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Storm in New Mexico

I made this photograph in Three Rivers, New Mexico, a barren area known for petroglyphs. I had arrived in NM the prior evening after a hard 3-day drive from Pennsylvania. I was exhausted yet anxious to get working. I woke early and drove into the small parking area at sunrise; the snow blanketed the desert-like landscape and quieted all sounds. There was only an RV camper off in the distance and I figured I was alone.

I packed my backpack in the falling snow, selecting only wide angle lenses; I got back in the truck to load a roll of film into my Hasselblad (to prevent snow from getting into the camera). Just as I was ready to hike off, out of nowhere, an old man appeared and said, "I wouldn’t go up there, the rocks are slippery." He started back towards the camper without waiting for a reply. I said "thanks," locked the truck and headed off towards the hills.

Within several hundred feet of the hike I came across this serene image of telephone poles disappearing into the whiteness. I dropped my backpack, set up my tripod, covered the camera and immediately realized I had the wrong lenses with me. The wide angles I had packed were not right for what I had envisioned.

I carefully rushed back to my truck without sliding in the snow, grabbed my 300mm lens and returned to find everything completely covered with snow. I carefully changed lenses; then I exposed a few frames. I had to get it right with one roll of film; no way I was changing out a roll in the wet environment. (Back during film days there was no LCD preview; I had to get it right without confirmation.)

I packed up and restarted up the hill to the petroglyphs, slipping here and there; the old man was right, I had to be careful. After 15 to 20 minutes I was high up on the rock hill. I set up my tripod in front of a petroglyph and from far away I heard the old man yelling at me, "Get off there! Get down! I told you!"

I ignored him.

Moments later I heard a cranky old woman’s voice, "Call the police! Call the ranger!"

I tried to concentrate on making a photograph, however, after about 10 minutes I saw a ranger truck pull into the parking area. I was angry; I just wanted to work in peace and be left alone. I packed my gear up and slowly hiked down the rocky hill slipping every few steps!

I assumed it was not going to be a pretty situation, however, to my surprise, when I got to my truck, the ranger said nothing. Unfortunately, the crotchety old man was screaming nonstop. I put my backpack down and stormed within an inch his face. I stared directly into his eyes and said with a firm voice, “This is a free country. Who do you think you are telling me what I can and cannot do? How dare you! Are you a dictator? Are you a communist? If so, then you don’t belong here!” He stammered back in shock and I returned to my truck. To my shock, it was not over; he said to the ranger, "I saw him deface the petroglyphs!"

I was in shock, I knew such an accusation could lead to trouble. I said, "You couldn’t have! I was half a mile away on a hill in a snowstorm!" He said, "I have binoculars!"

His nasty wife chimed in, "I saw him do it too!"

OMG! I realized I could be in real trouble. However, the ranger did not say a word. I knew the smart thing to do was get away as quickly as possible. I put my gear in the truck and started it. Then, before pulling away, the ranger approached and said, "Don’t mind him, he’s a Korean war vet and he's not right in the head." He continued, "In 20 years, I’ve never seen snow like this, I’m sure you got great pictures." I drove off thankful and relieved.

I was extremely fortunate the old man's lies did not stick and a couple of miles down the road I noticed these snow-covered irrigation wheels. I stopped to make this photograph.

Into the White, the title of the poles in snow photograph, received an honorable mention award about a year later at a respected annual art exhibition in New Jersey.


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