Road: Dying of the Light

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts

Stop here sensitive souls. You’ve been warned.

Kurt and I needed a new quest after the Salt River Wild Horses to keep our spirits up in this Covid Era. We settled on Sedona. The weather looked nice, we’d never been and plenty of opportunities to explore while socially distancing.
And then it took an entire day to get away from Phoenix. First one orange kitten demanded play at 5:00am. Then the day went from there. Chores. Groceries. Filling water tank and jugs. Water misadventure. Water all over the camper. Water clean up. Fix the hose. Finish filling the water tank. A lunch break. Get to the location.

Me: This doesn’t look like Sedona?

Kurt: Oh, I received an email about the tire replacement, I’m picking it up in Phoenix.

Me: So… we aren’t going to Sedona?

Kurt: Not yet.

Then we drove along dirt road looking for dispersed camping spot in Agua Fria National Monument. Hear a POP. Determined that the rear window safety glass had shattered. The road dead ended. Nearly got stuck. Ran over a bush after 1,000 attempts at turning around. Declared it wasn’t a saguaro, we’re good. Decide we don’t care where we sleep . Park for the night just in time to hear the safety glass start cascading out of the frame.

2021. Agua Fria National Monument.


Dispersed camping it is, at least until we take care of business. The next morning we found a ohv staging area outside of Phoenix to install ourselves. The plan: remove all the gear from under the truck capper. Find a place to get the glass fixed. Fill truck back up. Pick up replacement tire. Nothing to it. A few days in the desert and we’d be on our way.

Life still happens. Good or bad on the road. We expected car problems. What came next was never on the menu. All experiences have value though. One launches you to the next wether you enjoyed it or not.

I promised to tell the tale of how we were blessed with Beelzebub the Orange after losing Mr. Gato last October. This isn’t going to be that.
Do I start with Freddie, the four-parts mutt, who cannot help herself when it comes to the chase and the kill? Or Grunt. My fearful brindle beasty. The canine of soulful slime and anxiety. Mr. Gato’s sad, but peaceful death after a long summer of illness. Or did it begin with our newest edition Beelzebub the Orange. The perfect fluffy orange tiger kitten to fill the grief hole with purrs and magic. Dancing his way across our hearts.


Yes. Let’s begin there.
Somewhere in Texas I gave up finding a kitten. Once over the Arizona border I tried again and came across the littlest orange fuzz. And he was perfect. Willful. Energetic. Snuggles. Talkative. My Orange. The bond was immediate. He was adjusting to travel nicely. And camper life.
He insisted on the snuggle with Freddie. And tried with Grunt. With some success. The Orange saved his kitty biscuits for me, but shared his warm little body love with us equally.
Grief is price for love.
And as I loved Mister fiercely for fourteen years, I was just getting started with this little monster.
Life was good again.
There is an ugly beauty when you hold a being you love in its last moments. And there is absolutely nothing you can do.
On a Tuesday. The same Tuesday that congress would convene to Impeach our president for the second time I woke up to the sound of a kitten screaming. At first all that came into focus was Kurt making coffee. Then I hazily asked if he was ok. And I was handed a furry dying ember.
And I held him fiercely.
We don’t know why it happened.
Neither of us saw it happen. For some unknown reason Grunt bit the kitten. And that was all it took. I had no reason to believe my dogs wouldn’t accept a kitten. Both were raised among many cats of all ages including kittens. Up until that moment I would have told you everyone was getting on famously.
It became clear though, that an attack from Grunt on Freddie a couple weeks earlier, was no fluke. And we had been blind to the increasing violence he was doing to her. At home or on the road who wants to have to choose between their furry companions? Grunt wasn’t tolerating kitten or dog. Grunt had new needs we couldn’t give him.

2021. Beelzebub the Orange’s Grave.

The day after.

I needed to find a spark of joy.
We had this telescope taking up valuable room. And my neurons made some connections. Parked near us was a bus with their instagram handle on the side. I checked them out earlier in our stay. They were homeschooling five kids. Go Neurons.
Selfishly I marched that telescope across the sand in the bright dry desert day… I needed there to be goodness in the world. I needed to feel good outside of our small bitter animal kingdom tragedy.
And? It worked out splendidly. They were also having a tough week, for other reasons. Their kids already had an interest in the stars. Serendipity.
We left Phoenix, Arizona. Again camping at the Agua Fria National Monument. This time just us and one dog. A fixed window. Hard lessons. Less one bouncy orange kitten.

2021. Agua Fria National Monument

I found AZ Mastiff Rescue, a large breed rescue group. Freddie isn’t sorry. We hadn’t noticed how withdrawn she was. Suddenly we had a happy dog in front of us. I feel confident Grunt will be happier in the end too. We will be judged. Some will judge us for getting the breed in the first place. Some will judge us for keeping him so long. Others will find fault in us surrendering him to a rescue.

All I can say is I’ve always believed my home would be forever for every pet I brought in. And now I’ve learned again that life brings unforeseen challenges. The right and responsible act doesn’t always feel well done in the moment.

We left Grunt at the Rescue with everything I could give him for his best transition. I wrote out his history. His quirks. Sent his veterinary records. His harness, head collar, kong toy, his leash and the quilt they laid on in the truck. I did a photo shoot with him and emailed those to the Rescue. I said goodbye to my big chicken dog who was afraid of the dark and didn’t like the rain. I said goodbye to memories and to a future that didn’t come to pass. I was so mad at him. I loved him.
It was time to spoil Freddie. Since she could now enjoy a bone and toy of her own. I made my husband stop at the pet isle while we were getting supplies. Over the days since the surrender she has relaxed. Freddie is playing with her toys again. She doesn’t act like she’s on high alert 24/7. Listens to commands better. I can’t put into words all the changes we’ve noticed. It is clear she is a happier companion.

2021. Freddie enjoying new adventures.

Road: Salt River Wild Horses

Art Journal, The Road

There is still joy to be found in the world.

This was a heavy year, 2020. It is 8:06 pm on New Year’s Eve, here in these last glowing embers of the year I’ve shrugged off the worst of my grief. I’ve pulled myself back together (for now), remembered how to find joy and magic in the world. A heavy year indeed, but I’d rather not talk about the year or our collective struggles. I want to talk about feeling magic again.
Where is the magic in this world? Everywhere. I thought my overgrown black tomcat Mister was magic. As was our bond. Finding a little ginger kitten (born near the time Mister died) with a giant personality: magic. My marriage to someone who compliments my personality: magic. The chance to spend so much time being right where I want to be: also magic.
That brings me to when we (my husband and I) were both getting the blues. Social distancing has its price. That price is culture. Many places we wanted to see are closed to us. Many we avoided out of social responsibility. Some states we drove through were lax in their handling of masking and we didn’t want to linger. Some states had too many restrictions for convenient rv traveling.
Without adventures… we were feeling… lost.


Which brings me to the Salt River Wild Horses, but all I knew about them were:

a. Wild

b. Lived on a river

One day I thought we were packing up to refill the water tank, but my very talkative spouse had really decided it was time to drive north to check out the horses. Except. He was piecing information from a random blog?
Look. We made this entirely harder than it needed to be. We attempted to enter at two different points as far from the Salt River as you can. Slowly. Because the roads were not good for truck pulling a trailer. What could of been a one day drive from outside of Tucson, we made a two day event.
I’d love to say I took the camping advice I received from an Instagrammer, but no. We camped in the Bulldog Canyon ohv area (fee and code required).
First impressions… We arrived Christmas Day. Just in time for ALL the new motorized toys. (Things have settled since).

What was I expecting: We’d walk down to the river from our campsite and I’d take amazing photographs of wild horses playing in the water at dawn and dusk. Because. That. Is. What. I. Read.
What I found out was the walk “to” the river was fine. The walk “back” was steep and I should’ve brought my stick and also, *maybe* walked a few times this fall. Which was all extra disappointing when there were zero horses. It was pretty though.



First Encounter:

2020. Area along Salt River


How did I get to see my first band of wild horses, you ask? They sauntered by the camper. And I went out there. Then they sorta started to follow me. And I kept backing up. And I was trying to maintain that space (50 ft I read) between us… because I’m honestly a little afraid of them. (ok a lot afraid of them).

2020. Eel Grass covering river rock.



Second encounter:

Just one. One horse on a mission. Walked by the camper. I followed him hoping to get a good, clear shot. He turned and looked at me once, then headed off to do horse business. Now, I thought for sure he was heading for that river. I had them this time. I went to gather things, as one does, before rushing gleefully down the trail to the river. First, you must be so excited your ankle folds, and you sprawl out in the dirt in front of the camper. Then! Then you get yourself down to that disappointingly horseless river.

2020. Salt River Wild Horse


Third encounter:

We checked out the Coon Bluff area of the Salt River and met a member of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group. They were a fountain of information about the Horses and tipped us off where a band was that morning. I do recommend checking out their social media. They are doing great work keeping the Horses free.
After my quick lesson on wild horses we moved on to locate the band. Seventeen. They weren’t interacting with each other as much as the previous band. All business. Eating. But then I learned on the Management Group’s social media the drought is hitting the area hard and they are supplementing their feed. Not that lay people should because they are using weed free feed and horses are mysteriously delicate creatures. Good intentions can turn deadly with well intentioned food. (Hint: Donate money to the Management Group)

They may be scrappy little mustangs that have survived on this land for centuries or they may be feral horses occupying land that could be used for steer (yes, many people want to squash what is beautiful, wild and free for possible profits) but to me they may as well be unicorns for the magic they bring into the world.

2021. Reflections.


Fourth encounter:

After a week we needed to have a business day. Dump the camper, fill the camper, supply run… etc… Had this idea we’d try out a different camping location. Coon Bluff was only open to camping on Friday’s and Saturday’s so we looked into a different dispersed camping area. This was not going to work. We found this area to be even busier with orv traffic. And then there was the apocalyptic landscape. This area burned recently. Back to Bulldog Canyon ohv.
The next evening we took our cue from the sun and headed to the river. We started following a path starting at the Goldfield Recreation Area heading towards the Coon Bluff Recreation Area.
The path followed the cliff above the river, more or less. We were able to see see up and down the river well. Soon enough we found fresh signs of horse activity. Fresh tracks and dung. Then a band appeared from the desert and headed gingerly down the path to the river.

2021. Great Egret.
2021. Salt River

My husband held my impulsive self back to let them do their thing. Then we followed them down and settled on the bank of the Salt River to watch wild horses be wild.
I’m going to say right now, this was certainly one of my favorite experiences. The light, the innocence. Perfect.

2021. Unshod hoof prints.

Then a buzzing. Louder. I couldn’t see where the noise came from. The horses became agitated, then behind me I heard my husband say they didn’t like the drone. Drone. Drone? DRONE? Sassy tails and plucky footwork. Those horses headed for the cover of the trees while the drone hovered over us. Waiting. I may have popped out of the tree line to use an ancient Americana symbol to communicate all of our communal displeasure.
At least that wasn’t the end of the day right there. While walking back we caught sight of the band again. And in the glowing light of the setting sun.


Final encounter:

One last go at a chance for river magic. We headed for the same stretch of river as yesterday. Odds seemed good we’d catch a band there. We hiked in further than previously, but ended up following the sounds of hooves on rocks. We arrived in time to see a scuffle of dust and hooves peeking under the thick tree branches. Then the band appeared one by one out of the trees and headed into the desert at a brisk pace. We had no hope of following their pace. We walked the horse trails back to our truck. No further sightings.

Road: Social Distancing

Art Journal, The Road

These are long days.
These are long days.
These are long days.

We let go of our idea of how life was supposed to be as our best layed plans fell apart. Faced with the long dark northern winter during a pandemic, not working and living in our isolated house, Kurt (my husband) and I, decided to return to the road.

The plan: Head due west into the setting sun into uncharted territory before heading to the Arizona desert.

The reality: We drove directly into the first major storm system of the year.

On an inauspicious frosty October morning we departed from our home peninsula set snuggly among the Great Lakes and headed west. At first the day was bright and full of hope. It ended with us colliding with a snow storm somewhere in Minnesota. That is where, after spending a night in a glorified parking lot, we decided to travel directly and quickly south.


South through Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas.



Here was our dilemma: The plains states were being hit with the winter storm front. It was sweeping down across Colorado, Oklahoma and parts of Northwest Texas. The southwest states were still getting triple digit heat. The fires were still burning in the west. And the Gulf of Mexico was being hammered by a historical hurricane season.

So… Texas Tour 2.0

Initially Texas was just going to be a place to stall for time while the weather cleared. Then Texas became ground zero for kitty search 2020. I think I’ll save that story for another day. However: cause and effect.

The one place in Texas I wanted to see was Caddo Lake. It was a challenge to get a reservation in the campground so I settled for just one night. We skipped around a few different Texas State Campgrounds before and after that.

We languished for weeks on the Gulf Coast and I’m not sorry for the experience. We discovered there were places along the Texas Gulf Coast where camping was free right on the beach. (watch those tides though). Imagine falling asleep to the rhythms of ocean waves, windows open, camper door open all night to humid breezes. Waking to red sunrises and going to bed after the sun bleeds into the night. Everything is covered in a layer of salt. Your hair, your skin, your bed, the floor… Great Blue Herons fishing in the waves next to you… Days filled with the zen of watching the tides erase your footprints.

After Texas we had to plan how to get to Arizona. We needed to trek across Texas, driving through El Paso (one of the Covid hot spots), and across southern New Mexico. Camping to out-of-state residents in New Mexico was discouraged in state parks. The Covid numbers were causing tighter restrictions and shut downs. Traveling in late 2020 required more planning. What is open, what is closed and what requires reservations in advance. Each state may be tighter or more relaxed on masking which might reflect on the data for infection rates. Who wants to risk getting seriously ill hundreds or thousands of miles away from home… and out of network. We avoided high Covid areas and areas that weren’t taking masking precautions.

The Lingering

Arizona. Reliably sunny. Warm days, cold desert nights filled with wide open starry skies and the singing of coyotes. Night after night of perfect sunsets. The days running together. This year we miss the restaurants and the arts. The excitement of new roads.
This slow year.
I squat in the desert making art.
Mostly waiting for clouds.
When the clouds come I’ll get to photograph something new.



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 7

Art Journal, The Road

Los Osos

A driveway stay for a little over a week. Long enough to completely scatter our things across the camper. A breath of stability and exploration of the coast.

There were challenges finding the correct location of the tide pools. Challenges, I say.

Attempt no. 1 brought us to this beautiful bay we could park right next to and waltz up to the shoreline. We arrived just before sunset at low tide.

Attempt no. 2 “I think it’s this way.” We parked and had a few choices on trails to take through the low shoreline scrub brush leading into the cascading dunes. I followed, blindly, my husband up and down the coastal dunes (sand mountains?) to a dead end with rubber legs. And back up I slogged through the sand. We tried another trail. Up and down the dunes to the tide pools.

Attempt no. 3, with new directions, we tried again following a reasonable trail down through the shore vegetation to the tide pools.

I can’t forget visiting Morro Bay and Otters…

Elephant Seal Rookery, San Simeon

Near Hearst Castle the Elephant Seals gather for the breeding season. Thousands. Hundreds were on the beach and so many more were in the water. Mostly they lay on the sand barely moving, flipping sand across their backs on occasion. We followed the sounds down the beach to where an older male was chasing away an interloper and the yearlings and pups were playing.

After leaving the main beach we stopped at another roadside pullout. My husband thought it was a regular beach (signage was in not apparent) and just before reaching the beach I stopped him from coming face to face with a young male elephant seal.

Los Padres National Forest

Big Sur. We stayed on the south side for two nights and it rained in California. For a brief moment the sun shined and we took a walk to the ocean cliffs. Where I was quickly about the abundance of poison oak in the state of California. I made it out of California unscathed.

Monterey

We left the campground in Los Padres National Forest and followed 1 up the coast to Monterey. We camped at Laguna Seca with it’s epic green views and racetrack. Racetrack. Yes we camped to the sounds of race cars zooming all day.

250 years old with a literary and canning past, Monterey sits by the ocean with its gem the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ve never been to one so I have no comparison. All I can say is it was spectacular and inspiring. When we arrived the octopus was active and moving around it’s tank. Swelling and swirling his arms. In addition to the real Octopi there was another beautiful multimedia exhibit dedicated to how octopi and squid were historically depicted. There were schools of fish swimming in current tanks, jellyfish dancing. rescued shore birds, touch tanks, sharks, a green sea turtle, and art exhibited by artists dedicated to bringing awareness to the problem of plastics in the ocean.

Unfortunately for me I was the recipient of an ignorant and hostile public policing effort at the Octopus tank. A young mother, with a brood of homeschool kids, took it upon herself to attack me for my camera’s meter light because the sign said no flash. Then there was a mob reaction. Another woman chimed in with: “haven’t you taken enough photographs, you can stop so the rest of us can enjoy the exhibit.”

I was so frustrated and angry. Not one of those women felt the need to say a single word to my husband who was also photographing. And a guy next to me flashed the octopus with his iPhone, but he just “made a mistake.”

It took a male staff member to step in and set the mob straight. And as an artist I’ve been singled out more than once in my life for not following the rules as other people, and often, women see them. And more than once I’ve had to stand my ground, hold my breath and carry on knowing that I’m on a different path they don’t understand, I’M NOT WRONG I AM AN ARTIST.

San Franciso

We made a stop an hour outside of San Francisco so I could attempt to make contact with someone in the city. We crossed over the Golden Gate for fun (not fun) and later the Bay Bridge for me to search a six story public library with no luck on finding this person. My heart breaks for this country of haves and have nots. I wish others understood, or tried, a little, to understand how fragile mental and financial stability are.

Northern California & Touching Oregon

Northern California….

Its sort of a blur now. I’m writing this and it is still recent history. That wasn’t even days ago I was in San Francisco and now its under a Shelter in Place order. The thing about the old truck was we didn’t have a radio. We couldn’t listen to any news in the truck and we were often places with poor service. History is now catching up so fast now that we have the news available in the new truck. When we were driving up the California Coast to Oregon the Covid-19 troubles seemed distant. By the time we landed in Brookings, Oregon it was obvious that we needed to head home. Now California is shutting down state parks. New Mexico already shut them down.

With great sadness, my feet kissed the Pacific Northwest and turned tail. We are heading south to head east because it is still winter in the Rocky Mountains. It is time to go home. The world is out of our control and it’s time to go home to the roads we know.

Brookings Oregon

The rest of this tale will hopefully be of the long road home.

Essay: Eulogy for a Truck

Art Journal, The Road

It was always a good possibility that we would leave home for the road with Truck, but not return with him. (Yes I think of my husband’s large white diesel truck as Truck and a him, for no clear reason).

In the town and with the people I grew up with, a person’s car was often as much a part of their identity as their personal style. Truck has been a part of my life since I met my husband in 2009. Kurt somehow had all the qualities I wanted in a partner (not that I was looking!). So I joked to myself (never out loud) if he rode a white horse the deal is done. Then I saw he was driving a big white truck and I figured that had to be close enough.

Over the years Truck has been a problem. There was us stuck in the middle of no where in a sugar sand back road because Truck is more of an Egyptian pyramid stacking brick than an ideal off-road vehicle. Oh Truck could tow, but was not created as a 4 wheel drive, a much needed aspect of having a truck in the north. Lucky for us a plucky 4wd came along and pulled Truck out of the predicament. While me and Kurt’s kids watched.

Kurt came home with a topper for Truck so our dog at the time, Baby, would be able to travel around with us, especially back and forth downstate. The particles of that topper are still with us. It fell apart and had to be dismantled for the trash. Not all of it made it yet…

I had to buy a car (instead of a tiny truck like my Tacoma) so Kurt could make efficient monthly trips downstate. While I was more than happy to make that sacrifice, I would be left with Truck. And often you could find me laying in a mid-winter snow bank crying next to Truck. Truck idling on a sheet of ice with cat litter scattered around all the tires, chunks of wood, carpet remnants, and whatever other idea I could come up with to get the giant useless block to move. I failed time and time again to move that mule. 5,000 pounds of two wheel drive.

I gave Truck it’s first dent down the side of the bed. Years later Kurt gave the other side a perfect match.

Truck, paused at the top of a mountain near Oatman, AZ.

You could find me attempting to park the beast in any lot, with any amount of room. Then watch me walk away cackling, swinging the keys, as that extended cab With an eight foot foot bed careened across however many spaces I needed. Of course I was parking away, far, far away from the doors, way over yonder.

I had to run errands with the step-daughter and in the middle of traffic Truck starts smoking inside the cab with that telltale electrical fire smell. I know things here and there about cars and their problems, but cars smoking and maybe on fire? Nope. It was a panic response to get the kid safely out of Truck, then we had to wait an hour for Kurt to come. It was luckily only the end of the speakers. I think one one worked, sometimes. Maybe. We haven’t listened to the radio in months on this trip.

When we were still driving in Michigan, when our road adventure was fresh, there was foreshadowing of Truck’s doom. The engine light came on briefly and then we forgot about it.

Until Death Valley.

When the engine light comes on there things get complicated. We just finished coming from Racetrack Playa, which was 26 miles (52 miles round trip) of washboard gravel one way. We had 60 miles of moonlit desert blacktop to drive when the check engine light came on announcing the end of the alternator. We waited four days for a new alternator to be delivered to the Post Office and Kurt had to be there waiting for it. But it didn’t work. And Kurt did things. We drove Truck with a charged battery to civilization and got a part to regulate the charging, for whatever reason the truck’s brain was going bad. That fix caused over charging.

After days of Kurt fiddling and researching…

The end has come for Truck, 2000 Dodge 2500 with 396,451 miles in Las Vegas, Nevada. All the things wrong and all the things we needed from a vehicle just made it impossible to keep Truck on the road.

No more crooked driver side seat. No more cracked windshield. No more “shut the radio off, I can’t understand it.” No more rattling rusty Michigan body. No more fighting with the tail gate. Or the doors that were possessed. On the other hand we definitely didn’t attract the wrong attention. No one was looking at Truck and thinking “I want what they have inside.” I’m sure it was thief repellent.

Truck, you were there for our first date and us falling in love driving around seeing the sights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You kept us safe on long trips. Hauled all the materials we needed to fix our house. Rescued the other cars when they broke down. And you got us over 10,000 miles across the country.

So long Truck.

Last view.
Kurt’s flair.

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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Thoughts from The Road: Part 4

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts

New Mexico

New Mexico merges with Texas’s plains on the east. As you enter from the Texas Panhandle the grasses grow sparser and so do the people. Whatever road we were on, once we left the border town there were miles of ranch fences, but no houses and no other signs of habitation other than a few steer munching on the scant vegetation. In the distance some mesas popped up and disappeared.

We were greeted by an abandoned church in Taiban, New Mexico. A local landmark well documented on instagram by photographers and travelers. Inside people left prayers and messages on the walls alongside graffiti.

Bottomless Lakes State Park & Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge

Outside of the alien mecca of Roswell, New Mexico the landscape rolls into wetlands. Wetlands? New Mexico is full of wonderful surprises hidden in the crevasses of the treeless vistas. We drove into the park along lake littered roads on one side and grassy cliffs on the other. During our stay we walked the wetland boardwalk at sunset. We admired the hundreds of birds on the scenic of drive at the Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Unknown to us we would have to kennel our dogs at the park and provide proof of rabbies. As consolation prize we drove the scenic one-way gravel road (and had it all to ourselves). Maybe not the main event, but still breathtakingly beautiful.

Cloudcroft, New Mexico

One of New Mexico’s great surprises for us. We drove to Artesia and cut across New Mexico west on 82 (pro tip: fuel up first). First the land was desert and then it rose into swelling hills with spare vegetation. As we climbed in elevation the hills grew sharper and the vegetation turned to scrubby bushes and then spare trees. Then suddenly we were in full on pine forested mountains in the middle of southern New Mexico with snow. Complete with snowplow warnings, elk warnings, a ski hill, and an old west style town named Cloudcroft with stunning mountain vistas as you left town on the west end.

In Cloudcroft we found a small gallery just off of the main street. In the gallery Off the Beaten Path I met Rafferty, a silver classic long haired tabby they rescued from the streets (not for petting only greetings). At the time they were working on finding homes for fifteen other street cats. Because of course, I found the artists in town with a passion for not just saving cats, but breaking the cycle by spaying and neutering the cats. Check out the gallery web site.

White Sands National Monument

From Cloudcroft you can see White Sands in the distance, and to the unbeknownst traveler you think you are seeing clouds. White Sands is a people catcher like the Bean of Chicago is. Everywhere people lined up on the dunes to watch the sunset against the mountain backdrop. Sets of photographers with tripods. Couples on dune tops. Lone figures sitting atop crests. The great beauty of White sands defies words and will haunt my memory for all time as the Painted Desert does. As we left the sun set slowly in a notably colorful display. Setting off against the grey purple mountains in reds, oranges, yellows, plums and peaches. Just when I thought the show was over we crested a mountain and found the colors even more overwhelming. They lingered in deep hues of crimson and plum before succumbing to the horizon while the moon rose gold and moody among the wisps of clouds to the east.

Truth or Consequences

December Decorations, T or C, New Mexico

With little expectations or plans we headed into the town of Truth or Consequences for supplies. Shortly after hitting downtown I could tell that this town had a different vibe to it. Everywhere adobe buildings in southwestern colors. Murals (60+). Vibrant details. And a thriving art scene. We were able to stop into a few galleries, sadly not all that T or C had to offer! And we were lucky enough to show up on their Second Saturday Art Hop. The galleries we saw had quality art works at a broad range of price points, friendly to all art admirers. One artist (Sun Gallery) was hand painting stickers for just a few dollars each and said she “wanted art to be accessible to everyone.”

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Gila National Forest

Outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico we headed west across highway 152 into the Gila National Forest. The land crested from gentle desert hills to magnificent up-swelled rock formations. Sometime in the not too distant past a wildfire swept through this area. Distant enough for the mountaintop forest to be well into stages of healing. I was enchanted by the scrappy trees. Tenacious species of oak, juniper, and ponderosa pines hugging the steep rocky mountain roadsides.

Local species of tree adapted to survive forest fires

Poncho Villa State Park, Columbus, New Mexico & and The Border

Within three miles of the border the Poncho Villa State Park sits alongside the highway. Historical ruins from the 1916 raid by Poncho Villa reside within the park and throughout the small town of Columbus.

Ruins from Poncho Villa raid. Columbus, New Mexico

The other story is of a town divided by politics. During George W. Bush’s presidency the border went up there and divided a community. That’s not from newspaper reports, that’s from casual conversations with local people. People who visit their American friends that live across the border for economic reasons. People who shop across the border in Mexico for their medical needs and groceries because it is all more affordable. Mexican children and children with American citizenship cross the border every school day for their education.

My husband and I crossed the Border by foot. The wait by car was much longer and we were told its just easier. First we were diverted into a building by a man pointing, across the way I could see a Mexican official with a nasty gun set against the backdrop of the border fence and reals of extra razor wire. The officials just asked if we were visiting the Pink Store. The local tourist trap “with everything.” Then we walked out the other side into Mexico. There were people walking about everywhere. A man selling hats out of his van. And the giant complex Pink Store with a mature Indian woman opening the door for us, later she’ll hold her hand out for a tip when we leave.

Columbus, New Mexico
Pink Store, Pueto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico
Pink Store, Pueto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico
Pueto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

City of Rocks

Enormous. Vertical. Sculptural. Texture. Why would people create Stonehenge? This is why. The stones may be inanimate objects of nature brought to by time, volcanic action and erosion, but they still converse with the human spirit.

While there we climbed the neighboring Table Mountain. And this human felt mighty small under the open sky of New Mexico on top of a little mountain looking down at her little home on wheels dwarfed by rocks. It isn’t like the hikes back home where the trees obscure the journey and you just keep going until you get to the top. On this one you can see just what sort of madness your in for and all you can do is put one foot in front of the other while fighting for breath at the extra elevation you’re not accustomed to.

Thoughts from the Road: Part 3

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts

Texas

Let Me Set the Scene

First Impressions of Texas, More and Greener Trees Than Expected, Fairfield Lake State Park
Branded Texas Horse
Texas Officially Greets Us With Longhorns
Colorado River, Texas
San Antonio River Walk, Texas

The ground is angry here. The sky is horizon to horizon tucked across rolling hills of cattle, longhorn cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and sometimes some exotic imports that make you question your sanity. Texas, like Florida, is fenced up, the wild places gone (at least in the places I went to). To the northeast more trees than I imagined Texas to have. Closer to San Antonio the prickly pear cactus are thick and the trees grow lower and scrubbier.

I’ve seen the smallest whitetail six point buck. A perfect rack on a comically sized deer (to my Michigan eyes). My first armadillo. Then my second and third of these lumbering disinterested snuffing creatures. At one state park an angry cardinal attacked our camper for two days. I walked out of a bathroom at twilight to be greeted by a scorpion. Once, only once, I tried to get a low angle photograph and got a hand full of pickers.

And that is Texas for me, more beautiful than I ever thought, and also more angry. I found rich art scenes in small towns and the cities we stopped (Austin & San Antonio). Some towns were perfectly tidy and full of robust downtown business while others were near empty. I saw houses, lived in, that couldn’t possibly hold in a high wind. Endless, endless, endless fences of every kind. I yearn for land without fences. Ranch houses in brick. Ranch houses rustic. Ranch houses in stone. New ranch houses and old.

Spanish Moss, Texas
Friendliest Grackles Downtown Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas Cityscape
Abandoned Stone Structure Texas

The Alamo

The Alamo was one of those places I wanted to see. Connived to see. There was always something about that place and its history that charmed me from and early age. Now it is a garden paradise nestled in a city and it is hard to convert it in the mind to the wilderness outpost it once was.

The Alamo, San Antonio Texas

Guadeloupe River State Park

Bald Cypress, Guadeloupe River State Park, Texas

The best way to see Texas (in my humblest opinion) is by staying in the Texas State Parks. They are a big deal, plan ahead. Make reservations. We couldn’t always stay at our first picks and sometimes…

You get a spectacular gift.

My first view of the river was a limestone cliff bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun. The bald cypress trees in full fall foliage making perfect reflections against the glass still river. Twisty bunches of roots befriending each other. On the trails I found strange oaks growing in surprising directions stunted by the rocky lack of soil. One trail ended in a cliff overlook of the Guadeloupe River where we watched the sun set on a photoshoot of a child in a white dress and velvet boots.

Bald Cypress Roots, Guadeloupe River State Park, Texas
Guadeloupe River State Park, Texas

Caprock Canyon State Park

Buffalo and Vista, Photograph by Kurt Babcock

As we drove north towards the Texas Panhandle, Texas began to look like Texas to me. Flat and dry with plateau formations in the distance. Dry river beds. Caprock Canyon rises red out of the plains. Buffalo roam the park, which makes getting to the bathroom tricky at times. Or in our case handling upset dogs that have never encountered cows let alone buffalo.

The Angry Ground, Caprock Canyon State Park, Texas
Sunset Buffalo

Lake Arrowhead State Park, Wichita Falls, Texas

Backroad Wichita, Texas

There are a lot of places named Wichita and that can make conversations confusing. One of my friends thought I was going to see mountains.

I’ll save you the suspense. This place is flat. (We did find the Wichita Mountains later).

We were looking for a place to hole up for the holiday weekend. Anyplace. Because, as we learned, you must make reservations for the state parks in Texas. Planning is key. There is an app for that (TX State Parks).

For the last four nights I’ve been listening to the too-fast drum beat of what I like to call the tell-tale-heart of this park or its resident oil rig. A novelty for travelers, but for me who doesn’t tolerate an analog clock ticking, it was a low level feel of doom. My husband couldn’t hear it. Twenty-four hours a day pumping away at the earth. About an hour south there are miles of wind turbines rising gracefully in uneven clusters. I think even Don Quixote would take pause at these. A little further south a solar farm. Meanwhile at Arrow Lake oil derricks emerge out of the shallow muddy waters.

Lake Arrowhead, Wichita Falls, Texas
Triumph, Wichita Falls, Texas. Stopped at a lot of old rusted classics waiting for buyers.

Side Trip Through Oklahoma: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and Black Kettle National Grasslands

Knowing you’ll never go to a place again and having nothing but time leads to extra adventures on your plate. Why not see what Oklahoma looks like? Looks much like Texas. Has few trees and golden December grass stretching to the horizon under wisps of clouds. blue skies, and cattle.

Interesting Textures of the Rocks, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma

We entered the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge under the warnings of “artillery shells passing overhead.” They do things a lot different outside of Michigan. The road wound through the low stony mountains, small deep blue lakes, rolling grass plains complete with buffalo that we saw and longhorns that we did not see.

The Black Kettle National Grasslands was a different experience. We entered through the town of Cheyenne, Oklahoma. I was excited to learn there was a cluster of museums in town, and then a bit disappointed when they were not addressing the elephant in the room, so I did not stop. I was not interested in their one-room school house.

The elephant in the room. The National Grassland is named for the Indian Chief Black Kettle, who’s village was attacked outside of Cheyanne by General Custer. A simple history of Black Kettle National Grassland was that it was Native American Land, then it was Reservation land, then it was opened to settlers, and then the dust bowl hit. Now it is a mix of private and public land and I was pressed to figure out which part was public. (Okhistory.org)

Black Kettle National Grasslands, Oklahoma

Amarillo & Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Brindle Longhorn Greeting, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Canyon Texas

We drove into the sunset, I mean directly into the blinding fury of retinal damage with no relief, and as dusk set in so did the aromas of the Texas Panhandle. Cattle feed lots plus other mysteries. My google searches yielded an unrealistic fantasy of the prettily named Amarillo. There were enough galleries and museums around to fool this traveler.

I Googled again. The Panhandle has a reputation (one that’ll punch you in the guts) (I don’t think ax body spray could even compete). A word on the feed lots. They hit hard. Not just the smell, but emotionally. The first one we passed I saw cows standing on cows. In others they had more room. The ones in Hereford, Texas look painfully big on satellite images. Now I am not going to condemn anyones diet, but we can do this better. We can choose local and small farms. Where I am from we have a food co-op and they visit/vet the farms.

Palo Duro has the reputation of the Grand Canyon of Texas. We descended (ten percent grade warning) in the dark and woke up in the middle of a canyon. Frosty sunrise coffee. Perfect overwhelming vista in every direction. Picturesque rock outcrops. Falling rocks next 100 feet. Watch out for wild boar and rattle snakes. Texas Panhandle in December.

View on the way up the Canyon wall, while I was still optimistic.

One word of advice, if your husband wants to go hiking here, ask questions. After traveling and sitting any movement is welcome, I looked forward to a hike. However, hiking up 500 ft of difficult canyon wall trail is not the place to start hiking when you are not used to activity. At the top we both agreed that the down descent seemed scarier then going up, so we took the “easier trail” to the road. Ladies and Gentlemen, this was not easy, we hiked further up the Canyon. Up. Further up. At the top I got a hiking stick from the Canyon Gallery. My prize for 500 ft of elevation. With the jello legs of a foal I walked with my husband down the glorious ten percent grade black top to our truck. Thankful it was December and not August.

Palo Duro Canyon View, Canyon, Texas

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