Traveling To Chaco Canyon

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By Katherine Johnson

February 18, 2018

Three Women Sitting On A Bench – Chetro Ketl, Chaco Canyon – San Juan County, NM

My first sojourn to the Southwest came a decade ago, during a time in my life that can best be described as the highest point of the lowest moment of being broke up, broke down, chewed up and spat out, a situation that nearly all of us are destined to endure eventually, especially those of us that are unlucky, unwisely love, or unexpectedly, so it seems, have a self-inflicted disaster, whose details only vary by circumstances and whether or not doing time like this is to be a misdemeanor stint or a soul grinding prison stretch.

Such was how I arrived in the Four Corners after months of being tethered to nothing, living as a fugitive, whose sentence already set, was to wander lost in the vast American West with nothing more than the scraps of 30 years of life left: an old truck, now my home, some camping gear, a bag of clothes, a 5 year old laptop with a busted hinge, a camera, two lenses, and a tripod.

At times like this there is no faith, no hope, no nothing and how this verdict plays out is more a matter of luck, with disappearing into alcohol and waking up in a tent by a river 10 years later, blowing one’s head off, a rational choice, when the pain in your soul leaves you doubled over, or waking up numb and going to bed numb until one day you’re just not so numb anymore, all have equal odds of coming true.

If there is anything positive to be found in times of profound numbness is that everything cools down, slows down, leaving even the inarticulate, in a semi state of hibernation where the conscious mind and the dreaming soul become automatons that are compelled to reflect, meditate about the faded faces that transited through the phases of your life’s moon, pine car derbies or cookie sales, communion or killing your first deer, watching the tears roll down your teacher’s face the day Kennedy was shot, the hurricane of a first love that ripped love apart leaving love permanently smudged, your children and how the gravity of family made you your parents. In that near frozen place odd details magnify, which in different times would never be noticed, especially those that exist somewhere beyond the bodies five senses.

There I spent the next couple of months in Hibernation, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico wandering every day, all day, amongst the red mesas, green junipers, yellow grasses, sage green sage, the vast clouds and sky, distant rain scents, wild ponies and antelopes, truck stops, casinos, cheap hotels, small towns, pueblos, and ancient places. There I spent those days sometimes still, sometimes on the move, sometimes watching the land while fueled by 86 octane, alcohol, caffeine, pepperoni sticks, and cheap McDonald’s hamburgers.

Odd details and odd people would come and go. At times they lingered around like snow on the north side of a hill in the spring or the guy who woke up in his trailer one morning and didn’t know a gas leak had developed overnight, who then struck a match to light a cigarette and blew it all to hell. Miraculously, he not only survived but found that he no longer had eyebrows and that he spent a lot of time asking people to speak up.

At other times those odd details made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, such as the time I was out on a canyon rim shooting photos, when suddenly, I for the first time became convinced that this land is literally alive. This scared the hell out of me and at the same time left me with an overwhelming sense of being in love. After months of numbness there was a path to peace and yeah, I cried for long time standing there. Over those weeks these moments of feeling connected to this part of the earth started happening with increasing regularity to the point I thought I was going insane.

Sometime after this I was hanging around a place for a few days and got to know a Navajo woman that showed up daily to sell jewelry along the side of the road. Because it was still early in the spring the number of tourists that came by was sparse, leaving us with long stretches to chat about this and that, while at other times she would make jewelry and I would read or doze off in the shade. On my last day there we talked for a time about my canyon experience and how that affected me. She never answered me directly. Instead she described the rite of passage for Navajo women, something I still consider a gift or honor. In hindsight, it was her way of affirming that what happened to me was real. I felt a lot less insane after that.

When my months ended, and I returned to the Pacific Northwest the numbness eventually receded leaving me living a life that was neither high nor low, the brokenness a lingering arthritis, and the coldness something that could be dealt with by wearing a sweater. What never went back to approximating normal was that sense of feeling at home, a state of being that only became more challenging over the next decade. Over the years the pull of the Southwest stayed a constant, if not an ever increasing force, until events in the Pacific Northwest forced my hand and I left for New Mexico.

Once again, I now find myself in the middle of this living land and its ancient places, with my sojourning days replaced with a state of being more like an immigrant to a country where its people regularly measure their connection here in centuries and millenniums. Still the canyons, the man with no eyebrows, the Navajo woman who steadied me, the ancient pueblos, and yes, this living land that owns me, there is no other place I wish to be, nor any desire too be any place else.

Sometimes being broke up, broke down, chewed up and spat out is exactly what we need to discover love anew, and that being here in the Southwest is the center of everything you need.

Chaco Canyon

Evidence indicates that Chaco Canyon has been inhabited, at least periodically from 900 BC with the most significant development beginning around 850 AD until 1150 AD. During that period the ancestral Pueblo people lived here and built magnificent buildings and developed a rich culture that made Chaco a center of trade, ceremony, and governance that is still inspiring.

My first visit to Chaco surprised me by how remote the site was until that sense of the living land and being surrounded by living spirits overtook me. It was then I realized that it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, rather it was the center of everything.

Further Reading

Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Chetro Ketal Site, Chaco Canyon
Pubelo Bonito Site, Chaco Canyon
National Park Service Chaco Culture
Pueblo People
New Mexico Pueblos Map

Copyright 2018 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

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Brothers

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By Katherine Johnson

February 16, 2018

Harold And George Inbody Headstone – Mica Cemetery – Mica, WA – Spokane County

Down the road a piece beyond the grain elevators
Past the fluorescent lights of gas and cigarettes
There below the disquieted shade of dark pines
Cradled in waving grasses sit grasshoppers humming
The living children of past generations.

There through the now peeling white washed Mica gate
Those ancestors witnessed the rattling hearse come
With its gleaming black paint and shimmering brass
Lead the procession of hope now despair
That wept tears beneath the shade and soaked the grasses.

Sometimes twice. Sometimes thrice.

Now thundering grain trucks roar past
Deaf to the unmovable shaded silence
Just beyond the gate and waving grasses
Where grasshoppers live and give witness
To two brothers who met in eternity.

Copyright 2018 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

It Is A Mystery

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By Katherine Johnson

February 15, 2018

Magic Lamp Post – Downtown – Albuquerque, NM

Because I was born in America and managed to survive my teenage years I consider myself to have excellent taste in everything important such as hating the Yankees, having a rough idea of how many tons of drugs Grace Slick consumed, personally know places like the UFO Docking Station and Teleportation Center in Canes Bed, AZ and cultural icons such as Stuckie the Mummified Dog which is on display in Way Cross, Georgia.

This and more prepared me for life in New Mexico which I consider to be a cultural vortex where it is a settled fact that aliens crash landed in Roswell, that out in the junipers north of Santa Fe is a colony of shape shifting shamans that are known to use peyote on occasion (they are also rumored to be friends of Grace Slick), and that Francisco Coronado’s highly frustrated ghost can be seen out in the desert still searching for the seven cities of gold.

With that in mind, I think you have to agree that it is no surprise that when I first saw this mural, shown above, that I was positive I had stumbled on another instance of the vortex to rival the great Roswell incident.

Immediately, I was like, this is thing is totally trippy, as in Grace Slick on peyote trippy, and and why can’t I see his junk, with emphasis on the junk part?

I was instantly obsessed with the missing junk at a level that I am sure rivaled Coronado and his missing gold cock up. No matter how many times I returned to this mural and moved to the left or right, forward or back, that damn lamp post stayed a perfect fig leaf.

My obsession was endless and though it is embarrassing to admit this, Mr. No Junk, to be honest, kind of got me warmed up so to speak.

And with that, I not only hinted that my love life is pathetic, but I also introduced you to what is sure to be Albuquerque’s next great tourist attraction, guaranteed to rival the Sea Lion Caves in Oregon.

Copyright 2018 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

An Adobe Spirit

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By Katherine Johnson

February 14, 2018


San Francisco de Asis Chruch Detail (Built 1839) – Highway 14 (Turquoise Trail) – Golden, NM

One of the first signature details about New Mexico that captured my heart was the abode architecture that sprung from that earth itself and gave shelter to millenniums of people who have come and gone from this profound land. This ancient way of building with mud walls and a mud skin, used around the world where timber is precious, is especially suited in this dry place, New Mexico.

The basic construction technique is to create thick, load bearing walls from sun dried bricks of mud and straw or built up puddles, a technique where the mud is laid down in successive layers. These in turn are skinned in a mud plaster, that was at times, the sole responsibility of the Pueblo women.

The buildings constructed ranged from simple single story structures to complex multi story, multi family human beehives that housed entire Pueblo tribes who lived communally. Additionally because of the thick walls they are incredibly efficient at staying cool in the heat of summer and staying warm in the cold of winter, both very desirable attributes here in the high desert where elevations are a mile high or more.


New Mexico Thunder Sky – Astante Villas (Built 2009) – Rio Rancho, NM

In a very real manner the Pueblo people were the original condo dwellers and I can only imagine that they had all the same squabbles and gossip that comes from living on top of each other. The longer I live the more I am convinced that nothing ever really changes. This point often frames my musing when I am out amongst the ruins which are stark reminders that our time on earth is short, very short. Plus, I also like the idea one can actually say that town houses are as old as dirt and not be exaggerating.

Aesthetically, I am struck by how these buildings visually seem to be in the land as opposed to sitting on top of it. This effect reinforces the overwhelming sense, that comes from being surrounded by the endless New Mexican horizons and sky, that we don’t really live here, rather what we experience is the blessing of being able to meditate on what it means to be connected to something we can never fully understand.

Are our souls not adobe too?

Even today, the perfection of how the adobe style cooperates with the land and sky is still a constant, an architectural food that has the power to gather people together around a hearth for warmth and a table to share bowls of green chile stew.

Copyright 2018 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

Winter Birches Along The Yakima River

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By Katherine Johnson

February 12, 2018


Winter Birches – Hayward Road – Kittitas County, WA

In the spring of 2016 I concluded that my life in Seattle was permanently over, in part because I could not longer afford the financial costs of living there, but more to point, that I was no no longer willing to pay the price to live in a city whose culture I barely recognized and no longer welcomed me.

Because of this I spent that spring and summer living a nomadic life traveling to places around the Pacific Northwest searching for that one place that felt like it could be home. Then it was fall, then it was winter and my found that my travels had stopped being a search for home. Instead, I was traveling through my lifetime, my nooks and crannies, my memories, with the sole purpose of saying goodbye.

On Thanksgiving morning I found myself traveling by intuition somewhere along the Yakima River, between Ellensburg and Cle Elum, when I concluded that my time in the Pacific Northwest was over that I would leave for New Mexico in a few days to look for home.

It was there that I stopped and photographed these naked trees that stood there silent waiting for spring. I felt a kinship with them and to honor them I resolved that this would be my last photograph of that land which I loved with my entire soul, that land, those nooks and crannies, where, over a lifetime, I celebrated great joy and found refuge when in despair.

Copyright 2018 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved