The sign is clear and unequivocal: Private Property. No Photography. The area behind the sign is empty. There are no buildings, no livestock. What doesn’t the landowner want you to see? As you follow the chain link fence towards White House Ruin, stands of cottonwoods and green brush block the view. Glimpses through the trees reveal that there is something there — a house or a barn. You continue on to the ruin where you meet vendors selling jewelry and crafts. On the way back, you see other tourists photographing the sign.
Many national parks and monuments contain private land, some more than others; so Canyon de Chelly is not unique. Some overlooks (such as the one above) let you look down into the lives of the farmers and sheep herders who make the canyons their home. You might ask “What is the problem?”
“This feels like cheating,” I kept saying. I had hiked to this point from two different directions: along the Limestone Canyon Trail from the Augustine trail head and up the more difficult Agua Chinon route. A four wheel drive truck with ten seats in the back brought us to the brink of Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park’s most famous natural landmark, the “Little Grand Canyon” or “The Sinks”. The differences that made the journey worthwhile were that riding in the truck allowed me to carry two cameras instead of one and we were there in the late afternoon, a pleasure denied those who took advantage of open access days and midweek hikes up Agua Chinon Canyon.
My company consisted of Lynn, a woman we knew from the Journey to the Middle of Nowhere named Liz, a quiet man with a Tamron camera, another man with a background in geology who was not so quiet but interesting nonetheless, two elderly women with blonde hair on their faces, another old woman who we had met on the JTTMON tour, and more docents than you could shake a stick at.
Little Yosemite, Cleveland National Forest, California, June 15, 2014
The Middle of Nowhere lay on the line between the Cleveland National Forest and the Fremont Canyon Nature Preserve, among a collection of rocks called “Little Yosemite”. Massive boulders rose from the endless thicket of sagebrush, chaparral mallow, laurel sumac, and — the notorious fire starter — chamise. Some outcrops suggested the skulls of alien monsters, others had descriptive names like the Lizard, the Lamb, and R2D2. The cliffs faced the Santa Anas on one side and the Chino Hills on the other. You could see as far as the San Gabriels which rose from a smoggy valley of steel, concrete, and automobile congestion.