The Road: Part 8, The Long Road Home

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, Self Reflection, The Road, Thoughts

Monday, March 16: Harris Beach State Park, Oregon

I was approached on the beach by a middle age woman with the gift of gab and some painful ideas. She regurgitated ideas from memes like the virus would disappear one day and come back in ten years. I tried to keep my space and assist her in reality. My husband had his own conversation with a teacher where he learned that the local population holds beliefs about this being a part of God’s plan and the end times. There being excitement in the religious population to embrace current events and little desire to change habits.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020: Clear Lake State Park, California

The first night. We changed direction and pace to make our way home, traveling by mostly interstate instead of scenic backroads. We had to drive south to go east because a winter storm was sweeping through the Rocky Mountains, Plains and Midwest. We found this state park about an hour from where we stopped for supplies. Restaurants were starting to move to take out only by force in some places and by choice in others. It was dark and late when my phone, blue-toothed into the radio, blasted out the warning declaring a shelter-in-place order for Sonoma County. Then mid-morning a park employee accompanied by California Park Police came through to inform us they were closing the State Parks and to give us advice about where to try to stay.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020: Rabbit Island, California

Rabbit Island, a familiar camping spot for us in a National Forest, we stopped at before going to the Sequoia National Forest. Again we rolled in well after dark. And in the morning there were no cows to greet us. The news? Pennsylvania was shutting down rest stops. Someone else traveling from Florida to Michigan reported on Facebook finding hotels closing up behind and ahead of them. The Canadian/American border is closed to unnecessary travel.

Thursday, March 19, 2020: Mojave Desert Preserve, California

We stopped before dark. Finding resting spots on wild lands is too challenging after dark. Part of me was happy to see the desert again, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. A spring rain storm swept through. In the morning President Trump announces closing the southern border and sending asylum seekers back to their countries. I weep for the cruelty.

Friday, March 20, 2020: Thirty Minutes Outside Kingman, Arizona

Supplies. We’ve carried minimum supplies. After the troubles in Death Valley I started stocking up on dry foods (that was traumatic, food deserts are real), but we still kept minimal dog food and paper supplies because of the minimal space. Now we cannot find toilet paper (three states later). Getting dog food and meds filled just over the Arizona border. Getting pet food. Errands take time, checking for toilet paper and some groceries while we wait for the scripts to fill.

Illinois under stay-at-home order beginning tomorrow at 5:00pm.

Made it about thirty minutes south of Kingman, Arizona. We originally planned to cross Arizona at Flagstaff, but that city was getting cold and snow so we are going the more southern route and swinging past Phoenix. Between Phoenix and Flagstaff are mountains and twisty roads we don’t want to get tangled in right now. I’ll get to say hello to the Saguaros for a brief moment.

Saturday, March 21, 2020: Navajo National Monument

Home is probably still snowed in. Can’t stay here. Can’t get there. One day at a time. Uncertainty rocks the world. Humanity is in crisis. May we walk through this fire and come out better for it. Here, now, communities rally together finding creative ways to support each other, while our governments make cruel decisions and we let them.

We traveled. Stopped in a small town for a couple staples, tried again for toilet paper: nope. Wanted to take a break from the road and reality by stopping at the Grand Canyon. There were more people than we anticipated and a young woman up on her soap box. She stood on a rock, all attitude in her cocked hip, yelling into her phone about the people not keeping six feet apart and everyone was going to die infecting her small village. Too much. When I realized she was filming, that’s when the panic attack set in. To be clear I was able to be there without being in anyone’s space. And it took some cognitive processing to manage it.

We headed SE on 64 (Desert View Dr.) into the Navajo Nation lands. All their roadside stands were vacant and scenic points closed.

We found a place to camp for the night just before sunset in the beautiful Navajo National Monument.

Sunday, March 22, 2020: Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

The night before we discussed staying a day or two to catch our breath, but in the morning (late morning) we both felt ready to go on. No sooner had I stepped out of the camper, then a park officer rolled up in his truck, decked out with a regular surgical mask, to inform me the park was closed and we had to leave. Not that it was closing, closed, note: there was no one to pay for the site last last night and the park was half full.

I’ve tempered my desires to stop for photographs in exchange for eating more pavement. This was harder driving through the harsh and beautiful Navajo lands of Arizona and New Mexico. Passing on Monument Valley and Shiprock. Along with local flavor like homemade signs; “I Eat Pilgrims” and “Tourist Go Home.” Also passed up (I believe) a Native mural depicting a face with respirator “Beware Covid-19.”

We thought we had found National Forest land to camp on twenty minutes outside of Taos, New Mexico. Found it gated and the road snowed in. I was tortured with the drive through Taos to get there. Knowing no matter how much I wanted to see the town, circumstances were out of my control.

New Mexico’s decision to close state parks became, clearly, more of a challenge than anticipated as the sun set. I made my husband pull over (despite his insistence the signs demanded a pass to park) to eat and stretch before we did this stretch of road in the dark (and hopefully find an easy place to stop for sleep off of I-25 or before. A rest stop, Cracker Barrel or Walmart would do.

Or… a wildlife refuge.

Monday, March 23, 2020: Stapleton, Nebraska

Morning came on slow and mild. The morning plan: north to Nebraska via Kansas to avoid the storm systems. Ever North and East.

Michigan, our destination: Stay Home, Stay Safe Order; in effect at midnight.

Rolled through the Kansas plains while the news cascaded on by the minute. What inevitable choices would our leaders make? I worry for us more now than I did after 9/11. As much as I’d dreamed of seeing this country and then maybe the world, now I want to curl up in the forgotten forests of the southern shores of Lake Superior. Where our winters are harsh, but the people are strong. Where the world can forget to send it’s problems and we can carry on.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota

Home was closer, but still too far away. Woke up to a cloud of starlings filling the air and spring fields with sound. Word came that the road to our home was narrowly plowed with tall crusty snow banks. Two hard days of travel or linger and hope for a melt? Linger and what new developments would occur in the country? Linger and be subjected to unknown tides. Or go on?

Thank you Nebraska gas station, finally scavenged a roll of toilet paper. Situation critical. By this measure, Tuesday was a good day. By others, I don’t know. On this day the United States President switched his rhetoric from being a war time president to seeing churches packed for Easter and reopening the economy while we crossed the American heartland.

Drove by a rural bar in South Dakota with a full parking lot. What will history sound like?

We had made reservations for a campground in Minnesota. I was stoked upon arrival to check out the showers. I practically skipped over to the building, to find each door locked.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota

A great long deep breath and stood still while the world turned.

Hoped to shower. Dashed.

Hoped to do laundry. Failed to rally the effort and energy.

My husband went to procure supplies from the nearby town while I could barely keep my eyes open. The other camper left. We saw many campers and RV’s on the road this week, more than we had seen moving before.

News: Wisconsin: “Safer at Home” went into effect for 30 days. Waiting for news on the governments passing the relief bill. India locked down.

Thursday, March 26, 2020: Home, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

We left the campground before sunrise. Drove through fog and drizzle, I reflected on the desert. A place still relatively wild and free because of its harsh climate, like home.

News: Minnesota “Stay at Home Order” ordered and in effect Friday, March 27. We passed a huddle of smokers outside a pretzel factory and saw people sitting down to eat at a gas station diner. News about New York grows worse daily. New Orleans. Georgia. Washington state. Florida. San Francisco.

Home. I know these roads and trees. For hours now I’ve known these roads. We are going to pass near where we bought the camper soon. (It is coming apart again). The snow banks are still high. The trees are small and grow densely together. Boreal Forest. 35 degrees. No cactus. No Border Patrol. No surreal landscapes. No starfish. No whale plumes. To reach a big metropolitan area one has to drive at least six hours. To reach a major city, eight to nine hours.

News: the United States has surpassed Italy and China in Covid-19 cases.

Update: after crawling across the snow bank with a cat in my arm and sliding down into the dark recesses of my cold dark home, I waited while my husband hit the switches on the circuit breaker. Heat and hot water would be mine soon. My cat wandered the dark rooms calling. Light! Glorious light. Which dimmed… and flicked and died away. We are back in the camper for the night. Dreams of long hot showers without pressing buttons every thirty seconds will have to wait on the power company.

The Road: Part 5.2

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts


Arivaca

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After Tucson we headed closer to the border with Mexico, again, staying in the small town of Arivaca, Arizona. When visiting the town center, I noticed immediately a small building with hand-painted signs: Humanitarian Aid Office. Being the curious human I am I had to ask them about their mission. I was informed that migrants come across asking for water and there was a legal case brought against someone for giving them water (since dismissed). But there was a bigger mission. They assist local ranchers dealing with the newly “militarized border.” The person I spoke with mentioned ranchers dealing with the Border Patrol landing helicopters on their land. Of course I asked about the wall and if the crime rate justified it. This person didn’t blink, they 100% wanted a wall, but added that was just their opinion and the local people were just getting swept up into the politics.

One has to recognize the prism of local issues at play. As we were exploring the area we discovered ranches that allowed the public onto their land. One asked us to sign in and use a tag another asked people only walk in. One posted no Border Patrol ORVs and no militia. The restaurant we ate at posted a sign saying vigilante and border militia groups not welcome. The website I found for the Tohono O’ddham Nation reservation made it very clear they were against a border wall on their land. And not so far away is the area reportedly being cleared of ancient cactus to make way for border wall.

Please go to the Humanitarian Aid Web Site for a far better explanation of the situation in the borderlands.

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Humanitarian Aid Office, Arivaca, Arizona
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Jake local celebrity, of Arivaca

Kitt Peak Observatory

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Observatory Structure at Kitt Peak

Setting ourselves out on a different pace, we had a place to be and a time to be there. We drove the nearly desolate two hours from the small town we were staying at to visit the Kitt Peak Observatory for a four hour nighttime star gazing program. Up the switchback mountain road we drove into the crisp air of the sky island. Upon our arrival the staff directed us to park in a specific spot, everyone lining up facing the same direction.

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Tour Group watching Sunset

We were informed, fed, toured, given red flashlights. Warned to point them down, to protect the science. First we watched the sunset while the observatories opened unexpectedly to the sky by scientists working remotely. As the dark descended went up the stairs into an open top observatory with a 16″ telescope and looked into the past. I saw with my eyes another galaxy (The Andromeda Galaxy), star clusters, and other wonders. (You can see and read the blogs from the night of our visit. Lorelie, Robert (our Guide) and Fred. ).

They prepared our vehicles for departure by covering our headlights with red plastic and then signaled us to start our vehicles together and descend the mountain in a caravan lead by the Observatory staff. All to protect the science. No phones. No errant lights. No photography after dark. Nearly fifty people working together to respect the delicate work of the scientists.

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Sunset on Kitt Peak

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

It is all about the Masked Bobwhite Quail at the Buenos Aires Refuge. They have them penned up, but good luck seeing the quick little… Anyway. The visitor center is in a beautiful old ranch house looking out over golden grasses and mountain horizons, with opportunities to bird watch and a nice display of cacti.

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Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

Tohono O’odham Nation

While visiting the Kitt Peak Observatory I read about the Tohono O’dham Nation, which the Observatory sits on their land. There were these beautiful baskets made from traditional materials and then there were tiny little baskets made from horse hair and other materials. Repeating throughout the artworks on display was the Man in the Maze.

So moved was I by the the craftsmanship of the basketmakers and the symbolism of the Man in the Maze I wanted to know more about the people. We visited the Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum. 10,000 years their people lived on this land with the desert. I learned a little more about how they lived prior to western influence and their involvement in the conflicts since. There were also on display some fantastic artists: painter Delia Velasco, block print artist Keith Norris and weaver Arlene Thomas were the three that really stood out to me. Sorry no photos! And I respected that. So I will describe them for you.

Delia Velasco:

Her piece was a large mixed media painting in earthy tones of rust red and yellow dripping at times like a wild watercolor, layered around the symbolic elements. In the upper left hand corner the suggestion of a saguaro silhouette is visible. The most striking element is the repeated Man in the Maze in the composition. A 1/4 circle of the Maze fills almost half the canvas, it’s epicenter the lower left corner.

Keith Norris:

Norris’s work was a block print of four figures walking the land titled: “Getting Home.” One female figure in a skirt carrying a pot on her head, a smaller male figure carrying sticks, a smaller figure in a skirt, a male figure with something strapped to his back, and all using walking sticks. The bottom third of the print are the figures, two hills and vegetation detail. The top 3/4 is filled with a radiating sun patten that feels like hope, heat, and sunshine.

Arlene Thomas:

Thomas crafted a miniature Man-in-the-Maze basket out of horsehair. It is slightly bigger than a coin, the label is bigger and it is completely dwarfed by its companions. Each line of the Maze is balanced to the scale and elegantly executed. If you cannot tell, I am absolutely thunderstruck by the craftsmanship.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The good, the bad, and the ugly. We were trying for Phoenix and didn’t make it. This beautiful spectacular failure went from we’ll stay one night to three. The drive in on 85 was spectacular. The sun set on a magestic jagged red mountain backdrop with the teaming desert landscape in the foreground. The first morning after our arrival I met the resident Raven lovebirds who posed for me on the campground saguaros. Thank you ravens!

We drove a loop through the park on one end enjoying the day and viewing the cholla, saguaro, and organ pipe cacti in all their various forms. Met a couple people plein air painting.

On the last day we drove the loop that went alongside the border wall where reports in the media were made of the saguaro’s being destroyed to make way for the new border wall. What I saw were some brush piles of willow and cacti marked. I did come across one saguaro that was in the process of being cut down. Access to some roads are blocked because of the border wall construction.

Saguaro Landscape

Phoenix

Costa’s Hummingbird

I just wanted to stop to see one exhibit… my husband signed us up for nine days? ten days? Two different campgrounds. The thing is we didn’t do much during this time. We took two drives. One on a back road that went through a hot-springs business with palm trees in the middle of nowhere and another on a quest to find a business that might sell cow skulls in Yarnell, which did not end up existing anymore. I was delighted by the wild donkeys, hated the suburban sprawl of Phoenix, baffled by a lake lined with saguaros, and beyond irked with the airplanes circling our second campground choice. We went into a grocery store that sold luxury spirits and cigars. In this high rent area all the brands were mercifully subdued, I wish the whole world could throttle consumer culture this way. And we made it to the Phoenix Museum of Art to see the Ansel Adams exhibit. Mostly we just enjoyed the subtle warmth of the January desert and caught up on the things that have been tickling our brains.

Sunset McDowell Regional Park
Black Throated Sparrow
Curve Billed Thrasher
Donkeys at Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Harsh Light on a back road.
Dying Saguaro.

Escaping Flagstaff

Snow. Cold. Bailed on our plans for north Arizona. Knew it was going wrong when we started climbing in elevation and never went back down. After a night in a Cracker Barrel parking lot we drove west on the old Route 66 towards Oatman. Now if you haven’t experienced the Oatman highway… prepare yourself. I mean, maybe a lot of people are used to mountain roads. But this one makes worldwide lists. Once you cram your stomach back where it belongs and unclench every muscle in your body you’ll be treated to wild donkeys hanging out in the streets of Oatman. Really. And so many people all of a sudden. We camped well outside of the town. And would you believe you don’t have to set an alarm? Donkeys will come by at six in the morning and take care of that.

Goodbye for now Arizona…

Sunbather
Scenic and terrifying Oatman Rd.
Cholla chunk

Thoughts from the Road: Part 5.1

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts

Arizona

The southeast corner of Arizona leans into New Mexico as one land. There is no river or natural boundary to exclaim a new State of the Union. As muddled as the line was, so were we in deciding our destination. Where do we stay here? What do we see here? Earlier we had a clear idea in purpose: go south, if something interested us on the way we’d stop, and we were definitely seeing New Orleans. Then the Texas State Parks were interesting in themselves. New Mexico was easy. Arizona a mystery to be solved. (And we were not going north to the Grand Canyon).

Cochise County

White Water Draw

Our first stay was with the birds. From the time we arrived until we left, we were bathed in the electricity of thousands of Sandhill Cranes calling. First thing in the morning there were (I hope) cannon shots to scare the birds off of crops. Yes. Crops. The area is hopping in agriculture and Sandhill Cranes.

In the afternoon we watched the cranes return by the dozens. At one time something startled them across the lake and hundreds of cranes took flight at the same time. Crying their displeasure.

Sandhill Cranes, Whitewater Draw, Arizona

Erie St. & Bisbee

Erie St. classic cars, Lowell, Arizona
Abandoned Lowell, Arizona

We settled for the week of Christmas outside of Bisbee in a quiet RV park. The first evening we ventured out for a meal and found Erie St., Lowell. The semi-ghost town left after the pit mine swallowed the residential area. Today it is set up with classic cars lining Erie street. When you wander in you don’t know what exactly is going on. A mostly empty town with interesting facades, original gas pumps, and classic cars lining the streets. You are transported in time. Then we read the article that the end is coming January 1, 2020 for the cars because of a couple people who want to be able to park. I say put in place a new ordinance for Erie St. and only classic cars can enter. Preserve the nostalgic magic.

Bisbee is fly tape for artists. It has a colorful history. Colorful buildings. Colorful businesses. Colorful People. Galleries for everyone. Street murals. A Free Store where items are left outside in an abandoned graffitied lot and other people go shopping. I purchased killer bee honey from a tiny little shop with a fast taking woman in a cowboy hat. There was a seance house and a brewery in the old stock exchange building with relics from the early 1900’s era it was built.

Back Roads

We drove so many dusty back roads they are tangled in my brain. There was High Lonesome a straight, but treacherous road that followed an old rail line since relived of its rails. There was also Geronimo Trail with no apparent public access to Skeleton Canyon where Geronimo surrendered: we tried. There was Ghost Town Trail with long abandoned Courtland and other near abandoned towns.

Tuscon

Saguaros

Cacti. Cacti. Cacti. There are so many saguaros soaring, barreling towards the sky. You think desert. Empty and devoid of life. That’s not so. There is so much life. So much. I photographed the saguaros in every shape and form I could. Little to ancient to skeleton. Some looked ready to fight. Others swaying to the rhythms of an unheard music. One arm. A dozen arms. No arms. They are a magical life form. I thought of them as old men in the desert.

Old Tucson Studios

A fairy tale western town with cowboys and can-can dancers. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood walked there. Movies like Tombstone and Three Amigos were filmed there. Movies are still filmed there. You walk through the entrance and are adrift in the movie version of a nineteenth century western town. Stage coaches ride through. People are dressed up and in character.

Biosphere 2

A campus in the desert straight out of science fiction… except it is real life. Paid for by a billionaire philanthropist with an interest in science and now donated to the University of Arizona to continue experiments (after a hiatus when it lived merely as a tourist attraction). We weren’t even able to tour the rain forest area because they were putting it through a drought with sensitive measurements being taken and perfumes could throw the numbers.

Biosphere 2 campus

The tour was interesting enough, focusing on the the campus. They didn’t get into the social instability of the two groups of people they locked in for two years at a time. Seriously. People are not meant for that close of contact for that long. They didn’t mention Steve Bannon’s role during the second team’s term, or the break in. No one explained the deep royal purple carpet (that was replaced but visible on spiral staircases and in videos). A big mystery in interior decorating.

University of Arizona: Center for Creative Photography

I brought my husband to the Light exhibit at the Center for Creative Photography considering his new enthusiasm for photography. (I highly recommend traveling with someone whom you can share the joy of your interests). We were able to look through flat files of photographs (what?!? yes!) on display as well as books.

Light was the highly influential gallery dedicated to photographers. Artists like Ansel Adams were associated with Light. The first thing you see at this exhibit is a web of artist names tangled together by their involvement with Light. Light promoted photography the same as fine art.

Signal Hill

This is of those times you need to let yours eyes adjust. At first we didn’t notice anything and took the steps to the top of the hill with everyone else. Once at the top the petroglyphs popped off the rocks. How could you miss that? On the way back down we began to notice they were visible from the path the entire time. A quick, but fascinating visit. I’m hooked on seeing more petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs at Signal Hill, Arizona
Petroglyphs at Signal Hill, Arizona

Mt. Lemmon

We drove up Mt. Lemmon listening to the informative app put together by the Arizona State University. Sky Islands. This is what sticks with me the most. As you drive up in elevation the saguaros disappear and the pines slowly appear and get bigger with the heavier precipitation, and they call these desert mountains sky islands because of this. In the desert below the sun was hot even on a tolerable 70 degree day and at the top I was walking through snow in my sandals.

Come back for Arizona Thoughts From the Road 5.2

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