Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .


Leave a comment



From Crestone, we wound our way through western Colorado, dodging storms over the mountain passes. By late afternoon we drove by Four Corners. The gates were closed; we had missed our opportunity to stand in four states at once. I have a photo of my mother, sister and I doing just that in 1969. In the distance, Shiprock beckoned to us just as it had to other travelers over centuries.

It was dark by the time we reach the campground at Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”). I feared it might be full but there were only a few people there.

This National Monument is a partnership between the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation. All the employees are Navajo and you can only enter the Canyon accompanied by an authorized Navajo guide. Many individuals and small companies offer their guide services. Four wheel drive is required and the vehicles range from small jeeps to large transports that carry eight people in the back bed. After exploring the Visitors Center we wandered outside unsure about how to go about arranging a trip into the canyon. Then we saw a man parked in a rickety old jeep and figured he was looking for customers. We approached him, bargained the price, and made arrangements to follow him to the entrance of the Canyon where we would leave our camper truck.

The weather was cool and the dark sky threatened showers. The red dirt roads were wet, muddy and deeply rutted. We fishtailed in spots and occasionally the tires bogged down in the muck. The ride was rough, bouncing and tossing us in all directions, making it seem like more of a wild adventure than it was. If this jeep had ever had shocks, they were long gone. Some of the other guides had fancy SUVs, new and shiny, large and well outfitted. I liked the intimacy of traveling in our small decrepit, patched together jalopy. When rain started, our guide John stopped to attached the ill-fitting cloth roof, like a hand-me-down from some other vehicle.

John told us stories of growing up in the area. As a child he spent the school year above the Canyon but during the summer he lived with his aunt at her small homestead within the red canyon walls. His recollections of summers in the Canyon where not particularly happy. His aunt was stern and he was lonely with few peers to play with. Pointing down one of the side canyons, he showed us where he had spent so many summer many years ago. Today no one lives in the canyon full time. Some farming is still done on small plots and cattle and horses are grazed throughout. The big industry are the tours.

We stopped for petroglyphs and cliff dwellings, for striking views and short walks. John said that normally it would be busy this time of year. But we saw only a few other visitors in the canyon. He did not know why tourism was light.

The most intriguing story John shared was about an encounter his grandfather had in the canyon. He claimed to have seen and spoken to a mysterious ancient tribe of diminutive people who lived hidden in caves. They are supposedly still there today, unseen and untouched by modernity. I imagined them there, peaking out at us from dark openings in the walls as we drove by, waiting for moments to emerge and live freely in the embrace of this beautiful red earth valley.

Later, after dinner, we drove the rim road to see the Canyon from above. The sun was disappearing quickly, it’s last rays illuminating the clouds and painting them orange, pink and purple. The clouds also shone from within by the occasional bolt of lightning. As it became still darker, I resorted to long exposure shots to capture any last bit of light. We barely caught a glimpse of the famous Spider Rock before it disappeared into complete darkness.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones):


This gallery contains 38 photos

Time and Transmutation

1 Comment

Time and Transmutation
Petrified Forest National Park
August 2016

Last August we drove through the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Unlike most national parks there is no lodging there or even close by. It is a day trip park. Two visitor centers bookend the 28-mile tour through a diverse landscape.

Now a stark desert, it once was a lush jungle, watery and verdant. Large trees and ferns populated the area as well as prehistoric beasts such as the huge crocodile-like phytosaur. In these barren hills, geology is exposed and is remarkable in its naked beauty. Colorful pink painted badlands, layers of textured earth from changing epochs, dried river beds silently winding their way to the horizon. I was visiting for a brief moment in the vast expanse of time. But perhaps I contain molecules that once were in the needles of a ancient living tree or were in the blood of a mammoth amphibian who swam here 225 millions years ago. I superimposed the green image of a primeval forest over what I actually saw, and was awed by the contrast and endless potential of nature.

Petrified logs were tossed everywhere as if only recently felled and sliced into sections by loggers. But the organic woodiness of these fossils has long been replaced by quartz and other minerals transforming them into multi-colored boulders. Originally buried in mud and volcanic ash, the changing climate and millennia of erosion have brought them to the surface again.

Along the route, ravens greeted us at most scenic stops. Clearly they associated humans with handouts. A favorite bird, we took advantage of their curiosity for photo ops. (I was recently pleased to discover that an early meaning of my Irish surname Brennan, is raven. Perhaps they were the ancient animal familiar of the Brennan Clan.) Preparing for a nap after lunch, a friendly and talkative raven amused us with his conversational skill at the picnic table. He gave the distinct impression that he was trying to communicate something important to us. To see his video go to:

Millions of beautifully colored petrified wood shards littered the ground. I had to hold back my rockhound and jewelry-making instincts and refrain from gathering any. It is illegal to take fossils from the park. At one end of the drive, we were grilled by a ranger to make sure we had collected none. I did buy several polished legal pieces from the gift shop and have since transformed them into necklaces.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones):

This gallery contains 40 photos