One of the most spectacular roads I have ever driven is the Cottonwood Road in southern Utah, heading north from Highway 89 about 18 miles west of Page, Arizona, to arrive, approximately 75 miles later at the tiny town of Cannonville, Utah. Along the way—particularly the middle 35 miles—lies some of the most remarkable, ever-changing scenery anyone could imagine.
But Cottonwood Road is a rough dirt road that is virtually impossible to traverse if wet. It crosses several streams, it gets washed out once in a while, and it often has other unpleasant surprises, so few people ever drive it. Those who do are richly rewarded, especially those who take the time to get out of their cars to investigate some of the innumerable side canyons and bizarre geological formations along the way. It’s a never- ending array of colors, shapes, and surprises, which I haven’t found equaled anywhere else.
Taking the negative
Toward the southern end of the spectacular middle portion of the road, you pass a series of pointed rock uplifts, before the road suddenly makes a turn between two of them, taking you, in essence, behind this array of impressive, triangular forms. At one point, as the road climbs higher behind and beyond these formations, you can look back at the whole set of them, pointing upward like the teeth of a giant saw. With the road snaking up the valley in the foreground toward your viewpoint, it’s quite a stunning sight.
I made the photograph in 1988 on one of my many traverses of the road, using my Linhof Master Technika 4×5 camera and a 300mm lens, in mid-afternoon. The sawtooth ridge is clearly the main feature of the image, but I never liked the bits of road showing in the lower left quadrant and at the bottom edges. For years I couldn’t f igure out how to deal with the presence of the road in the image.
One day I finally had a startling revelation: crop the photograph dramatically, to a long, narrow panoramic format. I studied the 4×5 contact proof image for a long time with the use of cropping L’s just to get myself over the barrier of eliminating roughly 80% of the image. The truth f inally settled in on me: I really didn’t need or want any of the parts that I was now planning to eliminate. It freed me to do what I really needed to do: conf ine the image to the sawtooth ridge alone.