A Fistful of Photographs. Good, Bad and Ugly.

The dead and the living, dawn or dusk, on the domes and spires of all the west is ineffably beautiful.  Its dry desert country crowds the libraries of heart and mind with volumes of inescapable yearning.  The flaming glory of the sun scorches the path.  So that touring, not too much unlike the dealing of cards, boot by boot plays wild into the landscapes new and fresh, left untouched by the societies of man.

Listen to “Ecstasy of Gold” by Ennion Morricone from the movie “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” while you read this post for an enhanced experience. I know, kind of corny.

 1 mile. Facing east before crossing a wash in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

A photoshop painting produced by iamzal, who was inspired by the above photo.

1.1 miles. Bulge of Sandstone

1.5 miles. Creosote, Spiny Menodora, Bursage, Rock and Sand in Valley of Fire

1.8 miles. A vista towards the Northeast reveals the hint of a rainbow.

Thar’s drawings in them thar hills.  Of which, I stumbled across quite by accident!  Y’all will get some clues as to where, but in respect to those who came before us and the sensitive nature of the petroglyphs, I would rather leave this to be somewhat of a challenge to locate.  To the observant, however, the map and pictures would surely not lead them astray.  The footsteps mark the path, the wagon the parking area and the small bit of road at the bottom of the map is paved and within Valley of Fire State Park.  The topography on the map is accurate and the “spiral” marks the approximate location of the petroglyphs.  Should you find yourself in the region, this remarkably well preserved and little known parcel of the past would make a distinctive foray.  It is roughly 3 miles round trip if you head straight for the petroglyphs and is not on any marked trail.

For your travels, here are some codes of the west…

If you pass someone on the trail, don’t look back at them. It implies you don’t trust them.

 Never order anything weaker than whiskey.

It’s alright to cuss, but only around men, horses and cows.

Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.

Never try on another man’s hat

As stubborn as my dog is, this is a lucky shot!

2 miles. About the spot I turned west. This is looking out towards the Lake Mead RCA.

2.5 miles. Bursage and Creosote creep towards the sandstone hills.

2.7 miles. To what and where is none of my concern, only that it is there.

3 miles. An enchanting area of standing rock.

3.5 miles. Now within the “Courtyard of the Ancients”. A perch overlooking an obvious camp is littered with some of the best quality petroglyphs I have ever seen.

Courtyard of the Ancients

An unofficial designation “Courtyard of the Ancients” was nominated by me personally, as I could find no other for this fascinating locale.  It is an open fairly flat patch of desert, perhaps 2 to 3 acres in size, surrounded by stately walls of sandstone.  Once inside it is hard not to sense that this was a unique and meaningful place for the native peoples that inhabited this area in the distant past.

Should you enter the courtyard from the Southeast, look to the walls on the right or east side of the courtyard.  A small petroglyph man is carved into the rock marking the point at which you should climb to the ledge.  This is quite obviously an instruction, which is the first petroglyph I have found that has a very direct and evident meaning.  The climb up to the ledge is an easy class 4 of about 30 feet.  Up there, one can see how the artist or journalist of the ancients would gaze out over their people and chisel in the stories of the hunt, where to find water or testaments to their Gods.

The ledge in the Courtyard of the Ancients.

A well preserved Bighorn from up on the ledge. Looking Southeast.

Over the expanse of effortless centuries, the immensity of storms bound with thunder and filled with rain tear apart the ground, providing a sequel of sorts to each of its predecessor.  It is hard in this country to gather raindrops into streams, much less streams into rivers.  Most go unnoticed, torn from the land and pulled down into the realm of the roots.

3.7 miles. A burst of rain on my walk out of the Courtyard of the Ancients.

3.8 miles. Looking back after the rain cloud passed, one of the main walls inside the courtyard was beautifully lit. I could not get my camera out fast enough!

4 miles. A pedestal of rock passed as exiting the Courtyard.

4.5 miles. Old wooden structure of unknown use.

Vast, extent and ornate are the layers of sky, horizon and earth.  This park out yonder, in its wild extravagance, exceeds all of the cathedrals of man.  The fable of cowboy and injun echo among the rock and ruin.  Old wood, patient carvings and used up camps still permeate the west.  Holding testament to the proud, the bold and the foolish who set boot or moccasin on the soil of legends.

Sky, Horizon and Earth

5 miles. Approaching the end of the trek as a forbidding storm cloud pushes overhead.

Having inhaled in the redolent of creosote on so many occasions, I am reminded of a multitude of adventures when among it.  In turbid skies, so it seems, does the essence of the desert rise and waft through the air. Ever waiting, ever still until the after effects of far away places bring in the blessed moisture. Standing here on the final leg of the journey, I can wait until the last second as the storm barrels and rolls its way across the region. Drenching the parched landscape, reinventing the desert into a respite of life and good fortune.

End Desert Begin City…



168 comments on “A Fistful of Photographs. Good, Bad and Ugly.

  1. Really enjoyed your post, great photos!

  2. Ethan Zook says:

    Gorgeous photos. I think my favorite is the one of the rock pinnacle in the courtyard @ 3.8 miles with the rainstorm behind. Makes me want to visit the desert…

  3. truels says:

    What a stunning place. I would love to travel there. thanks for showing this great series!

  4. Gayle says:

    It is truly a gift to be able to relay special moments through pictures and words and allow those that read and see them feel as if they have experienced it along side you…

  5. JBPhotography says:

    Being of the corny clan myself, I played the music as instructed, and loved it. It doesn’t hurt that I am a fan of Ennion Morricone (have you heard the soundtrack to The Mission – or better yet, watched the movie?)

    Your photos and narrative are amazing, and I see I’m not the only one who feels the tug of wanting to visit the beautiful places you document. That shot at mile 3.8 is beyond compare – absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

    • Matt says:

      Very cool, I haven’t seen The Mission or heard the soundtrack, but I’m on it. Looks like it’s on itunes and I’ve got a $10 gift card. Perfect.

      Thanks so much for the very positive comment. Makes me feel that what I am doing is worth my time!

      • JBPhotography says:

        Very much worth your time 🙂 Heads up on The Mission, in many ways it is kind of a tough movie, but it heartbreakingly beautiful.

  6. char says:

    I’m now officially homesick. I love Valley of Fire and haven’t been there for years. Great pictures! I love how you caught the storm (I miss the Southern Nevada storms–they are awesome…and the sagebrush scented rain here in Idaho doesn’t smell near as good and refreshing as it does down south where it is tinged with the creosote.)

  7. Recently, I’ve been interested in making the southwest one of my future vacation hiking expeditions, etc. Will be visiting Las Vegas this spring with my family (went about 4 years ago coincidentally during the spring and was very surprised at much I enjoyed the weather). Anyhow your pictures are great and reiterated how glad I am to be going there again : )

  8. DeAnn says:

    Absolutely awesome….what talent!

  9. Thetis and Keith says:

    Matt, wonderful trip to the desert again!!! We can almost smell the air as the rain drops. Beautiful visuals, and loved the music!

  10. I love that your post has a soundtrack — what a fabulous idea!

    And your pix are spectacular. Seriously spectacular… I live in northern Nevada, which is a combination of alpine and dessert…so I love the character inherent to desolation. Beautiful countryside we have in these parts…

  11. These photos are truly stunning. Really loved your post!

  12. Amazing photographs! And your dog is beautiful. 🙂

  13. hnMom says:

    What a beautiful hike! Thanks for takings us along. The petroglyphs made even more special; always love exploring those.

    • Matt says:

      Thank you for reading. I agree, petroglyphs can really draw you into the landscape and help you look at the area in a different light.

  14. Cherryl says:

    So far this is the most interesting and unique blog I have visited in WordPress. Nice photos! Thank you for sharing.

  15. I love that you were there when it was cloudy. Desert clouds are awesome.

    I haven’t been to Red Rocks in a while…but you have inspired me to go there this weekend.

  16. Beautiful photos – thanks for sharing! Congrats on being FP!

  17. Awesome photos and landscape. I think my favorite was at 3.8 mile.

  18. Ryan Sprout says:

    Spectacular photographs! Thanks for sharing such great stories!

  19. Tim Shey says:

    Good photos. You obviously appreciate the westerns with Clint Eastwood.

    Here is a story you may want to read:

    “High Plains Drifter (short story)”

  20. pictures are awesome!

  21. Your photos bring back fond memories of my own trips to the Valley Of Fire. I loved my time in Nevada 🙂

  22. Ria Gandhi says:

    i love the one that says sky,horizon and the earth..what is that thing in the sky?

  23. Amazing photos. But the best is of that dog. He looks so wise. :))

  24. daveinden says:

    Great photos and the choice of music to accompany reading was fun. Really helped with the sense of adventure.

  25. all time oldes says:

    Such rich description you have offered the reader. I particularly like the photographs of the ledge in the courtyard of the ancients. Joy to read and really interesting .. thanks. Pam

  26. This looks like an amazing hike! 🙂 I love the American landscape; such beautiful creation all around us. Thank you, for sharing. 🙂

  27. westerner54 says:

    Wonderful post. And I so appreciate your leaving the exact location of the “courtyard” somewhat of a mystery. And by the way, even though you can’t see me, I’m drinking my whiskey with my gun hand!

  28. cheryllme says:

    beautiful pictures. i love the sky, horizon and earth photo, it speaks..

  29. All your photos are great, as much as your narrative. Thank you!

  30. Capturing Light says:

    Tower Full and Storm Mirror are really strong images. Great Post.
    Congrats on being FP’d

  31. Lina says:

    I love the pictures of the ancient carvings. I just took an anthropology class and we learned one of the theories is that those sorts of carvings/paintings might have been used to teach the children about the customs.

  32. Fabulous variety of beautiful photos! These really capture our American desert so perfectly. I love your Courtyard of the Ancients designation – and I suspect you wooden structure was a bridge over water, when there was water there.

    Thanks for a charming trip – and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  33. Ellen Moore says:

    LOVE the photo at 3.8 miles of the wall. Incredible! I’m just an aspiring hobbyist who wishes I could get out more. Thanks for the inspiration!

  34. Jen Bresnick says:

    Beautiful photographs! The glyphs are amazing.

  35. cynthia says:

    Amazing and beautiful

  36. Grumpa Joe says:

    The music is a nice touch. I love your photos of the desert. They reminded me of the Valley of the Sun.

  37. Gorgeous images. Wow, I really want to go there now. . . . Thanks for tantalizing me.

  38. You’ve captured some really nice images. Good work!

  39. Violet says:

    Awesome photos! Great post! Love reading about this kind of thing.

  40. Very cool pictures and commentary. Have you ever been to Canyon of the Ancients in CO/Utah by any chance? We might be going through there this summer. Last time through Nevada we camped at Angel Lake State Park and were amazed to find snow up there in July (with Wells sitting below us in the 90s).

    • Matt says:

      Thanks, no I haven’t but I know of it. I hope you make it, it looks very interesting. Last year we had snow all year by a place called Big Falls in the Spring Mountains. Never in my 20 years around Las Vegas have I ever seen that and it’s only a 30 minute drive from my house!

      • Do you plan to do a similar photo essay on Mt. Charleston? During the 9 months I lived in Las Vegas, that area provided my best link to sanity. I am a native (northern) Nevadan, and though I had heard of the Spring Mts., was pleasantly surprised to find such a little island of wonderfulness on the outskirts of the Giant Neon Looneybin.

      • Matt says:

        Definitely, in fact I was planning on getting up there in the next couple weeks. We have had a couple late storms, having one now actually. I have a pretty good set of fall foliage pics from last fall on flickr if you want to check it out. http://www.flickr.com/photos/desertecho/sets/72157627988674351/

  41. I love the sunlight on the orange with the dark clouds in the background!

  42. melvisx says:

    3.5 miles, you’re dog’s a great photographer too!

  43. Vodka Doll says:

    Mile 2.5 is my favourite, very beautiful. I would love to blow that picture up and hang it on my wall.

  44. jbfotography says:

    Photos look great! I plan to visit the area this summer.

  45. wildapplause says:

    what beautiful photographs…and what a pleasure it must have been to enjoy the stormy weather as well…the sky, though not blue, is still just as majestic. nice post!

  46. omwaombara says:

    End City it was so sweet of your “stubborn dog” to pause for such a nice photo. Great pictures. Congrats for getting blogged.

  47. omwaombara says:

    Congrats for getting Freshly Pressed not “Blogged. Lol.

  48. You were very lucky to get these pictures, they really make me want to venture into the desert.

  49. dandaoyi says:

    it’s so beautiful.

  50. angelwee90 says:

    Excellent photos! Continue taking such photos 😀

  51. Hey Matt, just wanted to add my voice to the general chorus of approval, thanks and acclaim- such great photographs, you’ve caught the landscape and quality of light beautifully, and the soundtrack is such a cool idea! In fact I’m sure you’ll inspire loads more people to do the same thing and embed music, because it really works well). The pictures of the glyphs are fantastic. As a sort of side benefit for me personally they reminded me of wonderful rock drawings in the Kalahari/Namib area in Africa I was lucky enough to see 5/6 years back. In fact you’ve given me such a burst of wonder and inspiration I am going to try and find them now! So for that, and in general , thank you very much. Please keep up the great work.
    PS: very cool dog also!

    • Matt says:

      Well thank you! 🙂 Wasn’t sure if the music would be too corny or not, but it seems to have added a unique element. Really, the main reason for this blog is to inspire a few people, myself included. Thanks for the positive feed back, good luck in your travels.

  52. Great images and congrats on being freshly pressed.

  53. punampal says:

    I usually say ‘beautiful photographs’, but this is a beautiful post. Loved the way you wrote, its like poetry. And of-course beautiful photographs.

  54. Bonnie says:

    Stunning shots and narration of!! And for the record, the song playing in the background did go quite well. 🙂 Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  55. I especially like the picture of the burst of rain.

    • Matt says:

      I did too, did you enlarge it? The glimmer on the plants and ground, as well as the streaks of rain really were an unexpected surprise.

  56. Off The Map says:

    Awesome shots! Love the petroglyphs, got to check out a few when I was in Moab

  57. deanjbaker says:

    great work.. and dog

  58. Joe Labriola says:

    Beautiful! I’ve been to Colorado and New Mexico, but not Nevada next. Excellent shots!

  59. andyo1976 says:

    Great photos, great looking dog, enjoyed the post…
    Andy O.

  60. Karen says:

    Wow, you are quite the writer. Beautiful photographs too. I love that you suggested to listen to the music. Nice touch. I like how you included the codes for the west–drink whiskey with your gun hand, never try on another mans hat, etc..

  61. maryfollowsthelamb says:

    Stunning photographs! Enhanced by the music too. I made a copy of “Tower Full” for my desktop. The colors are so vibrant and crisp. I like it!!!

  62. Bruce says:

    I’m from downunder, but the photos reminded me of watching Westerns when I was a kid. It is just the stuff I remember; hot, rocky and dusty with a spot for an ambush. The Tower Full photo is dramatic (great lighting with right exposure); In the photo, Sky Horizon Earth, is the bright area in the sky a cloud or flare on the lens? It looks good either way. Bruce

  63. Teri Karl says:

    Lovely landscapes.

  64. ~MIAH~ says:

    Wow! An incredible view of some amazing red rocks and nice hieroglyphs. A nice chronological, pictorial depiction of a hike and the shot of the red rock and grey clouds at 3.8 miles is quite stunning in the light you captured.

  65. Seasonsgirl says:

    I liked your photos and your dog… Such a cutie 🙂 Congrats on the freshly pressed!

  66. laviera says:

    Uh…. I’d just like to point out that you failed to post the bad and the ugly along with the good as promised on your title….

  67. ilovecats says:

    Love the pictures. The Sky Horizon Earth picture is my favorite. Thanks for sharing.

  68. Congrats on the Fresh Post! Looks like a very unspoiled spot. We just shot a video in the canyons of S.E. Colorado..lots of Rock Art but also alot of graffiti. Were did the indians get water?

    • Matt says:

      Thank you! There are pockets of water called tanks within Valley of Fire that the native peoples utilized. Although I’m sure the water was not very clean. There are springs to be found in the surrounding landscapes as well. Before the Hoover Dam backed up the Colorado River, I would guess they used that as well, which is not very far away.

  69. hottabb says:

    great photographs!

  70. MzLoveViewz says:

    Wow! Water wow! Picture’s are awesome!

  71. Dreamz Infra says:

    Awesome Collection of pics…

  72. Nice clicks. Thanks for sharing.

  73. Gilberto says:

    I drove through it VoF (check my blog) last year but missed the petroglyphs. nice pics!

  74. jayward33 says:


  75. theitilguy says:

    Beautiful photographs… I’m curious the artisians were able to reach the heights to draw Big Horn on the rocks… Thanks for shaving!

  76. klrs09 says:

    You write like a poet — your words go beautifully with your photos. What a gorgeous dog you have, looks like a great walking companion. Congrats on being FP’d.

  77. cyndysmith says:

    Love your photos!

  78. shak273 says:

    > 4.5 miles. Old wooden structure of unknown use.
    > The Retiring Sort says: March 23, 2012 at 11:09 pm
    > I suspect you wooden structure was a bridge
    I agree. It does not look as a bridge now because ground around moved due to erosion.

    • Matt says:

      There was a lot of mining around the area in the past. I don’t think it was a bridge over water from a creek or anything, as there is no running water to be found anywhere.

  79. Great photos! I’ve never been to AZ, but these certainly make me what to make the trip. Congratz on the Fresh Press as well.

  80. Awesome photos! It’s wonderful to see all the creative photographers with different styles of photographing. Thank you for sharing! Congratulations on being FP, 🙂

    • Matt says:

      Thank you very much! I am very new to this whole thing. I only wish I found it sooner. The people and artistic expression in this community is very enriching. 🙂

  81. heronwheels says:

    Nice photos! I love Valley of Fire and as a rock art nerd, love to see the petroglyphs there. Look forward to following/reading more of your blog!

  82. Some nice images. I like to do landscapes myself.

  83. iamzal says:

    great stuff ,stunning , is it alright with you if i paint one of the image ?

  84. Cassie says:

    It’s crazy how beautiful dried mud can be.

  85. Kev says:

    Cool Pictures!

  86. I love the west… Great pictures… Thanks

  87. 1stjoeyanna says:

    So well done! I’m somewhat at a loss for words! I was entranced by the images I got to see through the lens of your camera! What an awesome adventure you just took me on! Thank You!

  88. Erin Bohler says:

    Shut the front door. You just posted pictures of the desert viewed to the soundtrack of perhaps the most iconic gritty desert movie of my childhood. If this communication were in person, I would be frantically shaking your hand. Well done.

  89. Love the title analogy! Great write-up!

  90. theosus1 says:

    Great stuff. As a potential hiker… I like reading stuff from others.

  91. Belissimas imagens. Parabéns!

  92. I think you meant to say the good the good and great! Really beautiful photos! I think you made Nevada look as beautiful as i have ever seen! bravo!

  93. aso127 says:

    This is really a good work. I appreciate your efforts behind that. Have a great day!

  94. michaelangelowrites says:

    It would be amazing if I can go to that place. Good shots.

  95. Wow! I love your blog. You have caused at least one person (likely many) to want to drive great distance to hike here.

  96. Scott says:

    Love the photos.

  97. hikinjim says:

    Pretty cool photos!


  98. Jerry Bryant says:

    The mile 3.8 picture is awesome!

  99. Cool! But you DO know that Good, Bad & Ugly was filmed in Spain don’t you? In fact, right near where I live! http://wp.me/p29ILL-ex

    Come over for a visit, I’d love to welcome you to my beautiful part of the world 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s