warnings about how treacherous this road can be when wet. Signs along the road warned about this being a flash flood area. Before we left, our dog Sophie chased a jackrabbit for a bit. I haven’t seen her move that fast in over a year. It’s good to know that the old girl still has it in her!
We are thankful that the temperatures are starting to cool some now. Luke and I are both working a little more lately to build up a little savings before I stop working for the winter. I’m sure we will do more camping soon. We are excited to see all of these places in the Fall once the leaves change colors.
We also had a surprise get together potluck dinner to celebrate Sarah’s birthday which made her very happy. Two of our chefs, Leah and Mollie whipped up some of the tastiest mac & cheese for it.
I have started reading a new biography called “Finding Everett Ruess” and it is fascinating. Everett was a young man in the 1930’s who fell in love with the wilderness and the Southwest and went on several long wilderness hikes alone while making art. He swapped prints with Ansel Adams back in the day, learned to speak Navajo, and was one of the first “outsiders” to explore largely unexplored wilderness areas out here. He vanished without a trace in November 1934 and his last known location was in Davis Gulch, a slot canyon right here in Escalante. Once I’ve learned all about his story maybe we will go on an expedition to look for clues about his disappearance. However, reading about this slot canyon leads me to believe that this hike many involve some canyoneering and more experience than we have. Everett is mostly known for his poetry and block prints and became more of a legend after his disappearance. Another interesting person who did a thing no one else was doing just beacuse he loved it.
Jennifer MacNeil is currently traveling the US with her husband and two dogs. She loves to have adventures, explore, meet fascinating people, and see amazing places. She strives to learn every day and spread kindness to others. She documents her journey through her photography and blog to share with others.