Southwest USA trip
- Submitted by: Mark R. Leeper
- Submission Date: 15th Feb 2005
October 10, 1992:
Well, here I am starting another trip log. I just barely finished the last one about nine days ago. That was better than two weeks after I finished a six-day trip. Of course, I wrote something like 20,000 words. That's something like a 3300- word essay about each day. Well, my brother and my father are photographers. I am just not into photography that much. Taking a lot of pictures on a trip is a distraction. So I decided to write trip logs instead. That gave me something to do in the evenings on trips (which were usually empty) rather than during the days (which are usually full). Of course, as the years have gone by, I have started writing more and more.
I did not sleep very well last night. In fact, I have been awake since 3 AM. I spent the time cleaning up the mess I had made packing. At about 7:35 AM our friends picked us up and took us to the airport (thanks, Jo and Dale!). The gate is something like 77 degrees Fahrenheit by my thermometer. People are fanning themselves with tickets or fans.
Our first leg of the trip was uneventful. The breakfast was tiny: a small pastry and a few cubes of cantaloupe. I tried to sleep a little, but the kid behind me was at war with the back of my seat. In front of me there were two rows of children from the family everybody else on the block fears. Reminiscent of the current Teentalk Barbie saying 'Math class is hard,' one of the kids had a T-shirt that says 'I like school ... NOT.' The last word is in eight-inch pink letters.
We have a short layover in our flight in the St. Louis airport. The nickname of St. Louis is the 'Gateway to the West.' That is more or less how we intend to use it. Actually, it looks pretty Eastern to me. There was one guy that looked a little Western in a straw hat. Someone else had fancy boots. Then Evelyn is wearing a string tie, but in her case it is pure affectation. She is a dude.
I am trying to get in a Western mood by reading Pronzini and Greenberg's BEST OF THE WEST, an anthology of short stories that were made into Western films. For years I'd looked for John Cunningham's 'Tin Star,' which was the basis of HIGH NOON. The other big find was Dorothy Johnson's 'Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.' I read both stories several years ago when we got the book, but it seemed a good choice for this trip.
Waiting in the airport we talked to a black woman and her husband who were retired and now every two weeks fly someplace in the United States. Sounds pretty good to me. She also flew abroad but says she wouldn't go back to Paris and wouldn't go back to Rome. I asked her if she'd been to Asia. 'No desire to go there.' Actually, she says she does not like the fourteen-hour flights any more, so will be traveling only domestically. But as she puts it, 'The Brinks doesn't follow the hearse' ... so you better spend it while you're alive. We sat next to her for the best part of an hour and probably wouldn't have talked to her if she hadn't taken the first step. That would have been a pity, since she was likable and affable. Somehow I think we East-Coasters have a hard time talking to strangers. Oh, she also didn't like Albuquerque.
Another short leg by plane and we could see Albuquerque. I spent the time reading the many guidebooks, reading some film reviews I brought off the Net, reading 'The Tin Star.' It was fairly different from HIGH NOON. There was much less of the abandonment theme. The main character was more like Lon Chaney in the film--an old widower with crippled hands. His name was Doade.
My first impression of Albuquerque from the air was sort of like an oasis in the middle of an immense flat valley. The valley looked brown and desolate, stretching to hills at a great distance.
When things get ugly enough sometimes they come around the other end and are beautiful. There is something beautiful about a totally ugly dog. The land in the Great Southwest is like that. It is parched and withered and wind-blown. It is a land that has been so punished by the relentless sun and the rarity of water, it has come around to being lovely again. Go figure.
Well, we landed in Albuquerque and went to the Hertz counter to pick up our car. Now we had asked in advance to have a cassette player in the car. We've brought Tony Hillerman novels on cassette and Western film music (among other things). Evelyn asked if our car would have a cassette player. Not at the price we were paying. We will have to get a larger car at $5 more a day. At $23 days, that's $115. No way. If need be we will stop at an electronics store and get a battery-powered job and a bunch of batteries. That will cost a lot less and when the trip is over we'd still have the battery-powered job and perhaps some of the batteries.
Evelyn saw a sign that said, 'If you are going to the El Paso/Las Cruces area, ask us for special information.' Evelyn asked for the special information. The woman did not seem happy. The special information must be very special indeed if they are unhappy to give it out. The special information is that Hertz rents mostly Fords. El Paso is a border town. Lots of cars get stolen. Mostly Fords. The local car thieves specialize in Fords. Apparently they heard someplace that at Ford Quality is Job 1. Or perhaps Ford just has cheesy security systems. Anyway, since we were going to El Paso, they had to give us a different car. It turned out to be a Mazda. Nice car. It has a cassette player and ten miles on the odometer. Thanks, Ford Motor Company.
So we hit the road. Our first city was to be Socorro. (We are saving Albuquerque for the end since there is currently a hot air balloon festival. No way could we get a room.)
So we hit the road and promptly fell in love with the area. From the road it is just beautiful. We are nearly a mile above sea level and that makes the air clear. You see flat terrain and mountains in the distance. The near mountains are brown; the distant ones are a pastel blue. More distant mountains have faded to a sky blue. You see brightly colored weeds at the side of the road--some almost orange or rust in color. Other wildflowers are lavender. The roads are wide and straight, and speed limits are 65 miles per hour.
In 1598 Spaniards from Mexico came north to settle. They had to cross an expanse of ninety miles of waterless desert. The Indians of southern New Mexico were astounded to see the white men come from the desert. They gave the men food and drink. The Spanish named the area Socorro--meaning 'help.' It wasn't long before it was the Soanish running the area they called Nuevo Mexico. Pueblo Indians were converted to Catholicism. Their religious leaders were often hanged. Their holy places were destroyed. They were told their religion was devil worship. When the Pueblo Indians had enough, they decided to revolt. Each Pueblo tribe was given a string with knots. Each tribe untied a knot a day. When there were no more knots to untie it was the day to attack the Spanish. The Spanish were thrown out. That was in 1680 and known as the Pueblo Revolt. For 135 years southern New Mexico remained under Pueblo Indian control. It was 're-settled' in 1815 by the United States.
Okay, gang. Who can identify the following jungle?
Elfego was wise,
And Elfego was strong,
Elfego Baca, who made right from wrong.
And the legend was told,
Like el gato the cat,
Nine lives had Elfego Baca.
Give up? Walt Disney's television program used to be free-form-- whatever he wanted to put on he would. He tried shows (that might have been essentially television pilots) with heroes like Texas John Slaughter (Tom Tryon), Francis Marion--The Swamp Fox (Leslie Nielson), and Dr. Syn (Patrick McGoohan). The one that really did spawn a series was Zorro, Guy Williams I think. At least Williams played in the series. I don't remember seeing the pilot but a Walt Disney preview show referred to it, saying it would be a series. Nearly forgotten is Elfego Baca (Robert Loggia).
Elfego was plenty real enough and is something of a hero in Socorro County. I haven't found the full legend, but he supposedly single-handedly held off eighty Texas cowboys. Other people paint him in less than glowing terms.
We got to Socorro and checked into our motel, then rushed out to take a walking tour of Socorro. It is mentioned in some of the books. The tour is only of low-grade interest. From the square you can get a free brochure that describes where to go, also you can get a description in a local newspaperette that is given out free at motels and restaurants.
The problem is that the buildings range from lukewarm to cool interest value. There are about three or four left over from Wooly West days. Many are early 20th Century buildings representing things like the only two-story buildings in town. We did hit the Dana Bookstore, owned by a Gladys Dana, a sweet woman to whom we talked for quite a while. We showed her a reference to her bookstore in a travel guide she had not known about. She said we'd made her day. We also bought a very comprehensive travel guide of New Mexico from her, by Chilton et al. Pricey, but very complete. It may be the best travel guide I have ever seen for any place. The Mexican (they call it Spanish here) restaurant we wanted was closed. She reluctantly told us about El Sombrero. I am not sure why she was reluctant. She said the food was good, however.
We stopped at a grocery to pick up snacks for the car. (A Mazda gets hungry.) Vending machines are fairly cheap at the grocery: thirty-five cents for cans of Coke and Pepsi, twenty-five cents for the store's own brand.
That done, we went to El Sombrero for dinner and liked it. The night was clear and there was a big full moon. We couldn't have ordered things better. Back at the room it was reading and writing with THE PRINCESS BRIDE on HBO in the background.
October 11, 1992:
We were up early and checked out of the hotel by 6:30 AM. Breakfast at a little cafe. I had Huevos Rancheros; Evelyn tried the biscuits and gravy, which she knew I was fond of and wanted to try. First stop today was at the VLA (Very Large Array), currently the most powerful radio telescope in the world. It is actually twenty-seven identical dish antennas and a Y-shaped railtrack system to allow moving them around. Moving them together or spreading them out has the effect of zooming in or getting a wide-angle view. Each of the disk assemblies weighs 235 tons with the dish alone weighing 100 tons and being some 82 feet in diameter. Early in the film 2010 they give you a close-up look at one of the telescopes. The telescope is so powerful they claim it is fail-safe. Aim it anywhere and you will learn a fair amount that was previously unknown. The tour is about ninety minutes and is self-guided. It starts with a show of computer graphics from NASA about Voyager's visit to Neptune. Almost no words but pleasant to watch. The VLA was used for telemetry in conjunction with the mission. Then there is a much more informative slide show for twenty-five minutes or so. Then there are more exhibits inside and a walking tour that takes you within twenty feet of one of the big telescopes. The last thing you see is a transporter. It is a big tractor device that can go ten miles per hour empty, five carrying a radio telescope.
After the VLA it was back out on the roads. Because we are high up (about 7000 feet at the VLA), it is tough to guess distances. The air is less dense and that makes it much clearer. You can look at a point on the road and guess it to be fairly close, then drive to it and find out it was two miles. But the roads are a real pleasure to drive. They are scenic and have few cars. At one point I tried to convince Evelyn that Thailand would be a good place to retire. Slow pace, interesting culture, beautiful scenery, low prices, good food, mostly spicy. I think she was bothered by the fact it is so distant. But to some extent all those things are true of the Southwest. And Evelyn seems much more amenable to opening the discussion about this territory. We both like it a lot.
Our next stop was at the Three Rivers Petroglyphs. This just goes to show you that even defacing nature can get an air of respectability with time. Some rather short hills at three rivers give a commanding view of the whole surrounding valley. That was just how the Mogollon Indians used the hills. Well, looking at an empty valley for hours on end waiting for something to happen--and it never does--is a boring occupation, and not surprisingly these sentinels got bored and into mischief. They started scratching figures into the stones. Abstract designs, lizards, sheep, human figures: all were grist. The vandalizing became a sort of art form between 1000 and 1350 A.D., not unlike grafitti is in Manhattan.
These glyphs were later rediscovered and turned into a sort of park where, with little management or supervision, you can explore the hills. That lack of supervision is, of course, a problem. Some neo-Mogollons have been scratching their own patterns. Most of them are easy to recognize. The originals have much better style and use lines a third of an inch wide. Just scratching with a stone gives much narrower lines.
From there it was back on the road to Alamogordo. The road passes lava rock and yucca plants (they look like the green of a pineapple but the leaves are bigger and straighter). In 1897 a local rancher, Charles Eddy, had a group of Eastern investors come out on a camping expedition. They rode in coaches but ate from chuckwagons and slept on the ground. But the point was to show them cattle, timber, and gold. Within weeks they had financed him to build the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad. He purchased the Alamo Ranch and made it a junction for the railroad. 'Alamo' means cottonwood. He renamed the area Big Cottonwood--Alamogordo.
It was a big change for the area, but the area later ushered in a big change to the world. It was July 16, 1945, when the Manhattan Project took a remote section of the Alamogordo desert and set off the first nuclear bomb.
From the beginning of World War II the local Holloman Air Force Base was testing experimental weapons and in particular missiles-- not an activity popular with the local farmers. But it was a sacrifice they made for the war. In 1948, over the protests of Alamogordo, Las Cruces, and El Paso, the proving grounds were expanded. The name became the White Sands Proving Grounds.
Speaking of white sands, after checking into a motel, we headed out for White Sands National Monument.
Back in the Pre-Cambrian to Mezozoic Ages continental plates collided hereabouts. It was a slow but violent collision. The edges crumpled, forcing huge sections upward. Where gaps formed in the structure, magma bled into the gaps and hardened. But some gaps did not fill with magma, leaving huge hollow spaces supporting incredibly huge masses of stone. So the pressures forced the land up all throughout this area but could not uniformly support it. A section cracked away and fell, causing a natural basin. Rains dissolved minerals, particularly gypsum, and washed them into the basin. Hot, dry winds then evaporated the water and left gypsum deposits in the basin. The dry winds broke up the residue. What was left was a big bowl of gypsum dust. It was not a hospitable environment for plants. Some, like the yucca, did survive. Some get blown out of the gypsum and die. Some have the gypsum blown out from under them and are left like towers standing on tall roots.
White Sands National Monument is nothing but a 224-square-mile sandbox with white sand. People love to come and watch the dunes, climb sand hills, picnic, etc. Evelyn thought the area looks totally alien. I think the hills of white only look like snow. The white sand is surprisingly cool to the touch in the hot sun and we took advantage by climbing dunes barefoot. It was not the most fascinating of attractions to me, but it was worth seeing. We left long enough to have dinner, then returned to see the sunset and the full moon rising (within about five minutes of each other). I was somewhat reluctant to leave the car and miss the first of the Presidential debates. However, after returning to our room, C-SPAN was rebroadcasting the debate and I could see what I had missed hearing. Evelyn conked out early but I caught up on my log.
October 12, 1992:
This is the day wrongly celebrated as the 500th Anniversary of Columbus's landing in the New World. Wrong! That will be in nine days. Columbus landed on October 12, 1492, in the Julian calendar which put too many leap years into the calendar. In the late 1500's (many places) they switched to the Gregorian calendar. That meant dropping eleven days. So isn't the anniversary eleven days later? No. Two of the eleven days were for extra leap year days after 1492, I guess. The proper date is October 21.
Not seeing much that looked better, we had breakfast at Denny's. Then we headed to the Space Hall of Fame. It turned out to be on Route 2001--how cute! We got there at 8 AM, an hour before it opened. They have a garden outside to walk around with missiles of various sizes. They have a Nike Ajax. I am not great with my missiles, but I was able to tell Evelyn it was either a Nike Ajax or a Nike Hercules. I do get the two confused, but I knew it was one. Somehow the Nike Ajax is shorter than you expect when you see it close up. They had a fat missile called a Little Joe. I'd never heard of it before. Apparently it was just used in doing space program tests. They have a Mercury capsule shell you can sit inside to get a feel for the scale. They had the actual rocket sled that Stapp rode in 1954 and was for a short time the fastest man alive without ever leaving the ground. He also was so beat up by what were effectively winds of over 200 miles per hour that his eyes were blackened and his face badly bruised by the whole affair. There is also the grave of the first guy America ever sent into space, at least the first guy who walked on two legs. This, of course, was Ham, the chimpanzee. More on Ham later. (Actually, we did not see the grave right away. It was the last thing we saw when we left.) After walking through the garden we wrote in our logs until the museum opened.
The museum is four stories. We went up to the top. There were models of many spacecraft, American and Soviet. A woman, apparently a cleaning woman, saw us there and started telling us about the space program, starting with Ham since there was a rather poor model of Ham in the bindings. Apparently the woman had several members of her family involved with the space program and had a lot of stories to tell, starting with chimps Ham and Enos, the first two American astronauts. Ham loved humans; Enos hated them. Ham was very cooperative; Enos really had to be forced to cooperate. Ham came back friendly and happy; Enos hated humans all the more for the torture they'd put him through. Ham was just overjoyed to see familiar humans again. Apparently Ham rebelled only once. After his flight they wanted to let reporters photograph Ham in his capsule so they tried to strap him in again. No way! I imagine Ham thinking, 'What?! Are you out of your minds? I let you strap me in there once before. It was the dumbest thing I ever did in my life. I went through a long time of pain and horror and confusion. No way are you going to do something like that to me again.' Ham won.
Well, the museum has lots of exhibits like spacecraft models, documentary photos, models of the lunar lander and the moon buggy, mockups of satellites, artists' and engineers' conceptions of space stations going back to Chesley Bonestall, taped sounds of blastoffs, information about the 50th anniversary of the A-4 (Aggregate- 4, also known as Vergettungswaffe-2 or just V-2).
After that we headed out for Lincoln, best known for the Lincoln County War. There have been a lot of small wars in New Mexico. They were things like range wars. But the best known local war was about competition between two stores on one street in Lincoln. Each store was owned by pairs of ranchers who were wouldbe cattle barons. One pair were the ranchers L. G. Murphy and J. J. Dolan. The other pair were newcomers to Lincoln, Alexander McSween and John Turnstall. Murphy and Dolan had hired some ne'erdo -wells to rustle cattle from McSween and Turnstall to help convince them to move out and abandon their store. One of these punks was a sixteen-year-old born in New York City, but who lived several places since his father died and his mother remarried. This was Billy Bonney.
One day in 1875 Billy ran into John Turnstall, the man he was trying to drive out of the country. Turnstall was a cultured Englishman and ironically the two men found they liked each other. Bonney immediately switched sides and became devoted to the only man who'd ever liked and respected him.
Then Murphy--who had an in with local law enforcement--sent a supposed 'posse' made up of his remaining punks to arrest Turnstall, claiming he'd rustled cattle. Turnstall objected, but to avoid bloodshed yielded his gun to the posse. The punks then shot down Turnstall in cold blood. Bonney, who now went by the nickname Billy the Kid, swore to kill his former friends who'd made up the posse and also the sheriff who'd authorized their actions. Billy organized several men loyal to the dead Turnstall and to McSween into his own posse-gang which he designated 'regulators.' He was the youngest, but also the angriest and the meanest, so they followed him.
In a sequence of ambushes and gunfights, Billy and his regulators made good his threat, saving the sheriff and a deputy to kill last.
The new sheriff, Dad Peppins, a former deputy, trapped Billy and his fourteen regulators in McSween's mansion with McSween. For three (or five) days the house was peppered with gunfire by a combination of a huge posse and the local cavalry who showed up with a cannon trained on the house. The commander of the cavalry ordered a cease fire and threatened to blow up the mansion if Billy, McSween, and the regulators did not surrender. To help Billy decide, Peppins set fire to the house. McSween surrendered and was shot down in cold blood. Billy killed his killer and--against amazing odds--escaped.
President Hayes had had enough and replaced the governor of New Mexico with Civil War general Lew Wallace (author of BEN HUR). Billy agreed to let himself be arrested and then to turn state's evidence on anyone who'd killed in the war so far. But Billy lost faith in Wallace and escaped again.
Again a posse caught up with Billy. After a siege, Billy gave up and asked to talk with the posse's leader. Instead, he shot the leader and the rest of the posse retreated.
Wallace appointed an old friend of Billy's, Pat Garrett, sheriff of Lincoln County. Garrett was able to corner Billy and his current gang. Starving them out, he got Billy to surrender. Billy was tried and found guilty in Mesilla, New Mexico. Garrett sent his top two guns, J. W. Bell and Bob Ollinger, to take Billy back to Lincoln and to guard him there. Billy was placed in leg irons and shackles. It clearly was the end for Billy. Bell treated Billy decently; Ollinger was a sadist who used to ride for Murphy and Dolan. Ollinger would torment Billy on the way back to Lincoln, hoping Billy would give Ollinger an excuse to kill Billy. He would torture Billy, poking him with a loaded shotgun. Bell did what he could to stop Ollinger from tormenting Billy.
One day in Lincoln Ollinger left Bell to guard Billy and went out to get a drink. Billy was shackled and Bell was enough to hold Billy. From the hotel across the street Ollinger heard a gunshot from the courthouse and decided to investigate. As he approached the courthouse, he heard a pleasant, 'Oh, hi, Bob!' He looked up to see Billy training a shotgun on him. The manacled Billy had managed to get a gun and Kill Bell.
With exaggerated slowness, Billy cocked the shotgun. The sadist Ollinger waited for the inevitable. Eventually it came and most of Ollinger was blown halfway into the street.
Billy had a handyman find an axe and cut apart the leg irons. Billy grabbed a horse and headed out of town, shouting, 'Adios, compadres!' to the witnesses. Garrett had been made to look foolish. Now he wanted Billy dead in the worst way. Acting on a tip that Billy would be at the Maxwell Ranch, he brought a huge posse. Garrett himself waited in Billy's darkened bedroom. Bily entered and died. Garrett claimed self-defense, but many doubted it. But Billy the Kid was finally dead. He was age 21.
For years Billy has been a controversial figure. Just about every killing seems to have been either self-defense or in some sense someone who was 'asking for it.' Most of his killings were avenging a murder in a time when legal justice was at best uncertain. But there is also the suspicion that anyone who finds good reason to kill an estimated twenty-one people is in some way looking for good reasons.
Many of the scenes of Billy's story are either on the road into Lincoln or in Lincoln itself. You pass a road marker that tells you near here was Blazer's Mill, where Billy and three of the regulators trapped Buckshot Roberts in a latrine. Roberts was a Murphy enforcer. From his 'stronghold' he killed one regulator and wounded two others, but Billy got him in the end. Further on you see the spot where John Turnstall was murdered, setting off Billy's violent revenge.
Lincoln itself is just one street and you can still see Turnstall's store that started the hatred. Next to it is a field where McSween's mansion was (a rather narrow mansion it must have been) which Murphy's law officials and the United States Cavalry with cannon could not capture Billy, though they did kill Turnstall's partner McSween. About a five-minute walk down the road is the Murphy store which--and this I'd never heard before--was also the courthouse where Billy killed Bell and Ollinger. It seems the store was turned into a courthouse. We were here on a Monday so the courthouse was the only building open. It has been turned into a museum. Where Billy shot J. W. Bell there is a hole in the wall with a plastic flashmark around it to call attention to it. Perhaps what is most interesting is to see photographs of what the principals really looked like. It is generally well-known what Billy looked like from one photo that shows up in most of the sources, but I'd never gotten much of an impression of either Murphy or Turnstall. (An interesting commentary on this is we dropped into a book and souvenir store for Evelyn to see if there were postcards. A boy about seven asked who somebody was in a picture on one of the books. 'That's Billy the Kid,' an older brother said. 'No, it isn't. I've seen Billy the Kid on TV.' Actually I kind of wonder what version he saw.)
Bidding a fond farewell to Lincoln, we headed for Roswell. New Mexico has an interesting system for encouraging tourism. They have a whole series of messages explaining the importance of each of the major tourist attractions. They are broadcast on short range AM radio near each attraction. You see a road sign telling you to tune to 530 AM on your radio. When you do, Ricardo Montalban is telling you all about the local attraction. Here he was explaining about the Lincoln County War. It is a very clever idea.
Next we went into Roswell to see the art museum. Actually this is the catch-all museum. There is a section on art and another on Robert Godard, including a reconstruction of his workshop. Another section has Spanish and Italian armor and swords. Then there are two sections, one on the history, clothing, and weapons of the Indians from the Roswell area, and a similar room on the uniforms and weapons of the cavalry. The latter room is also decorated with bear skins and other hunting trophies. Now this can have all sorts of interpretations from the most politically correct ('See, the Anglos had no respect for anything alive but their own kind') to the settlers' actual vision of themselves ('We European-Americans have always been great sportsmen who could enjoy the abstract meaning of killing, understanding death, skinning your kill, and bathing in the blood. But notice that we kept no Injun skins as trophies, at least not the ones we show in public. After all, what are we-- barbarians?').
You see a lot of open territory between places here. There are lots of trailer parks, trailers being the new version of the great (and not-so-great) wagons of the West. They used to pull up around the chuckwagon and a fire. These days they all have chuckwagon sections but they still pull up around other utilities and form trailer camps. When Indians were no longer a threat, God invented tornados.
Speaking of Indians, there was a discussion on NPR about why it was that the Indians were so badly defeated by the Europeans and they came up with an unlikely answer ... pets. Europeans lived very closely with their animals; Indians had domesticated animals but did not really have in their culture the close contact that Europeans did. Sound nutty? Not really. Only about 10% of the loss of the Indians was due to fighting between the cultures. Gunpowder and technology very often proved no match for the excellent warriors and tacticians that the Indians were. 90% of the Indians who died, died by disease, as most people are or should be aware. Of that 90%, a small percentage died because of germ warfare, the Europeans' policy of giving to the Indians the effects of the European smallpox victims. 85% or so of the Indians died because of unintentional contagion. But it was the Europeans who were in the alien land with alien people. They seem to have just not picked up very much disease. (Experts are unsure about syphilis. The first European outbreak was in 1494 and that is the only evidence that it was a New World disease. But the Europeans were making a lot of new contacts at that time and it may well have come from some place like the Middle East.) So why did so much more disease go in the other direction? Smallpox is a cattle disease that survives in humans. Measles is a pig disease but it also attacks humans. Indians did not live in close proximity (like within a few feet) of a lot of animals. Europeans lived around more diseases and to some extent had immunity to them. They certainly carried more. The vast majority of the death of the great Indian nations was accidental and probably was done by people who didn't know they were doing it. And by this theory it was just by how much contact they had with their own animals that made the difference.
I should say more about the art. There was a whole room full of pictures done by someone who does all his art by putting little dots of paint on five-foot square canvasses. Any color television does exactly the same thing, only better. When his style works, this is probably pointillism; when it doesn't, it is disappointillism. They claim to have a Georgia O'Keeffe collection. I guess you can call it a collection, but being that it consists of only one painting, whether that is the right word or not is open to some question. I guess if you have collected one painting, that makes it a collection. Her piece is called 'Ram's Skull and Leaves.' I think it is a really good name for the work of art. It really suits the painting, which is a picture of a ram's skull and two leaves. That is always a nice surprise in a painting to find out the title and the subject matter are the same thing. But, no, if O'Keeffe says that's what the painting is, there isn't any baiting and switching about it. That's just exactly what she delivers. Now in the documentary about her she said she had been using skulls in her paintings for a long time before she realized that skulls might be symbols of mortality. She just liked the shape, color, and texture. She apparently thought they just fell off the ram skull tree. Of course, psychology tells us that there are people who like skulls for their color, shape, and texture, but who'd not pick up that these are really parts of once-living things. There was a whole family like that in Texas CHAINSAW MASSACRE. The fact that O'Keeffe could channel the same impulses in socially constructive ways should be an example for sociopaths everywhere.
There is a nice mural by William Goodman. It is a colorful fantasy that is like Hieronymous Bosch without all the unpleasantness. Well, that was about it for Roswell, a nice town, and after seeing the local museum it doesn't surprise me at all that there is a best-selling book claiming there was a UFO crash in Roswell. I am surprised it was only one crash.
Returning to our car, I was surprised to see somebody had smeared his handprints on the backup lights. At the time it struck me as odd. Well, I later figured out who'd done it. I did. I put my hands on the taillights getting into the trunk. My hands were clean at the time, but not clean enough. Road dust in New Mexico is like the dust police use to make fingerprints visible.
But we could not tarry long. We had to get to Carlsbad for a bat exodus. There are many millions of bats in Carlsbad Caverns. For many nobody is sure where they exit. But at dusk about half million bats fly out of the main entrance to feed. Up until this point there were swallows flying in and out of the cave. They come to nest in the cave and fly out less systematically in the morning. Of course, when the swallows want to return, they have to fight the tide of outcoming bats. They don't--they just fly around and swear at the bats in bird language.
People gather around the cave entrance in a sort of amphitheater waiting for the smoky-looking serpentine trail that is a cloud of a half million bats looking for insects to eat. The swarms are much better in the summer. Right now, a large proportion of the bats have migrated down to Mexico for the winter. Even now, the bats came out in swarms of 5000 a minute. The rangers can never be sure exactly when the bats will come out. They have a rough idea it will be about a half hour before sundown. But even then the bats can come out a half hour early or late. It must start with some bat's stomach growling and she--they are mostly females--flies out and that starts the exodus. As they come out of the cave, they are flying in counter-clockwise circles. Bats and mathematicians instinctively prefer counter-clockwise. Close up it is hard to tell the bats from small birds swarming in circles. Further away they look like a huge swarm of bees cork-screwing into the sky. Then they disperse. Of course, this variability of exit time means the park ranger has to have a variable length speech. It is a talk of at least thirty minutes about bats that s/he is prepared to stop at any moment if the bats start coming out. After about fifteen minutes the amphitheater starts to empty. Only about a tenth of the audience stays through the whole exodus.
When the bats had flown, we checked into our motel and asked where to get good barbecue. Our first surprise was when they recommended the Dairy Queen down the road. Our second surprise was when we tried their barbecue. I think we were surprised someone recommended it. Nat actually bad, but somewhat lackluster. We finished the day writing.
October 13, 1992:
We woke up early and went out. We had breakfast at a local restaurant, then headed out for Carlsbad Caverns. There is a lot more to the National Park than the Caverns themselves. You drive about seven miles through parklands with high yellow cliffs on either side. We stopped several places on the way in to look at rock formations. At one turnoff you follow a short path to an outcropping of stone that the signs suggest would have made a home for two families. I told Evelyn it was a nice cheap summer home and what kept it cheap was low overhead.
Well, eventually we got to Carlsbad itself and parked. Carlsbad is a National Park, which I thought meant no admission was charged. Not so. Admission to the caverns is $5. If you want a guide to go with you at your own pace and explain everything, that's fifty cents more.
The guide is a device I have seen elsewhere. It is a fifteeninch wand that hangs around your neck that is a radio receiver, a small speaker, and a rechargeable power supply. When the wand just hangs, it is turned off; pick the earpiece up to your ear when you are in a designated area and a voice tells you about that section. Now all it would take, probably, is for someone to bring a Walkman and scan for the same frequency that the electronic guide uses and you could save the fifty cents. Actually, I thought the tour guide did a particularly good job of explaining everything. There must have been on the order of sixty messages or so, and they were very well explained. When the tour was over, I asked Evelyn if she had any rechargeable batteries on her so we could tip the guide.
The main chamber is about as deep as an eighty-story building is high. You have the choice of walking down and sightseeing on the way or of taking the elevator down. If you follow the signs for the Red Tour they take you to the elevator; if you follow the Blue Tour, it goes into the mouth of the cave and down the entire path. Most places that the Park Service tells you are gentle hikes are a bit more than that and can be exhausting. Here the warnings you get overstate how exhausting and possibly dangerous the Blue Tour is. One older gentlemen did complain about how tough the tour was, but for most of the rest of us it wasn't bad.
The previous night when the bats came out, people claimed there was a bat smell. I couldn't tell at the time, but walking the Blue Tour you definitely smell it. You are not in the same chamber with the bats, of course. That would be disgusting and possibly dangerous. You just descend and descend surrounded by all the various structures of speleothems (a stalactite or a stalagmite is a speleothem). You see curtains and soda straws, as well as grotesque shapes of the free-standing speleothems.
If I remember rightly how this was all created, you had a giant underwater reef. The mixture of sea water and fresh dissolved big holes in the rock, then upward pressure from colliding continental plates forced the holes above the water table so the holes drained. Then rainwater came through the roof with calcified limestone deposits and leaked through the ceiling, leaving deposits of the limestone which built up, creating the weird shapes over time, much like dripping hot wax will form odd shapes.
So when in the 1959 film JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH had explorers going ever downward through caverns, they really could not have gotten down even so far as the water table. About a quarter of the way into the trip I reminded Evelyn to be looking for settings from that film. In fact, before asking a ranger where the film was shot I had already picked out three of the four sites in the cave he told us about. There was one point where the Lindenbrook expedition was camped below the Saknussem expedition and heard them above. There was a green pool that was used in the movie. (I think for a while they thought it was the grave of Alec McEwan.) The Red Tour has a section of oddly shaped formations that Alec McEwan fell through. Between the halves of the Blue Tour (at the beginning of the Red Tour), there is a big chamber with a snack bar and souvenir shop. Sort of a strange setting.
I have been in caverns in Israel, Slovenia (formerly part of Yugoslavia), China, and Ohio. This is certainly the best set in the world. In Slovenia they said they were the second biggest cavern in the world, second to Carlsbad, but that they were the biggest with stalagmites and stalactites. That was a lie, obviously, but I have to say that Carlsbad has nothing to match the underground train ride Slovenia has.
Well, when we were done with Carlsbad, that was the big event of the day. We headed out to El Paso. There is not much along this road but the Butterfield Stage Piney Station. This is a memorial to where the stage used to stop. It is just across the Texas border. There were some spectacular rock formations. We also found the sky getting dark at some point and expected we might get rain. Actually it turned out to be a dust storm.
El Paso did not seem as inviting as New Mexico did, maybe because it is a big city and in New Mexico we stuck to small towns. El Paso seemed a little run down. We arrived at the motel just as the Vice-Presidential debates were starting. Neither of us were hungry yet so I turned on the debates. Evelyn stuck in earplugs and tried to write in her log. We went for dinner at the State Line Barbecue. It was a lot better than the Dairy Queen in Carlsbad. Back in the room we wrote until we fell asleep.
October 14, 1992:
Each night our Motel 6s have gotten a little less comfortable. I woke up before 6 AM and I think we checked out before 7. Today the plan was to drive to Tombstone. Breakfast was at the first place we could find that seemed decent. It was decent but the service was very slow. And they overcharged us and had to change the check. From there we hit Route I-10 west back to New Mexico and then west into Arizona. A lot of this was desert irrigated to make plots of farmland. There are always mountains in the distance. Our last stop in New Mexico was Steins, a ghost town right off the highway. Evelyn commented that the ramshackle town looked a lot like some parts of the Dominican Republic. Steins was a mining town at one point. But fate went against the town. I am sure what we see cannot be all of the town that was around before, but it isn't empty either. Somebody has a bunch of farm animals there including irritatingly boisterous roosters. The place seems to be more a dump than a ghost town. There are old tires and old rims (different places, of course). There is an old stagecoach. There is a modern vehicle that is clearly intended to run along train tracks. They have some rust with metal but no metal without rust. The whole town looked like what some bad science fiction movies said the post-nuclear world would be like. There were some nice goats in one of the yards. For $1.50 each the guy in the one open store would show you around town. Well, you could see most of the town looking through the fence. At least there was enough to know we didn't want to see it any closer than we already had.
Another few moments and we were in Arizona. Ricardo Montalban gave us a departing story about stagecoaches as the last thing we did in New Mexico. More farms or ranches. More fields of chaparral. It is clear that here Nature had an over-developed sense of drama. High mountains with rock faces surrounded us.
We pulled off the main highway to the Fort Bowie road. This is a dirt road past several grazing ranges and leads to a pull-off. At the pull-off there is a mile-and-a-half walk to Fort Bowie.
What is Fort Bowie? Well, the story starts in September 1857, when the Postmaster General awarded an overland mail route to John Butterfield. Butterfield needed for his route a station that would have water and the only place he could put it was in Apache Pass-- land belonging to the Chiricahua Apaches who were led by Cochise. Cochise tolerated this intrusion for two and a half years. Then in 1861 some Apaches--nobody is sure who--raided the ranch of local John Ward, stole stock, and kidnapped a Mexican boy who lived on the ranch. Ward thought it was Cochise who led the raid.
Second Lieutenant George Bascom set up a trap to capture Cochise. He brought a contingent of soldiers into the pass. Cochise and some companions wanted to find out what Bascom was doing there and went to talk to him in Bascom's own tent. Bascom accused Cochise of the crime and told him he was captured. Cochise pulled out a knife and cut his way out of an unguarded wall of the tent. His companions did not get away, however, and Bascom hanged them.
Cochise led his Apaches against the Anglos for two weeks of raids. The Anglos sent the cavalry in to secure the pass. For the next twelve years Cochise would lead a successful guerilla war against the Anglos.
Brigadier General James Carlton captured the pass by force. After repeated attacks he built Fort Bowie to protect the pass. The first Fort Bowie was crude and uncomfortable. It was later rebuilt and expanded to accommodate more troops more comfortably. After twelve years of warfare an ex-Army scout named Tom Jeffords made peace with Cochise. (Anyone remember the film BROKEN ARROW with Jimmy Stewart as Tom Jeffords winning over Cochise? There was also a television show about Jeffords also called BROKEN ARROW.)
At last there was a lasting peace between the Anglos and the Apaches. That was 1872. And peace lasted for about four years. Cochise died in 1874. Jeffords was replaced as agent in 1876. Suddenly there was a lot of dissatisfaction from the Apaches. Afraid of losing the pass, the government abolished the local reservation and moved all the Apaches to another reservation. Particularly unhappy about this move were three Indians: Juh, Naiche, and Geronimo. But that's a different story.
About a mile and a half from the road, you can walk to Fort Bowie. On the way you pass the old stage station that started it all. There is a ranger station next to the fort's ruins with a rather affable ranger. Little more than the foundations and a few walls set in protective adobe remains. Yet the fort seems very big. It also had some surprising comforts, such as a steam-driven icemaker. There are still angry territorial battles going on here, I discovered, as a red ant bit the back of my right knee from inside the pants leg.
I asked the ranger if over the last few years more visitors were showing more sympathy for the Apaches. 'Only the uninformed,' he said. He then talked for about ten minutes about how vicious the Apaches really were and how the other tribes did not want them around. They had seized the land from the Athabascan Indians before them, etc.
After a while we headed back. The whole hike took about three hours. Further down the road we saw the site where the Apaches ambushed a wagon two days after Cochise's escape. Our next stop was Chiricahua National Monument. This is a park full of rock formations and huge boulders stacked so they look like a slight wind would topple the stack. Actually that is a single piece of rock when you see that a local volcano spewed the rock in columns with more than one kind of rock. Erosion removed one sort of rock and left the other, leaving weird formations.
There are many impressive sights, but I am not sure how to convey them in a log. Maybe Evelyn will do better. We left this park about 5 PM and at 6:30 PM got to Tombstone.
Evelyn had found a recommendation for a motel that is more like a bed and breakfast. It is just a private attempt at a motel and is more like sleeping in someone's back room. It is furnished much like you would furnish a house. It is two blocks from the center of Tombstone.
As Evelyn says, Tombstone nicknamed itself 'The Town Too Tough To Die,' but at sundown it gives a darn good imitation of dying. What a sleepy little burg! There is one place to eat in town that we saw open. Their Mexican food was pretty good by New Jersey standards, not that that is saying much. They couldn't survive in a state with a Hispanic name with Mexican food that wasn't pretty good by New Jersey standards. We tried a local brand of soda, 'Doc Holiday' ('Double Barrel of Flavor' and 'A Real Blast'). (Note that the real Doc spelled his name with a double L.) The flavor was like Dr. Pepper.
October 15, 1992:
The room wasn't totally comfortable. To use the air conditioner you had to blow the curtains all over the place, making the room visible from the street, but some clever folding and tucking with the use of a paperclip I had brought solved the problem. You might not think it, but paperclips have a lot of uses. I put 25 of them on a half an index card and keep that in my pocket calendar. Many times they have been useful.
The room was actually pretty nice considering it was cheaper than a Motel 6 (considerably). It had a kitchenette, two wide beds, and a sort of bunkhouse feel but lots of furniture and a lot of room.
We went into town and ate at a restaurant called the Longhorn. I might have wanted to keep looking for the Brie or at least the Sharp Cheddar, but I doubt we'd have found it.
I should probably explain what the town of Tombstone did to itself. On both sides of the main drag the buildings are pretty much as they looked in 1881 when the gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place. (Uh-oh! I'm going to have to give more background info, aren't I?) Of course, the stores are all things like souvenirs, silver jewelry, etc. It is all tourist trap, of course. What do they have of genuine historical interest? Nothing that is free. They have the Arizona Territorial Museum. That is free and probably a nickel too expensive at that. It is a store front set up to look like the inside of a mine with various displays, none explained at all. Presumably we are looking at goods of the period, but also there are items present that are clearly not from the period. I do not remember ever seeing an exhibit that so over-rated itself by calling itself a museum.
Then there is the O.K. Corral itself. What can I tell you about the famous gunfight? First, if you have seen it dramatized in a film, don't believe what you saw. There have been a bunch of film versions including HOUR OF THE GUN and GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, both by John Sturges. There was John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE and lots and lots of others. And no two even tell similar stories. That should tell you that at most one film can have gotten the story right. Experts agree that one film does not exist. The story just does not make for a good film. The high point of excitement is a two-minute gun battle towards the middle of the real story. It is probably the most famous gun battle of the violent West, but it settled very little. And the real story is fairly complex. Even now it is tough to assess blame. The real characters are painted in shades of gray. Wyatt Earp is a lousy choice for a hero. This story has no heroes or villains. It is a lot easier to invent a new story than to tell the original.
Let me tell you just what happened that one day. Previously the Clanton and McLaury families had been involved in activities on the mossy side of the law. The Earps had been attempting to enforce the law in the most brutal and vicious manner they could muster. There was a lot of bad blood between them.
On Tuesday, October 25, 1881, Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury were peacefully in town. Doc Holliday and Virgil Earp had both verbally abused Ike and Tom. Wyatt found McLaury and challenged him to fight. McLaury refused. Earp pulled out his gun and beat McLaury with it. A short time later Wyatt found Frank McLaury--Tom's brother--breaking a minor city ordinance. There are all kinds of conflicting accounts about what had already happened that day and what was about to happen. At least by one account Virgil and Morgan Earp found Ike Clanton and started to argue with him. Virgil pulled out a gun and slugged Clanton with it. They dragged Clanton to the courthouse and had him fined $25 for carrying concealed weapons. Tom McLaury entered the courtroom cussing out the Earps. Wyatt pistol-whipped him and threw him out. An hour later Wyatt got a message that Frank and Tom McLaury, Billy and Ike Clanton, and Billy Claiborne wanted to see the Earps at the O.K. Corral. The Earps and Doc Holliday went. There was a three-minute gunfight that left the McLaurys and Billy Clanton dead. Morgan and Virgil Earp were badly wounded. Doc Holliday was slightly wounded. The town sheriff arrested Wyatt and the Doc. Of course, there is a lot more to the story both before and after the gunfight, but it goes beyond the scope of this telling.
This one gunfight is probably the best known two minutes of the town's history. In general, the town was probably no more wild than most towns in the area. It just had its moments. We did see the famous corral, though actually the fight was not in the corral area; it was more in the back yard area that gave people a shortcut into the corral. They have nine dummies standing there looking like over-dramatic images of the gunfight participants. Press a button and there is a recorded description of the gunfight.
Also on the main road is the Bird Cage Theater. Notables like Caruso and Eddie Foy had played there. It was the center of entertainment for old Tombstone. Most of the entertainment seems to have come from drunken cowboys causing trouble. Once a production of UNCLE TOM'S CABIN had a specially trained bloodhound chasing little Eliza over the simulated ice floes. A well-meaning drunken cowpoke saved Eliza by shooting the bloodhound. The cowboy spent the night in jail and the next day offered both to pay for the dog and to give his saddle horse as part of the payment.
Of course, dogs weren't the only residents of the stage in danger. There was a bullet-catching act where a magician would have an assistant shoot blanks at him, then he would spit bullets out of his mouth as if he had caught them in his teeth, Stupid act for an audience like the one in Tombstone. Sure enough, one drunken cowboy tried to help with the act by shooting more bullets to be caught by the magician. Luckily a friend recognized that it was anti-social to shoot at people and deflected his hand. They still call attention to the bullet holes in the stage.
The building actually served more than one entertainment need at once. There were two rows of box seats on each side with curtains. For a price you could get one of the hostesses to sit and enjoy the show with you. For a bit more you could get her to close the curtains and provide her own entertainment. The boxes on the side were the reason the theater was called the Bird Cage Theater. Also, the claim is made that the theater was the inspiration for the song 'She Was Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage.' The museum is full of a lot of exhibits of dubious authenticity, like the curios of Pancho Villa. They may be real, of course, but they don't appear to be guaranteed so by anyone unbiased.
Other buildings to visit include the bar owned by Big Nose Kate. Kate went by more than one name. She was known as Big Nose Katie Elder or as Big Nose Katie Fisher. Under the Clantons' thumb, she testified that Doc Holliday had robbed a stage. Later she ended up as Holliday's mistress (some say wife). I have never seen the film THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER and have wondered if the name is just a coincidence.
After that we went to Boot Hill. That is some distance from the center of town. I did sort of a double-take on the sign announcing Boot Hill which said 'Boot Hill Cemetery and Jewish Memorial.' The sign described more of what was inside but there was no further explanation of the 'Jewish Memorial.' While just about every other historic site you pay for, Boot Hill Cemetery and Jewish Memorial is free. You can get to it only by walking through a souvenir store, but that is fine by me. All the more so because the woman running the place appears to be Indian. I don't mean to be racist about this, but it is nice to see an Indian making a profit from all this. We did buy from her, getting a souvenir for our tchatchka table. We walked around Boot Hill, finding few familiar names but noting that all the Chinese were in one corner. There was an arrow to the Jewish Memorial. Our curiosity piqued, we walked a fair distance down the hill and there really was a memorial dedicated to Jews and Indians who have died of persecution. The memorial is only eight years old. I am not surprised that a Jewish memorial would show empathy for Indians. I just was surprised to see it on Boot Hill. (Not that Jews were unknown in Tombstone at the time of the Earps. Sheriff Jim Behan had no use for Wyatt Earp and a big part of it was a love triangle with a Jewish actress who came to town in 1879 and stayed. Josephine Sarah Marcus was loved by both Jim Behan and Wyatt Earp. It is not hard to see why. There is an extant photo of her. Standards of beauty change and pictures of women at the time almost invariably seem not at all attractive today. Josephine Sarah Marcus's picture still is attractive (not to say out-and-out sexy) in the 1990s. 'Josie' eventually married Wyatt.)
Most of the names were unfamiliar on Boot Hill. We did find the tombs of the McLaurys and Billy Clanton together in one corner. There was also a tombstone to 'John Dunlap killed by Jeff Milton.' This was 'Three-Fingered Jack' Dunlap, a bank and train robber. The evening of February 15, 1900, Three-Fingered Jack was one of five outlaws who tried to rob a train outside of Fairbank, Arizona, nine miles from Tombstone. They fired at express messenger Jeff Milton and shattered Milton's left arm. Milton was able to grab a shotgun and return fire. Jack was hit eleven times from one shot. The others managed to drag Dunlap away and put him in his saddle, but Jack apparently died anyway. Hence the grave we found. (But I love having the right reference book at the right time. The above info came from the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WESTERN GUNFIGHTERS, a nifty book by one Bill O'Neal.)
Following that we went to Bisbee. This was once the best known city in Arizona. It was the home of the Queen Mine. The mine yielded more than $2 billion in copper, gold, lead, silver, and zinc. After a walk around town, we took the mine tour. You take a mine train 1500 feet into the mine and get a lecture on what mining was like. There is a discussion of the various drills that were used, how dynamite was placed, and the bell codes that were used with the shaft elevator to tell the operator on top where to position the car. It was fairly informative.
After that we drove to Tucson. We checked into our motel. We went out for Arabic food (falafel, tahini, hoummous, etc.). Back at the motel we listened to the second Presidential debate and wrote until we got tired.
October 16, 1992:
It was a real pleasure waking up and not having to pack up the car. We had breakfast at the motel (included in the motel price).
Our first destination of the morning was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. As we approached, the population of saguaro (pronounced sa-WAR-o) cactus seemed to increase. We'd seen cactus all over, but not much saguaro. When most people picture cactus, saguaro is what they are picturing. It is the only breed of cactus I know of that is more than a foot or so tall. The tall cactus that is often in human-like shapes or pitchfork shapes--that's saguaro. And it does grow in lots of really weird shapes and postures, although it is the older saguaro that is in weird shapes. Saguaro less than a hundred years old generally is just the single column. Saguaro is in a sense a parasite. It will grow only in the shade; it really needs for its seeds to fall in the shade of a tree. Eventually its roots will squeeze out the roots of the tree that shaded it and it will kill it. In a sense, both its shape and its behavior are human.
The Desert Museum is really a collection of small buildings and open areas that make up a natural history museum and zoo of the flora, fauna, and minerals of the desert.
As we came in a woman was giving a talk on tarantula spiders and showing one to her audience. Toward the end she was trying to show that the spider would crawl onto her hand. However, the spider had other ideas. Evelyn suggested her hand might be warmer and stuck her hand into the spider's box. 'I'd rather you didn't do that,' said the woman. 'I'll second that,' I thought.
Well, what sort of thing is at the Desert Museum? Pretty much everything you would expect. There are exhibits of arthropods. There is a mineral exhibit--the most spectacular aspect of which most people missed, incidentally. That is a microscopic look at the minerals, many of which were in brilliant colors. You see gila monsters and snakes.
As part of the earth sciences exhibit, they have seventy-five feet of fiberglass cave to show you the experience of going through virgin cave. That is one thing that Carlsbad with its elaborate walkways cannot provide. As fake caves go, this is one of the best, far better than Tiger Balm Garden in Hong Kong.
The zoo aspect of the museum I tried to be mellow about. I have a real love/hate relationship going with zoos. I love them and would gladly vote to outlaw them. They are, for the most part, cruel usage of animals. The animals you most want to see, in this case the black bear and the cats (like mountain lions and bobcats), tend to be animals who range over many miles a day. Containing them to even the largest of feasible enclosures is just not giving them enough room. I am not currently an animal rights advocate, but it sure wouldn't take much to push me over the line.
I said earlier that I didn't trust the Bird Cage Theater to have the highest of honesty in its presentation. The Desert Museum you would think would have higher standards. We passed an employee painting fake green lichen on rocks. Elsewhere we saw a camera crew trying to film an uncooperative tortoise. The tortoise didn't seem very happy about all the intruders and equipment in his pen.
Perhaps the most interesting exhibit is that of convergent evolution. They are pairs of plants that look very nearly identical but in fact are from very different families. Faced with similar conditions, they solved the same problems the same way. Typically one plant will be from Arizona, and one from South Africa.
Other features included an aviary, a cactus garden, an obnoxious family with two kids fighting over a camera, a stone garden where kids and Evelyn could look for minerals (special salting upped the odds of a successful hunt).
The last things we saw were the aviary, the cactus garden, the aquarium, and the inevitable book and souvenir shop.
Nearby is Saguaro National Monument. It is just a big natural area with a concentration of everything else we have been seeing, particularly saguaro cacti. Since the shapes of saguaro are weird and random, they are interesting to see. It is very unusual to see healthy saguaro. Most have either holes from birds pecking or other blights. Maybe it is the natural condition of something 200 years old to be constantly riddled with diseases and infirmity. In a sense it seems just since you know each saguaro killed its benefactor--the tree that shaded it when it was small--and now the little guys are licking the saguaro. You have the whole plot of a melodramatic gangster movie like SCARFACE in the life of the saguaro cactus.
We took a nature walk of a half mile but were disappointed. We saw two small lizards and a few birds, and the only other animals we saw were insects.
From there we went back to Tucson. I was starting to look a bit shaggy and we did want to make a social call this trip, so I wanted to get a haircut. While I was doing that, Evelyn was scanning the newspaper and noticed that GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS was playing and she wanted to see it before it disappeared.
Of course there was little point for me to write a film review since it could never be posted in reasonable time. What incredible luxury! To see a major first-run film without having to write a review! And the film turned out to be right down my alley. I love an intense, angry drama. This one was riveting. While covering the same territory, this is a better play than DEATH OF A SALESMAN. In DEATH OF A SALESMAN the system is just mildly uncaring for the salesmen. Here it is viciously intent on squeezing the salesmen for what they are worth and then throwing them aside. Miller's management are stones, Mamet's are pimps. Actually, I have been surprised at how many good films have come out this year. It is still a small percentage, but there are many more unusual and risky films coming out. Even with the vast majority being pap, there are still more good films being made. One summer had FAR AND AWAY, UNFORGIVEN, LAST OF THE MOHICANS, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, and a few more that are as good but don't come to mind. That's pretty good.
Dinner was at Po' Folks, a pretty good chain. Relatively cheaply you can get an all-you-can-eat vegetable side dishes dinner. Good idea. We hit a grocery and headed back to the hotel.
October 17, 1992:
Free breakfast at the motel restaurant. Then into Tucson to see the University museum. We got to the area early and walked around the town and the campus. It certainly is a nice-looking campus.
We went into the Arizona State Museum on the University of Arizona campus. Here I am expecting a stodgy institution for the serious study of Indian anthropology. I get in and a panel explains that humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time. Who would be coming to a museum like this and still think that dinosaurs and humans were ever contemporaries? Another panel asks why we bother studying anthropology. The explanation they give is: '1) It is interesting. 2) It is curious [whatever that means]. 3) [And here is the explanation of why we really study cultures.]'
I am not sure what it means to say that the study of other cultures is 'interesting' and 'curious.' It seems to me a defense, not an explanation.
Anyway, the museum is mostly about Stone Age man up through contemporary Indians.
You see pottery and Stone Age tools and weapons. There is a nice diorama showing Neolithic peoples bringing down mammoths. They then segue into prehistoric culture in the Americas. The earliest people in this area were Indians called the Hohokam. Nobody knows what they called themselves. 'Hohokam' is Pima Indian language for 'The Vanished Ones.'
In the Indian culture they have woven bowls in a 'Man in the Maze' pattern. The Man in the Maze is Iitoi. He was the only human to survive the Great Flood in Pima myth. This was the flood that ended the last age and brought the modern age. I don't have the full myth, so I don't know why Iitoi is portrayed as being in a maze.
The collection includes terra cotta statues of animals. Perhaps one of the most interesting pieces is one whose explanation is not given. It is a piece of stone carved into an 'H' with one stem about half the length of the others. I think it is given a religious interpretation. That is the explanation given to anything incomprehensible found in archaeology. Since religion is the one area in our society where rationality is not required and where logic supposedly need not apply, it becomes easy when we find the unexplainable in other cultures to assume it is the result of religious irrationality there.
One thing worth seeing is a mammoth with a spearhead. It proved that Native Americans were in this continent at the time of the mammoths 11,000 years ago. That settled a long-standing controversy.
The museum also shows crafts of modern Indian peoples, including a step-by-step explanation of how pottery is made. There is a mezzanine with more Indian artifacts and some wildlife displays.
When we left we stopped at a bookstore in town and while we didn't find anything to buy, I did find a fairly interesting booklet, 120 pages long, called 'Voters: Check This Out.' It is a voter's guide to propositions s/he will be voting for on November 3. Now they are none of my business, but they are really interesting to read anyway. You always find two or three that are pure common sense. On the face of them they cannot possibly fail. But somebody will be richer if they do fail. These are the ones that spur the most controversy and in the end they haven't a hope of passing.
Suppose, to take an example, it has never been made illegal to turn stray cats into meat pies. Now somebody wants to do that in a state I will call Fritz. All of a sudden you discover there is an organization you have never heard of before called Fritzians for the Preservation of Cats, and ironically it wants to defeat the initiative to change the law in Fritz. They will claim that there are already too many cats around and it is making life miserable for all the cats. Stray cats are turning mean and turning on other cats. Also, they carry diseases that are infecting other cats. To protect cat rights it is desperately important that we continue to turn stray cats into meat pies. Further, the bill would be an absolute disaster for the state of Fritz. The wording is so loose that it will mean the veterinarians will no longer be able to treat cats.
Then there is the spectre that this really is just the thin edge of the wedge of cats' rights radicals. Their real agenda is to make it illegal for farmers to protect their sheep from bigger cats of prey. The proposition will end up costing Fritzians billions of dollars.
A huge multi-million dollar campaign will go on television telling people about the nasty future in store if the proposition passes. Billboards on highways threaten that the state of Fritz will be totally bankrupt hiring the extra law enforcement necessary for this totally unneeded bill, a bill that goes far beyond what any other state has done about the problem. Veteran congressmen will make statements that passing the bill will be playing right into the hands of the Japanese. Not only that, it will send half a million jobs to other states.
In the end, the citizens of Fritz vote overwhelmingly that they want stray cats turned into meat pies. It's the American way.
I have seen this exact campaign waged time and again over no smoking areas in restaurants, over deposits on soda bottles, over banning steel-jawed traps, over banning dangerous insecticides, over protecting forests. They always work on the assumption that we are totally powerless to control side-effects of laws. Occasionally this campaign fails and the proposition passes. Come back in two years and ask the people about the bill and they are really smug that the proposition has worked so well in their state and other states have been too stupid to pass similar bills.
In Arizona the current proposition is trying to ban particularly vicious animal traps. Common sense says yes, so those who want to use those traps have rolled out 'the campaign.' The American way of life depends on steel-jaw leg-hold traps.
Our next stop was the Casa Grande National Monument. This was the first protected United States national site. It is a Hohokam building 35 feet tall and estimated to weigh 3000 tons. The Hohokam migrated north from Mexico back around 300 B.C., before the border was so heavily guarded. Within about a thousand years they'd occupied large sections of what is now Arizona. They were engineers to rival the Egyptians. They built the biggest prehistoric canal system anywhere. They introduced barley and cotton to this area. They used the lost wax process for making jewelry. Of course, the Europeans would use the same process when they thought of it. It just took the Europeans a few more centuries to think of it.
Some time around 1250 the Hohokam started to disappear and by 1400 they were gone entirely.
While they were around, they had canals twenty feet deep and eighty feet wide and would have a town just about every three miles on the canals. One of those towns was built around Casa Grande. It is four stories of mud and caliche, with ladders to get from floor to floor. Holes in the walls seem to be measuring periods of eighteen and a half years through their view of the sky. There is a ball court where they would play games with a rubber ball. Also there are several other buildings whose purpose is not currently known.
We continued on the road to Phoenix. Our first stop was the Heard Museum. This is an art museum but it is almost exclusively an Indian art museum. You see baskets, jewelry, and pottery. There is a hogan to enter and a huge collection of kachina dolls. There was a guided tour almost as soon as we arrived, and we took it. It was clear that the woman running the tour respected Native American customs, and may even have performed many of the rituals. What was unclear was whether she understood them herself; if so, neither she nor the museum explained them well. Many of her descriptions included unexplained terms. When the tour was over, we were invited to see local Indians do tribal dances.
There were two things very wrong with this presentation. The first is that, like many things in the museum, the dance was underexplained. Its significance was not explained, nor its syntax. More on that later. We arrived after a second announcement of the dancers, fifteen minutes after they supposedly had started. Even then, it took then about ten minutes more. The music was made by two boys and two men. The two boys had instruments called rasps; one of the men had a water drum--sort of a bowl inverted over a tub of water. One of the boys on the rasp wore a surfing T-shirt. This seemed inappropriate. A man came dancing in with a deer head tied to the top of head. For about five minutes he shuffled around the floor, presumably imitating a deer in the manner of Indian dance. By this point some of the audience starting tiring and leaving. Then the dance had to stop because the deer head was not properly tied. For five minutes the water drum man was trying to tie the deer head back onto the dancer. By this point about half or twothirds of the audience had walked out. Evelyn and I decided to leave also. As we were leaving I could see the tour guide from earlier giving a dirty look to people who were leaving.
This was certainly a case where there was plenty of blame to go around:
The audience was being rude. No doubt about it.
The Indians were not taking the ceremony seriously. They were not prepared. If this really was a ceremony they had performed many times, why didn't they know how much in advance to set up? Why didn't they know how to tie the deer head on securely? Does it show proper respect to have one of the boys in a funny T-shirt?
The museum is the real culprit here. I have invited nonJews to see only one Jewish ceremony, the Seder. The reason I picked that one is because the ceremony itself is selfexplaining. ('These bitter herbs we eat, what is the purpose of them? It is because Pharaoh made our lives bitter in Egypt.') Performing the ceremony is explaining it. And a full explanation would have been the difference between a meaningful cultural experience and a whole audience watching a man shuffle and grunt with a deer head tied to his head. I am not prepared to accept the logic that something is good just because it is Indian. These people who run the Heard Museum remind me of the people in the movie SERIAL who seem to have adopted Indian ceremonies because it is politically correct and the flavor-of-the-month.
Other features of the museum are a half-hour slide show in which they introduce you to the area, their ceremonies, and their social problems (one woman's mother didn't like it when the woman wanted to marry outside the tribe). There is a fifteen-minute video called 'Myth of Changing Woman' about a ceremony roughly equivalent to a bas mitzvah. There is a hands-on section for children that has something to do with recognizing where an Indian design decomposed into C-shaped figures and U-shaped figures. I thought it didn't teach very much about Indian culture. The Heard Museum could have served the local Indian population better. There was also a temporary exhibit about the art of Maori New Zealand.
That done, we got our motel for the night and a little family business. We visited my sister-in-law and my niece and nephew. We went to a Moroccan restaurant called The Moroccan restaurant. The appetizers were very good, but the main course was indifferent. The belly dancer was very good, as good as any we'd seen in Egypt. But her style is one no longer tolerated in Islamic countries, particularly those where the fundamentalists are in control.
October 18, 1992:
Sunday morning in the Phoenix area. There was a waffle house right near our motel, but we decided to look around for another place to eat. We were on a busy road; it should have been easy. Just no breakfast places showed up. Half an hour later we gave up and went back to the waffle house. It was pretty mediocre. Our first stop was the Champlin Fighter Museum. This is a museum dedicated to the fighter plane ever since its inception World War I. This is the home of the American Fighter Aces Association, according to the AAA book.
Actually the active ingredient is two large hangars of fighter aircraft. They must have on the order of eighty fighter aircraft. They have American, French, German, and Italian fighter planes. They have SPADs and Fokkers and Sopwith Camels. They have Messerschmitts and Spitfires and Mustangs and a bunch more. They also have a Soviet tank they must have gotten cheaply. Not all of the planes are for real--some are reproductions, but if your thing is seeing how aircraft have evolved, that's okay. There is a room devoted to machine guns also, some for fighter planes and some not. And there are cases displaying hand arms. Most peculiar was a German machine gun with a curved barrel for shooting around corners. General Dynamics and General Electric--both arms manufacturers--have provided half-hour videos on the history of fighter aircraft.
I don't remember if there are similar museums at WrightPatterson in Dayton, Ohio, or at the Air and Space Museum in Washington. There is a similar museum outside London at Croydon (that is an RAF museum, I think). There is also a Battle of Britain museum a few yards from the RAF museum, and a similar museum in Brussels. But I admit I am like a kid when it comes to airplanes. I love 'em.
Out next stop was the center of Phoenix. We'd been to Phoenix for the World Science Fiction Convention in 1978, but had heard that the Civic Center Plaza was completely changed over since then and that it was covered in order to avoid the heavily beating sun. That was apparently the plan at one point, but it never happened. The Civic Center Plaza hasn't really changed much in fourteen years. One thing that is new is the Arizona Museum of Science and Technology. This is a museum right off the Civic Center Plaza. My first impression was that it seemed to be a particularly good science museum. Any such exhibition is usually made up of two kinds of displays. There are the dull and the swamped. It is a problem particularly if there are a lot of kids in competition with you since 1962 when they stopped teaching the etiquette of lines of queues. I guess I grew up believing in the principle of seniority in queues. We called that FIFO, or first-in-first-out. Today the rule is MAFS, which stands for most-aggressive-first-served. Anyway, here they have cut the size of the museum by cutting out a lot of the dull exhibits. Most of the exhibits are the kind that would be swamped, like computer quizzes, automatic blood pressure measurements, automatic stress measurements, and a stand-inside box of mirrors. A huge gravity well lets kids drop coins in and lets them orbit around a funnel until they finally fall. Then there is a place where the visitor can build a catenary out of blocks and stand it up. Then there are the two whisper horns. The science center is really very tiny but it has its share of interesting exhibits.
We passed up an opportunity to see Arizona's other major science exhibit, Biosphere II. You may have read about it. It is an entirely self-sufficient community. It gets nothing from the outside world but sunlight. It gives nothing to the outside world. In order to survive the people inside have a very sparse diet, but it is sufficient. When you live there you live in a world of your own, divorced from the outside world.
If this works out they will set up Biosphere III. It will be exactly the same but on Christmas and Easter drunks will come to try to burn the place down and rape the women. Then it will be a perfect replica of the Jewish village in Ukraine where my greatgrandfather lived.
After the museum we stopped for an ice cream cone, then continued with the final museum of the day, the Pueblo Grande Museum. It is a preserved archaeological site in the middle of Phoenix. There is a mound with the remains. There are the remains of a wall and a small village. This site was originally thought to be a temple because it wasn't completely understood. This is just one of many Hohokam dwellings near their canal eighty feet wide and twenty feet deep.
The Pima Indians came to this area about 1450 and replaced the Hohokam. Pima legend says they were led from the east by 'Elder Brother.' No one is sure who Elder Brother was, but I suspect the Pima made each other paranoid by saying, 'Elder Brother is watching you.'
There is also a small museum at Pueblo Grande. More artifacts, and there is a nice children's exhibit.
Then back to the motel. Dinner was at a local Thai restaurant, the Siamese Cat. Very good.
October 19, 1992: Breakfast at a local restaurant called JB's. Good muffins.
The first part of today was uneventful. We took Route I-17 north. Gradually we began to see less desert and more trees. We left the main highway to visit Prescott, home of the Smokis. Smokis are a society of whites like the freemasons, but they have adopted Indian ceremonials. They have a museum of Indian artifacts which was supposed to be open but wasn't. Instead we went into the center of town and walked around.
Evelyn saw a Bead Museum. It was actually a come-on to an ornament store, but it had a large room that was exhibits of beadwork and ornaments from all over the world. I am not an enthusiast of beads and ornament, but whatever floats Evelyn's boat.
As we moved further north, there began to be more pine trees. We passed through Flagstaff and continued on to the Grand Canyon. We parked at the Visitors Center and walked to the rim.
Now a lot has been said about the effect of seeing the Canyon for the first time--how it dwarfs a person's ego. The movie GRAND CANYON talked about that. So do some of the guidebooks.
So I got to the edge and looked down and ... nothing. What I see is a very big geological formation. It is interesting that it is so big. It is an interesting fact that at the base the rock is older than life is on this planet. Does it shake my image of myself that it is so big or covers so much time? No. I think it is like the age-30 crisis. Sometime around when you hit age 30, I have heard, everybody suddenly hits a crisis when they realize that life is finite and that they are going to die eventually. They realize a big fraction of that life is already over.
Perhaps I have a different psychology than other people, but even when I was ten I knew that I was through with at least an eighth and possibly a sixth of my life.
As a mathematician and perhaps as a science fiction fan, I am used to thinking of very large numbers, if great expanses of time and space. The Grand Canyon does not give me any new perspectives. It is a big piece of geology and geography and that is all I see in it.
As a mathematician I have discovered a piece of new mathematics. I discovered facts that were true before the Big Bang, long before the Canyon was formed. They are facts that are true as far as the universe goes, not just across the Canyon. And I was there, the first of my species. I was the first to know these things. No, I am not lacking in sense of wonder when I see the Canyon, but there is more wonder in mathematics.
This is not to say the Canyon isn't impressive. Even a squirrel who was passing by stopped and for about three minutes just looked out over the Canyon. Even a squirrel is impressed.
How do I describe the Canyon to someone who hasn't seen it? You have a huge crevasse seventeen to twenty miles wide and a mile deep. It is full of mesas with flat tops level with the rim walls. Then there are other columns that started the same but were worn down to points. When you can see a mile down, there is the bright green Colorado River.
One thing really mars the natural beauty. I think consciousness has been raised to the level that nobody drops candy wrappers or film boxes. The trail is pretty clean except .... Smokers just seem not to believe that cigarette butts are litter. There are butts on rocks and on paths. There are signs, but to no good. On one lookout point there was a crevice going down a foot or two. At the base was a solid square foot covered with cigarette butts.
We followed a trail three-quarters of a mile to Yavapai Museum and lookout point. The Canyon is so vast that the view is very little changed after a three-quarter-mile walk. The museum tells you a little local Indian lore. One of the creation legends (I assume it is Hopi) is that there were two gods: Tochopu (who was good) and Hokoma (who was evil). Now Tochopu had a daughter PuKeh -eh. Tochopu wanted his daughter to be the mother of all humanity. Hokoma tried to prevent it by creating a flood to destroy the world. But Tochopu knew from Ronald Reagan that a rising tide lifts all boats, and put his daughter in a floating tree bark. Thus Pu-Keh-eh was saved but was alone in the world. There was, however, the Sun and she conceived with it and had a baby boy. That worked so she conceived with a waterfall and had a girl. From them all the people are descended.
We drove to Hopi Point for sunset. It is hard to tell if sunset should have been spectacular, but it really wasn't. Well before sunset the entire canyon was in shade. Given that, it was no more spectacular than sunset is anywhere else. Of course, there was a raincloud directly above that might have caused some of the shading. Off to our right it was actually raining. As the sun cleared the overhead cloud, the sky turned yellow and the raincloud and rain to our right turned bright yellow. The effect was quite beautiful, but the presence of the Canyon was irrelevant.
It was a long drive back to Flagstaff, about ninety minutes in the dark. We grabbed the first motel we could, then dinner at El Chilito, a Mexican restaurant. The food was just okay, but the bottled green chile sauce was powerful.
Across the street was a grocery store converted into a huge used bookstore. This we had to see! Evelyn and I had agreed we would not go to used bookstores and buy books irrelevant to the trip. One of us kept his word and one of us broke hers. It would be indiscreet to say who each was.
Back at the room we watched the CNN replay of the final Presidential debate.
October 20, 1992:
We were up early and packed up. We wanted to stay in Flagstaff for a few more nights, but not at the Starlite Motel.
We had a light day planned. After breakfast we headed for Tuzigoot via 89A and Oak Creek Canyon.
It starts out as piney forests and suddenly My God! you're into breathtaking landscape. It is absolutely beautiful. Some locals have called this 'the Grand Canyon with a road.' Huge cliffs by the side of the road, red and yellow from the oaks, red rocks, dramatic formations, grand scale. Driving is slow because we keep stopping to take pictures. There have been some Westerns shot in this area and the town it leads to, Sedona. But movies cannot do it justice. I can think of other parts of the world that have a beautiful look, but the American Southwest has the greatest average beauty over the greatest area of any place I have visited.
I was telling Evelyn I'd love to live in this area, just as she was pulling into the driveway of a real estate agent. 'Hold it. Aren't we being a little hasty?' I said. Actually, she was just pulling in so we could get a picture of a nice rock formation behind the office. As we drove, we were listening to Jerome Moross's score for the film THE BIG COUNTRY. That was actually set in Texas but had a lot of big canyons like this ride did and it fit just perfectly. Sedona itself knows that it is in some of the most beautiful country in the world and makes the most of it by being very touristy. It is somewhere between what they do in Tombstone and what they do in Monterey.
There were five prehistoric peoples in the Southwest. Nobody knows what they called themselves, but we called them Hohokam, Anasazi, Sinagua, Mogollon, and Salado. In the Grand Canyon area the predominant tribe was the Anasazi. Around Flagstaff the tribe was the Sinagua. Unlike the Hohokam, who did amazing engineering of irrigation canals, the Sinagua farmed, as the name indicates, with almost no water. In 1065 the Verde Valley near what is now Sedona was populated with Hohokam. That year the Sunset Crater in the north near the Grand Canyon erupted. The ash fertilized the surrounding area and made it particularly good for crops. Many of the Hohokam moved to the area and Sinagua moved into the Verde Valley and about 1150 the Sinagua started building the pueblos in the valley. The Sinagua stayed in the valley until the early 1400s and then left--nobody knows why.
Tuzigoot is an entire village centered on a pueblo two stories high built on a hill a hundred and twenty feet high above the Verde Valley. While the ceilings are now gone, entry to rooms was via the ceiling and ladders. There were seventy-seven ground floor rooms in the pueblo. Found at the site were axes, bowls, grinding stones, baskets, and jewelry.
The Sinagua believed there are six directions, each ruled over by an animal. Up is the eagle, down is the mole, north is the mountain lion, south is the badger, east is the wolf, and west is the bear. Travel in some directions would require supplication to the right animal. Eagle rarely got anything out of this. Life at Tuzigoot was hard for the Sinagua. 42% of the bodies found buried at the site were under nine years of age, 24% were nine to twenty, 29% were adults under forty-five, and less than 4% were older than forty-five.
We stopped at a grocery for some odds and ends, then continued to our second site, Montezuma Castle. The name came from a wrong initial guess that the Aztecs had build it.
The Castle is five stories and twenty rooms built right into a cliff face. Nobody is quite sure why they built into the cliff. Perhaps it was more defensible; perhaps it just gave a good view. The creek that ran by it was an added inducement.
While we were walking I saw some movement on the ground and zeroed in with my binoculars. Evelyn saw me and zeroed in also. There was a head coming out of the ground the size of a squirrel's, but a golden brown and with teeth like a beaver's. I was pretty sure the size, color, and habits were wrong for a beaver. Evelyn thought it was a baby. I described it for a ranger. It was a gopher.
Montezuma Well is really a limestone sinkhole filled with water. The locale is fairly pretty. You can climb into the hole (not the water) and see the caves. Around it on the far side you can climb down to see the outlet.
From there we drove back and got a room at the Rodeway Inn. Then we set out to find a decent place for supper. We passed the Chamber of Commerce and decided to hold off on dinner while we found out about activities in the area.
Finally we passed a restaurant with a crowded parking lot called Granny's Closet. The menu was limited but it was good and not too expensive. Then we went back to the room.
October 21, 1992:
(I am almost caught up. At least I am writing about today. I wonder if other people have the same problem keeping logs. When James Kirk kept the log of the Enterprise, did he have problems keeping up to date? 'Well, since the last time I wrote, the transporter split me into `good Kirk' and `evil Kirk.' I was totally exhausted once I got back and opted to go right to sleep without making a log entry. Then bingo-bango, the Enterprise gets invaded by an enemy force sucking the life out of the crew. So who's got time to write log entries? Next thing I know it's a week later and I'm trying to remember the first adventure and I'm drawing a blank. Maybe I'll remember more on the way to Rufus VII. Who am I kidding? I just am a little dragged out and over-stressed. I won't remember details.')
So we were unsure what day we should return to the Grand Canyon. We wanted to be sure we had a clear day. It turned out this was to be a good day so this was the day we'd spend at Canyon. We had buffet breakfast at JB's and then headed back for the Canyon. We took a different route from the one we took last time. We took the route through the Navajo Reservation. The Little Colorado winds through the Reservation much as the Big Colorado winds through the Grand Canyon. The Little Colorado makes its own impressive gorge. There are several scenic turnoffs. 'Scenic' doesn't seem to convey the idea. It is much the same geology you'd see at the Grand Canyon.
Around the sites the Navajo set up tables to sell jewelry. It certainly seems only fair, being that it is their land. What is a bit embarrassing is signs like 'We take travelers cheques' or 'friendly Indian.' One dealer dubs himself Chief Yellowhorse. I still haven't figured one that said, 'Big Wind Sale--60-70%.'
We got to the Canyon eventually and took the scenic drive. It starts with a souvenir shop with a tower to climb to get a bird's- eye view of the Canyon. You have to pay twenty-five cents to climb the tower. Now I discovered a secret on how to get a bird's-eye view of the Canyon: you walk up to the edge of the rim and look down. The thirty or so feet the tower adds is nothing you cannot get at one of the lookouts without having to look through glass.
There are a lot of German and French tourists at the Canyon. On one of the Indian stores there was the sign 'Deutsch Wilkommen.'
But no matter how many people show up, there is still more than enough canyon to go around. Just standing looking you see a huge expanse of stratified rocks and the strata go from one butte to the next. Those that are tall enough that they are flat-topped mesas rather than the shorter buttes are green on top, but on the columns sticking up everything below the rim is in layers of red rock.
As we were looking at the view, someone claimed to see an eagle flying over the Canyon. I was skeptical that it was an eagle. I didn't think it was large enough. I thought it was something like a hawk that was smaller, though I admit it is tough to judge size at the Grand Canyon. Coronado looked into the Canyon and saw a river at the bottom which he judged to be six feet wide. The Indians with him told him it was three hundred feet wide. He sent down soldiers to have a closer look, but days later they gave up, getting only a third of the way down the Canyon. As for the bird, well, it did have a white head. Maybe it was an eagle.
Next stop was at one of the ranger museums for a half-hour talk about the Anasazi.
The ranger was very adamant against saying that the prehistoric tribes 'disappeared.' I'm not so sure that isn't the proper term. There were five tribes I mentioned previously. All of them seemed to abandon their homes early in the 1400s for reasons not currently known or understood. Probably the reason either was or was connected with a series of droughts--one twenty-three years according to tree rings--that ravaged the Southwest about that time. The next record we have says that there were tribes in the area like the Zuni, Navajo, and Hopi. Very probably the before-tribes were the same tribes, but there is insufficient evidence at which prehistoric tribes became which historic tribes. I might defend the use of the term 'disappeared,' though. Ten tribes of Israel are said to have disappeared. All that means is we are not sure where they went or what peoples they became. To say they disappeared merely means that the observer cannot trace them. (And isn't that what we mean by saying Jimmy Hoffa disappeared?) The five tribes of prehistoric Indians did not wink out of existence, but we cannot trace what happened to them. The Anasazi, as an archaeologically traceable people, did disappear. It is very highly probable they became some known tribe when they reappeared. The five names-- Anasazi, Hohokam, Sinagua, Salado, and Mogollon--are really not even names but descriptions that later people used. 'Anasazi' means 'the old enemy.' 'Hohokam' means 'those who vanished.' 'Sinagua' means 'those who did not have water.' For all we know, the Sinagua might have called themselves 'Zuni.'
The Anasazi were matrilineal. They would have a clan house and the woman would be born there, live there, and die there. When the men would marry, they would go to live at their wife's clan house. The husbands at a clan house would be from all different families; the women would all be from the one or two families that owned the clan house. Men took care of the kiva (the chapel--sort of), hunting, and the other man stuff. The women took care of food preparation, clothing-making, and playing bridge.
We also got an explanation of what kachinas are. Literally, a kachina is an intermediary between humans and gods, almost like an angel. People dress up as kachinas for ceremonies, which is why you see pictures of brightly costumed kachina dancers. Children are taught about kachinas using kachina dolls. That is why we have the three different forms.
At these ruins (called the Tusayan Ruins) the clan houses are large U's with the open end to the east. The kiva was at the northeast corner and a second one was at the southeast corner. The kiva was the men's preserve. If a woman wanted to punish her husband, he would have to sleep in the kiva or perhaps return to his 'true home,' the clan house of his mother and sisters.
The Anasazi buried their dead with water and provisions for a long journey. They had short life spans--averaging thirty-five years.
On the way back to Flagstaff, we stopped at Wupatki. What is Wupatki? Well, in the fall the ground to the north started smoking. No fire, just smoke. And the ground was warm. It wasn't too long before the ground cracked open. It was a major volcano. It created a cone of cinders a thousand feet high. (Eventually this would be known as Sunset Crater, incidentally.) A wind blew ashes eighteen miles to the north to cover the ground in a place now called Wupatki. It blew the ash in other directions, of course. Eight hundred square miles were covered, but Wupatki also had the right sort of topography for building pueblos. The ash fertilized the soil and made it perfect for growing corn and other crops. This area now has over eight hundred pueblo ruins. The public visits maybe seven or so. What remains is of varying degrees of completeness. The tops of most of the pueblos are gone but you do get to walk right into the pueblos and get a feel for the size of the rooms and the size of the inhabitants. Many of the pueblos offer commanding views of the surrounding area, either for aesthetics or for protection. We got about halfway through when the sundown caught us. We returned to Flagstaff, catching a quick meal at Taco Bell.
October 22, 1992:
We had breakfast at JB's again. Their $2.99 buffet is hard to beat. These days we are eating for about $11 each per day.
Betatakin was our first goal for the day. It is about two hours northeast of Flagstaff. We tried listening to the radio. It is just our luck to be in Arizona when every darn public radio station is in fund-drive mode. We listen to the news for ten minutes, then it goes into begging mode and we have to change the station.
Evelyn had heard about a Navajo radio station. Very strange ads. They were advertising somebody's quarterhorse sale. 'All mares more than two years old, $300 off. All mares with a colt on the side and one in the tummy, $200 off.' The music was about 80% country-western and 20% Indian. Indian music is just what you think it is. Most of us have heard Indian ceremonial music. It just sounds strange in a mix with country-western music.
Betatakin is pretty inaccessible even from the Visitors Center. You can go on a hiking day trip to get closer. What most people-- including us--do is walk downhill a half a mile to a stone cliff opposite Betatakin where you can just get a distant glimpse. There is a big telescope there (I estimate something like 20-power), just so you can see the actual site. What is the Betatakin site? It is an entire village in an alcove in the side of a cliff overlooking a canyon. These are people who did not want surprise guests. The alcove is 452 feet high, 370 feet wide, and 135 feet deep. In this alcove is a whole prehistoric village big enough for a population of 135 people. The village seems better preserved than most prehistoric villages. (Gee, I wonder why.) This village was inhabited by the Anasazi.
On the trail down they as usual identify the plants and what they were used for. This one had a sap that could be used as chewing gum. That one had pads that were used as diaper pads. One they said was good to counteract the effects of swallowing ants.
Now, my question is why would people swallow ants and how the heck did anyone figure out that this plant is good for swallowed ants?
We asked the ranger at the Visitors Center why anyone would eat ants and how they would figure out what plants would be a cure. He didn't know either.
Also on the path was a reconstructed hogan and a sweathouse. A sweathouse is like a sauna without use of water. Only hot rocks were used.
After that we were headed for Monument Valley. As Evelyn drove, I read from THE BOOK OF THE NAVAJO by Raymond Friday Locke. I read the myth of creation and paraphrased it for Evelyn. Occasionally as I looked up I saw some impressive rock formations. But then we were coming to Monument Valley.
Now I have to describe Monument Valley to you. You probably have seen it in a hundred Westerns; the question is which ones. This is some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Above the prairie are shelves of red rock. And every once in a while you see spectacular upliftings--I'd guess three hundred feet and that could be low--of layered rock eroded into amazing weird shapes. One book calls them 'majestic sandstone skyscrapers.' Every Western you have seen where the stagecoach or buckboard is riding to town and just sort of oblivious to going by a huge tower of stone sticking out of the ground was filmed in Monument Valley.
In 1923 Mike and Harry Goulding set up a trading post just outside the valley. Their agenda of making money by trading in Navajo goods soon became a secondary agenda to that of trying to make the Navajo prosperous also and trying to make their culture work in the 20th Century. Harry decided that if the movie industry could come out and throw some money around, the Indians might profit. At this point, most Westerns were shot at places near Hollywood. The topography lacked drama. Harry thought that Western movies needed Monument Valley. Harry got some pictures of Monument Valley and headed to Hollywood to see premier Western-maker John Ford.
'No, Mr. Ford isn't in. No, I don't know when he'll be in.' 'No problem,' says Harry, leaving. 'I'm back,' says Harry a few minutes later. 'Just wanted to be here when Mr. Ford returns,' says Harry, unrolling his bedroll. Mr. Ford is irritated. Mr. Ford agrees to look at the photos. Mr. Ford goes to Monument Valley to scout locations. Mr. Ford shoots STAGECOACH in Monument Valley. Now I myself don't know why that film was so popular. It isn't a very good story. It introduced John Wayne, but he wasn't that good. Maybe it was Monument Valley that nobody had seen before. Anyway, the valley is a real jaw-dropper. You can get a guided tour for $15 a person, but there is very low pressure. In fact, one of the Navajos who wanted to take us for a tour later saw us driving the road and waved to us. Later he saw our car and invited us to try what he called 'Navajo beer.' Actually it was an outlet of spring water.
That brings me to an observation. When I first started traveling a lot, I put the Netherlands low on my list of where I'd like to go. Then flying home from Africa I had a few hours' layover in Amsterdam airport. I dealt with very few Dutch there, but they all seemed to have bright dispositions and joked a lot. They seemed uniformly friendly and likable. All of a sudden I wanted more dealings with the Dutch. I have dealt with few Navajos, but they have seemed instantly friendly and out-going. They have good sense of humor. I would like to get to know more Navajos. Ironically, I probably have (or had) a better chance for contact with the Dutch. (When I actually went to the Netherlands, I found my first impressions were pretty close to being on the money.)
The roads that have to be driven around Monument Valley are pretty bad. They are dry and dusty, often with very high grades. But the landscape is genuinely breath-taking. Riding around takes at least a couple of well-spent hours.
Outside the park I bought myself a bolo tie. I had earlier set myself a goal of finding one I liked. I had saved $30 on the guided tour so I was feeling expansive. Also I wanted to buy from a Navajo. I found a tie I liked at the first of a row of stores. After looking at several stores I went back to the piece I liked. It turns out Evelyn had liked other pieces of the same style. Evelyn has good taste. That's why I married her. I think that is why she married me.
We stopped at a Navajo cafe. Evelyn saw it recommended in one of the books. It was nearly empty but the customers there were Navajo, so that was a good sign. I ordered something called a 'Navajo taco,' one of the house specialities. It turned out to be a big piece of Navajo fried bread (an oval about seven inches by eight inches) covered with chile beans and beef, then topped with lettuce, tomato, and grated cheese. $4.95. I later realized that on their menu 'Navajo' was a euphemism for 'large enough to kill a paleface.' It was good though.
On the way back I wrote in my log. We stopped to take a look at the sky. I think for the first time ever I could actually see the Milky Way.
We did a wash and watched 'Alfred Hitchcock' before bed.
October 23, 1992:
We checked out of the room. We were there for three nights, but I did not particularly like the way the motel was run. (This is the Rodeway Inn in Flagstaff.) The first day we got there I had tried to cool the room and the air conditioner was not working. I reported it to the desk and they told me that the air conditioning is turned off because this is the cold time of year. I told the manager it was 78 degrees in the room and it was uncomfortable. He told me if they turned on the air conditioning they'd have to turn off the heat and it would get too cold at night. We weren't going to spend that much time in the room so I let it go, but in the evening the room was still a little warmer than it should be.
That night was the night we were at the Chamber of Commerce and I saw both a brochure for the Rodeway Inn and another that summarized motels in the area and both claimed the Rodeway Inn Flagstaff had heating and air conditioning.
That night I checked the smoke alarm and found it dead. The next morning I told the manager the battery seemed to be dead. 'Oh, that is all right. It is on the electrical system.' 'You have the smoke alarm on your electrical system?!' 'I'll check it.'
Again I didn't push it, but it was an out-and-out lie. At least I hope so. The electrical system often goes out if you have a fire. That's why you have batteries in smoke alarms, so they are independent of the electrical system. Clearly standards were slipping below legal levels and the manager was willing to let things continue that way. We'd been in precisely two motels where things had been run in what I think was a slip-shod manner. Those were precisely the two motels run by Asian Indians. Later in nearby Winslow, Arizona, I noticed for the first time that a lot of motels say on their signs 'American-owned.' They looked a little seedy also. But I am guessing that Asian-Indian-owned motels are getting a bad reputation.
Our first stop was Lowell Observatory up on Mars Hill. Percival Lowell is of course the Ross Perot of astronomers. He was from a wealthy family--the Lowells of Massachusetts as in Lowell, Massachusetts--and was given a very rare gift at age seven: a telescope. This started a life-long interest in astronomy. He got a doctorate from Harvard, not in astronomy but in mathematics. (If you're good at something, you get a degree in it. If you're just plain good, you get a degree in math. Scientists need the physical world to spur them; mathematicians can work in the abstract. Of course, I'm a mathematician.) He sent scouts to find a good place in Arizona. They picked a hill outside Flagstaff. He had a particular interest in Mars, never really discovering a whole lot of interest himself. He got hung up on the idea that Mars had canals. He charted Mars including the canals; he wrote books on the canals. Lowell did more than any other scientist to popularize the idea that Mars might be inhabited. Probably Lowell's greatest contribution was to provide facilities to others.
We were at the observatory about a half hour before it opened so we walked around the grounds. Clearly for their day these facilities represented a nice place to work. The tour started in a domed building that might almost have been an observatory. A student explained who Lowell was and a little about what was being done currently in astronomy research. There was one self-appointed jerk who complained about how much the Hubble telescope cost and how they couldn't get it right and how much more it would cost to get it fixed.
They had a device called a blink comparator that allowed you to superimpose two star photos, going back and forth to see differences. It had the two photos that established the existence of the ninth planet. That discovery was also made at Lowell Observatory.
From there the tour went to the actual observatory. The 24- inch refracting telescope seemed pretty crude, very much like a home-brew. Lens covers were made from pans from Mrs. Lowell's kitchen, for example. It was set on weights and counter-weights so the telescope could be moved by hand.
The woman leading the tour tried to keep her discussion at a low and entertaining level, almost a ditzy level.
After the observatory, we went back to Sunset Crater and Wupatki. Earlier I described how this volcano created the good farm land of Wupatki. You are no longer allowed to climb the volcano itself, but you can walk around its lava flows and there is a selfguided tour you can take. Most of what you see are strange formations of lava and the plants trying to take hold again near the volcano. Of course, a half an hour's drive away the plants took hold very well. That was what attracted Anasazi to the area. We spent an hour or so on the lava fields near Sunset Crater and then saw the part of the Wupatki ruins that we'd missed two days before.
The previous cliff dwellings we had to see at a fair distance. Not so at Walnut Creek Canyon. You can actually walk into the cliff dwellings--such as they are. They are mostly just rock outcroppings with a few rock walls added. You climb down about the height of a seventeen-story building and are on a narrow ledge with cliff dwellings on your left and nothing but a nice view on your right. (Well, that's exaggerating, but at times you were very near the cliff.) I explained to Evelyn that legend said that the milk cows were kept off at one end of the ledge and that was where the Sinagua of 850 years ago would go for their milk. 'Really?' she asked. 'Oh, yes. It was ledge-end-dairy.' The Sinagua must have had little fear of heights to live this close to the cliff.
When we were done, I looked up at seventeen stories of stairs. 'Hmm,' I said. 'What are my options?' 'March or die.' I marched.
We spent the night in Winslow, Arizona, which is very nearly as ugly as Arizona gets. It was a small town that got built up because of a railroad stop. In the days before dining cars, the train would stop and the passengers would rush out to try to order dinner. Usually the restaurants would be very slow about delivering food. The conductor would call 'All aboard!' and the passengers would pay for meals that were never delivered to them. In fact, they were meals that were never even prepared. The restaurants knew ahead of time that the train would leave too soon. That was what they were paying the conductor for, after all. Very early on, the town had a reputation for overly enjoying the advantages of having tourists. Even today, as we drive through town, the place looks a bit seedy. Motels that do not look well put-together have big signs saying 'American-owned.' We stayed at a Super 8 Motel which wasn't too bad. We ate at a Mexican place recommended in one of the tour books. It was just okay. A fifth-grade teacher in the booth behind me was telling a friend how fifth-graders had broken into the library at night trying to steal the book fair money. Oh well.
We stopped at the grocery for provisions. I only mention it because of a piece of conversation I caught in the checkout line. '... he said she needed to lie down and take a nap. She was having a stressful day. Isn't that ridiculous? Dogs don't have stressful days!'
Back in the room I saw the very tail end of a Perot talk. Then there was a half-hour political ad for what sounded like a real crack-pot party, the Natural Law Party. One of their plans was to teach all criminals in prison transcendental meditation so they could overcome their anti-social tendencies. This the candidate claimed was a proven solution.
After that, there was a good two-hour documentary on the Cuban Missile Crisis. I wrote about that in my last trip log. What I said there was based on an article I read somewhere about how the crisis was resolved. I'd given my reasons for blaming Kennedy for the crisis. This program had a lot more information and could easily have contradicted what I'd said. Actually, while it did not explicitly come out and say that Kennedy's adventurism was at fault, that was certainly a conclusion one could draw.
October 24, 1992:
We had breakfast in town, then headed out for one of the local attractions. Let me tell you about it.
This is another of those big disasters in history. Something like 47,000 B.C., there was one of Earth's greatest natural spectacles in Arizona. Over a flat plain there was suddenly a very bright light in the sky. It silently got brighter and brighter until it more than outshone many times the sun. Suddenly the plain exploded with a force greater than any man-made nuclear explosion. The sky, which earlier had been incredibly bright, went black and hot rocks fell from the sky. Trees were flattened for miles around, their tops pointing away from the explosion. No plant or animal survived for many miles around. A chunk of nickel-iron eighty feet in diameter had been captured by Earth's gravity and slammed into the Arizona desert. It left a hole more than 570 feet deep and better than three-quarters of a mile across and two and a half miles around.
Of course, a big hole in the ground is dramatic to look at for several minutes. But then what? Well, a small but rather nice museum was built around the Barringer crater--as it came to be called after Daniel Moreau Barringer, who acquired the land and first demonstrated that it was a meteor crater. Most science museums, I find, are aimed at about a fifth-grade level. The science museum in Phoenix is all pretty much aimed at pre-juniorhigh kids, though older people can still enjoy it. They don't use big words; they don't try to teach enough so the visitor might get bewildered. Not so at the Meteor Crater Museum. They use big words--some I'd never heard before. They have an interesting computer program to allow you to pick one of a fairly large number of video programs. You can say you are interested in knowing about objects in space, then choose the solar system, then Neptune. You then get a program of about five minutes telling you about Neptune, including new information from Voyager. They show you footage about the big black spot and tell you about the storm and a second one they found. There are also two video lectures and one audio lecture. Then of course you can go out and actually look at the crater. You can walk around the crater, but I am not sure what that would get you. You won't see a whole lot more.
I thought everything was done professionally until it came time to leave and we went to the gift shop.
One of the employees, A, walked up to another, B, and said, 'I hear you're upset I'm not working the museum today. Maybe you'd like me to complain every time you don't clean the whole floor.'
B a minute later said to another employee, 'I'm going to report that.'
We bought a long strip of postcards showing the meteor impact that I will be putting in the album fanfold. We took this to the cashier and it turned out to be B who starting folding the postcards. Evelyn stopped him and had me do the folding. I started folding from the other end, the end that would be attached in the album. When I got to his folds they were folded just the right way, and I said so. 'I've only been doing this three years,' B told Evelyn in a snooty way. These are not very professional people.
Okay, I waxed enthusiastic about Monument Valley, so just so you don't think Old Mark is a pushover, let me tell you one of the major attractions that didn't do too much for me. I am speaking of the Petrified Forest. Over this huge park are tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of trees that have turned to stone. The actual process is that they were washed into a lake where they were covered with mud and minerals. Silica leached into the wood preserving the structure. Then the water evaporated, leaving the dry lake bed. The lake bed eroded, leaving only the trees--now more stone than wood.
Now why was I unimpressed? Well, to see one petrified tree is of some interest, I must admit. Two petrified trees are even more interesting. Get up to five trees and you are about up to the limit. Seeing acres and acres of the stuff is just overkill. And this is hundreds of acres. On top if that, you are made to feel unwelcome. A great deal of petrified wood has been stolen. Every time you turn around, you see more warnings that the stuff must not be picked up. I agree with the sentiment, of course, but if you are not a thief, all the warnings are a pain. It is sort of like you have already subscribed to an NPR station but still have to listen to the pledge breaks.
They even have a case they call 'the Museum of Conscience' with letters from people who have sent them back petrified wood fragments or pottery or anything else from the park. Some have the most atrocious spelling saying that they stole petrified wood and have had bad luck ever since. They are obviously trying to create a superstition that stealing petrified wood is bad luck. I told Evelyn I was going to take a film canister and fill it with apple juice and send it to them with a note that I've had bad luck ever since I drank from their water fountain.
On the grounds we saw a pueblo made with pieces of petrified wood. It is thought to be 'a `motel' for traveling farmers.' There are stops in the forest with walks among the trees. On the walk to the pueblo we saw in the distance storm clouds and rain. The rain may have been more interesting than all the petrified wood, incidentally. You see a gray cloud and what looks like gray curtains from the cloud to the ground, but the curtains go down at different angles in different places depending on what the wind is doing.
On one of the stops we take a scenic walk and it just seems to go on and on! It must have been more than a mile and of course it starts raining on us while we are walking.
Most of the rest of the drive we see from the car. Occasionally we stop for a picture. The Painted Desert looks pretty drab due to the gray skies.
Next we visited the Hubbell Trading Post Historic Site. Most of the old trading posts have a bad reputation. John Lorenzo Hubbell ran the most successful of the old trading posts and was considered by both Anglos and Navajos as being scrupulously honest. He built overnight hospitality hogans complete with baking powder, salt, canned peaches, and canned tomatoes. He gave the Navajos good advice on how to make their jewelry salable, even to bringing in a silversmith from Mexico to teach the Navajo how to improve their quality. He did similar things with their blanket weaving. Visiting the trading post was often a several-day social event. It was how Navajos found out what was happening with friends whom they could not visit.
It was raining when we got to the trading post. So we knew what we were looking at, I suggested we go first to the Visitors Center. Mistake! A bolt of lightning took out the lights. We ended up exploring the trading post by the flashlight in my pocket.
We made a quick stop in Window Rock to see where the Navajo Nation has its government buildings in the shadow of the Window Rock. That's a cliff with a huge almost-circular hole. It is a majestic sight.
That completed our time in Arizona and we drove to Gallup, New Mexico. We had barbecue for dinner, then drove away from lights just to watch the spectacular lightning for a half-hour or so. Back at the room we wrote and read.
October 25, 1992:
Breakfast was a Ranch Kitchen where I had pancakes and a glass of buttermilk. People think about buttermilk the way they thought about yogurt twenty-five years ago. It is a weird and vaguely disgusting dairy product. Actually I have become a devotee of the stuff. It fulfills a cheese craving. Add some pineapple juice and it makes a nice lassi. Add some Hershey's syrup instead and it tastes like chocolate cheesecake. I think it has real potential as a diet food, but you almost never see it on a menu.
The first destination was Zuni, the government center for the Zuni tribe. It looks very much like a lot of New Mexico towns. Occasionally you do see outdoor domed ovens, but this isn't really a tourist spot.
The Zunis make it illegal to photograph, audio record, or even make sketches in their capital. This is to protect the privacy of their religion. I told Evelyn they could sell cassettes of their non-religious music and call them 'Zuni Tunes.' (Of course, jokes like that may be the reason they don't like Anglos.)
Historic grafitti is the attraction of El Morro National Monument. It was a water hole that travelers, first Indian and later Spanish, stopped at. Eroded sandstone made the area visually attractive, but today as you walk along the cliff base you see Indian petroglyphs as well as some detailed inscriptions in English and Spanish. One Don Francisco Manuel de Silva Neito wrote an homage to himself ('whose indubitable arm and valor have overcome the impossible...').
As I told Evelyn, the impossible is easy to overcome. It is the things that are real and exist that are tough to get around. What makes the cliff enjoyable is the irony. The inscriptions tended to be pompous and one way or another they got stone come- uppance. One general calls attention to his great victories and talks about what this gentleman did. Apparently one of his men scratched out the word 'gentleman.' Another general has an inscription on how he passed by and under it one of his corporals scratched in, 'accompanied by Corporal ....' Another titled himself the conqueror of the Maqui. History records that he said that before he intended to conquer them. His mission was a total failure. Moral: Don't believe it even if it is cast in stone.
Malpais (Badlands). It's not a very nice name and it was not a very nice place, according to the Spanish who named it. Of course, they were the ones who had to march over the cracks and fissures of this lava bed.
Lava when it cools can have one of three textures. It can have aa (pronounced 'ah-ah'). That is what you'd get if you wadded up fresh oatmeal cookies, then let them get stale to the point of turning to stone. You don't want to walk on aa barefoot. Pahoehoe ('pa-HOY-hoy') is in hollow noodles. It flowed in streams with the outside hardening and the inside continuing to flow. Notice when you burn a candle at the top you almost get a tube because the outside shell is cooler than the inside near the flame.
The third formation is cinders ('SIN-ders'). Then it is in small pieces.
As we drove through El Malpais National Monument, we stopped at a lookout that showed the lava flows, then La Ventana, a huge rock bridge in the majestic (do I use that word a lot?) limestone cliffs. It created a great echo chamber and one large crow just loved that. He kept giving loud three-caw caws. When we showed up he flew over us to investigate, then back to his rocky soundstage. We could hear his massive wings cutting the air. Some of the sandstone cliffs are reminiscent of Chiricahua National Monument's formations.
As we drove, we ate pinon nuts, said to be a favorite of the Indians. They are actually pine tree seeds. I have had them before under the name pine nuts. They have a sweet flavor. They are tough to shell, but Evelyn with her sunflower-seed experience is pretty good at it.
After driving through the park we returned to about the midpoint and the Acoma-Zuni Trail. This is a trail that takes you through prairie and then across lava beds.
I will be honest: I don't much enjoy hiking, but I had a lot of fun lava hiking. It becomes like a series of puzzles. They have sticks stuck in rock piles to mark the path and in theory you can see from one trail marker to the next. In theory. But sometimes it's tough to see the next marker. It blends in. And once you find the next trail marker you have to figure the best path to it. There may be a long but easy way to do it, and a short but complex way to go involving figuring the right rocks to step on.
You are stepping all around crevices that are maybe six feet deep, but they are usually easy to avoid. You occasionally risk rocks falling on your foot, but they are light air-filled rocks. Lava is quite light. Even when we turned back, the way was not obvious. Being able to see B's trail marker from point A does not mean you can see A's trail marker from point B. It may be shorter, for example, and hidden by a bush. Seeing the same topography from A or from B may lead you to different conclusions as to which path between them is best. In short, lava hiking offers a lot higher puzzle-reasoning-to-physical-ability ratio than most hiking.
Back in Grants we got a room and got dinner at a 'family' restaurant. I had chicken pot pie; Evelyn had chicken teriyaki.
Back at the motel I did some reading about Acoma, our goal for tomorrow. Acoma was already a village by 600 A.D. That makes it the oldest (or possibly second oldest) continuously occupied village in the United States. It is on top of a mesa 357 feet above the surrounding plain.
In 1598 the Spanish arrived in Acoma and the inhabitants made friends and nominally submitted to the authority of the Spanish throne. Something went wrong with the friendly relationship and for motives never recorded the Acoma massacred a nobleman and twelve soldiers. The Spanish wanted to express their displeasure so they stormed the well-protected pueblo (it took three days) and captured it.
To show their displeasure they murdered seventy warriors. Then sixty young girls were taken from their families and sold as slaves in Mexico. All the rest of the village over twelve years of age were sentenced to twenty years' slavery. Each man over twenty-five years old additionally had a foot cut off. And the Spanish built a mission in Acoma to help the Acomas become gentle Christians as the Spanish were.
October 26, 1992:
This is a very high and dry part of the country. I washed my hair last night and towel-dried it. In about five minutes it was totally dry. We are up about 6500 feet.
Breakfast was French toast and then we were off for the Acoma Sky City.
The 'Sky City' is a pueblo on top of a mesa. This place seems to have more rules than Singapore. For taking still pictures the fee is $5. Sketching and painting licenses are $40. Entrance fees are $6 per person. Then there are a bunch of donation jars for things like the school's senior class party. We got there at 8:40 AM and they said there was a tour at 8:45 AM. It is at this writing 8:56 AM and a small school bus labeled 'Acoma Sky City Tours' just showed up. (It finally left twenty minutes late.) As we go up the hill there are lots of signs saying no trespassing without guides.
When you get to the top of the mesa you see a village that is probably not atypical of what you'd expect from an isolated Indian village. The houses are sandstone but a lot have fairly modern windows.
About thirty people actually live on the seventy-acre mesa as sort of a tag team to keep the place inhabited. Living on the mesa is an Acoma mitzvah. While it claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited site in the United States, the claim is made for two mesas several miles apart. When the approach to one of the mesas was washed out, the Acoma moved to the other. This makes the claim somewhat dubious. There are about 4000 in the tribe now and many have problems of getting through the doorways of their more economically-sized ancestors.
For the small-sized community there is a fairly large mission. That is because it was a fortress when the Indians controlled it. After Onate's conquest, a Brother Juan Ramirez was given actual dominion over the Acomas. A devout man, Brother Ramirez wanted to instill Catholic ideas in the Acomas. He had his mission, but he had a problem. There was no mission bell. How could he bring the heathen to the Catholic ideal without a mission bell? Finally Brother Ramirez was able to make a deal with a Mexican business. They would provide a bell for no money if they could have just four Acoma boys and four Acoma girls as slaves in return. As far as the good Brother was concerned, there were more than enough Indians and he could spare some. God had provided. So good Brother Ramirez got his bell and could continue with God's work as he saw it.
Today, of course, the Catholic Church is a bit more sanguine and allows those Indians who want to celebrate the old religion to keep it, though the guide said that the kiva was where the men had their religious ceremonies and poker games.
In the mission there is a painting of Christians burning in flames in Purgatory being rescued by angels. There is also the famous painting of St. Joseph. This painting was the center of a court case in the mid-19th Century. It was renowned for bringing good luck and prosperity to the pueblo. Now the nearby Laguna Pueblo was going through hard times and asked to borrow the painting for a month. Unfortunately, it did seem to turn the fortunes of the Lagunas and they decided unilaterally to extend the loan. Eventually the painting was returned after a good deal of armtwisting. A little while later the painting was stolen and showed up back at the Laguna village under guard. It could not be stolen back, so the case went to the courts. The court ruled that the painting had to go back. The Lagunas appealed. I suspect they knew they'd lose eventually, but they wanted to forestall the inevitable. Eventually the appeals ran out and the courts ordered the Lagunas to give up the painting. Runners were sent from Acoma. Halfway to the Laguna village, they found the painting leaning against a tree. It was said that St. Joseph started for home on his own but got tired.
The Acoma get their water from cisterns that look less than totally clean. Some boil the water; some drink it just out of the cistern because it tastes sweeter.
Where there are multi-story buildings there are still outside ladders leading to the upper stories though when I asked, the guide said they usually have indoor stairs these days also.
Some of the poorer homes are made of adobe straw-brick or have windows of mica layers.
Tour over, we were given the choice of taking the bus down or walking the stone steps. All seven of us chose the stone steps. Simple, huh? Actually, no. It looked scarier than it actually was, but .... There was an older couple with us and the woman did have problems. I probably felt less than totally secure about the descent, but said nothing or perhaps joked about it. A sense of humor has a lot of useful side benefits.
At the bottom it was a five- or ten-minute walk to the Visitors Center. There we talked with another couple on the tour. He was from Santa Fe and looked the part of a cowboy, maybe sixty years old, with a moustache and beard. His wife (companion?) looked twenty years younger and did not look all that Western. She just looked very boyish, with a short boyish haircut. He talked about how he used to come to the mesa when the only way up or down was by the stone stairway. He recommended a local NPR station on which an Indian humorist would talk and who he thought was very funny. People around here seem very likable and friendly. We talked about the $5 cost for taking still pictures and he said he thought it was a good idea. People used to walk right into the Indians' homes taking pictures without permission. In Santa Fe people would ask him, 'Are you a cowboy?' 'Yes,' he'd say, and then if he didn't stop him, they'd take his picture. I'd seen the same behavior in Israel with boorish tourists taking pictures of Bedouins and their camps. TOURISTS!
We then drove to the Indian Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque. Anyone who claims that Indians lived in great harmony with nature should see all the grafitti pictures they made on stones. One sees animal shapes--four-legged and birds--spirals, crosses, zigzags, snakes, etc., all etched into rocks.
From there we drove to Taos, got a room at the Super 8, did some gift shopping in town, and had dinner.
Taos is another very touristy town, sort of the Monterey of New Mexico. Prices are elevated and things are very touristy. Through most of the Southwest and particularly in Taos there is a peculiar reversal. In New York, French is very chic. I don't know why, but people think that the French do things right. Something French just has to have more class than something that is, say, Korean. There are ads saying, why should you like such-and-such? Because it's French. That ad does not work on me because I don't have any natural predilection for French culture. There are signs that France is losing its special place to Japan. That may be because Japan is doing well economically. But two cultures that do not do well economically these days are Mexican and Indian. Yet here in the Southwest it is thought to be very chic to be Indian or Mexican. The upscale shops sell Indian blankets and concho belts. People kill for real Indian pottery. And it's good to see that at least someplace Indians and Mexicans have a real upscale market for their wares. At least some can be making a bundle. Of course, some of that is made by Anglos just dealing in Indian goods, but the Indian culture does not appear ready to flicker out any time soon.
In the bookstores in town, just like the book stalls at the archaeological sites we are visiting, my first question is always the same. Where are the Dover books? Do you have any Dover books? Dover is a New York City publisher who deals in reprints mostly of good out-of-print books. The majority of their stock is in socalled 'trade paperbacks,' but on subjects that there is not that much trade in.
On the way to the Grand Canyon I was reading in one of the tour books excerpts from the log of W. J. Powell, who'd explored the Canyon. That gave me fairly good odds that I was going to be able to find a Dover edition of Powell's complete log fairly cheaply. Evelyn silently drew the same conclusion.
Sure enough, there among the touristy books that the souvenir stands sell--picture books of the flowers of the area and that sort of thing--was a $7.95 Dover of the log of the Powell expedition. Generally at least half of the books of real scholarly interest will be published by Dover. And of those books they will be the best bound (acid-free paper and bound in signatures) and they will generally be a bit cheaper than the others.
Go into a Taos bookstore and you will find the best books on Indian culture on the bottom shelves (they are not high-profit items) in Dover editions. With the possible exception of Penguin, Dover is the only publisher I know that has a fandom.
After shopping we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant and returned to the room.
Actually the Super 8 in Taos is one of the nicest motels we've stayed at. The furniture is all in Mexican and Indian style. When's the last time you stayed in a hotel room where the furniture was signed by the maker? The room is very nice-looking and everything works as expected.
October 27, 1992:
Well, there was a message on the radio telling you to warn your children about cutting between parked cars when they go out trick-or-treating. There are lots of warnings on the radio. As a fan of horror and the macabre, I sort of regretted that Halloween has been turned from the scary event it once was to a light, fun children's holiday. In its origins it was a time when evils were loosed on the world. Apparently, however, the tide is turning and Halloween is once again becoming a time to fear the unknown evils around us. Halloween is once again a really scary time for people. And you thought the world was going downhill, huh?
We found a restaurant on the main drag of Taos that had an overflowing parking lot, a place called El Taoseno. Most of the clientele look like laborers, most of Mexican descent.
Huevos Rancheros seem different each different place they are ordered. I ordered this with green chiles but it still wasn't all that spicy, I think. Of course, I think my tolerance for spicy food has increased so that it does not taste as spicy to me as it once did. The dish came with a tortilla and margarine. I am not sure if you just butter and eat a tortilla or what. I used it to sop up chile sauce.
We headed out on the Enchanted Circle. This is supposed to be really beautiful scenery, but as the Southwest goes it is overrated. A lot of it could be the Mohawk Trail.
Along the drive we came to the DAV Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I am of mixed opinions on the various Vietnam memorials. I do not want to understate the seriousness or depth of the wounds of the Vietnam tragedy. I just wonder if this country spends a lot more effort licking its wounds than other countries do. I kind of doubt there are as many memorials in Vietnam, which lost a lot more people. It's like the Challenger accident. You keep seeing memorials to the Challenger astronauts. People start seeing the space program as costing billions and it only kills people. If mankind is going to survive, we have got to get to the point where we can have viable life in space not dependent on the Earth. We have got to get to the point where no single disaster can destroy all of mankind. Planets don't last forever. Either man-made or natural, the disaster will eventually come. I would call breaking dependence on Earth mankind's number one long-term priority. But we can't do that if we keep simpering over the first few casualties and deciding space isn't worth the effort because people can get killed. If it isn't cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, sedentary lifestyle, or handguns--any of which kill Americans in horrendous numbers--then it is too dangerous to fool with. Just on one Saturday night how many more Americans die from these causes than have died in the entire history of the space program? And the Saturday night deaths went for nothing.
Vietnam was really, really bad. But considering the number of really bad things in this world , it has gotten attention out of proportion. So has the Challenger accident. Let's move on.
Our next stop near the Enchanted Circle was the town of Cimarron. This was one of the wooly towns of the wild and wooly west. The town saw the likes of Kit Carson, Jesse James, Bat Masterson, Clay Allison, Buffalo Bill Cody, Davy Crockett, Evelyn Leeper, and Blackjack Ketchum. The big attraction in Cimarron is the St. James Hotel. It started as a bar built in 1873 and was made into a hotel in 1880. Twenty-six men died in gunfights at the St. James. Perhaps the best known gunfight was on November 1, 1875, between Robert A. Clay Allison and Francisco 'Pancho' Griego.
Clay Allison was born in 1840 in Waynesboro, Tennessee, where his family had a farm. In spite of a club foot, he was something of a scrapper. When the Civil War broke out he could have been deferred because of his foot, but chose to defend Tennessee. After the war three Allison brothers, one sister, and her husband all moved to Texas. Clay signed on as a cowhand and went on several cattle drives.
In 1870 when local cattlemen Coleman and Lacey moved to New Mexico, Clay drove their cattle in exchange for three hundred head he could keep. He started a lucrative ranch in Colfax County, New Mexico, near Cimarron.
Clay found he had a taste for and a talent for leading vigilantes. He had a successful outing on October 7, 1870, leading a mob to nearby Elizabethtown, where they broke into the jail and lynched an alleged murderer. Allison decapitated the body and took the head back to Cimarron, where he placed the head on a pole and used it for decoration.
On January 4, 1874, gunfighter Chuck Colbert challenged Allison to a horse race. The result was called a tie and the two men went to dinner together at a restaurant. After dinner they had coffee. Colbert started to serve Allison coffee but Allison noticed Colbert picked up the pot with one hand and his pistol with the other. Allison wanted to be served neither hot coffee nor hot lead. Colbert's shot missed; Allison's did not.
On October 30, 1875, Allison led another lynch mob to lynch suspected murderer Cruz Vega. Vega claimed another man was the killer, but was lynched and shot in the back. Allison took the lynch rope, tied it to his saddle horn, and dragged the body over rocks and bushes.
Cruz had a friend in town who was a dangerous pistolero. This was Pancho Griego. On May 30 the same year Griego had been dealing three-card monte with three enlisted men of the Sixth U.S. Cavalry. They accused Griego of cheating. He threw the money on the floor. They knew what was coming next and ran for the door. Griego had his pistol out and had killed two and injured the third before they could get out the door. Out of bullets, Griego leaped on the third man and finished the job with his Bowie knife. He was a dangerous man to cross.
And Allison's treatment of Cruz was crossing Griego. The lynching was on Saturday, October 30. Griego decided Allison would die. On Monday, November 1, Griego saw Allison in the street and invited him for a drink and a talk at the St. James Saloon. There was a clear tension between the men. After talking at the bar they decided for more privacy they would repair to an empty corner of the saloon. Nobody knows what happened, but Allison suddenly had a gun in his hand. There were three shots and the lights went out. When they came back on, Allison was gone and Griego lay dead on the floor.
There is more to the story. The locals started deciding that Clay Allison was not the kind of citizen that Cimarron needed. The CIMARRON NEWS AND PRESS wrote a scathing editorial against him, so before it hit the streets he and some friends broke into the newspaper office, smashed the press with sledge hammers, smashed up the furniture, and threw the whole mess into the Colorado River. Next morning he took the printed copies of the newspaper and sold them himself for twenty-five cents a piece. When he passed by the newspaper office, the woman who owned the paper and whom Allison had never met was standing there. 'Look what you did. You should be ashamed of yourself.' 'I don't fight with women,' Allison said, pulling $200 out of his pocket. 'Go buy yourself a new press.'
Allison tried to steal a herd of Army mules but things went wrong. While he was escaping he accidentally shot himself in his club foot and needed a cane for the rest of his life.
On December 21, 1876, Clay and his brother John were drunk in a saloon. A local deputy tried to get them to give up their firearms. Ignored, he fired a shotgun. He injured John but Clay killed him. Clay spent time in jail for this one.
One of the stories of Allison was that once a dentist he went to was working on the wrong tooth. Clay left and went to another dentist. Then he returned to the first dentist and used the dentist's own pliers to extract one of the dentist's front teeth. He would have done the other but people came to hear what the screaming was.
On July 7, 1887, Clay very anti-climatically fell off a wagon and fractured his skull. An hour later he was dead.
Headed back to Taos you pass through the Red River Valley. I sort of doubt it is the same one as the song. I sort of associated that with Texas, but I could be wrong.
Also you go over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. This was at one time the second tallest bridge in the U.S. highway system. As you walk the bridge you cross a gorge 685 feet deep. It makes you feel a little nervous as you walk it. Even worse, it sways in the wind. When heavy trucks go over, the whole bridge just sort of shakes under you. Makes you a bit nervous.
We finished the Enchanted Circle and returned to Taos. Our last stop in Taos was the Kit Carson Home and Museum. Christopher 'Kit' Carson seems to have lucked out in the history books. He is known as an Indian fighter, yet he is also remembered positively by Indians today. He executed orders fighting Apaches and marching Navajos to Bosque Redondo where they were victimized by raids of other tribes and where there was not enough land usable for crops. However, he fought Indians only after the bitterest of protests to his commanders. At his first opportunity he resigned and instead worked for Indian rights in Washington and elsewhere.
The Carson house was found much abandoned the first decade of this century and it was restored. Where possible it has been stocked with actual artifacts of Carson's life. Carson could neither read nor write, but he did dictate his memoirs to a friend who wrote them down. He then sent them to a publisher where they were edited by a Mr. Peters. Rather than editing them down, they were edited up to five times their original length. Carson had his memoirs as published read to him and responded, 'Mr. Peters laid it on a leetle thick.'
The museum shows many of the firearms of Carson's time and shows what was involved in just loading them. There are examples of military uniforms of the period. Other artifacts include a New York HERALD from April 15, 1865, announcing the assassination of Lincoln. Another case had a metal bathtub of the period. The last three rooms were a typical bedroom, kitchen, and living room. There is actually just about nothing in the Carson house that old Kit would recognize, but as he was a hard-drinking mountain man, that situation may also have occurred during his life.
On the way to Santa Fe, we stopped at the Santuario de Chimayo. This is a Catholic shrine where there are supposedly cures that take place and there are crutches and asthma inhalers and the like left abandoned there. Illusionist The Amazing Randi investigated the cures. What happens to the people who leave crutches there? 'The answer is that they simply fall down.' I have had a cough this week. I visited the shrine. I still have a cough.
We continued to Santa Fe, got a room, had a mediocre Mexican dinner at Tortilla Flats, and returned to the room. And that pretty much was our Tuesday.
October 28, 1992:
Breakfast at the local JB's.
Our first destination of the day is Bandelier National Monument.
On the way we listened to the radio. When we travel in the United States we listen a lot to National Public radio. Wherever the NPR affiliate is, it usually has the music we most want to hear. Also, I like their 'Morning Edition' and 'All Things Considered' news programs each day. We have had miserable luck with them this trip. Either by design or coincidence every public station in Arizona and New Mexico seems to be having their fund drives at the same time. They are all asking for money. It makes them a real pain to listen to and that has been most of the trip.
I have to admit by this point in the trip I am just a bit pueblo-ed out. Only so many times can you climb a hill to see a bunch of adobe bricks laid out in a rectangle. The sort of thing that was at, say, Pueblo Grande in Phoenix is worth going to only if you are going to less than three archaeological sites in all. So it was with a certain measure of reluctance I set out in Frijoles Canyon.
I don't know how or why a canyon came to be named for beans. Like a lot of scenery around these parts, the canyon is just beautiful. It is a nice forested walk at the bottom with pine trees all around. Squirrels are plentiful (as they used to say) with a sort of black color and tall tufted ears. (Speaking of animals, a while back I noticed a spectacular bird flying. It was bright white, dark black, and had touches of blue. Spectacular bird it seemed to me. It turns out on asking that it is a rather common and little-respected bird. It's a magpie. I think it's considered something of a pest to people grown too used to its beauty to care. Alfred Dreyfus admired the beautiful and graceful birds that glided through the skies over Devil's Island. Years later he found out what kind of birds they were ... seagulls. I can tell you that West Coast seagulls are beautiful. In New Jersey the seagulls are nice but just don't have the long beautiful wings that the California gulls have. Maybe Dreyfus was seeing the California breed of gulls.)
Anyway, on either side of the canyon are cliffs with an odd look as if the cliff has rotted or eroded under the surface, leaving the surface mostly intact except for holes. Actually the cliffs are really rock spewed out by a volcano about one million B.C. There were gas bubbles in the rock that made the rock weak except for on the surface where it cooled first. The weak inner rock eroded under the surface and you got large caves behind a Swiss-cheese-like surface.
There was a large kiva but what impressed me the most at the kiva was that there was a tarantula minding her own business walking around it. It wasn't big like Mexican Tarantulas. This little spider, standing still, would have just fit into a circle two inches in diameter. We stood back at about two feet and watched her with binoculars. (Our binoculars will focus on fairly near objects and with eight-power, we were getting a view like we were six inches away.) She must have been aware we were following her, but she just went about her business. Well, good hunting to her.
Several of the caves had ladders to them. Unlike Walnut Canyon, these were not rock overhangs; you genuinely were inside an enclosure. You could sit inside the cave and look out onto the valley. Inside the caves you could see petroglyphs--wall decorations. Some really dated back to the Indians.
There were also places you could see petroglyphs on the outside. There was also a long section of cave, perhaps fifty feet, that made a long building that was subdivided (as the guidebook says) 'condominium style.'
There was a walk in the woods back to the Visitors Center. We watched for animals but saw only squirrels and birds. We rarely see much impressive, though on the way to the monument we'd passed three young mule deer still not really skillful at this walking thing. (And, of course, we did see a genuine wild tarantula.)
From there it was not a long way to Los Alamos (even making a wrong turn).
Los Alamos is Science City, USA. That is just about the only profession or industry in the town. As one of the residents told us proudly, it is a town where the library is a lot more popular than the bar. (Sounds like my kind of town!) The town does seem to have a campus-like feel--something about the size of the buildings and the ages of the people. You could almost believe you were at a graduate school. A lot of people have colored identification cards, indicating levels of security, I guess.
I said earlier that I did not like science museums that talk down to the visitor. I also get tired of the same exhibits at every science museum. By those standards, the Bradbury Science Museum may be the best science museum I have seen. They had one minor part of an exhibit where you lift equal volumes of oxygen, copper, and uranium to feel the weight. I'd seen that before. Other than that minor exception, the museum had totally new exhibits.
Actually a fair piece of the museum is given over to a history of the Manhattan Project. That's fine: it is an interesting story.
We started with a twenty-minute documentary called 'The Town That Never Was.' It starts by flashing back and forth between footage of Nazis on the march and placid scenes of Indian life. It basically tells how something called 'The Ranch School' was operating in Los Alamos. This was somebody's idea for how to teach boys the virtues of a healthy outdoor life while they were engaged in a classical education. The footage of the Ranch School eerily echoes Nazi propaganda films of the healthy lifestyle of the Hitler Youth.
They show how scientists fled the racial laws of the Nazis, showing passports stamped with a 'J.' They knew that Hitler was engaged in an atomic program and prompted Einstein to write Roosevelt the famous letter. It follows events through the bombing of Nagasaki and the ending of the war.
If you want more information, they have a 'history wall' that also tells the full story. It includes two stations where you can choose any of seven films each, each film about ten minutes, that tell the Los Alamos story in more detail. Titles include 'ENIAC and MANIAC,' 'Hiroshima,' and 'Trinity.' I was impressed to see something similar at the Winslow Meteor Crater, but this was better.
The science stuff is intended to educate about the sort of research done at Los Alamos. And I mean educate. Lots more videotapes, lots of hands-on exhibits in subject like accelerators, reactor technology, fusion, safeguards, computers, verification, etc. Maybe the glove box (handling blocks the way radioactive materials are handled) or a program in the computer section that allowed you to put your name on a certificate were there to keep younger people occupied.
One booth shows a collection of recent news items from television news programs about research Los Alamos is doing on AIDS, the human genome, and waste disposal. This is not a big museum, but there is a lot to see.
After the museum, we drove through town. We stopped at the Fuller Lodge which supposedly had maps of the town with information on who had lived where.
The woman at the desk kept us waiting while she talked on the phone to someone who was obviously a personal friend. When she finally would talk to us, she said they were out of maps, but that the museum next door was good.
This was the Museum of Los Alamos County. For the most part only the post-1943 stuff was of real interest. They had a couple of rooms devoted to the Manhattan Project. There were things like the newspaper account of Hiroshima. There was a case devoted to censorship of letters.
There was an interesting exchange of letters with Oppenheimer and the management. Oppenheimer wanted a nail in the wall so he could hang his hat. They gave him a coat rack. He thanked them but said he wanted a nail. He got it.
Somebody wrote the security organization saying it took sixtythree days to clear someone for security work. Sixty-three days is also the gestation period of a dog. Could they get it down to a rabbit?
We finished with the museum and headed back to Santa Fe. When we got there we shipped some books home, then went to dinner, then went to the room to write.
On PBS we watched Mark Russell and an excellent documentary on the Donner Pass disaster.
October 29, 1992:
Today was our day to hit museums in the Santa Fe area. Breakfast was at JB's, then we drove in to the center of Santa Fe and walked around. It is not so new as the Taos downtown area but is trying to appear just as chic.
None of the museums were really memorable. I will cover them quickly.
The Palace of the Governors: This is a one-story but long adobe structure. In front there are Indians selling their wares: jewelry, etc. A controversial law says that only Indians can sell there. The building was constructed in 1610 as the home of the Spanish governors. We took a guided tour from a woman who was a bit flustered and had problems expressing herself.
Most memorable items: A stagecoach called a mud buggy. It was one of the first vehicles to have shock absorbers. Cost to take the stage from Missouri to Santa Fe was $200, very high considering the day. Also memorable, when a state seal hanging was needed, a local hardware store made it with materials at hand. Ruffles of feathers are the bottoms of spoons. Longer feathers are knives. Border done in keys. It looks fine from a distance until you look up close and see what it is really made of.
Also on display:
Spanish armor, which was still chain mail and crossbows, obsolete in Europe at the time but sufficient against Pueblo Indians.
A portable baptismal font.
A fish vertebrae necklace.
Matchlocks, flintlocks, and guns from many periods of Santa Fe's history.
Wooden stirrups when metal was expensive or scarce.
Spanish saddles and spurs.
A typical church.
The group kept accidentally setting off theft alarms. The guide did it herself twice. It was a new alarm system and just leaning on the metal fence around an exhibit set it off.
Santa Fe Fine Arts Museum: It was hard to tell how much of the museum was closed off to the public, but it was at least half. There was no warning of this when you start out and you still pay full admission. Most of the art you see is called 'modern art.' Each piece of modern art has a paragraph explaining it. I am reminded of the scene in THE RIGHT STUFF where Gus Grissom says, 'The issue is monkey,' and then the other astronauts chime in with their interpretations of what Gus said. Gus didn't express himself well and neither did these artists. The artists should be eloquent, no incoherent, in my opinion.
Most memorable piece: three horizontal pastel stripes on a white background. Now what does it mean? Well, the artist was in the hills and came down into an almost perfectly flat valley. She liked the valley so painted three horizontal stripes.
There are two photographs that the great Stieglitz considered his two best. They look like underexposed pictures of sky, but it is hard to tell what they are of. My opinion is that not everything must be obvious about a painting, but something should convey the meaning. Fail that and you don't have art because you aren't expressing yourself.
We started to go out in the sculpture garden and a couple out there shouted for us to leave the door open--if it closes, it locks you into the courtyard. I went to tell the management. 'That's right; if you close the door it locks. Leave it not quite closed,' they told me. It's a complaint they've gotten many times before but, heck, they are there in service of art, not convenience, I guess. They don't want to unlock the door or warn anyone. Art considerations aside, this strikes me as a singularly badly run museum.
Santa Fe Folk Art Museum: I am reminded of some of the London museums that take a semi-interesting collectible and show you a bewildering array of them. This place has a room full of what might be called toys, I guess. A lot of them are dolls or miniature villages. And then they have them from just about every culture imaginable. You have Indian figures and Arab figures and figures from South and Central America. They also have separate and more normal displays of Anglo, Mexican, and Turkish crafts. I am not sure why Turkish. I do know why they didn't have an Indian display. That was separate. They have used the computer creatively again here. They have a room that is a recreation of a room from pioneer times and a touchscreen showing you the room. You can touch an item in the room on the screen and get a lecture on just that item. In fact, you can get three lectures: one on how it was made, one on how it was used, and a third one I don't remember.
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture: Near the Folk Art Museum is an Indian Museum. Pottery, blankets, kachinas, etc. Not a bad museum, but a lot of overlap with what we'd already seen. It was a good collection, but we were not anxious to spend a lot of time with it. There was a hands-on room and a guy running it who loved to talk to people. He was more interesting to us than the museum. His name was Al Baston (or something like that).
After that we set out over the Turquoise Trail to Albuquerque. This is an alternate route to the interstate that claims to be historic but is so only for the mining that was done in those parts. To me 'historic' means it had conflict and that area appears to have always been pretty peaceful. It is promoted because there are shops. I am not sure if we followed it right, but it led to about ten miles of very bad road going through the hills. We got to Albuquerque after dark, got a really nice room for under $40 a night, and went out for Mexican dinner.
We watched Ross Perot on CNN and wrote in our logs.
October 30, 1992:
My sleep pattern has been to wake up at about 5 AM, write for a while, then sleep again until 7 AM. This morning was no exception. Then we went for breakfast--beans and eggs--and on to the Natural History Museum. The walk to the door is flanked by two dinosaur statues.
Museums just seem a whole lot better in this part of the world than they seem on the East Coast. I would have gone crazy for a Natural History Museum like this when I was a kid. There is a lot of participation in what you are seeing. The center of the museum- -unless you count the Dynamax which has a separate admission--is the Evolator. This is more like an amusement park ride than something you'd find in a museum. It is a ride that takes you back in time to several eras in the geological past. You get into a room that from the outside looks like a very large elevator with one large and two small television screens. The floor also is on some sort of hydraulic or pneumatic control to make it jiggle and jounce. The machine 'stops' at points where New Mexico is covered by shallow water, twice in the age of dinosaurs, once in the age of early horses, and maybe one or two others. The pilot gets out once in the age of dinosaurs to interact with them. It's about a six-minute ride. The dinosaurs are done with models and stop-motion animation. The early horses are played rather convincingly by dogs. In any case it is clear the children love the Evolator and it is a good intro to everything else in the museum.
When I was growing up, the sole criteria for a museum (just about) was whether it had a good set of specimens. The American Museum of Natural History is a museum that is heavy on specimens. Case after case of them. And they are presented in a pretty undramatic manner. There are a few nice skeletons in the middle of the floor and the rest is just stuff flat on the walls.
The New Mexico Natural History Museum has a much more intelligent approach. I don't think they have a whole lot in the way of specimens. Yes, they have some, but not as much as a lot of museums. But they do present what they have in a tremendously engaging manner. Every exhibit gets the viewer involved. They have maybe three dinosaur skeletons, but they put them on a simulated landscape to make them seem much more lifelike. Or they will have an exhibit that lets you see what a dinosaur sees. They have a big dinosaur with lenses where the eyes are. You look through two eyepieces in the back and look out the lenses. This means your eyesight is weak looking ahead, but good looking at things on either side. This is entirely man-made, no specimen required, but tells you more about the dinosaurs than just another mounted specimen might.
Oh, so what else does the museum have? Well, one thing that doesn't quite work for me is a series of displays as you walk through (the displays are semi-chronological, starting with the origin of the Universe) showing where the continents were at some time within the exhibit. The dinosaur display has a globe showing where the continents sat in the age of the dinosaurs. That part is fine, but it will also have a changing picture showing what nature is like at that time. You take a polarized filter provided and turn it so you see two different scenes blend together. I would rather they just show you the two scenes. The polarization is a gimmick and not one that works all that well. They show you the origin of Earth. Then there is a dinosaur exhibit.
There is a nice piece, but one that does not quite work mechanically, that lets you start with a ball bearing on a tree of tracks. You guide it along and choose different paths for it based on questions like, 'Do you develop scales or feathers?' Eventually the ball rolls into a drum that rotates from the weight and shows you what you have evolved into. Nice idea but it doesn't quite work.
There is a nice piece that has you walk through a volcanic cavern and learn about it. You see lava flowing under your feet. You see steam coming from the walls. Another piece takes you through a limestone cavern showing you limestone formations and bats. It shows you how caverns are formed. The rock formations even feel about right, based on the 'touch-me' samples at Carlsbad. I won't go through everything.
We also saw the Dynamax film 'Niagara: Miracles, Myths & Magic.' I am not sure how Dynamax differs from IMAX. Both are flat-screen projection onto a very large screen. The film is about forty-five minutes long and is a history of the Falls showing lots of people in danger but nobody getting killed. It's a big production with historic costumes and a lush score by Bill Conti.
After the museum we were going to go to the University of New Mexico campus and go to some museums. However, they seemed not all that interesting and it would have been really tough to find parking, so we sort of decided to play hooky and go to a movie. We wanted to see 1492: THE CONQUEST OF PARADISE. That didn't start until 3:45 PM, so we had a couple of hours to kill. We did that by going to a big new discount bookstore called Bookstar. I am almost certain it is just Barnes & Noble using another name out here. We also walked through a mall.
The movie itself was a disappointment. While it starts well in its biography of Columbus, the story really gets muddled and I am pretty sure it also has some serious historical accuracy problems.
After that it was to the recommended Mr. Powdrell's Barbecue. That was a disappointment also. The beef ribs (which should be the best thing at a barbecue) had a funny flavor and were not very good.
Back at the room we listened to Bush on LARRY KING LIVE and that made three things not up to snuff.
October 31, 1992:
This is our last day. For our last breakfast we sort of shared having waffles and potato pancakes. I'd been up a little late last night watching a horror film for Halloween. This one is called IT! and is about a golem. It is, to my knowledge, the only English-language film about a golem. So I have a special interest. Unfortunately, it is not very good. Well, the phrase 'sucks pond water' comes to mind.
As something of a novelty for me, I am pretty much caught up in my log. Usually I am at least a week behind at the end of a threeweek trip. Last night I even have a chance to read one of the books I brought, an anthology. This morning the choice was Kipling's 'The Man Who Would Be King.' Just as good on a second reading as it was on the first. If you haven't read it, do so as soon as you put down this log. Or at least see the Michael Caine, Sean Connery film directed by John Huston. That's the only film I can think of that I would recommend to anybody over age seven.
Our first visitation of the day is the Albuquerque Museum. This museum is split between local history and local art. We were not seeing it at its best. One wing was closed and a slide show of Albuquerque's past was gone south for the winter.
The museum starts with the inevitable Indian pottery. I have to say that somewhere I missed the boat on Indian pottery. They will have a museum with fifty very similar pieces of pottery. The difference will be in the abstract patterns on the pottery. But even they are not different enough to be intriguing. I'd like to find out when people look at fifty different pieces of Indian pottery what they are looking for.
After the Indian things you have Spanish artifacts. There was a leather pouch and a later writing box with the initials 'IHS.' What's IHS? Historians are not real sure. There are three different Latin phrases it might be, all religious. I am not sure how much consideration they have given to it being the owner's initials.
Then there were examples of crossbows. An interesting fact they have in the description was that in 1139 the Pope decided that the crossbow was too nasty a weapon. It could be used against nonCatholics, but never against Catholics. Catholics deserved to be safe from the ravages of the deadly weapon. The Pope was, of course, ignored.
There were examples of Spanish pikes, including one with a crescent head whose purpose is unknown.
When showing suits of Spanish armor, they point out that the custom of saluting probably came out of the days of wearing suits of armor, when you'd lift your faceplate to show a commander who you were. Then he would lift to show who he was. The commanders liked the mark of respect and kept it in the act even when there was no armor.
There was a board that showed how some cowboy words came from the Spanish. The Spanish word ('la reata') for rope became 'lariat.' 'Buckaroo' is a corruption of 'vaquero,' or cowboy.
Then you see more house furnishings of the period and a room of serapes. Next there came a kids' participation room. This is becoming fairly common in museums out here apparently. Kids could try on old clothing, look through an old stereoscope, read old ads. One ad suggests that in summer kids have less appetite, but you can increase your child's appetite with Ovaltine, the Swiss food discovery. Your child may even eat his vegetables. Children on Ovaltine gain as much as a pound a week! I think they no longer make that claim.
Upstairs the museum turns into an art museum. They have a lot by a fairly creative artist Luis Tapia. I'll describe one piece by him. You are looking at a full-size dashboard of a car in three dimensions. Through the windshield you see a road stretching before you. On the dash are two foot-high religious statues. The steering wheel is actually a crown of thorns. There was a similar piece in the Heard Museum. There is also a fair amount of cowboy sculpture and art. Lots of nature scenes. The only art that is abstract and has no surface meaning is from a local high school. On the whole I'd say this is a better art museum than the Santa Fe Fine Arts Museum.
Our final visit of the trip is Kirtland Air Force Base and the National Atomic Museum. I asked Evelyn why the Atomic Museum is here. 'Everything got to be someplace.' Somehow this is not a satisfying answer. Later I see a reference that we are in the Sandia Mountains. Is Sandia National Laboratories anywhere around this area? 'I think it is on Kirtland,' she says. 'That is why the National Atomic Museum is here!' Sandia does nuclear weapons work.
They start the tour with a fifty-minute film about the full project to build the Bomb taken to the end of World War II. This is one of the David L. Wolper documentaries. Then you see a photographic retelling of the same story. One interesting anecdote: The scientists who designed and built the bomb had a pool going on how much energy they expected would be liberated by the Trinity test. They were swamped at the low end. Most people were pretty sure it would be an insignificant energy output. I wonder how many people were betting the high end. There were, of course, those who thought that the whole atmosphere of the Earth would be pulled into the chain reaction and the one event would destroy the world. My suspicion is that nobody bet that way due to the difficulty and pointlessness of collecting.
Another fact I didn't know was that Leslie Groves got the assignment of leading the Manhattan Project based on a previous giant project. He was in charge of building the Pentagon.
Just the plutonium for the test was worth a billion dollars. If it just went off like a firecracker, that plutonium would be lost. A huge lead casing was built to surround the bomb that would collect all the plutonium and make it easy to recover. Then Oppenheimer started to worry. If the bomb really worked, that casing would be a real danger. Just to be on the safe side, they decided to risk losing a billion dollars worth of plutonium.
Well, it went off and the low-bettors on energy yield lost their money. Of course, when it was successful Oppenheimer had very mixed feeling. 'I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'
You also saw casings of nuclear weapons as they advanced. You can walk outside and see nuclear missiles including Snark, Bomarc, Redstone, and Honest John. You also see a B-52, nicknamed 'The Buff.' They have a twenty-minute film telling you the features of the Buff and telling you why they enjoy flying in the Buff.
They have an exhibit in which you use pilot controls to fly a model plane (broken so you could turn neither left nor right).
While we were waiting for the first film, an older Japanese couple came in and the husband was telling the wife about Old Bridge, New Jersey. It had to be more than a coincidence that we were there and someone was talking about someplace called Old Bridge. He had seen our address in the registry and worked with someone who lived in Old Bridge. His name was something like Sakura. He was from Teaneck and had a company that makes museum exhibits. He was visiting this museum as part of his job. His company had also supplied exhibits for the New Mexico Natural History Museum.
Mrs. Sakura's family had lived in Hiroshima and survived the events of the film we'd seen only because there was a hill between them and the target. I wish I could have talked to her more, but it is probably an unhappy subject.
There is also a small (almost tiny) science section of which the main focal point is a ping-pong ball chain reaction. The outer lobby is a biography of Stanislaw Ulam. It is very unusual to see any tribute to someone who is predominantly a mathematician (Einstein was more physicist than mathematician). I was pleased to see it.
Well, that was it for the attractions we saw. We had some spare time, so we went to see the movie BOB ROBERTS, which had gotten good reviews for some reason not totally obvious.
The film is a fictional pseudo-documentary about a yuppie right-wing folk-singer and demagogue. The idea had genuine possibilities, but I thought they were mostly wasted. If you are going to portray a demagogue on the screen you should make him plausibly charismatic. At some level, you should be saying, 'Oh, yeah!' when you see him and then realize how bad he is. A very good example of this is 'Lonesome' Rhodes in Bud Schulberg's A FACE IN THE CROWD. Another good example is ALL THE KING'S MEN. Tim Robbins's portrayal has not one note of charisma. He sings off-key and the lyrics of his songs are exaggerations of what such a character really would be saying. The script tells you he has a following rather than shows you why. The film maker doesn't want to risk your not getting the message so presents it artlessly and bluntly. Often it is presented stupidly. The liberals who made the film want people to vote so assume that their opposite numbers on the conservative numbers don't want people to vote and there are reference to Robbins's song 'Don't Vote.' Of course, real conservatives don't have a message of 'don't vote.' They want their followers to vote also. It is a stupid and not very well-thoughtout touch to have Roberts's tell people not to vote, but the film maker just wants to create a character who thinks the opposite of what the film maker does. There was the germ of a good idea here (and a rather nice lambasting of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE), but the execution is more sincere than it is competent.
We wanted to go someplace nice for dinner and being unaccustomed to going places nice for dinner we did it entirely wrong. I looked in the AAA book and picked a place that had a three-diamonds rating. The place had two dollar signs and three diamonds and I figure any place that had more diamonds than dollar signs was my sort of place. An alarm should have gone off in my head when I saw the name of the place: the Monte Vista Firehouse. Now I actually had a good meal once in a firehouse. A friend was getting married and that was the cheapest place she could find to have the reception. Now if this place really was an unpretentious firehouse turned into an unpretentious restaurant, that is the kind of place to look for. The kind of place to avoid is only that is only pseudo-unpretentious. A place called Rufus F. Bilgewater's or maybe The Significant Pickle is bound to have a cutesy menu and prices way too expensive for what you get. A place called Garcia's Mexican Food could be good in New Mexico. In New York it sounds too New Mexican and I'd probably skip it. Tony's Pizza is probably good; Don Corleone's Pizza is probably bad. Never pick a restaurant with a funny name.
But I broke my own rule hoping that the Monte Vista Firehouse might be really what it said, a reconditioned firehouse with good, fair-priced food. Who knows in Albuquerque? Well, as soon as we got in and saw the crystal on the tables and everything colorcoordinated in a sort of pastel pinkish-beige, I knew I was in the spider's web. 'Oh, boy!'
Then I got the menu and discovered prices were not all that bad. In fact, it seems that in spite of the decor they had managed to keep the prices reasonable. I recommended a dish to Evelyn. 'That's an appetizer,' she said. 'Oh, boy!' Looking further down the menu, I saw the prices really were as big as my fears. I got a duck dish at roughly twice the price I had expected to pay. When it came it had some nice garnish, but it turned out to be eight little strips of duck. Seven of them I ate and one accidentally got lodged between two of my teeth. At least it was a meal that really stayed with me. I didn't really finish my meal until I got back to the motel and to some dental floss. Only one thing I liked about the restaurant. If Evelyn was predestined to drink down $5.50 worth of wine, they made sure it was only one glass.
Back to the room and some reading. I watched a little bit of IN HARM'S WAY. My guess is that director Otto Preminger must have been someplace else in 1941. He certainly had no idea of what women's fashions were at that time.
November 1, 1992:
Well, we got a little lost on the way to the airport, but eventually got there. We had put 4423 miles on the car that had 10 miles when we got it.
Well, that's pretty much it. The flights back were uneventful. No big conclusions about the future of Arizona and New Mexico. No big generalizations about the trip. It came. It went. It's over. Now, back to work.
The Rec.Travel Library
More on North America
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