OP Home > Locations > North America > The Timeless Moment

Locations



Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Timeless Moment


With a handheld, integrated-lens digital camera, renowned landscape photographer David Muench explores the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

Labels: Locations
This Article Features Photo Zoom
Until this trip, my only views of the range were drive-bys between Albuquerque and Big Bend. Surrounded by Chihuahuan Desert, these mountains give drama to a sere, hot borderland. Unaware that the spires and horns thrusting grandly into the sky were named for their resemblance to church organ pipes, I found their name awkward. While I often refer to the Sierras or the Rockies, it didn't seem quite right to talk about the Organs.

But when New Mexico's senators introduced the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act to the Senate in November 2013, I became curious. Once I arrived there, I was mesmerized. The Pine Tree Trail is gorgeous. Only four miles round-trip, it climbs up from desert beginning in the Lower Sonoran Life Zone into a world of magnificent old alligator juniper, pinyon pine and mountain mahogany in the Upper Sonoran Life Zone, then higher into the stately environment of ponderosas in the Transition Zone. Higher still, in the Canadian Zone, are scattered Doug fir and white fir.

"What most intrigues me is that this is an island in the sky that brings the Chihuahuan Desert lapping up into the 9,000-foot range," David says. What intrigues me is the spectacular granite—the whole of the range above us and the giant glacial erratics through which we made our way. Glades formed by junipers and oaks and huge boulders offered perfect stops, places to wait for David—who stops about every few feet to photograph—to catch up.

The time-sculpted skeletons of these ancient trees speak to him. Where bare, smooth limbs frame the Rabbit Ears—a horn formation symbolic of this range, visible on both the east and west sides—he takes time composing. Nature's forms, dead or alive, are equally compelling.

Oak trees not yet leafed out and the skeletons of oak trees that will never leaf out climb up along the trails. The air is completely still, a vital manifestation of silence. "It's so quiet here, I can hear the image stabilizer in the camera," David says. "I've never heard that before."

The song of birds whose names we don't know, the distant cooing of Aztec doves, the buzzing of flies, the absence of wind, of voices, of anything but us, are all magnified. Can a photograph portray silence? Can it present the eternity to which we are present?

Not far beyond the trail's halfway point, we arrive at a small spring trickling down rock bordering the trail, pooling in a tiny pond at the rock's base, feeding moss along the way, a little quasi-vertical oasis. Late in the day, the sun above the horns and peaks seems about to move behind the ridge. "Not long," David says. We watch the sun slide along the peaks, moving sideways, as if reluctant to sink, as if, loving the peaks, it wants to stay with them. "It's very slow," David says as he watches, poised with his camera.

Perched as he is on the rocks, the sun highlights his hair. I can't help but notice it's the kind of backlighting he loves. "This is a really nice shot," he says. "It's glowing. That's why I'm spending so much time up there."

He thinks I'm impatient to go. Since getting a fortune in a fortune cookie that said, "Patience may be a factor in maintaining your vitality," I'm rarely impatient. Even without the fortune, I would not be eager to leave this spot.

2 Comments

Add Comment

 

Popular OP Articles

  • Super Charged!Super Charged!
    There’s no substitute for megapixels. We look at the highest-pixel-count cameras, both medium-format and full-frame models, of all time. More »
  • Digital MythbustingDigital Mythbusting
    We bust some of the most common myths that digital photographers take into the field to help you get your best images More »
  • B&W EssentialsB&W Essentials
    A look at the essential gear you need for making your best black-and-white landscape, wildlife and travel photos More »