Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Church Rock

with 57 comments

Church Rock in Arizona 1583

Along US 160 east of Kayenta, Arizona, I photographed the geological formation known as Church Rock on September 27, 2014, the same day on which I’d taken pictures of Chimney Rock in southwestern Colorado.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 8, 2015 at 5:42 AM

57 Responses

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  1. Obviously, and I get to be the first to say it…although I also might be the only one who would….September 27 was a rockin’ good day for you. Nicely done with the rear formation to carry through the composition.

    Steve Gingold

    January 8, 2015 at 5:49 AM

    • I can count on you to be rock-solid in your comments, Steve, and in this case to notice the “echo” in the rear of the main formation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2015 at 10:16 AM

  2. Looks like it grew / pushed out of the earth, I can see it moving through, up . . . or have I been watching too many special effects!?

    beeholdn

    January 8, 2015 at 7:01 AM

    • I’d go with “too many special effects,” because I can assure you the rocks didn’t move while I was there. Seriously, though, I don’t know enough geology to tell whether the rocks were pushed up or whether they’re what remains of a broader formation after everything else near by got worn away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    • In the article at

      http://rogerdhansen.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/volcanic-plugs-and-dikes-in-the-northern-navajo-nation/

      that includes a picture of Church Rock I just found this:

      “The Navajo Volcanic Field covers about 30,000 square km in the Four Corners region. The plugs (necks) and dikes are what remains of volcanoes that erupted between 25 and 30 million years ago. Since that time, erosion has lowered the ground surface hundreds of meters, exposing the deeper levels of these extinct volcanoes. Typically, volcanic plugs tend to be more resistant to erosion than the enclosing rock formations. Thus, after the volcano becomes inactive and deeply eroded, the exhumed plug stands out as an irregular columnar structure.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2015 at 3:47 AM

      • That’s very cool. Yes, you’d have had a long wait! Imagine a time-lapse camera placed there 25 million years ago (once the volcano expired) . . . Interesting stuff. Thanks for the research / link 🙂

        beeholdn

        January 10, 2015 at 2:00 PM

        • You’re welcome. Just as I’m sorry I didn’t have an introductory course in botany, now I wish I’d had a basic geology course.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 10, 2015 at 2:18 PM

          • Well, it’s never too late . . . and reading up always possible, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you 🙂 I had a geology segment in a biology course once, and for whatever reason, I just did not “get” it. (In retrospect, a prescribed textbook would have been helpful (maybe) . . . we just had various notes and readings, and am sorry to say that I learned very little.) No regrets, though; I think if we’re really interested in something we’ll track it and study it and engage with it until we learn it to our satisfaction. I like to imagine this, at any rate 🙂

            beeholdn

            January 15, 2015 at 4:45 PM

            • The problem for me is that I have a lot of interests, and there’s not enough time to pursue them all, at least not to a depth that would bring real understanding. I’m always reading something, but more often articles than books.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 15, 2015 at 4:53 PM

  3. Great composition. So much to see out there.

    Dianne

    January 8, 2015 at 7:12 AM

    • It’s hard to miss when there are as many appealing formations as I saw in the Southwest. The main problems were not being able to visit most of them and not having more time to do them justice. There was also the problem, as almost everywhere, that many sites are fenced off.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2015 at 10:24 AM

  4. I’m one who’s always being reminded of something else by your photos. So, I was amused this morning to find that Church Rock reminds me of a pile of rock. What did interest me was the illusion of small size, and the jaggedness. It’s really interesting to compare Church Rock to that large formation in the right background. I suspect it’s erosion over millenia that’s left Church Rock isolated. One day, that large mesa may look the same.

    shoreacres

    January 8, 2015 at 7:45 AM

    • Who’d’ve thought it: Church Rock is a pile of rocks? Maybe sometimes the best metaphor is the zero metaphor (i.e. a literal description).

      In my reply to beeholdn I wrestled with whether Church Rock is all that remains after the surrounding parts of the formation got eroded, which is your take on it too. I may have to turn to a geologist.

      I’d say your sense of small size is accurate, because this formation wasn’t nearly as big as some of the others I saw.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    • In the article at

      http://rogerdhansen.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/volcanic-plugs-and-dikes-in-the-northern-navajo-nation/

      that includes a picture of Church Rock I just found this:

      “The Navajo Volcanic Field covers about 30,000 square km in the Four Corners region. The plugs (necks) and dikes are what remains of volcanoes that erupted between 25 and 30 million years ago. Since that time, erosion has lowered the ground surface hundreds of meters, exposing the deeper levels of these extinct volcanoes. Typically, volcanic plugs tend to be more resistant to erosion than the enclosing rock formations. Thus, after the volcano becomes inactive and deeply eroded, the exhumed plug stands out as an irregular columnar structure.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2015 at 3:48 AM

      • It never would have occurred to me that erosion around these formations was the cause of the strange sights. I happened across the page you linked while I was snooping around. Another interesting site I found is this one.

        I never thought something in nature would bring the song “MacArthur Park” to mind, but the mind is a strange thing. I suppose it’s the thought of the land melting away over millenia that recalled the lyrics:

        “MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
        All the sweet, green icing flowing down…”

        shoreacres

        January 9, 2015 at 4:13 PM

        • I’d read about volcanic cores and other igneous intrusions being harder than the surrounding media and therefore surviving after the rest has gotten eroded, so that wasn’t a surprising notion. The closest encounter most of us have had with one of those formations, at least in cinema, is the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming:

          http://www.nps.gov/deto/naturescience/geologicformations.htm

          Your reference to MacArthur’s Park reminds me that some years ago I attended a solo performance by Jimmy Webb at the Cactus Cafe on the University of Texas campus; that was one of the songs he sang.

          By the way, I see that your latest link supports your earlier identification of Agathla.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2015 at 4:49 PM

  5. Such a beautiful photo, Steve. If I had tried this, it would have been flat. How did you get all that depth? Never mind, I’ll never understand the technical details. I’m just going to enjoy 🙂

    melissabluefineart

    January 8, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    • Thanks, Melissa. Although you said not to bother with technicalities, I got curious and looked back at the metadata for this photo. I found that I’d zoomed in with my 24–105mm lens to the maximum, which is a mild telephoto. The problem (which it would have been in this case) with telephotos is that the background is often out of focus (which in other circumstances, e.g. portraits of people, is a virtue). The relatively small aperture of f/13 provided enough depth of field to keep the background sharp.

      Regardless, you can regard the picture with a mind looking for enjoyment and not technical details.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2015 at 10:51 AM

      • Is the aperture something you control? I am contemplating moving up to a “real” camera. Aside from cost, I’m not sure I want to invest the time in learning the intricacies of operating the bells and whistles that my point and shoot does automatically. But the possibility of getting better shots of birds to paint is a strong incentive because people really seem to like that.

        melissabluefineart

        January 9, 2015 at 8:46 AM

        • Aperture is just a fancy name for the opening in the diaphragm of the lens (compare the pupil in your eye). The wider the aperture, the more light comes in, but the shallower the resulting depth of field, so less will be in focus from near to far. The smaller the aperture, the less light comes in, but the greater the resulting depth of field, so more things will be in focus from near to far.

          Something always sets the aperture, whether it’s you or an automatic routine in the camera. There’s a balancing act between the aperture and the shutter speed: between the two, enough light has to get in for a properly exposed picture.

          If you were to get a “real” camera, say something relatively inexpensive like a Canon Rebel, you could initially run it on full automatic and then gradually experiment with and learn about the settings. There are bound to be mini-courses you could take, whether in person or through the Internet, that would expose you [intentional pun] to those things.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2015 at 9:59 AM

          • Thank you Steve. You are a good teacher~ I’ll remember that about a Canon Rebel. That seems like a good way to start.

            melissabluefineart

            January 9, 2015 at 10:25 AM

            • I got my first “real” camera when I was in the Peace Corps in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 1969. I still remember sitting on my bed and reading the camera’s manual to learn about apertures, shutter speeds, and film speeds, all of which had to be set manually (as did the focus).

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 9, 2015 at 10:50 AM

              • Yikes…that is my dread, the instruction manual.

                What did you do in Honduras? My Dad was there. He is a civil engineer.

                melissabluefineart

                January 10, 2015 at 9:12 AM

                • Much depends on how well written an instruction manual is, and I’m sorry to say that most are at best mediocre and many are poor. The writers of manuals are often unable to put themselves in the place of a typical user, and they often don’t know how to write lucidly. When I look in the index of a manual, I often don’t find the term I’m looking for.

                  In Tegucigalpa I taught math at the Escuela Normal Superior del Profesorado Francisco Morazán. How’s that for the name of a school? Where/when was your father in Honduras?

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 10, 2015 at 9:30 AM

                • Holy smokes, that is quite a handle for that school. That must have been such a rich experience.
                  My dad was there in the 80’s. His company sent him all over the place for water projects of varying sorts. He always took pains to learn as much of the culture as he could. I admired him for that. And other things, of course 🙂

                  melissabluefineart

                  January 10, 2015 at 4:12 PM

                • Toward the end of training, the Peace Corps asked each of us what we wanted to be involved with. I wasn’t interested in the existing projects, so I piped up and said I could teach math, which I’d never done. I wasn’t bluffing, though, and the Peace Corps took me at my word; that’s how I became a math teacher. The school had few resources, so I pulled a lot out of myself that I didn’t realize was there.

                  Your father was in Honduras even after my two return visits in the 70s, so our paths couldn’t have crossed—unless it was somewhere in the United States.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 10, 2015 at 4:21 PM

                • I love that you carved your own path, even within the Peace Corps. That is an amazing story, Steve. You have great heart, and it shows in your writing.

                  melissabluefineart

                  January 11, 2015 at 8:46 AM

                • Unfortunately it was different when I came back to the United States because the educational bureaucracy didn’t allow and still doesn’t allow anyone to teach who hasn’t taken a whole bunch of useless education courses. A person’s demonstrated ability as a teacher counts for nothing.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 11, 2015 at 10:58 AM

  6. Or I could say, “You rock!”

    melissabluefineart

    January 8, 2015 at 9:09 AM

    • Or as Paul Simon wrote, “I am a rock, I am an island”—and he and I both grew up on Long Island (though on opposite sides of the New York City line).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2015 at 10:53 AM

      • That is interesting. I don’t suppose you ever met? I have never been there.

        melissabluefineart

        January 9, 2015 at 8:43 AM

        • No, I never met him, but I did attend a Simon and Garfunkel concert in Queens (their home borough of New York City) in 1967.

          Let’s hope someday you get to visit the country’s largest and most cultural city.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2015 at 9:45 AM

  7. I did a little research and apparently Church Rock is a Chinle Formation – a geographic formation of wind and waterway deposits.

    Jasmine

    January 8, 2015 at 3:31 PM

  8. Nice contrast and sharpness here, I love how Church Rock really stands out from its background as it is no doubt a part of it. My first thoughts were also that this is something out of a movie, like Transformers!! 😀

    eLPy

    January 8, 2015 at 8:57 PM

    • Monument Valley, which wasn’t far away but which I didn’t manage to see, was used as the setting for parts of various Hollywood westerns.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2015 at 10:08 PM

      • Whelp, there ya go! Maybe next time you’ll make it, until then this was great.

        eLPy

        January 9, 2015 at 3:24 PM

        • There was way too much for the allotted two weeks, but I got to see a lot. As you say, there’s plenty left for other times.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2015 at 3:42 PM

  9. Your really captured the raw physical beauty of the U.S…Love the photo.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    January 9, 2015 at 1:18 AM

  10. Given the background, I’m having difficulty with scale. How tall is the formation? Thirty feet, or three hundred?

    Pairodox Farm

    January 9, 2015 at 3:36 AM

    • That’s a good question. The area was fenced off, so I couldn’t get close to the formation. My impression is that the height was closer to 30 ft. than to 300 ft., but I’m not sure. I looked online and couldn’t find any article that mentioned the height.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2015 at 3:50 AM

      • I found a super-duper guide to the Four Corners area that has road logs. I found Route 160. This is what it says about Church Rock, at Mile Marker 400: “Church Rock is a series of dikes and associated breccia. The maximum height is 300 feet. Just past Church Rock, the highway goes up a rise onto layers of the Morrison Formation.”

        So there’s that. I spent a confused hour trying to sort some of this. In several places, I read that Church Rock was about 5200 feet. That made no sense. As it turns out, there are a lot of photos and articles on the web that mis-identify the formation at the right rear of your photo as Church Rock, while others mis-label Agathla Peak as Church Rock. If I’m reading the landscape correctly, Agathla is even farther to the right, and out of your photo.

        shoreacres

        January 9, 2015 at 3:50 PM

        • Thanks for taking the time to track that down. My impression is that a large number like 5200 ft. might be the altitude above sea level, as opposed to the height above the surrounding plateau. For example, I see that the nearby town of Kayenta is officially at an altitude of 5641 ft.

          From the little looking that I did online, I got the notion that the peak in the background at the right might be Agathla, but you could well be right that Agathla is outside the frame. A good topographic map could settle it once and for all.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2015 at 4:09 PM

  11. Church Rock reminds me of our earthquake damaged cathedrals. All of their current structures came about from the violence of the earth.

    Gallivanta

    January 9, 2015 at 4:03 AM

    • I understand how you would make that connection. Is there an estimate of when your cathedrals will be repaired?

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 9, 2015 at 4:07 AM

      • No… 😦 However I felt heartened about the length of time it takes to fix or replace such buildings when I read this http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/25/st-nicholas-church-911-_n_6017772.html on the recreation of the Greek Orthodox Church at Ground Zero. And even if we have to wait 13 years or 50 years that is nothing to the years it took to create Church Rock! Beauty takes time.

        Gallivanta

        January 9, 2015 at 4:36 AM

        • Thanks for the link. I hadn’t heard about the rebuilding of that Greek Orthodox church. I do hope yours won’t take longer than that.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2015 at 4:50 AM

          • Who knows. The practical Presbyterians have rebuilt their main church in Christchurch. It wasn’t as badly damaged as the Cathedrals. Since the Presbyterians settled in Christchurch before the Anglicans and the Catholics, I find it fitting that once again they are first off the ranks.

            Gallivanta

            January 9, 2015 at 5:12 AM

  12. It’s fabulous 🙂 Really love the pastel tones layered through the landscape!


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