Monsoons and Photographing Drive-In Ruins | Active Light Photography | Photo Tours to Hidden Destinations, Anasazi Ruins
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I’d planned to check out Twin Angels, an Anasazi outlier along the Great North Road, on the drive from Farmington to Albuquerque. But we got a late start after some nice conversations with our B&B hosts at Silver River Adobe Inn, and then there was the monsoon storm along US 550. Monsoon sounds like a gentle term, but this was a torrential, can’t-see-through-the-windshield-with-the-wipers-on-high thunderstorm. So I didn’t make it to Twin Angels. Next trip…

I did explore two drive-in ruins in the San Juan basin, both easily accessible from paved roads. Salmon Ruin was built in the late 1000s, probably by Chacoan refugees with local help, judging from the quality of the masonry. It was occupied in at least three distinct phases, the first primarily by Chacoans, from 1088 to 1130 or so.  As the Chacoans moved out, the local San Juan population became its main residents, defining the second occupation from 1130 to 1190. In a third period, the local population grew and peaked after 1240. The locals lived there until site abandonment after a catastrophic fire in the 1280s.

Salmon appears less ‘clean’ than Pueblo Bonito and other ruins in Chaco Canyon, with weeds growing in ruin interiors. Some of this is due to original excavation and administration under San Juan County instead of the Federal Government. What is annoying to a photographer are the fenceposts and ‘keep out’ wires strung all over the ruin. It’s still possible to capture good images, but it’s challenging. The trick is to incorporate the wires as compositional elements, or choose compelling views that yank your viewers’ eyeballs away from them. Fortunately, those monsoon thunderstorms softened the light and made great sky backgrounds.

I also stopped at Aztec Ruins National Monument, several miles northeast. The masonry and plan indicate a Chacoan influence here too. Earl Morris excavated and worked at Aztec’s west ruin between 1917 and 1934, culminating in his restoration of the ruin’s Great Kiva. While some archeologists point to inaccuracies, it’s probably a close reconstruction. There’s nothing like it at any Anasazi ruin site. Here’s an inside view.

I just got approval for a permit to get married there next October. Since I haven’t mastered the quantum-mechanical techniques that would let me be in two places at once, my fiancee and I have hired a local photographer to capture the event.