Category Archives: The Wilds

Glorious Trees in Winter: Kelburn Castle

It is so hard to photograph trees, but the burn of Kelburn Castle was of surpassing loveliness and contrasts on this mid-February day. Wind through  branches filled the world, an icy roaring mostly above our heads — a few branches came down around us as we were walking. One huge crack and a falling of one just in front of us provided some photographic comedy gold (Much as did my wearing three shirts, jumper, hoodie and coat), but also a slight thrill of danger.

But the woods, oh the woods. Empty of people, full of forest soundings. They sang impossibly beautiful around us in traceries of twigs framed by moss covered trunks. The red of fallen leaves still glowing.

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

My little brother, who at over six feet isn’t actually all that little but seemed hidden and small in this place…

Kelburn

Trees surrounding the falling of water…

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

This incredible mossy bark…

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

The wooly character of branches

Kelburn

The microcosms that live here

Kelburn

And then to slowly emerge from the trees to see the view of the Firth of Clyde and its islands and snow-capped mountains in the distance:

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

And its unexpected additions

Kelburn

From there we returned back to the castle, to a most wonderful walled garden and trees tamed — yet not entirely.

Single trees, enormous and ancient yews, some of them planted over a thousand years ago and framing more formal gardens alongside Kelburn castle. Three of Scotland’s most historic trees are here.

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

The first spring flowers I have seen this year, and a few other budding branches:

Kelburn

This whole place is primarily geared towards kids, families, campers — there were wonderful things for kids all around, though I was glad that the weather meant we had the place to ourselves and I imagine it is heaving in the spring and summer. I quite love what these Brazilian artists did to the castle when let loose on it:

Kelburn

Kelburn

But the last bit of the walk brought an unexpected reminder of some of the underlying social relations that have clouded this place. Not least that it is privately owned, but also in how it connected to power and Empire. All of this beauty was once owned by the Earl of Glasgow, who also served as governor of New Zealand — in an old not-very-waterproof shed sits a small museum with some of his collection. The faces of those who had their own wilds stolen from them stared back at us.

Kelburn

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Kelburn Castle: 2017’s first spring flowers

Tristram and I drove down to Kelburn Castle, and it was baltic, with rain almost sleet as we left but we headed from Hamilton towards Largs and occasionally the clouds would break to reveal patches of blue sky. Some sunshine, though lighting the world up far from us. The wind was freezing, even among the trees. Ice lined the puddles of water, though water flowed and rivuleted everywhere down the burn as we climbed it.

Kelburn

It was astounding to see these amazing snowdrops:

Kelburn

Thousands of them. Like these, adorning the banks, among these enormous, ancient trees.

Kelburn

As we walked back to the car park, we passed this last, lone utterly mad daffodil.

Kelburn

In the walled garden there were some beautiful rhododendrons blooming as well — I love walled gardens, what wonderful places they are in this climate! Yet I don’t feel I can count them really.

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Last Desert Wander: Peppersauce Wash

Original idea? To maybe try Peppersauce cave, but then, you know, no headlamps, no extra clothes, slight fear of dark enclosed spaces and being lost forever even though the internet swears that is impossible. Follow-up idea? To hike up past it into Nugget Canyon, but then, you know, turns out I really hate driving very narrow winding mountain roads with drop-offs to one side when all the other vehicles coming the opposite direction are large trucks, some pulling improbable RVs. So we stopped at the campground and hiked up the wash/road that led up towards the foothills, and that was a rather short walk, but a nice one. despite having to stand aside to let a progression of ATVs and these new four-wheel souped up golf-cart things past us.

It was beautiful, full of oak trees and sycamores, a stretch with gurgling water falling over the stones.

Peppersauce Wash

Peppersauce Wash

Peppersauce Wash

As we climbed up out of the wash up a steep road, the view spread out behind us:

Peppersauce Wash

Peppersauce Wash

Before us:

Peppersauce Wash

The mountainside to our right was covered with tailings spilling down from mine workings

Peppersauce Wash

Small wonder that the road and the wash were full of the most amazing rocks — huge boulders of conglomerates that I haven’t seen before:

Peppersauce Wash

Amazing details:

Peppersauce Wash

Peppersauce Wash

Look at the geological history to be read here…

Peppersauce Wash

Lava flows, faultlines, clean breaks between past and present:

Peppersauce Wash

Some processed ores, and some local shooting:

Peppersauce Wash

Finally we saw three more deer, silently climbing high up the hill just as we reached the car again.

A last view of Oracle too, the antique store in town, still with some holiday cheer very reminiscent of that found in Tucson

Oracle Antiques

But also so much more…

Oracle Antiques

Oracle Antiques

Oracle Antiques

I am a bit sad to be back in Manchester, where the cold and damp are brutal and the sun apparently never shines…

Buffalo Bill Cody’s Mines: Old Maudina and Campo Bonito

Buffalo Bill Cody! Like many I am fascinated by him, particularly as I increasingly realise just how much he had to do with creating the mythology of the Wild West and spreading it around the world. Many years ago, Manny and I traveled to Spain and ended up in the same Barcelona hotel where Buffalo Bill had once stayed — where he had ridden his horse up the marble stairs if my memory does not lie. There are traces of him in England too, and I always wondered what the many people who traveled with him as part of his show felt and thought as they experienced Europe and crossed the US. What an adventure — and yet to be on display, to create mythologies through recreating scenes as they almost certainly never happened — from cowboy life to white victories over Native American tribes.

I never knew that in looking towards his retirement Buffalo Bill partly settled in Oracle, filed mining claims there that he hoped would make him rich but that instead helped bankrupt him. He is not alone in that. A picture of him in Oracle.

William ‘Curly’ Neal, who Cody took under his wing as an aide and scout (and last blog is all about him and his amazing wife Annie and a small window into the lived experience of race in Southern Arizona), was doing very well for himself in Oracle and Buffalo Bill and some of his riders would often come stay with him at the Mountain View Hotel. The Mine With the Iron Door by Harold Bell Wright — both the novel and the 1924 silent film itself filmed in Oracle — helped inspire his desire to find the mine in the Catalina mountains that would make him rich.

When Curly told him the mine with the iron door was nowhere to be found, Buffalo Bill filed claims on High Jinks, Campo Bonito, Maudina, Southern Belle, and the Morning Star mines. They would drain him of all money – partly in legitimate development, which is always expensive and over-cost. But from Marriott’s description in Annie’s Guests, it certainly sounds as though he was soundly robbed by those he employed to manage the mines for him.

Buffalo Bill stayed up at the Hijinks claim, now a series of ranch buildings just alongside the Arizona trail, it’s now a National Historic Site:

Arizona Trail - Hijinks Ranch

A picture of Buffalo Bill can be found there near the entrance:

Arizona Trail - Hijinks Ranch

It is alongside an old cart, driven by Liz Taylor and Tom Skerrit in Poker Alice:

Arizona Trail - Hijinks Ranch

the view looking out across the valley towards the Gaiuros Mountains…not too bad at all:

Arizona Trail - Hijinks Ranch

Views of the Old Maudina Mine:

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

(and the view from inside this shallow working)

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

The more traditional mine entrances, fenced off, signs warning of danger riddled with bullet holes…

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

Some of the tailings spilling down the hill, all iron- and mineral-stained quartz:

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

Campo Bonito mine was much bigger, a shaft driven deep but mostly obscured by huge rock tumbled from the cliff face above it. Here’s a long-ago view of Buffalo Bill playing Santa Claus here though:

The view looking outwards remains splendid:

Arizona Trail Walk - Campo Bonito Mine

In Marriott’s chapter on Elizabeth Lambert Wood, there is a diary entry mostly describing Buffalo Bill’s wife, who had confided to Elizabeth that his long white hair was a wig. She loved knitting, and was using one of Buffalo Bill’s Medals of Honor to wind her wool. Wood also comments that she saw the saddle that Queen Victoria gave Buffalo Bill just lying on the ground. She writes:

They told me they had so many valuable things thay had no place to put them…To her they were only ‘negligible trifles’. (104)

A larger than life character in every way. Elizabeth Lambert Wood later bought the Southern Belle Ranch and the mine, and made a fortune in Tungsten.

The walk to get up to Hijinks and the mines was brilliant. We started at the Arizona Trail head just alongside the American Flag Ranch (our map had that wrong, so it took us a while to find.) We walked up the Arizona Trail to meet the Oracle Ridge trail, along that a ways, and then down along the old roads to the mines and then back to the Arizona Trail. You can see the Biosphere II from here once you come up to Oracle Ridge, though this picture hardly does its SF feel justice as it sits white and gleaming in the desert landscape.

Arizona Trail Walk

We saw three white-tailed deer, huge numbers of birds, and traces everywhere of a most abundant wildlife. A wonderful spot for hiking.

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Bridal Wreath Falls, Tucson’s Rincon Mountains

A wonderful walk, though quite a long one! We drove all the way East on Speedway to where it deadends at the Douglas Spring trailhead, and out to some truly beautiful falls (though the canyon was deep in shade so the pictures just didn’t work). It’s 5.6 miles straight out and back, but we came back the longer way, down Three Tank trail to the Garwood trail so it was about… 8 miles? the views of first the Catalinas and then out across Tucson towards the Tucson Mountains were stunning.

Bridal Wreath Falls

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Navajo Nation to Aztec Ruins, New Mexico

Before leaving Tuba City, we went to the museum right next to our hotel, one of my favourite stops on this trip.

Navajo Interactive Museum

The Navajo Interactive Museum shares some of the Navajo’s own history. It is the first place I have ever been that does not try to whitewash the history of conquest. It does not shy away from how people were killed, enslaved. It tells of the forced march, relocation, return. The immense loss. Grief. It shows how much has been saved, how custom and belief are not things of the past but of the present. It shared versions of the creation. Methods of weaving, the sheep that are the sources of wool. The building of hogans and some of their spiritual meanings. It is divided by the four directions, reclaims history for its own people, and offers it as a gift to us.

From one of the signs:

Indigenous languages are holistic, fluently expressing intrinsic human relationships with everything. Navajos believe that their language is a spiritual gift from the Holy People, for it connects them directly to the entire universe. It is a language of webs and motion, relationships and process, not of nouns and objectivity.

I have been thinking so much about language and patterns of thought, the limitations of science and how perhaps it is built into the English language itself. Spanish too, but just knowing two languages helps you understand language’s limits. There is still so much I cannot express, I wish that I had been honored to speak such an indigenous language. It is not hard to see why conquerors would work so hard to destroy language, it is so intertwined with culture, with worldview. It is always a place of strength and resistance.

Next door was a small museum in honour of the Navajo code talkers, the men who joined the US army and used their language to keep our transmissions from the Japanese. The whole text of the ‘Navajo Code Talkers Act‘ was on the wall, and it surprised me. I have put in bold the things I never though the U.S. government would say out loud, and we circle around language…

(1) On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor and war was declared by Congress the following day.

(2) The military code, developed by the United States for transmitting messages, had been deciphered by the Japanese and a search by United States military intelligence was made to develop new means to counter the enemy.

(3) The United States Government called upon the Navajo Nation to support the military effort by recruiting and enlisting 29 Navajo men to serve as Marine Corps radio operators; the number of enlistees later increased to over 350.

(4) At the time, the Navajos were second-class citizens, and they were a people who were discouraged from using their own language.

(5) The Navajo Marine Corps radio operators, who became known as the Navajo Code Talkers, were used to develop a code using their language to communicate military messages in the Pacific.

(6) To the enemy’s frustration, the code developed by these Native Americans proved to be unbreakable and was used extensively throughout the Pacific theater.

(7) The Navajo language, discouraged in the past, was instrumental in developing the most significant and successful military code of the time. At Iwo Jima alone, the Navajo Code Talkers passed over 800 error-free messages in a 48-hour period.

(A) So successful were they, that military commanders credited the code with saving the lives of countless American soldiers and the successful engagements of the United States in the battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa;

(B) So successful were they, that some Code Talkers were guarded by fellow marines whose role was to kill them in case of imminent capture by the enemy; and

(C) So successful were they, that the code was kept secret for 23 years after the end of World War II.

(8) Following the conclusion of World War II, the Department of Defense maintained the secrecy of the Navajo code until it was declassified in 1968; only then did a realization of the sacrifice and valor of these brave Native Americans emerge from history.

I am unsure what the U.S. government has done since then to grant full, respectful, honoured citizenship or to encourage the speaking of indigenous languages, but I suppose medals were something. It would take a few years before other tribes were honoured for similar roles, the Comache and Choctaw among them, in WWI as well as WWII.

navajo_code_talkers_617_488We drove and drove, Northeast, out of the red rocks towards New Mexico. We passed Black Mesa, and the Peabody Company’s coal mine — another reminder of exploitation, another form of resource extraction.

EACH YEAR PEABODY COAL COMPANY PUMPS MORE THAN 4,500 ACRE-FEET OF PRISTINE NAVAJO AND HOPI DRINKING WATER FROM THE “N-AQUIFER.”

Peabody uses this pristine water supply simply to mix with crushed coal-called “slurry.” This “slurry” is then pumped through a pipeline over 275 miles to the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada.

With every breath we take, 50 gallons of pristine ground water has just been pumped from the dry lands of northeastern Arizona. On Black Mesa, home to the Hopi and Navajo people, more than 300 gallons of potential drinking water has, in the last 10 seconds just been mixed with crushed coal. In the time it took to read these sentences Peabody Coal Company pumps over a thousand gallons of the cleanest groundwater in North America, simply to transport coal. Today, Peabody Coal pumps more than 3,600 acre-feet (equivalent to 4,600 football fields, one foot deep) per year of pristine water from the Navajo Aquifer.

You can find out more on the Southwest Research and Information Centre site. These beautiful lands are also be exploited for their uranium, in summary of the report on uranium mining on the Navajo Nation from Brugge and Goble:

From World War II until 1971, the government was the sole purchaser of uranium ore in the United States. Uranium mining occurred mostly in the southwestern United States and drew many Native Americans and others into work in the mines and mills. Despite a long and well-developed understanding, based on the European experience earlier in the century, that uranium mining led to high rates of lung cancer, few protections were provided for US miners before 1962 and their adoption after that time was slow and incomplete. The resulting high rates of illness among miners led in 1990 to passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

You can read and listen to more on Democracy Now’s program ‘A Slow Genocide of the People’.  Even now people gather to stand against another exploitation of the earth and threat of contamination for land and water — the North Dakota pipeline.

In North Dakota, indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River. More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, which was launched on April 1 by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

I wish I could be there too. Instead I am here, writing. We drove onward. It looks pristine, but corporations are poisoning this land.

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

Shiprock.

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

A sea of crushed metal, old cars left here.

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

Up to the ‘Aztec’ ruins. Midway between Chaco and Mesa Verde, this was an incredible Anasazi construction, planned and for the most part built within a very short time. Labelled Aztec because that’s all people apparently knew of indigenous cultures building in stone, too ignorant or racist to ask its real name. The National Park Service did try to give a ‘balanced’ history, but such radically different ways of seeing the world sit uneasily next to each other. There could be nothing too critical of the role archeology has played in the mythologizing of western expansions, nor of those expansions, nor the disrespect of native histories. A disrespect that stems from their attempted destruction. But it was good to hear native voices here, and the contrasting ways of seeing.

Aztec Ruins

This is a place that feels good, a place left to the ancestors before white men arrived, like Chaco, like Mesa Verde.

It’s construction is beautiful, full of details. The corner openings:

Aztec Ruins

T-shaped doors

Aztec Ruins

Stones rolled smooth from the river

Aztec Ruins

And other bands of decoration:

Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins

Once standing three stories high

Aztec Ruins

This wall traces exactly the path followed by the sun during the summer solstice

Aztec Ruins

It is a beautiful place. To see with eyes open and with eyes closed. The ground story of storage rooms still stand

Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins

They open into other rooms, a mat left behind is still here, hundreds of  years old.

Aztec Ruins

From archaeology we see the map of the whole. Almost all of it built between 1100 and 1130, which is amazing. Then slowly added to.

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This map shows its symmetries, though it cannot explain their meaning.

Aztec Ruins

They have reconstructed the great kiva here, I am not sure about entering such a place of ceremony without ceremony. Without invitation. So I didn’t take pictures, but I did give thanks to be there. With mum. They are wonderful sacred spaces.

Aztec Ruins

Several of them, along with the large central one, are surrounded by smaller rooms. I have never seen this before.

Aztec Ruins

I didn’t love the small museum as much as the one in Tuba City, but the pottery was beautiful (so much here, as in the other NPS museums, on loan from far away. Pottery and artifacts taken away as property by the institutions who sponsored digs, I do not understand how they do not see this as a living place to which things still belong). Apart from the maps of the place itself, the trade routes were also wonderful:

Aztec Ruins

From here we continued on and on, up to Chama. A good day.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad, Chama to Antonito

The Cumbres & Toltec Railroad is amazing, a narrow three-foot gauge railroad along which the steam engines of yore still ride…Built in 1880 by the Rio Grande to serve the silver mines in the San Juan mountains. As we all know, the Sherman Act of 1893 destroyed the silver industry for a good long time, but this train line kept slowly going until the 1960s. This piece of the track was saved by a handful of wonderful people working to preserve this awesomeness, it was secured in 1970 by New Mexico and Colorado working together, and is now run by a commission and a friend group.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

I love how trains inspire the utmost love and devotion, brings groups of people to selflessly work together to keep them going despite all odds. People also stood by the side of roads and RV parks to wave at the train, a couple of cars followed us down I-17. A number of cars pulled off the road to take pictures of the train.

For me, though, this particular train had a slightly different glamour. I am not a proper fan girl of many, but James Garner is one. James Garner as Maverick? Especially. For some reason I climbed up onto this train and suddenly felt myself close, very close. It didn’t even take that much imagination to ignore everyone else. I stood at the end staring at the mountains and wished I had a cigar. It was grand. I didn’t even mind the constant shower of grit.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

We climbed high up into the mountains, then back down to high-desert plateau. We saw deer, chipmunks, prairie dogs, antelope. Unbelievably beautiful.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

We even spouted rainbows.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Even more special, is that me and mum first took this trip with my Dad and my Godmother Clare when I was about 2 years old.

(I have skipped a day, yesterday we drove through rainbows but I was just too tired to think and write, and there is more to write! But it will be made part of this history)

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Dinosaurs and the Martian Canals: From Tucson to Tuba City

Road trip! Day one, a long driving day to get up past the sprawling monster of Phoenix, up up to the top of our enormous state. This all used to be two lane highway when I was a kid, but it’s four to six now most of the way…and has traffic to fill it. If you build it bigger they will drive it say the planners, and they are right.

Tucson to Phoenix

I just realised there is almost no traffic in this picture. But honestly. It’s there. It is anything but carefree. I kind of admire the effort some planner put into this though:

Tucson to Phoenix

We put a lot of effort into destroying the desert too… sucking up the groundwater reservoirs to grow crops, leaving the rest of the valley dry as dust edged with an unbelievable green:

Tucson to Phoenix

Like the efforts of a corporate chain pretending they have any kind of authentic history, but without making too much of an effort:

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Enough of that kind of effort though. Getting up to Flagstaff, cooler air, and the Lowell Observatory, now that was amazing. Lowell — built in 1894 by millionaire Percival Lowell of the Lowell, Massachusetts mill owner Lowells. You know. Those fucking Lowells. Which makes this a place that combines a quixotic history with quite a lot of space-exploration awesomeness.

So…I was excited to come here because Lowell believed — and tried desperately hard to prove — that Mars was covered by immense canals being built by martians in an immense hurry to channel water from the poles to held save their dying civilization. That is my all-time favourite Mars theory, and yes, yes it was inspired by reading a lot of science fiction (it also inspired a lot of science fiction, as you can guess). But also because a famous Italian astronomer by the name of Schiaparelli wrote a book about the canali of Mars, which should simply have been translated as channels (natural), but were instead translated as canals. And Percival Lowell being one of those fucking Lowells and the guy who funded and ran the observatory, there was no one who could really budge him from that hobby horse. So he spent a lot of years working on these maps, drawing canals that no one else could see because they just weren’t there given the low resolution of the telescope.

lowell mars map2bI still love them. Especially as there are apparently three theories about where these lines actually came from. The first is — his own eyelashes. The second — shit, I have forgotten the second. The third — that he spent a lot of time staring into bright skies and he was actually seeing the patterns of his own retina reflected back the way you sometimes do when getting your eyes checked. That was my favourite.

But back then he had some credibility — this from the New York Times on August 27, 1911 (105 years ago yesterday! That’s a bit of a coincidence).

life-on-mars

The Clark observatory today:

Lowell Observatory

Inside it’s even better:

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory

Lowell hired two guys to build this dome who had never built a dome before — and you can pretty much tell. But it works. It needs to move of course, so originally that dome sat on great castors and two men with ropes had to move it according to Lowell’s instructions. The next attempt was my favourite — to set it floating on a course of salt water (to prevent it from freezing). Our tour guide (who was awesome) noted that it worked great. For all of two hours. All kinds of things went wrong, some of the stains are still visible on the wood. So they went back to castors and two guys pulling it with ropes, but then the next director came along and had the bright idea of using tires. So it is now cushioned on original Ford 1957? steel rims and hubcaps — the tires themselves have to be replaced frequently given the weight of the dome.

Lowell Observatory

I haven’t even gotten to the more exciting parts, like the way Vesto Slipher (!) actually discovered from his observations here that the universe was expanding, though his measurements of the various spectrums of stars and the realisation that most of them were moving away from us. Spectrum analysis also proved that those spiral things people were seeing were actually entirely separate galaxies. This meant that universe was actually much bigger than just our galaxy. Imagine that jump when the two had always been conflated. Imagine how the universe expanded then (not literally you understand, but our understandings of it).

Vesto presented his findings and had astronomy’s first ever standing ovation in 1912 — in the audience sat the not-yet-Doctor Hubble, who would first try to put a number to the expanding universe.

Then in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto.

That turned out trickier than expected of course, given it was not a planet at all, but still.

I loved the Rotunda too, though we didn’t get enough time here as we still had far to go.

Lowell Observatory

Inside we had a little fun with spectrum analysis ourselves. We got to wear glasses.

Lowell Observatory

And these simple and flimsy things revealed wonders when staring at tubes of neon or mercury. Not quite this good, but close enough. This is neon:

neon

We got a quick look at everything else…I wanted more time but we couldn’t wait until evening when they were opening it up fully.

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory

From there we drove up to Tuba City…and a sign on the side of the road said dinosaur footprints and mom said ‘hell yes, let’s do it’ (or something to that effect). We had seen a dinosaur earlier of course:

Tucson to Phoenix Dinosaur

But look at these things, they are amazing…

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

I’m not sure I can say the same about this toenail polish which I bought on a crazed whim — I am never colour coordinated like this.

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

This place is one of my favourite in the world. Mum says it took her forever coming from England to get used to the space, it made her feel so small, so insignificant. Me, I feel like this space makes you humble and at the same time opens you up, gives you a spirit big enough to fill it. It makes me so happy to be back here again in the red rocks. Especially staring across an ancient seabed at dinosaur tracks.

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

We gave our guide and her partner a ride into Tuba City, it being the end of the day, and then found a hotel. An expensive hotel. Damn. But the Hogan Restaurant next door? The best waitress ever and they had mutton stew with frybread on the menu which probably gave mum more joy than anything else through the day — she grew up on that in postwar England don’t you know.

Hogan Cafe, Tuba City

Me, I had a cheese burger — on fry bread. Which was delicious but oh. my. god. Filling. I can’t tell you how filling. I could eat almost no fries, but that was probably a good thing. As it is, I feel I should run the first ten miles tomorrow alongside the car…

Tomorrow, Anasazi ruins! Chama! So exciting.

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Up up to the Catalinas in a new car

It is so hot here, so hot, humid and hot. People often escape from Tucson to the Catalinas, high mountains, cool mountains. Not us though, not for a long time, not in the old buick. Poor old car. It felt like a victory for the whole Gibbons clan that Dan finally got the job he deserves, and then got a new honda civic. It’s blue. Our biggest victory in some time.

We drove up that steep, long mountain road in a new car! A triumph.

I have a bit of car envy, me, who has only properly owned a car for about 5 months, and that was years and years ago and never wanted another. I know how bad they are for the environment. I love moving slow on my own power, if I must move quickly let it be on a train. But hell, it felt good to drive up that mountain to find cool air, knowing we would get up there and back. Cars do bring so much freedom, and I found myself wanting it. Remembering those dreams of a midnight blue straightback Chevy truck. Funny no matter how much you change, you never totally leave your old self behind.

They’ve cleaned most of the old rusting cars out of the canyons, the ones we used to count when we were kids, but there was still at least one van left:

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The canyons, though, beautiful. Seven cataracts (as opposed to seven falls)

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The pine-covered summits, where I confess I would have liked a long-sleeved shirt while we sat outside and I ate my fancy french dip sandwich and sweet potato tots, delicious, though it felt a bit of a betrayal now it’s no longer the old pie place. The one miraculously saved from the fire last go round. A bit of rain came through.

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The Catalinas on a hot Saturday in August? Not too much sense of the lonely wilds up there. Rose lake? A family planted every few feet fishing. White, Mexican and a family whose patriarch was wearing a fez. Diversity was nice, but actual people? Not so much. I remember I went camping there as a kid, fishing there once with the Sweetzers, they caught a shoe. I fell in love with their bait box full of lures of many colours. I shot my first gun at a row of tin cans. They made scrambled eggs with cheese in that old cast iron skillet they never washed and called them snots. It must have been a BB gun, right? I can’t remember. They owned gear, but the army surplus kind, they were an army family. None of the fancy stuff my friends are packing these days. I think about all the places American troops have gone on mostly the wrong side of everything, and can’t match that to the kindness I remember. Sort of the way Rose lake didn’t look familiar at all, didn’t match any one of those memories.

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Then back home. Barely escaping Tucson’s largest predator and certain death…

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A new car. We could go anywhere.

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Perseids

We drove out to the desert, Dan, Julie and I — not far enough perhaps, but away from street lights under the great sky so full of stars. I know there are more, I fill in from memory all those that are visible further away from the fierce glowing of the city. But we were far enough.

More stars than I have seen in a long time. The wide stream of the milky way and the seven sisters a little way above the horizon. Always my favourites, the way they cling together just above the earth. Orion too, stamping across the sky.

The air was heavy with creosote and moisture, fresh and life-smelling after the rain. The sound of crickets and the calling of frogs and toads. A great meteor arced across the sky and we watched its vaporous trail slowly disappear. Only a handful left such trails, none so wide and strong. Almost the way I used to draw them when I was little, a star with childish lines showing its movement from left to right, just like this one.

Funny that they didn’t all move in the same direction, didn’t all cluster in one small section of sky. Didn’t fall at regular intervals. Some were short fragile lines of light, a blink and they were gone. Others felt solid, stretched long. Amazing to think of a comet so far away carrying such  flaming masses of rock and metal along with it, ratcheting around the earth one more time and once again flinging them off in its wake.

Each light a molten mass hurtling through the emptiness of space and burning into nothingness as we watch.

It felt so good be out there, staring up. Clouds crept slowly, feathered around so that the sky felt curved, like a bowl full of stars. The clouds spread thin, ragged, flattening the sky through their framing. It felt as though I were staring up through water.

The occasional sounds of laughter from a house party, getting high and watching the pretty lights. Rumbling of cars.

A brief staccato of barks and a howls from towards the foothills. A very distant howl far to the southeast. I wonder if the coyotes know the stars are falling.

A fluttering of moths against my face.

Two bats.

It felt good to feel small, part of this bigger thing. Felt good to connect with others, sky-watchers, across space and through time.

I wished many things…