American Images: Spirit of the West by Mary Kathryn Johnson

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Spirit of the West

Photographer: Mary Kathryn Johnson

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Moab had always been just a small little community perched on an empty yet haunting landscape on the southern edge of Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

Both are stunning examples of the stunning architecture that time and the winds can sculpt on the face of the earth.

But along came John Ford in 1939.

And he brought John Wayne with him.

Together they filmed the Western Classic, Stagecoach.

As far as John Ford was concerned, the landscape around Moab represented the West, the real West, the authentic West, and not just some Hollywood sound stage dressed up to look like the great American West.

Year after year, he kept coming.

Year after year, he kept filming.

And usually, he brought John Wayne with him.

If you have seen the best of John Ford’s Westerns, both in black and white and color, you will feel right at home when you amble across the stark beauty of the terrain sprawling in all directions from Moab.

Mary Kathryn Johnson understands.

It’s a land that keeps calling her back as well.

And she never arrives without having her camera loaded and cocked and ready for action.

She writes of her stunning photograph:

“Sorrel River Ranch near Moab was the last stop on our three-week driving vacation last summer, which included a Dinosaur Dig for a day in Thermopolis, Wyoming, which has the world’s largest Dinosaur Museum.

“We drove straight from Yellowstone, starting at noon, and arrived in Moab about midnight. We saw nothing of our surroundings on a moonless night, so this picture represents our awakening into the classic of all classic John Wayne movies … The Searchers!

“Looking in the opposite direction of this photograph, we saw the amazing Colorado River running right alongside the sweeping ground outside the room.

“I wouldn’t believe you if you told me you have never seen The Searchers, but if you haven’t, this is the classic shot that John Ford used to to start and end the movie. And this resort leads tours to many John Wayne movie locations throughout the surrounding area.

“This isn’t John Ford’s actual shot, of course, but it mimics the movie scene perfectly, and our kids thought we were nuts as I woke my husband, and we smiled at each in awe while rubbing our arms from the gooseflesh!

“The Sorrel River Ranch remains my favorite hotel/resort. My youngest son agrees with me, as he and I were the early risers. We were able to capture this image on film and in our hearts while sitting in that double rocking chair on the porch.

“The magic of arriving in the dark and awakening to this scene still touches me every time I look at this picture. We made a print and have hung it on our wall.”

John Ford would have been proud.

Mary Kathryn Johnson
Mary Kathryn Johnson

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