As mentioned in my last blog post I stayed a night at Arcosanti, breaking up the drive between Tucson and Flagstaff, Arizona. I first read about Arcosanti three or so years ago, and was immediately gripped by the theory behind the development of the community. In a way this visit has been quite a bit of time in the making (and very nearly all of that time thinking I wouldn’t ever get the chance to visit), so I’m elated this trip had provided me the opportunity to stop there and see for myself what it’s all about.
In short Arcosanti is a sort of urban laboratory in a very much non-urban setting on several hundred acres of Arizona desert highland about an hour north of Phoenix. It is a community of a few permanent residents and numerous volunteers working together to create a living space that is in harmony with the environment, and within which the members of the community themselves live in harmony.
Arcosanti was first begun in 1970, the brainchild of the architect Paolo Soleri. It is the physical manifestation of the philosophy that is ‘arcology’—a portmanteau of architecture and ecology—the idea that all urban development should be created as harmoniously with its environment as possible.
For a shockingly low price one can choose from a few various sized rooms, from the “Sky Suite” which comes equipped with a living room, kitchenette, and private bath, to their small standard rooms with writing desk and shared toilet and shower. As I’m mainly a pretty low budget traveler I opted for a standard room, all of which are located in one area on the south side of the community. The twelve or thirteen rooms sunk into the hillside all lie in a row, sharing walls, and utilize the earth as a temperature stabilizer. The single exposed side facing south is an enormous window providing for spectacular views over the landscape from anywhere within. I could not have been more shocked and delighted as I walked up to my room then stood there mentally open-mouthed as I peered through the glass. As I mentioned, there is a writing desk, another great surprise for me, though, I did any writing in bed, as often seems to be my custom. Still, from an aesthetic perspective it was absolutely darling and, I thought, extremely thoughtful. The third and final thing that truly made me smile was the plaid, flannel throw at the end of the bed. The whole room and everything in it being white or off-white, the poured concrete floor brown, everything in neutral tones but for that single piece of brilliant red and black. It truly felt extraordinary to me, and lent the space character and comfort. It seemed to me to be saying about Arcosanti, “See? We care. And it’s details like me that prove it.”
The following morning I walked up to the main complex for breakfast (a continental not worth writing about, but considering the cost of a night quite excusable. Dinner on the other hand, which I did pay $10 for, was outstanding and well worth the additional cost.), and afterward packed up before heading out for a tour of the complex. The guided tour which was supposed to last an hour, though ours went on for nearly two since there was no one behind us, covered everything about Arcosanti and Paolo Soleri anyone could wish it to: from the life of Paolo Soleri himself, who only died three years ago, to the first inklings of his ideas which were put into practice at Cosanti, his home and art studio in Paradise Valley, to information about volunteering and/or becoming a resident of Arcosanti, to the philosophy behind the development and community, to information about the environment Arcosanti is located within, to what many of the volunteers and staff do with their free time, etc. It was a wealth of information. Our tour guide, Mark (I think that was his name), was the most excellent person. Answered every question, was patient and kind, extremely knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. Enthusiastic! It was quite obvious that that enthusiasm quickly grasped hold of the group and, for me, didn’t relinquish its grip for days. Quite obviously he loved living there, and, frankly, it was easy for me to see why.
If you’re a resident of Arizona, or someone who’s road tripping through there is absolutely no excuse not to visit this place for a day, a night, a few nights, a week…. A) it’s a most enjoyable, comfortable stay at a budget price and, B) if you’re unfamiliar with urban development will provide a fascinating introduction to it, especially with regards to what ought to be changed about the way much of our country is currently being developed. Hell, I’ll say it’s worth a flight if you’re out of driving range since it is close to Phoenix and Flagstaff.
Hi. This is Gordon. We met at a rest stop in the Sonoran Desert National Monument while I made a cup of coffee. He works at a nearby truck stop, travels via his bike (actually cycled here from Washington state), and sleeps out of doors. He seems to approve of his lifestyle, but also seems rather lonely, as he talked and asked a lot of questions of me. It’s the sort of thing one does when one lacks regular human interaction on a level beyond convenience store clerk.
I don’t remember a lot of what he said, partly because I have a poor memory for that sort of thing, but also because he seemed to ramble quite a bit, and talked just to talk (I don’t like talking just to talk). One constant topic of conversation, though, was illegal immigration and the border patrol. He didn’t have a stance on it as far as I could tell, but he just liked to talk about it a lot. It’s a thing that happens commonly enough in southern Arizona—illegal immigration that is. I should add also that there were a pair of shoes and an abandoned backpack beneath the picnic table we’re sitting at. These things prompted me to ask about them, and away we went. He said they were from illegals that had been picked up here by the patrol. A lot of times they just drop everything (not that they have much to begin with), though they’re allowed very little once they’re caught, anyway. He finds it can be nerve racking sometimes sleeping out at night when he does hear footsteps and the border patrol is everywhere (they like to hassle him a bit) and who knows what the demeanor of the nearby migrant(s) might be. But eventually I left, because it wasn’t in my plans to sleep at a rest stop with a man I barely knew, but also because I became no longer interested in hearing him talk.
I left Brawley and drove east to Tucson, or nearabouts. The temperatures were in the 90’s and the landscape was dead, or if it wasn’t dead it was dying. Nothing but sand, and the road scoured clean from its blowing incessantly. Some gaunt, skeletal, shrubs, all looking very much stressed by their existence in this demanding environment. About thirty minutes east of Brawley are the Algodones Dunes. The highway splits the dunes into two parts; on the north side is the wilderness which is accessed by a dirt road on its eastern edge, and to the south is the recreation area which allows for dune buggies, dirt bikes, jeeps and anything else capable of taking on the waves of loose sand that are the dunes. Stopping at an overlook off of Hwy. 78, I was fascinated to watch the goings on: all these many and various motorized vehicles zooming and zipping up and over and atop these sand hills, across the landscape for miles around. It’s a form of recreation that doesn’t interest me to pursue myself, but seems quintessentially American, and so fascinates me from the standpoint of the purpose of my trip, which is to discover and photograph things symbolic or representational of America.
I stayed long enough until I felt like I saw all I needed to see and took enough photos to satisfy my curiosity and amazement at the area, before moving along to the wilderness area, which is why I came out all this way in the first place. Interestingly, I think I like the representational aspects of the dirt bikes and dune buggies—tiny specks some of them, like they are themselves mere grains of sand, in this enormous, stark landscape—more.
I was pleasantly surprised despite not hiking all the way to the dunes, which began a couple of miles from the dirt access road. Between these two places was a firmly packed sandy plain spotted with hardy, woody shrubs and bushes (skeletal and gaunt ones too), many of which were leafless and lifeless looking—sticks and twigs bundled together and stuck into the ground by some unseen hand—though many others were not, but were in fact quite sizeable, green even, and lush, which gradually became looser mounds, undulating and dune-like as I moved westward. Feeling the slight pressure of a schedule on my mind I unfortunately did not spend as much time as I would have liked in the dunes (nor walked as far), but I was happy to experience all that I was able in that short time, and to have seen and heard what little wildlife I did in such a vast, dry place. That wildlife included some sort of grasshopper, which was fairly numerous based on their soundings I heard, a Black-tailed jackrabbit, and a Zebra-tailed lizard, several of which I saw scurrying away from me, black and white striped tail erect like a flag. Additionally, I heard some sort of songbird (a sparrow likely) but didn’t see it. I’m going to post up some pictures below of these different places that share the same name and are only separated by a highway, yet are so very obviously different in their appearance and intent of use.
After fixing a flat tire with the help of a couple of nearby Border Patrol agents (my car apparently only came equipped with a jack, no bar for turning said jack, and also no wrench for removing the lugs from the wheel) I continued east where I would end up in Casa Grande in a room large enough to host a yoga class, at a cheap motel owned and recently renovated by Motel 6. In between the dunes and the motel were, strangely enough, a cotton field, corn field, as well as other crops being grown in of all places a desert. Truly baffling that in this extremely arid part of Arizona that there should be any sort of agriculture, but particularly cotton which requires copious amounts of water.
And then there is the Sonoran Desert, beautiful with its forests of Saguaro Cacti (and a sprinkling of a few other low growing shrubs), the only specks of green in this blackened, clay-colored monotony of small mountains and large hills, all jagged like broken teeth, bursting upward like tumors through the skin of the earth, like an inversion of a ragged wound torn into the flesh of an earthly body. Inhospitable. Violent. Primeval. Raw. A landscape of barbarism if there ever was one. I met a skinny, dirty, bearded man with a kind and inward looking countenance at a rest stop, though, where I thought to make a cup of coffee. It was a nice opportunity for a conversation with a fascinating individual, and a time to relax and soak in the landscape, instead of being locked in my car viewing everything through a windshield like watching a television screen, and appreciate it for what it is, which is something absolutely magical. A place where no life should exist, yet has sprung up. A place that no human should see and live to tell of it. Like going to the moon without a suit that preserves some form of atmosphere breathable, hospitable.
This batch of photos is from my drive down the coast of California, including a few pictures of the Henry Miller Memorial Library, various images in Big Sur, some photos of Santa Cruz Island, one of five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park, and the graffiti and date palms that I wrote about in my most recent post. Oh, and two images from Venice Beach. Enjoy.
I’ve been in Berkeley for a month now. My second day here I decided to take a couple hour walk around the neighborhood and the main commercial area, Shattuck and University streets, with my camera for fun, exploratory purposes.
Oh, and the picture of the boat was taken the morning of my drive over from Davis. It’s perched on a bluff, a few hundred feet above a reservoir. Why it was left, I couldn’t say, but it had obviously been there a long time (months? years?).