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Forest Fire



Canyon de Chelly, New Mexico USA

Every year around the southwest, particularly in New Mexico and Arizona, Cottonwood trees dramatically change their summer lime green leaves to a rainbow of fall colors. Although the display is usually dominated by yellows, other tree colors show off as well.

I found this mature grove of cottonwoods in the middle of Canyon de Chelly National Monument (pronounced "shay" from the Navajo word tsegi, meaning “rock canyon”) at the right Autumn moment. It was breathtaking how the bright fall light set afire the entire wind shimmering foliage display of colors at that angle.

Native American Indians, such as the Navajo (or Dene as they ancestrally call themselves), used fresh cottonwood branches for temporary roof coverings that cooled due to the large leaf shading and evaporative properties. The Hopi Indians of Arizona considered the cottonwood tree sacred and carved Kachina dolls from the roots of the tree. They also believe the rustle of the wind through the quaking leaves to be the gods speaking to people.

Westward-bound wagonmasters of the mid-1800s scanned the horizon for the cottonwood tree because its presence often signaled water. Groves of cottonwood became gathering places for weary travelers as well as for established communities.

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