Sunday, August 11, 2013

Water as paintbrush

Yesterday I took another hike into the Painted Desert and this time did not get lost coming out, thank you very much. Luckily for me, someone had ridden a horse down the trail and the hoofprints, not to mention other mementos, left as big a trail of breadcrumbs as I could hope for. Also I paid attention this time, which believe it or not makes a difference.

I wandered all over, keeping an eye on the clouds that were coming and going; monsoon season isn't over yet.

The darkish spots near the horizon did not look good.


The other times I've been in the desert I've gone to the northeast, but added a side trip in the opposite direction yesterday, when the clouds stopped looking at all threatening. The side trip took me to a section of Lithodendron Wash, a superhighway of a mostly dry wash that meanders all over the place:


The wash was dry when I dropped down into it, but a short way farther on there was lots of evidence that water had recently gone through, and in fact was still standing in places.  

What a beautiful thing mud can be. Not so much if you have to clean it up, but it makes unique patterns that are fascinating to look at when it's outside where it belongs. 

I saw this and immediately thought it wouldn't have taken some Puebloan person long to figure out that this could somehow be useful. Maybe add a little fire?
The echoing shapes are lovely.

The wet shine adds a depth all its own.
Lots and lots of texture - giant footprints headed off into the distance.
If you've ever made chocolate shavings you'll see the similarity right away.

Isn't this interesting, the way the cracks act as a resist to the water?

Little oases are just now drying out.

Ripples and stripes highlighted by mineral deposits.
Ribs coming off a spine? Could be.

Looks like tiger stripes to me.

Here's another cat, a real one. What a find!

It was a great day to hike, the desert is always interesting, but that climb out is still a killer. Four times now and it's not getting any easier.

Thought of the day:

This world is but a canvas to our imagination. (Henry David Thoreau)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Jasper Forest - a photo documentary

What a good gig I have, working 32 hours a week for free RV space in one of the country's most beautiful neighborhoods. Considering that most of the time the job is rewarding, challenging, and fun, how could it be any better than this? 

Today, on my day off, when the rest of the working world was clock-watching, I drove to the Jasper Forest, once upon a time called the First Forest because it was the first large accumulation of petrified wood reached when traveling from Adamana, a stop on the Santa Fe railroad. Adam Hanna, entrepreneur and capitalist, conducted tours to the First Forest (Jasper), the Second Forest (Crystal Forest), and the Third Forest (Rainbow Forest). I've been to all three forests and Jasper is, in my opinion, the most spectacular. It has the most impressive concentration of petrified wood and the most colorful.

Bill the paleontologist led a group there early on in my sojourn here. It's been on my repeat list and today was the day. All I wanted to do was document the variety of wood found there so here is a sample:


OD green. Kind of unusual.

I just came across a 1950s visitor brochure called Agatized Rainbows. I see where someone would call it that.

It looks like regular wood, doesn't it?

This is the kind of rock I'd choose if I was in the market for arrowhead-making material.

This had tiny crystals that sparkled in the light.

Doesn't this look like wood chips from a chopping block? It's called "lithic scatter."

Lots of crystals on this one. Very pretty.


Soil legs will eventually wash away.

A close up of a larger piece.

There are many of these larger pieces around, most of them being about hip-high on me.

It's nearly impossible to walk without stepping on a dozen pieces.

I know visitors don't get all they can from the park. They have agendas. Vacation time is limited. There are other priorities. I was at Painted Desert Inn one day and a man was shouting at his family to hurry up. "We have to get to the Grand Canyon!" It really is a shame, and Jasper Forest is a case in point. There's an overlook that people spend maybe five minutes at, snapping pictures like this,

when this is what the Forest looks like on the ground, and anyone can go down into the valley to see it first hand. Every one of those dimensional items is petrified wood, and you've seen what it looks like when you're walking all over it.

[edited 8/10 to add this:]
The colors of the petrified wood are determined by the minerals present when the wood was undergoing the long process of petrification.
Red, tan, orange, purple, pink, and yellow - iron in a ferric state. 
Green - copper, chromium, and iron in a ferrous state.
Blue - copper and iron in a ferrous state.
Black and gray - carbon and manganese.

The difference between ferric and ferrous has to do with the oxidation state. That's the extent of my knowledge, with thanks to Wikipedia.


Thought of the day:

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. (Miriam Beard)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The speed of time

When the calendar ticked over another page to August, suddenly I was aware of fleeting time. The signs have been there, ever since the monsoons started and the weather changed dramatically. Gone were the relentlessly sunny skies, replaced by overcast depressingly similar to Pacific Northwest gloom. The low humidity in the neighborhood of 7% (my hair dried on its own in minutes, bread became toast simply by leaving it uncovered for 5 minutes, and mildew is unknown) increased seemingly overnight to high in the double digits where absolutely nothing dries on its own. The brutally hot temperatures have dropped to comfortable 80s but the air conditioner is still running because of the humidity.

The light has also changed. I went for a walk after work today and noticed a discernible softening, a lower slant, a cooler tint in the afternoon light washing over the Painted Desert. It's lovely but it's a bittersweet lovely. Fall is coming. Time goes by.

The five months that were a wide-open landscape in May have narrowed to fewer than two and it seems the remaining time here is disappearing much more quickly the closer it comes to being gone altogether. I also became alarmingly aware that all the places I'd circled on the map, places I thought I had all the time in the world to see, had not yet been checked off, so the last two weekends have been a flurry of going here and there, wherever I could go on a day trip. 

I made another trip to Canyon de Chelly to hike into the canyon to White House. I drove to Flagstaff to see the Museum of Northern Arizona, devoted to the culture of the Colorado Plateau. I made trips to Wupatki National Monument, north of Flagstaff, home to beautiful pueblo ruins, and to Homol'ovi State Park, near Winslow, to see more ruins. These have turned out to be my favorite. There is nothing spectacular about them; they're just a couple of sites with minimal ruins:

But this is the thing: they truly rely on the honor system. There are no roving rangers, no cameras, no policing of any kind. This is the extent of the law enforcement I saw:

All other ruins I've visited have been sanitized; every pottery shard, every arrowhead, every artifact has been removed, but that's not happened here, and it's astonishing what's been left. Every shard I saw, lovingly placed in a collection by someone in what seemed to me to be in a sacred manner, was picked up by that someone, looked at closely, maybe meditated on a bit, and then put back down.

Little altars were everywhere. If there was a flat surface it had been adorned with these jewels. Some celebrants added petrified wood or pretty stones, but it was all part of the offering. I stopped several times myself to search around the ground and easily found a dozen shards within minutes. It's a powerful thing to touch something that had been made by a woman a thousand years ago, someone not so different from me, and then leave it behind. A powerful, powerful connection.

The sky put on a distant show for me that day. I've heard that the great walls of water dumping out of a dark cloud are called dragons' bellies. I was treated to a double. Awesome, huh?

Thought of the day:

There's just some magic in truth and honesty and openness. (Frank Ocean)

Monday, August 5, 2013

La Posada - Winslow, Arizona

La Posada in Winslow, Arizona is a treasure that fortunately has weathered earnest attempts to tear it down. Designed by Mary Colter, named the chief architect for the Fred Harvey company in 1910, in the Spanish hacienda style, its construction costs were more than $1 million in 1929. She had full design authority over the architecture, furnishings, gardens, and construction.

The original hotel was the jewel of Route 66 and the Santa Fe rail line, when Winslow was a larger town than Prescott or Flagstaff. But when Route 66 was bypassed and trains no longer made regular stops in Winslow, La Posada closed and was nearly torn down in the late 1950s. In the 1960s it was gutted and made into offices; in the late 1990s the current owners bought it and have been restoring it ever since. 

I've been to The Turquoise Room, the hotel's dining room, three times since I've been at Petrified Forest. The first time I went for lunch, after hearing people at the park talking about it. When I got back and told them I'd gone, the first thing I was asked was if I had the soup, and the second thing I was asked was if I had bread pudding for dessert. Yes and yes. The soup is actually two soups, a bean and a corn, poured into the bowl at the same time so they meet in the middle. It comes with some of the best corn bread I've ever had, and really, what bad thing can you say about bread pudding? 

The day I went for lunch I also went to have my picture taken standin' on the corner in Winslow, Arizona. If you look in the glass behind me you can see the girl in the flatbed Ford. The place was packed with bikers that day, and is probably the same every day. If you want a Route 66 t-shirt, the store on the opposite corner is the place to get one. Or a POW-MIA shirt, although I haven't yet figured out what that has to do with Winslow.

Then I was off to La Posada. 

The entrance courtyard.

A gate patterned with corn plants, a popular southwest theme.

A camel, you say? What does a camel have to do with Arizona? Some day I'll tell you about Uncle Sam's camels, which came right through this part of the country. I'd never heard of them either.

The doorway into the gift shop.

One of just a few remaining floral murals by artist Earl Altaire. His work was once in all public spaces and in every guest room, but only three survived the conversion to offices in the 1960s.

The Spanish southwest caters to my love of religious art.

But then I also love this art.

A peek into the truly awesome gift shop from a half-opened window.

Ceiling detail in a stairway.

Want one, just like this.

The other two times I've gone to The Turquoise Room have been for dinner. The first time the food was so gorgeous and I was sorry I didn't take pictures, so the second time I restrained myself until I got a few shots.

Squash blossoms stuffed with sweet corn tamale and Oaxaca cheese, beer batter-dipped and deep fried. Served with a green chili salsa and a grilled squash and roasted corn salsa. It is every bit as good as you think. I had this both times I went for dinner.

Oregon sea bass with a crabmeat, mango, and avocado salsa with lemon basil and tomatoes in a citrus vinaigrette, on a bed of polenta, with broccolini. Yes, fantastic.

And then there's dessert. Have to have dessert.

Arizona cheesecake pie with pine-nuts and roasted corn in a blue corn crust. Drizzled with mesquite syrup and prickly pear syrup and a little cream. Not a great picture but an amazing, different, dessert. 

And a prickly pear margarita to sip throughout the wonderful meal.

No, thank YOU, La Posada.

Thought of the day:

Food is an important part of a balanced diet. (Fran Lebowitz)