King of Wings

King of Wings | Photographed by Gregg Beukelman

San Juan Basin, Northwest New Mexico

The history of this image began some three years before I ever visited the place when I started seeing images of this incredible hoodoo on various photographic websites – all photographers that I have great respect for.  Heck, it even had a name, “King of Wings”.  At that point only these few knew its location, and they weren’t talking.  To be honest, I really couldn’t blame them due to the outcrop instability and fragility of the rock.  Well, I decided to begin a quest to find it on my own – after all, I already knew it was the in the San Juan Basin south of Farmington somewhere, how hard could that be.  I began searching the aerial imagery of Google Earth and marking interesting badlands for future field checking.  As it turns out I wasn’t alone in this task.  A couple of Germans were taking their quest  a step further by scanning the same imagery looking for the actual shadow cast by this wing – AND THEY FOUND IT, AMAZING!  After confirming its location during their next visit to the states they made its location public in 2012, and shortly thereafter I started planning my shoot.


After spending the night in my truck at the end of the meager access road I took off in the dark across a sagebrush flat with my headlamp and Garmin leading the way for the 1½ mile hike to the spot, carefully avoiding the herd of horses that bolted at my passing.  After some false leads into and out of several deep ravines I found what I had been looking for with just enough time to set up and watch the King resolve himself out of the darkness.  As I took a moment to sit and take in the scene I was joined by a passing family of nearly-white bats out foraging for breakfast. 

Time to focus on the puzzle of photography (light, distance, lens, focal length, exposure, focus, etc., etc.).  After shooting for the next hour, and nearing the end of my photographic dance I noticed, near the base of the King, several tiny shards of what I assume were Anasazi pottery - triggering all kinds of questions:  Who and how many people had visited this place through the millennia?  What brought them here – total randomness, or were they drawn to this place as I was?  Anyway, as I shouldered my pack and began my wandering exploration of the rest of the badlands I couldn’t help but turn back and smile at how blessed I was to have experienced one of Nature’s truly unique and beautiful sculptures on such a lovely morning.  There is nothing like the feeling I get when I am able to greet the day in a badlands.  A supreme calmness comes over me at the quiet beauty of these unique landscapes. 

TECHNICAL:  Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm lens (15mm, F11, 1/2 sec, ISO 100), RRS tripod and ballhead, Garmin Oregon, Princeton headlamp.  Processed using exposure blending along with other tonal and contrast adjustments in: Photoshop, Nik Software, and Topaz Labs



-- Content copyright Gregg Beukelman --