Archive for Northern Arizona

Air II

Posted in Hopi with tags , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2010 by brettvanort

Some more from up top:

The smoke is from detonations earlier in the day.

Navajo Mountain in the background and a former mine in the foreground.

The start of the coal conveyor.


Posted in Hopi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by brettvanort

My first trip to Black Mesa was on the ground.  I knew I would be able to view it from the air but I wanted to see what kind of access I could have on the ground.  This mine is also known as Kayenta, there is a town nearby with the same name.  Peabody Coal Company began strip mine operations in 1968.  It is the largest strip mine in the United States.  It was shut for several years from 2006 to 2008 because of depletion of the water table underneath the mesa, but mining resumed as in the last days of the Bush administration and ordinance was passed to allow for the reopening of one of the two strip mines.  These mines feed the Navajo Plant in Page, which I recently showed work from on the blog, and the now shut Mohave Plant in Laughlin, NV.

An even safer mine might be shut?

The Mohave Plant required the construction of a 273 mile slurry pipeline so coal could be shipped to the plant.  Pulverized Coal would be mixed with water to make slurry which would then in turn be shipped to the plant.  Upon receiving the slurry the coal is filtered from the water out and disposed of.  There is no way for the slurried coal water to be reclaimed or reused.  It is waste and disposed of as such.  Now that the Mohave plant has shut the amount of water usage has decreased but as with an energy production, much with agricultural production, water is the lifeline.  So with the re-opening of the plant the water is again being used and the aquifer depleted.

Here a conveyor starts the shipment of mined coal to a location off the mesa.

The complete closure of the mine would stop the depletion of the water table but it would also put anywhere from 600 to 800 Navajo out of work in a region where there are hardly any well-paid, skilled jobs.  Because of this the mine is a contentious issue.

The terminus of the coal conveyor near Federal Highway 160

The coal conveyor above still operates and ships coal to the coal silo where coal is stored.  It is now shipped via Railroad to the Navajo plant in Page, NV.  In the next few days I’ll post some of what I saw from the air.  What is supposed to be a “small” operation that supports only the Navajo Plant looked to my eyes to be large, expansive and larger than expected.

Little Colorado

Posted in Hopi with tags , , , , , , , on January 13, 2010 by brettvanort

During my long wait for the tribal elders to go over my project proposal I visited the region north of Hopi.  This includes Black Mesa, where the coal mine is, and just across from that Navajo National Monument where several ruins of Hopi ancestors are built into the cliffs.  The Parks Service and the Navajo that live in the area calls the inhabitants of these ruins Anazasi or Puebloan peoples.  I had a Hopi guide from the park service take me to some of the ruins and he explained to me that the people that lived here were his ancestors and the Hopi people’s ancestors.  They were not Anasazi, a term that was developed to lump all puebloan living peoples in the Four Corners Region of the United States at the time.

On our hike we descended into a small tributary of the Little Colorado River.  What I would call a small stream, would be fed by seepage from the sandstone canyon that surrounds the area.  But the people in this area would rely on this river or stream as it would feed and produce all of their agriculture and they would have to use it for hydration, washing and cleaning as well.  I still couldn’t get over the fact that people in such an arid climate could exist without a plentiful water supply.  The reasons why water was so sacred to these people became more and more clear with every day that I spent in the region.

There was actual running water to be seen.

In the photograph above you can see a small ledge of earth to the left of the river bank.  My guide told me that was a highly appropriate spot for corn to be harvested and planted.  It would have more than adequate water throughout the planting season.  What I found astonishing is that these highly strategic areas that were appropriate for planting were incredibly small and therefore the crop yields had to be fairly low.  If you also take into account the size of the Hopi corn stalk, which yielded smaller, tougher ears of corn, it was hard to imagine a substantial population living in the region.

Tomorrow, the cliff dwellings.

Outside Hopi

Posted in Hopi with tags , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by brettvanort

Once I got back from Arizona I felt the work I had done there was a shambles.  Nothing of result.  Just a bunch of photos of nothing.

Initially the idea was to photograph the Hopi and their planting process, which has for a millenium been the same.  Except for the advent of tractors and modern farm equipment in the 1950s the Hopi have used a planting stick and corn seed as their ancestors have.  But now, stuck in a stubborn drought and seeing a way of life that was hard, but gratifying and common disappear slowly, the Hopi tenuously hold onto the vestiges of an agricultural way of life from a bygone era.

I had to find farmers that planted traditionally and focus on their way of life and the landscape that surrounds them.  Using no contemporary irrigation techniques, the Hopi have relied on seepage from the naturally occurring aquifers in northern Arizona.  Along with the prolonged drought that has hit the area, the coal mining on Black Mesa has effected the Hopi farming practice as well.  Peabody corporation in their thirst for coal and profit, operate the largest strip mine in the western United States on Black Mesa.  The mine was temporarily shut in 2004 only to see it partly re-open in a limited capacity recently.  The mining operation depended on the coal being mixed with water to create a slurry which was shipped via a pipeline to the Mohave Plant in Lauglin, Nevada, the west’s dirtiest power plant in 2003 according to the Sierra Club.  The plant shut down after the Black Mesa mine was shut down in 2004.  However, the water used from the naturally occurring aquifer underneath Black Mesa depleted the lifeline of the Hopi farm.

This was the back drop I was to work with.  Of course no access meant no story but while I was waiting for permission to shoot inside Hopi I opted to shoot around the territory, showing how the desert has been changed, adapted and transformed into something of use and waste at the same time.

Once I got back to London I opted to shelve the story for the time-being and work only on Minescape.  Adam Broomberg remembered that I had intended to shoot in Hopi though and asked that he look at what I had.  His reaction prompted me to dust this project off and take a look.  He felt that I should use my greatest weakness (no access) as my greatest strength with this particular story.  He said that if the Hopi were not going to give me access, if they were to deny the use of a camera in their lands, that I should follow the lines that surround their territory and see what that looks like.  It’s better to use your imagination as to what inside Hopi looks like than to have a concrete image of what it truly is.

I’m going to run with that for a while and see how it goes.  The rainbow from yesterday can be placed in the pile of images at the moment, but here is another.

Indian Highway 264 into Hopi.

This is the way into Hopi from the West.  We are still in Navajo Territory at this point, just outside of Tuba City, Arizona.  This is the only main East/West road that exists in Hopi and it traverses by all three of the mesas that comprise the ancestral homeland of Hopi.

Double Rainbow

Posted in Hopi with tags , , , , , on January 11, 2010 by brettvanort

I feel a nice warm day would be nice.  Kind of like this day in September.  I was outside Winslow, AZ.  It must have been in the mid 80s that day.  The rain was cool but refreshing.  I was only really concerned about the lightning while I was shooting.  But when the storm passed passed I got this.

It seemed like I could just reach out and touch it.

At that moment I thought that I would get my access to Hopi and that I would have a story.  Of course I didn’t get access and I felt I didn’t have a story but I think for the next few days I’ll be posting what could be the makings of a story.  It may not be the story I thought I would have when I started but it could work.  It could just be the beginning of a new way of approaching it.

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