Photographs by Walter W. Nelson
Text by Douglas Preston
Five years ago, the well-known Texas photographer Walter W. Nelson asked Douglas Preston to join him on an unusual adventure: to explore a virtually unknown canyon in the Big Bend of Texas and produce a book about it. Their exploration has resulted in Ribbons of Time, a magnificent volume of photographs by Nelson, with text by Preston, which will be published in a very small (but extremely high-quality) printing by Midwestern State University Press. This volume is a labor of love by Preston and Nelson and it won’t be available in bookstores. Stay tuned here for a link to Photo Eye Books in Santa Fe, which will be carrying the book for sale over the internet.
The Big Bend country of Texas remains one of the most extraordinary landscapes in America. The geology of the Big Bend has been called the most complex on earth, a land built and wrecked over 700 million years by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, lava flows, floods, faulting, uplifts and erosion. It contains every kind of mountain known to geology. The Big Bend is home to some of the richest flora and fauna in North America, thick with mountain lions, rare bighorn desert sheep, and more species of birds than any other piece of land its size in North America.
In 1996, Walter W. Dalquest and Rose Dalquest donated a remote and unknown canyon in the Big Bend, known as the Devil’s Graveyard, to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, to be used for research into the natural sciences.
Ribbons of Time is a deep portrait, in photographs and text, of this extraordinary Texas canyon, a land truly lost in time. It is a forbidding and violent fissure in the earth, seventy miles from the nearest town, so rugged that much of it is barely penetrable even on foot, a landscape visited by probably fewer than a dozen white people over its entire existence. Here, avalanches are a common occurrence, flash floods tear through the washes hurling along eight foot boulders, and temperatures at the ground in summer can exceed 150 degrees. But it is also a place of breathtaking beauty, where springs drip from walls of maidenhair fern, where pools lie hidden at the base of lava cliffs, where mysterious rock formations challenge one’s sense of reality.
Famed Southwestern photographer Walter W. Nelson spent two years exploring this remarkable canyon. He built a trail down into it, packed in his supplies by muleback, and established several base camps.
Among the equipment he packed down on muleback was a huge 8 x 10 Deardorff view camera of the exact kind used by Ansel Adams. Nelson visited and lived in the canyon across four seasons, photographing its magnificent geological formations, springs, plants, animals, and big skies. He experienced the canyon’s extremes:
Douglas Preston’s text recounts the sweeping history of the canyon, beginning with its birth in violence and fire some fifty million years ago. The story of the canyon is the history of trans-Pecos Texas in miniature: the canyon is flanked on the east by the Great Comanche War Trail and on the west by the Chihuahua Trail, and it thus lies squarely in the middle of Texas history. Here you will read about the Clovis mammoth hunters, early Spanish explorers, the Apache wars, Texas Rangers, pioneers, Eastern “starve-outs,” ranchers, outlaws, cowboys, and railroad men—all of whom shaped this land with their blood, sweat, and tears.
The result is Ribbons of Time, a rare and elegant volume which combines photographic art, history, and science in a deep exploration of a unique and unknown Texas canyon. There are few undiscovered places left in America. This is one of them.
The publisher has created a special, signed, limited edition of Ribbons of Time, limited to 50 specially bound and slipcased volumes. Each copy is numbered, and personally signed by Douglas Preston and Walter Nelson. Three original, unbound photographic prints, signed by Nelson, come with each volume. The volumes are available for purchase from Photo Eye Books of Santa Fe, one of the leading photographic bookstores in the country, which also has an excellent website.
Here is a link to the book on their website.