Why would a comfortably retired couple of lawyers—she finding success as a mystery writer, he as a nature photographer, both avid hikers and skiers—devote a significant chunk of their money and time to produce and publish a coffee table book on the canyon and mesa country of the Southwest? As Julie Whitesel Weston writes in the introduction to The Magical Universe of the Ancients: A Desert Journal, the book was born out of equal parts of love for these magnificent landscapes and cultural sites, and fear for their future:
” …Many of the areas we visited…are under attack from outside sources—a president who has kowtowed to developers and oil interests,…politicians, and others who appear to worship only profits and the dollar. National monument areas have been more than decimated—almost completely eliminated. Sacred tribal areas are being desecrated…. Our fear is that our children and grandchildren will lose these treasures.”
And what treasures they are! Morrison’s moody black and white photos, plus a few in lush color, beautifully evoke the ancient mystique and sculptural forms of the Four Corners country. His images offer a new perspective on these oft-photographed places, whether long-abandoned cliff houses and vivid pictographs, or colorful wildflowers and round-shouldered adobe churches.
Whitesel Weston’s journal entries capture the excitement and awe as the couple, then residents of rainy Seattle, discovered the region’s sunlit and dry expanses and multi-colored rock forms in the 1990s. Hooked on the grandeur and mystery of these landscapes, the couple began returning on annual trips, exploring by four-wheel-drive, llama pack-trips, and simply wandering on foot on their own.
“We have visited the desert many times,” Whitesel Weston writes, “to record in writing and photos the culture of the people who once lived there and the landscape upon which they lived. We have visited well-known historical sites and driven along back roads and country lanes to find obscure ruins and rock art locations.”
As with any journey narrative, the couple’s travels changed them: “Our initial curiosity deepened into a study of the history, the geology, and the natural beauty of the area as well as why and how the early cultures lasted so long, and we also deepened our appreciation of the wilderness and our need for it.”
Whitesel Weston’s stories of their adventures and what they learned from their experiences, plus Morrison’s photos make for a compelling book. Anyone fascinated by the cultures and landscapes of the Southwest will enjoy The Magical Universe of the Ancients, and be inspired to help protect these irreplaceable and threatened spaces.