Hunt’s Mesa: A Sacred Place

Author:  K. Meng Tay

This past week I was a trip leader on an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop to Monument Valley and Hunt’s Mesa with LeRoy Dejolie.  This workshop not only provided magical photo opportunities, it left me with a lasting impression

We disembarked from our vehicles about 100 yards from the top of the mesa. Our acclaimed Navajo photographer and author, LeRoy DeJolie, addressed the group (not exactly in these words): “This is a sacred place to my ancestors. This is where my grandmother lived without water or electricity. As we walk to the top I want you to look down and not open your eyes until I told you to do so.”

We stood next to each other at the top of the mesa, our eyes still closed. When LeRoy told us to open our eyes, there were a plenty of “oohs” and “wows” and even some tears. Before us was one of the most majestic views that all of us have ever seen.Hunts1

The above panoramic picture is a merger of 8 shots taken at 1/200 sec, f/11 and ISO 200. Post-processing with Lightroom 6.

It was about 3 pm when we arrived at Hunts Mesa. You couldn’t have asked for better conditions for photography – majestic view, interesting subjects, good lighting, plenty of clouds. The Spirit of Hunts Mesa had welcome us.

Storms clouds started to form when I took this shot below at 1/250 sec, f/11 and ISO 100. Within an hour or so, the clouds turned dark, indicating imminent rain.

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It rained as we were getting ready for dinner. John Holiday, our outfitter and his team, prepared a dinner that is worthy of a Michelin star. Don’t let the anglicized name fool you. John is as native as the dirt and trees in Monument Valley. The name Holiday was given to his grandfather by a white man when he could not spell his Navajo name. His team of cousins and nephews performed flawlessly taking care of our group of 19. They drove us on treacherous terrains that required four-wheel drive vehicles and caused many of us to close our eyes.

The team prepared our meals, set up our tents, and cleaned up after us. They educated us on Navajo culture and customs. An often misunderstood and mistreated group, this team exceeded everyone’s expectations. Praises overflowed.

The rain was a blessing in disguise as we will see later. As we retire to our tents, the patter of the raindrops was trying to soothe us to sleep. As if to comfort us, a full-moon appeared. Like a night-light, it guided us to where we need to go when mother nature beckons. To top it all, the stars appeared and shined brightly at us. A glorious night indeed.

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What a scene when we woke up in the morning. We are up in the clouds! A convergence of rain, temperature and other weather conditions filled Monument Valley with fog. We were in a perfect spot, up on Hunts Mesa, to see this rare phenomenon – a blessing to any keen photographer. This shot was taken at 1/200 sec, f/9 at ISO 100.

As we broke camp, the fog rolled in amongst us. The Spirit had come to hug us and say good-bye. We had come to take pictures. We left not only with iconic pictures, but with great respect for the Navajos, their land, culture, customs and as fellow human-beings. Indeed, this is A Sacred Place.

K. Meng Tay is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.