Wednesday, October 30, 2013

On the Road past Santa Fe

Heading for Taos, the last of our planned stops before embarking on a faster pace to Kentucky, we made a short stop in the lovely art town of Santa Fe. No one told us about the narrow streets in Santa Fe’s Old Town and heads were shaking as we dodged historic overhanging eaves, looking for space in coveted parking lots. We finally tucked Lilypad into a side street and were grateful to be close enough to walk around this beautiful town. 

Our first stop was Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill, voted Santa Fe’s Best Fish Taco, according to the sign outside. While eating a delicious lunch, we asked a local about visiting the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. She gave us directions and advised us to watch BOTH the videos there. Then in the middle of our meal she brought over a slip of paper with a list of other best restaurants in Santa Fe. We didn’t have the heart to tell her we’d only be there for one meal. But if you’re headed there, try: the Pantry on Cerillos, Cowgirls Barbeque on Guadalupe, and La Plazuela on La Fonda (especially for the guacamole.)

At the museum we enjoyed seeing O’Keefe’s early work and a great exhibit of her big paintings featuring trees. Most of her New Mexico work was not here, but fortunately some had been loaned to the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and we had seen it there! 

We then spent a couple of hours window shopping and visiting stores. It was fun to see the names and pots of some of the women we had met on our Acoma tour. We also encountered a great-grandson of Maria Martinez who was selling pots in a line of vendors in front of the Governor’s Mansion. He proudly showed us pictures of his famous cultural lineage and we told him we treasured a pot made by his famous matriarch, which we inherited from Liz’s parents.

The takeaway from our fleeting visit to Santa Fe was that we want more. We’d like to find some immersion experience in Santa Fe to gain a deeper understanding of the history of culture in that fascinating place. 

We then cautiously threaded our way out of Santa Fe and took Highway 64 up to Taos. This narrow twisty road bordered the Rio Grande River and brought us through the heart of the recently minted Rio Grand del Norte National Monument. Established at the same time as the San Juan Islands National Monument, this beautiful piece of public land includes a high mesa scoured by the gorge of the Rio Grande. Climbing up to the ridge of the mesa and looking out over the river gorge was breathtaking.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Culture Clashes

Janna's happy purchase at the bustling trading post

We always have difficult starts after a night in a Walmart parking lot. Perhaps it’s the curse of corporate America. Today was no exception as we grumbled with one another over plans and bad internet connections. Finally we set ourselves on a positive course after reading an interesting set of articles in the Southwest travel section at An article on the role of trading posts in Native American culture prompted a visit to the famous business cited in the article, and we had a great time picking up a gift for Colleen’s birthday, made by a woman from the Zuni Pueblo. The article we read on the Acoma Pueblo reinforced our desire to include a visit to this amazing place on today’s agenda.
Traditional ladders indicate the ceremonial kivas
Touted as the oldest inhabited community in North America, this collection of homes and religious buildings are clustered on the top of a tall mesa. Originally only accessible by steps cut into the rock, the pueblo now has a curving access road that brings water and propane and removes porta-potties and tourists at the end of the day. The Acoma have developed a great approach to tourism, with a museum below and a shuttle to the top. Guides accompany visitors everywhere and your camera carries a permit. As you wend your way through the stone and mortar structures there are occasional folding tables draped in colorful blankets and rugs, and covered with hand painted pots, beaded jewelry, sketches or sculptures all made by the local people. There was even a bread vender selling the distinctive round loaves baked in outdoor stone and clay ovens. 
Church built in the 1640's

Our Acoma guide was well versed in the history of his people. Stories of the Spanish inquisition were of the worst sort and the oppression of the Acoma people was heartbreaking. But the adaptability of the Acoma was inspiring and their creativity, which extended beyond the beautiful art work to historic community ventures resulting in the preservation of their culture, was heartwarming. When the ceremonial round kivas were destroyed by the Spanish, they were re-built, not round, but square looking exactly like the houses to the invaders, but with subtle differences obvious to the Acoma. Today every infant born into the tribe is ceremoniously carried up the original steep stone steps and has his or her feet touched to the ground at the top in recognition of connection to the earth of the mesa.

We were moved by this experience. It was a good day.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rocks, Rocks, and More Museums

Leaving the warm hospitality of Bette Story and the extended King family, we left Apache Junction and headed east on Arizona Highway 60. A desert that could have inspired the trees of Dr Seuss delighted us as we passed the area leading into the mining community of Globe, Arizona. A huge slag pile loomed over the highway, a remnant of the San Carlos mine that produced copper, silver, manganese and many other minerals over the years. The local volunteer at the Globe Chamber of Commerce informed us that her nephew worked at the mine until it became automated which reduced the workforce from 3200 to 320, and emptied the town of young people. She gave us each a hunk of peridot, a beautiful green rock only found there and in Sri Lanka. When we offered to pay the price posted she insisted on the gift: “I am a volunteer and I can do what I want…besides I donated it to the Chamber.”
We then drove north into the Apache Reservation. This took us through the Salt River Canyon, an area similar to the Grand Canyon in the richness of hues. The road snaked around in true scenic byway fashion, but this time with sturdy guard rails and lots of pullouts. Our route led us through Snowflake, AZ and we stopped at a petrified wood museum with an astounding number of rocks of every kind imaginable. This was in Holbrooke, a gateway town to the Petrified Forest National Park and sited on historic Route 66. Here, too we were gifted with rocks: this time, small pieces of petrified wood. 

Thanks to the women of the US Senate (so says Time Magazine) the park was open and we stopped at the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center, watched the video,  stared deep into agatized logs, and bought the park tour CD for the trip through the park. We took our time exploring the Park and the adjacent Painted Desert National Park, exclaiming anew at each designated viewpoint. Unfortunately our cameras simply could not do justice to the incredible colors. From both the visitor center video and the cd, we learned more about the Late Triassic Chinle Formation than anyone would ever want to know.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Change of Plans

John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."  That is our story this week. Our travel plans have taken a major shift in response to the tragic death of our grandson Terry. We will be making tracks to Georgetown, Kentucky to join his mother Colleen and his three siblings: Charlie, Spring and Luke. There will be a memorial for Terry on November 16th.  Here’s a picture of the four of them in better times. From left to right are Terry, Spring, Charlie and Luke.

We’ve been pondering the concept of resiliency in terms of people and communities. One of our accidental stops was the high desert town of Yarnell. This was the place where a wildfire swept through a mountain village in Arizona on June 30, killing 19 firefighters and destroying 120 homes. We saw the burn and pulled over in front of the bakery in the main part of town. Everyone had a story to tell and what we thought might  be a 10-minute coffee/bakery stop, turned into a two-hour conversation. Two shop owners told us that their homes were destroyed while their businesses were untouched. One said she thought it was only because all of the businesses had been spared, that that the town was going to survive. Had the businesses been destroyed, she said, Yarnell couldn’t have made it back.

So what is the learning? Terry apparently made a choice that went badly and ended his life. This is something we cannot change. But we can try to remember to look for hope: perhaps it’s over there, on the other side of hopelessness. We can find opportunities to reach out to one another with love and kindness and not let our grief diminish us. We can try to remember to find inspiration from folks like those in Yarnell.

Museums, Museums, and What? Is This Whole Town a Museum?

We are perpetual museum-goers and in fact visited more than 80 on our last motor home trip. In three weeks  we've now visited nine: a new record already in the making.
The Maturango Museum in Ridgeport, California, a sweet little high desert natural history museum, was closed because all the volunteers were inventorying the gift shop. But that didn't stop us from enjoying the outside portion, including, metal sculptures as you see here, a sundial that told the time using the shadow of your body when you stood on the proper month, and a labyrinth. Finally we called them, explained our interest, and LO! the volunteer manager let us in a back door.

Then it was on to Palm Springs which seems like the whole town is one big museum. (Here we are with Marilyn Monroe.)We also decided it might be the gayest place in America. The banners on the main drag (pardon the pun) all proclaimed Rainbow Pride in preparation for the annual Pride Parade the first weekend in November.  Palm Springs was the hideout destination for many of Hollywood's quintessential creatives like Rock Hudson, Liberace and many more. We enjoyed a delightful little backyard cactus garden (aren't gardens museums of sorts?) and enjoyed the street art. We also had a great time with our friends Steve and Lisa who gave us a tour of the sights (and sites) and took us to dinner at a fabulous restaurant full of gay men. Unfortunately the art museum there was closed and this time no one was willing to make allowances for our bad we went on to Prescott, Arizona.

There we toured the Sharlot Hall Museum where our friend Karen Carlisle used to work. It's a delightful rambling historical museum with a great transportation component, lots of nooks and crannies to explore and the original territorial governor's mansion. It was named after Arizona's first official state historian who had the foresight to preserve the governor's mansion and a great many artifacts from pre and post settlement eras. We were delighted to enter the gift shop and encounter a whole wall of books relating to women in the west. We wondered if it was the work of our friend Karen, former co-owner of the Alaska Women's Bookstore.

The next day we hit Phoenix and the Heard Museum. Liz has been interested in seeing this institution for over forty years since she was an anthropology major at the University of Washington. This fascinating collection started with Hopi katsinas, then grew to embrace international themes such as "Home" and "Water". We enjoyed an exhibit of Georgia O'Keefe's work from New Mexico, and a presentation on cochineal, a dye from New World insects that resulted in royal British colors changing from purple to red when it found it's way from the New World to the Old. Particularly riveting was a most sympathetic exhibit of the "Indian Boarding School" experience. The air conditioning was particularly sharp there, perhaps reflecting the discomfort the kids must have felt being torn away from the warmth of familial familiarity. Our dear friend Bette Story helped us get to this superlative museum and we got to ride the Phoenix light rail as an extra treat.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

America, what have we done?

The Eastern Sierra Nevada Scenic Byway is an incredible mix of recreation, history, extreme natural phenomena, and glorious scenery. We came across the mountains via Highway 50, through the gold center of Placerville, down to South Lake Tahoe. This bustling tourist town was recovering from its busy summer and preparing for snow and the ski season. We went up and over another range of the Sierra (7,000+ feet!) and settled onto Highway 395 that took us south all the way to San Bernardino. On the way we visited three museums, a hot spring RV park (Keough’s), a film festival celebration at Lone Pine (where MANY old cowboy movies were made), and boondocked on a surreal lava moonscape called Fossil Falls which is managed by the BLM. The latter was not only interesting geologically, but one couldn’t help but crunch on millions of glistening obsidian chips while walking. These chips were knapped by Paiute people over thousands of years. 
On the way we tried to visit the historic site of Manzanar, a despicable place of internment for so many Japanese-Americans during WWII, but because of the government shutdown, it was inaccessible. The internment was one of the darkest moments of American history. For those of us wanting to learn more about this important lesson, yet another bad decision prevents us from doing so. What are we doing?