A couple miles off is a train, creeping along beneath towering, red, sandstone cliffs spotlighted by the lowering sun and glowing like they had recently been removed from a forge. The train looks like a toy miniature running on plastic tracks amidst an elaborate display set up on a table in an old firehouse.
Arizona landscape driving east from Flagstaff to Santa Fe: a flat plain interrupted by shallow ravines, the occasional wash, plateaus, mesas; dotted with pastel, mute, sagey green shrubs large and small. The occasional tree. The colors of the land, various and multitudinous: greys, siennas (burnt and raw), ochres, umbers, oranges, reds. On the whole, unsurprisingly warm.
Ahead, something that lies visible but which I can never reach, tantalizes with its unknowns, its questions: the horizon, a flat line like that which separates, yet holds together, ocean and sky, as if without it they would burst apart and anything and everything would be flung off, ejected, torn into the vacuum of space.
Very much a ranchers’ landscape and, once a wilderness where buffalo freely roamed, and the Navajo with them (or so I might imagine).
Railroad tracks paralleling Interstate 40, and a miles-long train, its individual cars bound together with an invisible string stretching from coast to coast, like a necklace encircling the throat of our mother, Earth.
Signs for Indian gifts, moccasins.
Earlier: “Petrified Wood From the Forest”
“Indian Ruins Gas This Exit Save”
“Indian Ruins Exit Don’t Miss It”
Here is one of the loveliest, most enchanting landscapes I’ve ever experienced. Today the air so clear. The horizon crisp.
Does a horizon have a beginning or ending? Does it simply go on forever, an arc around a human body? A halo played like a hoola hoop, as well as a symbol of divinity, rather than just worn as a crown?
So, I’m in Nogales, AZ. Came down here to see the spot where José was shot across the border and killed by U.S. Customs Border police. A sad story, as so much of what regarding the United States’ border with Mexico is, particularly in light of the politics of the day, not least because an innocent boy lost his life and a family lost a son. To add to the family’s pain, it’s nearly impossible to prosecute an officer for an incident of this sort. In fact, to my knowledge, the prosecution, and the found guilty verdict, of the officer who shot José was a first in history. This took yearssss, however. Anyway, just being over by the wall was such a singularly surreal experience. I’d never been anywhere near the U.S.-Mexico border before, and yet there I was standing beneath the wall, peering up at it, and sighting along its length: a twenty-ish foot steel wall, slatted so that one can see through it. A monstrosity which dominates the town because it is so very hilly here, and so it rides those undulations of the hills so that no matter where you are you never lose sight of it. I can only imagine the feelings of the residents on either side of this… thing. I can ONLY imagine, and perhaps my imagination differs from reality. Do they feel like caged rats, subjects in someone’s science experiment? A remarkably sentient tropical fish swimming back and forth along the glass of an aquarium?
This is just the silliest thing in the world to me, that we create these barriers around each other, because, really, we’re all humans. We’re all the same people, essentially. And when one travels over land, either by bicycle or by car, you see that the land continues, and animal and plant life continues, and it all bleeds and blends together, and fluctuates and changes with climate zones, terrain, soil types, etc. And the fact that we create these borders… I mean the idea of countries is utterly ridiculous. Yes, culturally we might be different, but again, that’s something to be shared, and there’s some of that going on, but at the same time the idea of sticking a huge wall up, like that clown Trump insists, is utterly insane (particularly because there already exist walls along this border where it’s been deemed necessary). That money could go towards countless more beneficial social/industrial/environmental projects rather than trying to divide us further as human beings.
Humphrey’s Peak right up there
With clouds tailing off
Drizzled with snow like a cinnamon bun.
Flagstaff silent but for the crows,
Some traffic rolling along cracked and tar strapped asphalt
Breeze pushing yellow, green, yellow-green leaves along a sidewalk
Bluebirds bright, their song with joy
Happiness like a child’s reflection in an iced over pond.
the very air
—crisp, crackling with energy.
Winter draws nearer.
The smell of old leaves,
Of dead leaves,
Blue of autumn sky.
Having left Arcosanti feeling slightly regretful of having not stayed another night, I drove north to the comparatively colder (and wetter) city of Flagstaff. Temperatures were in the 40’s and the rain was coming down by the buckets full. I wanted to go for a run that day as there are trails all over, and so skipped stopping in Sedona unfortunately, but the uninviting weather that greeted me on my arrival at Flagstff discouraged running. I suppose that’s sort of an ironic way of killing two birds with one stone. Oh well. I was happy to check in at Motel Du-Beau, which nowadays is not just a motel but a hostel too.
The motel/hostel is an old, traveler’s motor-hotel (hence, motel, if you didn’t know) from the earliest days of the great American road trip. Opened in 1929 by a French Canadian, it’s original purpose, which it certainly still meets, was to provide a place for traveling motorists to lodge for a night, or several, on their travels across the country. The U-shaped, single story motel is classic in style, and reminiscent of a picture on an old postcard one might find in an antique store. Standing on the opposite side of the street one can easily picture those old, heavy, steel cars of the thirties, forties, fifties… parked out front of each door. Maybe someone is lugging crates of luggage packed full of clothing and souvenirs between a car and room. Others are standing around, slack-jawed, some turning in circles, heads thrown back, gazing up through a confusion of pine needles at the blue sky, smiles on their faces. Despite the rain that appeared with me, and would reappear in bouts throughout the few days I was there, this was how I felt during my time there. In fact, all of Flagstaff struck me as a magical place where one’s head must be thrown back quite regularly to smile at the sun when it’s around, or a bird or tree, the beautiful clouds furling and unfurling, appearing and dissolving, skating across the sky, some marvelous building, or one of the three tall hotel signs from decades ago that are still standing today.
For a city it’s size it manages to accommodate a much larger population than one might think. Permanent residents are outnumbered by students from the university during the fall, winter and spring months, and during the summer it’s inundated by tourists come to visit the Grand Canyon. What this means is that despite its small size there is a surprisingly large number, almost gratuitous, of restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops for one to peruse.
Despite its proximity to great outdoor adventures and sites I went on none. Instead I spent much of my time working on this blog, exploring town with my camera, relaxing with a book, and hanging out with this older fellow I met, Marc. His is an interesting story, though short. He lives up in Buffalo and his girlfriend travels a bit as a performance artist. He was on his way here for the third or fourth time to visit her when in Colorado he sent his car several hundred feet down an embankment (incidentally, near where I was staying with my friend Doug, months ago). Somehow he survived this ordeal—he calls it a miracle, which seems to me an apt term—though his car was obviously trashed. Some way, after attending the hospital and apprehending a back brace (yes, that’s all), he continued his way to Flagstaff. I’m not sure how because I never asked, but he was in the room we shared when I arrived and immediately introduced himself, coffee in hand.
A coffee cup isn’t a mere detail with this man because there is nearly always one in his hand, as though he’d lost an appendage and affixed a coffee cup in its place. That leaves him one good hand for holding a cigarette, phone, set of keys, camera, etc. Perfectly fine. Anyway, he felt an affinity for me, and I for him. There was a kindness in his face, an affability, joy. A tiredness in the way he walked it seemed (though that could just be the bad back) that had me feeling a deep sympathy for him. When he smiled, which was often, it was that of a child, and his eyes shown brightly. He listened to me eagerly when I talked about my trip, when I talked about traveling in general. He’s retired and it’s something he wants to do more of. He also wants to leave Buffalo. Move elsewhere. I think part of his journey here was looking for that place. He really enjoyed Flagstaff. He talked about wanting to stay, but unfortunately with the accident it was important that he got home to his family who were naturally concerned for him. He took an Amtrak home the day that I left, though much much earlier in the morning. We said our goodbyes the night before with a simple handshake. Exchanged numbers. He implored me to call him. I haven’t yet, but I was just thinking about this earlier today. I should soon. There are few people in this world that I bond with so quickly. I can’t even say what it is that attracts me to him. He strikes me as a sort of saint. One who smokes cigarettes, is profoundly addicted to caffeine, and listens to a lot of classic rock, but a saint nonetheless. Despite that, I felt that I was the one imparting some sort of esoteric knowledge or wisdom, not he. I’m genuinely curious about what has transpired in his life these past two months since we parted. I still have a number of people to call and get together with here though, too. Well, all in good time! And Merry Christmas to him!, though I know he’s not reading this.
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.
Staying at the Congress in Tucson tonight. Built in 1913 it still retains the charm of that era while being ever so slightly updated for this current century (wifi, a/c, and modernized, though small, bathrooms). Tonight it’s a lively place, and all dressed up for Halloween, people walking around with booze in their hands, a band playing in the concert room somewhere, and, judging by the menu, good food. At the reception counter a small, glass case displays candy and cigarettes. It’s only lacking chewing tobacco and a selection of handguns and knives to round the showcase out.
I’m sipping a Negroni, sitting in the reception at a tall counter away from the bar, while observing a woman who has recently staggered into the room and sprawled herself across a nearby sofa. Has been there ten minutes or so. Can’t for the life of me figure out for what or why. I consider striking up a conversation, but I have this here book that I’m reading (a very enjoyable one, I should add), and the light is really quite dim, and from twenty feet away I’m finding it hard to determine if she’s attractive or not, or how old she might be, or if she’s even coherent to carry a conversation. And now, while writing this, she’s roused herself and meandered back outside to the patio. For another drink, perhaps? (They are cheap enough.) Frankly, I don’t think she’s in need of an additional drink unless it’s water or coffee. I’m reading a Henry Miller which, as I stated, I’m quite enjoying, and so it seems a good thing indeed that I did not approach this woman. I think she’s having a fine enough night on her own, and I am have a fine enough night on my own.
The light in here is dim and warm and multi-colored, and my drink is cherry-red and the bit of neon that’s reflecting off the dark, polished wood surfaces of the bar is also glowing in my drink like there’s a festival taking place somewhere within, and the bitterness of the Campari coupled with the sharpness of gin and sweetness of vermouth is like a tonic as it trickles down my throat. I can’t think that there could be a better place for me, or anyone else for that matter, to be than right here, right now.
Soon after this woman leaves, a family walks into the lobby. Two ebullient little girls climbing all over the furniture, and a punk kid in his teens—studded denim vest and a Dwarves patch across the back. Trucker hat. Father in a plaid flannel and a cowboy hat. No boots unfortunately, and certainly no spurs. Mother’s drinking a glass of red wine. Why wine? I don’t know. I suppose she likes red wine. Strange, though. I can’t see anyone drinking wine in a place like this. Cocktails are about all that makes any sense here, and at $6 for some very high quality stuff should be the only thing that anyone is drinking (the bartender knows what he’s doing).
Before officially coming to Tucson, and by “officially” I mean not driving through, I drove down to Nogales today. It’s a border town most well known for the cross-border murder of an innocent teen, Jose Antonia Elena Rodriguez. What’s most interesting about the incident is that the border patrol guard was actually indicted on charges for the killing. it was the first time in the history of the country that had happened. I wanted to photograph the wall for my project, and I wanted to go to the spot where the murder occurred. I dictated some thoughts into my phone while walking away. I may post that up separately, later.
The drive down was somewhat shit though, because I was pretty much ready to just be in Tucson, and didn’t feel like essentially taking a four hour detour, however, the southeastern Arizona landscape is a magnificent place. Quite different from southwest/southcentral Arizona, which seems a desiccated, crippled beast to me, though no less able to lash out and kill if it so wishes. No, the southeast is almost lush in comparison. The hills and mountains inviting and majestic, not terrifyingly ruinous like some strange and frightening monster preserved in the rock, alive and biding its time, waiting for its moment to rise again with gnashing teeth and slashing claws. These mountains are friendly. They look like they harbor life, and are not preserves of death. They invite one in, and give what they can. Yet… still, I cross over dry river beds; the Santa Cruz, for example, is no longer a river but just an arroyo. Presumably it’s been bled dry to irrigate crops grown in a desert because that’s a thing happening, but I can not say that I know.
Mexico, looking across the border, peering through the gaps in the fortifications (to keep those dastardly Mexicans out!) looks to be a marvelous landscape. Almost makes me want to drop everything I’m doing and drive on in.
And a single woman out of a group of six begins laughing: unstoppable, clear as a bell, like a song in a musical. Quite lovely the way it jets upward like a geyser, and when she gets going how it bounds along like a big, happy dog, tongue hanging from its mouth and swept back. Mexico: the land of enchantment! Oh, wait, that’s NEW Mexico’s slogan. Nonetheless!