Corpus Volume 8

Planchón del Rey (San Diego Cliff Face), Petén, Guatemala

map with arrow pointing to the location of the San Diego cliff face
Vicinity Map: Location of Planchón del Rey, Petén, Guatemala. Source of base map: Mundo Maya, Maya World. Edición Quimera (2007).
Planchón del Rey is located just south of the highway that runs from La Libertad to El Ceibo, Petén. Today it is easily visible from the road (Figure 1) but until recently it was hidden by forest. It is well known to locals and, in fact, is commonly referred to by many throughout the municipality as La Virgin.

car parked in front of the cliff face with carving
Figure 1. View from the road.
Looking northeast from the base of the cliff, an extensive archaeological site is visible (Figure 2). Héctor Mejía and Juan Pedro Laporte have reported on multiple sites in this region, including Planchón del Rey, which they call Petrograbado de San Diego, and their report includes numerous photographs and two previous drawings (by Ian Graham and Linda Schele) of the carving, but the mounds themselves have not yet been mapped or otherwise recorded due to issues with access to the property (Mejía and Laporte 2003:25-27, figures 52-58). A link to their online report is given here:

Héctor E. Mejía and Juan Pedro Laporte, Reconocimiento en la región de las lagunas San Diego y La Gloria, La Libertad, Petén, Guatemala

two men looking out over mounded earth
Figure 2. View from base of cliff face, looking toward the north-east where numerous archaeological mounds are visible. The owner of the Planchón del Rey property, Héctor Máx (left), and Bernie Mittelstaedt are in the foreground.
On April 2, 2019, Bruce Love and Bernie Mittelstaedt made arrangements with the alcalde of La Libertad, Benjamín Ipiña, and the land-owner Héctor Máx, to erect a scaffold and do night photography at the cliff face. On April 3 the scaffolding arrived by truck and was erected to a height of 7.5 meters (Figure 3).

Figure 3. On April 3, 2019, a scaffold 7.5 meters high was erected.
In order to get proper lighting, a secure spot was established above and to the left of the carving, where Bernie would extend a flash unit out, aiming the light across the face of the carving to achieve the necessary raking light (Figure 4). The flash was synchronized to the camera by radio signal.

Figure 4. The carving was lit by flash unit at night by Mittelstaedt from a position above and to the left of the carving.
From the platform on top of the scaffold, Love was in position to shoot straight on to the carving (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Love would shoot the carving, handheld, at night standing on the platform on top of the scaffold.
Note: when using a flash unit at night it is possible to handhold the camera, in other words a tripod is not necessary because the flash freezes any motion and the subject is not blurred by hand movement. This is the single greatest trick taught to me generously by famed photographer Jorge Pérez de Lara. To eliminate the tripod gives the photographer incredible freedom, for example, shooting from the top of a ladder.

That night, soon after sunset, Love and Mittelstaedt successfully captured the overall portrait shots of Planchón del Rey with side-raking light. At that point the plan was for Mittelstaedt to join Love on the platform to light the detail shots that would be used for the drawings, but five minutes after shooting the pictures, it started raining and then rained hard. Since it was impossible to shoot the desired close-ups at that time, Love lowered his camera bag by rope and then climbed down the scaffold in the pouring rain while Mittelstaedt made his way around the back-side of the cliff and came down from the side.

In order to shoot the details in the dark, we came back the next morning before dawn, climbed the scaffold and completed our task. The portrait shot, selected from the many that were taken that night and later developed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, together with the drawing made by Love using the detail shots, is our Corpus Volume 8, Planchón del Rey.

Mejía, Héctor E. and Juan Pedro Laporte
2003 Reconocimiento en la Región de Las Lagunas San Diego y La Gloria, La Libertad, Petén, Guatemala, Temporada 2003. Atlas Arqueológico de Guatemala y Ahau Foundation, Guatemala. See pages 25-27 and Figures 52-58

Photograph and drawing by Bruce Love.

Planchón del Rey (San Diego Cliff Face), Petén, Guatemala


Suggested Citation: Love, Bruce. “Corpus Volume 8: Planchón del Rey (San Diego Cliff Face), Petén, Guatemala.” Contributions to Mesoamerican Studies, August 4, 2019.

Downloadable PDF: CtMS_Corpus_V008_PlanchonDelRey_Guatemala


The corpus photographs and drawings may be freely used and distributed in non-commercial use and are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit: