Posts Tagged ‘Southwest’

Spirals, movement, transition

Recently, I came across this photo while scrolling through an old album on my computer.  It was taken on the Angel’s Landing trail at Zion National Park in 2003, using the timer on my camera, and it reveals a narrative of my life at that time.

I spent the winter and spring of 2003 in various pursuits, having finally finished my doctoral dissertation: working on job applications, getting my EMT certification, teaching a class on children’s lit, and volunteering at the local Forest Service office to learn how to be a writer-editor.  Having spent nearly ten years of my life working on a degree that I was no longer planning to  use to advance a career, I was now trying to figure out What’s Next.  I sent out about 17 job applications, mostly for writer-editor positions with the Forest Service and BLM (though there was one for a low-paying museum tech position with the National Archives at the Ronald Reagan library– another story for later).  In short, I was feeling aimless and depressed in a post-partum kind of way.

By April, I was getting restless and decided to drive down to the southwest to attend an Ani Difranco concert in Tucson.  All the better, the timing happened to coincide with the renegade Vegas wedding of a couple friends from California and I got to be  a witness.   The beginning of what turned out to be a 3-week trip involved hopping from friend to friend:  Hagerman, Idaho; Gila, New Mexico;  Flagstaff, Vegas, and Bryce Canyon.  Then I was off on my own: once again feeling aimless and lost.  A whim pulled me to Mesa Verde NP, where I camped in my car, waking up to 3 inches of snow all over everything.  While touring the museum at the park, I came across an exhibit panel about the symbols used by the Anasazi inhabitants of the canyon.  The spiral with one serrated edge was one of the significant symbols, and it represented a transition, emergence from the below world to the above– or the opposite, depending on the direction of the spiral.

This information grabbed me in a visceral way.  The earrings I had been wearing every day for several months consisted of the same spiral used by the Anasazi to represent transition and change, and that was exactly what I was going through, both in a large sense and on a smaller level with the road trip.  The Mesa Verde stop marked a change between restlessness and discomfort of travel; after this I felt more comfortable  being a nomad, just living with the few possessions I had along, and more appreciative of  seeing and experiencing what was out there.  A few days later, I ended up at Zion canyon, where I parked the car, set up the tent, and took the shuttle bus everywhere in the park, exploring all its corners.  That’s when I took this photo.

As a footnote, about a month later, Scott and I went to an EMT conference in Corvallis for a few days.  When we were checking out of the hotel, my spiral earrings were missing, and I couldn’t find them anywhere in the room or the car.  When we got home to Dayville, there was a message on the answering machine from the chief of interpretation at John Day Fossil Beds, asking me to come in for an interview.  That led to the job I had for five years, until I made the next change and moved to Klamath Falls.

Now I’m in a transition time again, as the grant that funds my current job winds down and I wonder What’s Next.  I suppose that’s why this photo grabbed me as I shuffled through my old digital album.


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Beatty and Rhyolite, Nevada

The Last Supper

Here’s a  return to the log of our travels in March of 2009.

I think this sculpture, the only work by a woman, is called "Sit Here"

I think this sculpture, the only work by a woman, is titled "Sit Here"

Toward the end of our trip, we dropped into Beatty, Nevada, to visit some artist friends of ours. Land of little rain, home to crazy miners, and gateway to Death Valley NP, the area is the last place you expect to see fine art. But once you see it, the art in question seems to fit in. The most well-known work associated with the ghost-town of Rhyolite is a piece called “The Last Supper,” by a Belgian sculptor named Albert Szukalski.  Others in this outdoor sculpture park, now called the Goldwell Open Air Museum, include “Lady Desert, the Venus of Nevada” and “Ghost Rider”.  Rhyolite lives up to its appellation of ghost town in more ways than one!


Ghost Rider

June, my artist friend, was part of an Artist in Residence program centered around the Red Barn, a large studio/exhibit space that she had more or less to herself for the month of March.  She was working on some fine landscapes around Death Valley and Rhyolite, as well as some large abstracts taken, I think from the terrain.  Now she has begun to work with panorama, and the latest news I had is that she and Jerry are headed back for the month of November.  I can’t wait to see what comes of it!

Last Supper

another view of the Last Supper


Lady Desert, the Venus of Nevada

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Jerome, Arizona

Jerome, AZJerome is one of those precariously perched mining towns that should have slid off the mountain and crumbled to dust many years ago.  Instead, it is now a thriving tourist town filled with art galleries and restaurants.  We ate lunch at The Asylum, located in the huge historic hotel that, as its name suggests, once housed the town’s residents who were deemed to be non compos mentis.  The view was great, the food good, and the drinks appropriately named (“Screaming Bloody Mary” is the one I remember best).  Apparently John McCain brought his potential cabinet appointees here to interview them, but we didn’t let that keep us from enjoying the place.

outdoor art in Jerome

The art galleries were a little spendy for us, but we enjoyed looking around them and admiring the restored historic buildings that house most of them.  We also dropped by the Jerome Art Center, which used to be the high school but now provides studio space for scores of artists working in different media.

Jerome Art Center

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Verde River hot spring

verde river hot spring, detail

We brought with us Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest by Marjori Gersh Young (I wouldn’t let Bo bring any of her hot springs books about other regions of the country), and we planned to get to at least one in the course of the trip.  Hot springs don’t tend to be within easy walking distance of airports (though there’s at least one in southern CA that is), so when we decided to rent a car in Sedona for a couple days, the opportunity presented itself.

The Verde River drains much of east-central Arizona between Flagstaff and Phoenix/Scottsdale.  It passes through 3 national forests, one of which, the Coconino, we drove into that day.

“How many miles?” Bo asked as he steered the white, low-slung rental car off the highway and onto the gravel forest service road.  “Sixteen,” I said, reading from the book, “and then turn right, and another 7 after that.”  He turned his head and stared.  “We’re going to be on this road for 50 miles??

Okay, so maybe it hadn’t been a great idea to spend so much time in Jerome that morning.  It was already past 4:00 when this conversation took place, and in addition to the 23 miles of gravel road, we had to hike in for a mile and then ford the river.  But it was a hot, sunny day, and I didn’t think we’d want to be soaking in a hot pool while the sun was high. I fiddled with my i-pod until I found the audiobook of Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy and plugged it into the car’s stereo system.

As it turned out, our timing was good.  We talked to about three people hiking out from the springs, and arrived there just as another couple was getting ready to leave, which left us the place to ourselves.  Verde River Hot Springs was the site of a resort hotel between the 1920s and 1964, when it burned down.  The pools that people use now are what remains of the patio and soaking pools from that time period.  A couple more natural pools are set back in the walls of the canyon inside small caves.  As we eased into the water, the deep pink rays of the sun began to glow off the walls of the river’s gentle canyon.  Verde River

Since the demise of the hotel, visitors have taken the spot for their own and added to its artistic character.

Verde River hot springsThe interior of the stone bath house to the right had the wildest and most amazing folk art.  But I didn’t feel right taking photos as soon as we arrived, and then we went and sat in the water, and then it got dark.  In retrospect, I guess this is okay; it means you have to go see it for yourself, and it’s probably true that it carries a different level of meaning after you’ve driven and hiked and forded the river.

We enjoyed the water until it was fully dark, then donned our headlamps for the hike back.  The stars were vibrant (as was the glow of Phoenix, unfortunately), and the dots of the campfires at the trailhead campground led us back to the car.  We were tempted to camp out there, but our motel in Sedona called us, as did a proper dinner and the next few chapters of The Hitchhiker’s Guide.

I am left with many questions about the Verde River Resort.  How did its guests arrive?  Was there a bridge across the river at one time?  How big was the hotel?  Was the washed-out, bumpy road in better condition at one time?  Perhaps the answers will appear in a future blog post.

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The southwest is canyon country, and on this trip we saw our share of them. One of the valuable aspects of air travel is that we were able to get a “big picture” view of the landscape. Obviously, this is not the same as the intimate knowledge one gains by hiking inside the canyons– but it was a great privilege to be able to experience these formations from the air.

The following photos are an imaginary river trip from the canyons of southern Utah to Lake Mead in southern Nevada.  If you start in the Grand Staircase-Escalante canyons…

Grand Staircase-Escalante

…or in the southern end of Capitol Reef National Park…Capitol Reef

…maybe you’ll wind up in Lake Powell (or what used to be Glen Canyon)Glen Canyon/Lake Powell

…and then you’ll flow through the Grand Canyon…Grand Canyon…eventually trickling out the west end of the Canyon…eventually the Colorado trickles out of the Canyon

…and into Lake Mead....and becomes Lake Mead

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