Time Machine: Secret Cities and Fairy Chimneys

Have you ever wished you could transport yourself directly into the world of your favorite book or movie? Two years ago, I was able to do just that, and it was one of the most memorable, affecting, and inspiring experiences of my life. Being a huge fan of Dune, Frank Herbert’s epic series of science fiction novels, I was extra excited when I had the chance to spend time among the magical and otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia in central Turkey: the surreal geology and secret cities just underneath the surface (like those in the novels) left a lasting impression on me creatively, and what I "see" when I am making photographs.

(click photos to see larger captioned versions)

Cappadocia includes Göreme National Park, and is famous for unique cone-shaped rock formations known as Fairy Chimneys that cover the valleys like a silent forest of sentinels guarding the entrances to the vast networks of hidden caverns and tunnels. The city systems, like the 8th century BCE Derinkuyu Underground City, were once shelter to thousands and included schools, industry, and churches. (In fact, people still live in homes hewn from the rocks, and staying in a "cave hotel" is a popular option for visitors.) Only a small fraction of the underground cities have been excavated, and more are continually discovered, while hundreds of churches hide in plain sight all around you.

Ever fascinated by nature’s artistic efforts, I was thrilled to have seven days to explore some of the most unique and sculptural geology on Earth, and from all angles: on foot and on horseback, from the sky and underground.

Seeing and experiencing this surreal place stays with me, and still inspires how I find many possibilities, double existences, and mystery when I look through a lens. When photographing the skulls for my Anatomical series and reviewing the images, I was struck by how much they looked like strange landscapes, and how strongly the feelings of awe and fascination inspired by my real-life Dune adventure amongst the spectacular geology of Cappadocia came flooding back.

Fairy Chimneys (SKULL 15)

I see two of the magical rocky spires rising up to the sky...

prints available here

Alluvial Cove (SKULL 05)

Named for the alluvial fans that spread out across the soft volcanic rock throughout the region...

prints available here

The parallels between the real civilizations who took shelter from the elements (and later, often from religious prosecution) in the secret cave systems, and the desert-dwelling Fremen tribes in the Dune novels, stir the imagination. I was incredibly fortunate to have knowledgeable guides who led me to extraordinary places and told the stories of the churches, rock formations, and other structures distinctive to people who lived such unique experiences inside the Earth.

Fremen Sietch (SKULL 18)

I see the entrance to a honeycomb of caverns expanding just behind these walls...

prints available here

Some other snapshots from my travels (because Cappadocia begs to be photographed!):

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this trip to Cappadocia (a.k.a. Arrakis!) and the glimpse inside my imagination. Which place from your travels has left a lasting impression on you? I would love to hear about it in the comments!


Dalton Brothers Ranch: excellent guides for horseback riding. I booked a four hour tour as a first-time rider, and my guide (and my horse!) were patient and excellent company. Easily one of my favorite days on my trip.

Royal Balloons: hotel pick up, breakfast, a knowledgeable pilot, roomy balloon, champagne toast and a souvenir medal (fun!). Great experience.

New Goreme Travel Agency for the Green Tour: There are three main tour routes in the area, called Green, Red and Blue. I chose the Green Tour, and I had an absolutely wonderful day with my guide and small group. This tour company is excellent and a lot of fun!

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