Peregrine flight

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Back from my wandering.

I had finished the show in Albuquerque and needed a diversion for a day or two before the big git to in Santa Fe. Last year was Magdalena, the Large Visual Array, and Bosque de Apache, near Socorro. The year before I headed northeast, Las Vegas and Mora. Terry suggested the area around Jemez Springs, Giggling Springs specifically and I figured why not?

I drove up from Albuquerque and called Leslie, who found me a nice room at the Santa Fe Hilton on her ipad. There was a hot tub there where I could soothe my weary bones after the strenuous two hour pack out. Dead tired, I checked in and walked over to the plaza and had dinner at the Plaza Restaurant, which just reopened six weeks ago after a long hiatus due to a nasty fire. I ordered my favorite dish there, the cashew chicken mole enchiladas and bit into my first sopapilla of the trip. Wonderful as always and great service to boot. Glad that they are back on their feet.

I went back to the hotel after dinner, grabbed my suit and headed for the pool. Would have been great except for the little bastard kids diving in right next to my head, screaming at the top of their lungs, all under the adoring, watchful eyes of their grandparents, who apparently couldn't read the posted signs. Texans.

In the morning I walked over to Cafe Pasquales for breakfast, might as well cross it off my to do list. About my seventeenth year in a row making the August trip, if my memory serves and always have to hit Pasquales for the trout hash. My first stop before breakfast is always La Fonda, for the New York Times and the local rag, me being your basic creature of habit.

I wasn't feeling all that chummy and breathed easy when they led me to my own table, not sensing potential land mines lurking left and right.

"Hey, you an eye-talian?"

Excuse me, I said?

"You look like an eye-talian."

I quickly sized up the neighbor to the east. Actually sir, my father's from Israel.

"You looked like a foreigner. No disrespect. My sister and I, now we're German stock. But we're all americans here, right? This ain't my wife, it's my sister. Neither of us ever got married. We own so much land north of San Antone, we don't know how much money we got. Folks say we could make a lot more, but we don't care. We are plumb richer than hell."

I tried to gracefully disengage from the rich texans and get back to reading my paper but he wouldn't have any of it. I couldn't help but notice that the family fortune evidently didn't extend to the area of dental care.

"We don't believe in any of that science stuff. We believe in the good book. Never finished school either."

His sister then chimed in. "Bert is the best shot in the whole durn valley. He can hit a feral pig in the head on the run. Know how hard it is to hit a pig on the run?"

I shook my head in four directions in vigorous approval of her brother's superb marksmanship. She continued,"Grandpa and his wife were trick shot artists with Cody. Could draw a silhouette in a playing card." She mentioned the family name which I must confess to have somehow forgotten and then apologized for monopolizing my breakfast.

No problem I said, the banter keeping my attention away from the precious two year old on my left flank who was throwing food all over me, the floor and table, all under the beaming eyes of her parents and grandparents. I lifted first a toy, then an unidentified food object and finally a pack of honey off of my shoe and placed it back on their table with what I thought was a loving smile but felt the temperature drop several degrees. Guess it's a good thing I never had critters of my own because I look forward to their company at the dinner table like I look forward to a partially flushed, pissed on seat at the Flying J.

After breakfast I stopped at my two favorite galleries in Santa Fe, Zaplin Lampert and Owings and said hello. I think I rubbed Richard the wrong way for mentioning the Red Sox's recent misfortunes and almost got thrown out of the joint. Boston people evidently take their baseball very seriously. Cubs and Padres fans learned about losing long ago and have a more balanced acceptance of the ups and downs of the game.

Afterwards I went over to Tiny's for dinner. Big mistake. I used to love Tiny's, an old guard hang out, but since the kids took over from the parents, the place has gone to hell and the once great food is almost an afterthought. Might not ever go back it sucked so bad.

Stayed a second night at the Hilton and went to the French Pastry shop at La Fonda in the morning for a ham and cheese crepe and then hit the road for my little diversion.

I had talked it over with Millard and he said not to drive to Jemez Springs from Los Alamos, forty miles of gravel switchbacks that I would regret, so I did. Sounded about right and I've never been particularly good at taking directions in any case.

Los Alamos is an interesting town. Lots of security and communications vehicles everywhere, a town nestled in a beautiful pine forest, men with pocket protectors no doubt fervently planning a myriad of fiendish schemes to keep the evil empire at bay.

I drove past the Bandolier National Monument. I could have taken a shuttle to the petroglyph sites and Frijoles Canyon but was reluctant to leave a fully laden van too far out of eyesight. So I kept driving. What a beautiful place! I drove by a Montana sized valley and elk preserve located in an extinct caldera, Valle Grande. Just a magnificent area. Trout streams everywhere and the air clean and thick with the sweet smell of pine.

The road to Jemez was also quite magical. I passed my initial destination, Giggling Springs, which is unavailable and closed on tuesdays as is the Jemez national monument. I looked at the meager hotel accommodations and decided that I wouldn't be staying the night.

I stopped at the Soda Dam, one of the popular beaches in town, where the locals were getting their happy on. It is a pool and hot springs made from a zillion years of mineral accretions. The smell of sulphur hung over the town like brimstone.

I continued driving to the Jemez Pueblo Visitor Center. A very nice native lady there informed me that the Pueblo was closed to visitors. I asked her if she could recommend and spots to photograph and chill in the area and she directed me to the Gilman Tunnels off a rugged side road. She also told me about some natural hot springs called Spencer, unmarked near the 24 mile mark.

I went up to the tunnels and took a few shots and then made way for the hot springs. It looked like the thunderstorm could hit at any time.

The hike to Spencer was longer than I thought it would be and either due to the elevation or my pitiful physical condition, was a bit of an asskicker. The three natural rock spring pools are a third of a way up a mountain. The uphill was easier for me than the downhill. I had the pools to myself, took a dip in the lukewarm water and got back to the van right before the rain storm broke loose.

I haven't felt much like writing or taking pictures lately. Missed at least three fantastic shots this trip through sheer indolence and lack of motivation, not wanting to "break the flow." Didn't bring my favorite landscape wide angle lens, not wanting to damage it since I lost the lens cap and am waiting for the replacement from Hong Kong.  I need to come back to the area and do the place proper justice. Sometimes I just prefer to live it and not memorialize it.

The greatest shot I never took was in these parts many years ago at the Cameron Trading Post. A young and an old FLDS wife, walking together into the post in their victorian garb to get supplies. I had the camera around my neck but just couldn't pull the trigger. Too invasive, these folks being human and not animals in the zoo.

Had a similar experience at the truck stop yesterday, a quite haggard woman blissfully knitting in the professional woman's lounge. Incredible image but just too disrespectful to catch. Couldn't do it. Damn.


I stopped at this cool bar in Jemez Springs but couldn't get service and finally split. Interesting place. I look forward to returning here with Leslie and getting to know the whole area a little better.

Before I left home I did something I rarely do anymore and threw the i ching hexagram. I received the hexagram biting through, 21 with first and fourth line changing.

Stay straight as an arrow and hard as metal and you will have good fortune.

I pondered the potential meaning. Could be a sign. I decided to forego bringing any medicine, even the legal stuff from California. It has been a familiar sight to see k-9 units on Interstate 40 and I decided to clean out the few odd brain cells I have left for a few weeks and not importune the sages.

I drove back the long circle around past Zia and Santa Ana Pueblos, through Bernalillo and then back up to Millard's place way out in El Dorado. A long but wonderful day, wrung out of every conceivable molecule of pleasure. Millard was in the workshop getting ready for the show so I never saw him all night, not until the next morning. I spent my time reading from his incredible library of art books and watching MSNBC, which he keeps on all the time for his scottie, Duncan, evidently a liberal canine. Glad somebody has sense in the family.

Not having a television, I had never really watched the network. I have a confession, I hated it as much as I hate Fox News. I read Townhall and watch Fox to get an idea as to the opposition's thinking. I suppose Millard does the same thing in reverse. I know that it is supposed to be a counterbalance to Faux but the smarmy, slanted, irony tinged attacks by Maddow and Schultz bothered me as much as Hannity and Rush's spew do. Is it too much to just get the stuff thrown right down the middle of the plate, without all the condescension and self righteousness? After all neither side has any anointed or holy position in the national debate. I think most of us would like to see the two sides find common ground and start acting like adults, although it is probably way too much to ask. Partisan politics is so ugly, I hope that we can stop talking about parties and start talking seriously about problems and issues.

Ate breakfast at Harry's Roadhouse the next day, sat next to Ross, an Indian trader and jazz guitar player that I know who lives in New York and we had a nice chat. I drove to the hotel I had booked on Amex travel, trying to get an early check in before the show drop off at two. But where the hell was it?

Turns out that it was an unmarked building way out on St. Francis and Zia without a sign. Santa Fe Suites. Sort of a shithole. Accessed through an Albertsons parking lot. Just to give you the Cliff Note version, paper thin towels, television didn't work and thin prison cot style mattress. Did have a working refrigerator which proved to be nice. Aggressive cleaning staff who felt at liberty to completely rearrange my gear.

The next day I did something I have never done, I set up the booth and then went to the Bullring for a delicious prime burger and a whiskey before the opening. There are some serious local characters at the bar and one shot of Bushmills gave way to another and I got more shitfaced than I can remember getting before an opening. Spinning. Don't think it hurt business any when the party started, might have even helped things along.

The show is a blur but I did very well, think I nailed the price point perfectly and turned a lot of cool stuff. Could have been better, but could have been a hell of a lot worse.

I sold an expensive trinket to a girl and she asked me point blank if I was being honest. I have a maxim that I tried to explain to her. I believed in giving people a square deal, and I was, but one should never believe anyone that overtly professes their honesty. They always turn out to be the biggest liars of all. The only way of knowing is seeing how people act, not listening to what they say. I have taken a larger bite than I should at times, and also at times a smaller bite, this being that sort of business but I take an ethical check up fairly regularly and still have a basic sense of right and wrong that I try not to broach. End of sermon. Nice of her to look me in the eye. Saw an interesting study last week that showed that people that lie suffer health consequences for their prevarication.

You think that you see the light at the end of the tunnel and in the end maybe it turns out to be an oncoming train. You think you're on easy street and one day you find that you've committed the biggest sin of all, squandering the resources. I have been generously blessed and I don't take it for granted.

Which leads me to the next part of the soliloquy. One of my internal mental discussions of late. I was at a cocktail party last month and a woman there, bright, very rich and successful, had dodged the bombs in World War II Germany and hungry, had to beg for food in her youth.

I asked her if the ghosts and wolves ever stopped nipping at her ankles and she said no, they did not. And I can relate. My mother is alive and a regular reader of this blog but I think would have to honestly admit that her children were brought up in a quite unconventional atmosphere, that included never having enough money to pay our bills, running from creditors, prescription painkillers, psychopathic and abusive husbands and boyfriends and a plethora of other emotional minefields and areas of instability. Sure she tried her best. I hid food in my room as a kid, guess I was making sure I wouldn't go hungry, my ex wife could never understand why I would eat stale bread but it was a strange carryover.

No matter how much money I make or have made, I always feel like I am one step from the chasm. I don't know how much of this is self imposed but I know that it is always there. Every call for a bank balance, I am ready to hear that my account has been suddenly wiped out. I always have friend disaster motivating me, close at hand, nipping at my heels.

I made friends with the precipice at an early age and probably wouldn't feel quite comfortable with normal, whatever that is. You see, it was the way we were raised. The sense of oncoming disaster is ever present. Ten different schools, running from coast to coast with Buzz as a kid with nothing more than a suitcase, impending doom was all we ever knew. And it's still there.

I think that our being are carved out at a very early age, certainly before eight, and most of us can neither change nor escape the wounds of childhood. I have had friends who have done an admirable job denying and suppressing. It is usually very ugly when the genii finally finds his or her way out of the bottle.

I also think that struggle is an important part of our makeup as human beings. That is why most children of rich people rarely amount to shit, with a few notable exceptions. A person who has never seen the possibility of imminent disaster misses something in this life experience, at least to my way of thinking. Never build fibre and have to manufacture struggle in some other way, that usually manifests in some really perverse drug and sex addiction or some other sort of sociopathic behavior. You've all seen kids that have been overly protected, they never seem to amount to much. We all need a few obstacles in our lives in order to grow.

Maybe a reason so many people have a hard time relating to poor Mitt, he never had far to fall. Born on third base and thought he hit a triple, but something still vaguely unsettling about his persona and breadth of character.

I don't quite trust people who have never fell. Never dusted themselves off. There are some that have gotten lucky, many who have lived a quite charmed life, but I don't necessarily have to trust them, do I? I don't think that the most of us get anywhere without putting on a lot of mileage and making a bunch of mistakes. That's why I prefer seeing old doctors. Give me a doctor who has already made his mistakes.


I started driving back Sunday morning. Packed my clothes and guitar and hit the road. Had a delicious meal with the gang at the African Caribbean restaurant, Jambo, which consisted of a variety of dishes including lamb, plantains, coconut shrimp, tilapia, the meal was really quite awesome. Ate very well all week, two dinners at the Santa Cafe, a very successful trip on every front, except maybe from the perspective of my bathroom scale.

I got to Gallup midday and had a decision to make. I could stay on the 40 and drive the conventional way to Flagstaff or I could see something new. I went for it. I took the 12 north through the Navajo reservation, passing Hunters Point and Oak Springs on my way to Window Rock.

The 264 is getting to be my go to east west road. I think everybody should get off the highway now and then and just be. This is a place for it. I hadn't really pushed it the whole trip and I wasn't about to start now at the end. I have an odd passion for back roads. In the early 90's I spent two years working for Shotwell and his financial research company and hit practically every back road in the whole damn country. Learned the antique game in my spare time.

Soon after I ventured onto the 12 things started to happen. A mixed breed navajo dog shepherded a flock of sheep across the road, smiling at me the whole time. Horses started appearing outside of fences.  I passed Ganado Lake, called Nazlini. The secluded reservation homes I passed from time to time had round ceremonial hogans located close nearby. I also felt like I was maybe not walking but driving in beauty, the navajo spirit penetrating my own being. I passed chapter houses and navajo churches of all denominations and saw kids peddling bicycles miles from their eventual destinations, all cheerily and with no sense at all of despair or poverty.

Mostly I saw the most beautiful clouds and rocks and landscapes. The most gorgeous canvas known to man. Any person who fails to see the beauty in our native southwest needs to check themselves and take some time off and look again.

I was listening to a classical station out of Gallup and I heard Michael Tillson Thomas conduct the San Francisco Orchestra in Aaron Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Copeland was asked to write a paean for the military but he refused and instead wrote a song for everybody. It was a beautiful soundtrack for my journey through this beautiful country.

I drove slow and let the occasional navajo rancher pass, in his pick up truck full of hay. I sucked in every particle I could of the journey, finding an internal peace in the open forgotten road. I made my way back past Keems and Polacca, through Hopi and finally to Coal Mine Mesa. The air hung yellow and heavy over the mesa and the abandoned houses on top of the shelf took on an eerie glow. But I didn't stop to take a photograph, preferring to keep my internal picture, one that could never be transmitted quite like I perceived it in that moment.

I drove past the ancient hopi city of Moenkopi, the oldest continuously inhabited city on the continent, beating Acoma by a thousand years or so. The dry farmed river valley looked like a Gene Kloss aquatint from the thirties, sparse and elegant, with the corn growing tall in spite of the most desolate conditions imaginable. Drove through Tuba City, past Cameron and then over to the Canyon to hopefully catch the sunset.

I had been in a zen satori state all day and now things began to get a little uglier as  tourists started tailgating and zooming past as they raced to check another national park off their list. Photograph the most famous hole in America. I was much happier on the reservation. They were lined up twenty deep and I made my exit as quickly as possible.

Leslie found me a room on line. What they didn't tell her was that my room would be up in the stables. I drove up the craggy dirt road and caught the pungent aroma of horse piss. By that point I was too tired to care.

The next morning I drove to my favorite spot in Seligman for breakfast, Westside Lilo's. Saw a first, a big bald eagle on a telephone pole outside of Kingman. Desert temps near the 95 reached 116. Stopped at a Loves and saw this poor woman camped out by the front door with her thermos. Guy on the corner was in an easy chair by his car with a need gas sign. Think he was there last year too.

Got home around seven, tired but happy with my journey and my return. We have a rattlesnake that's been hanging around the front door the last couple nights and I picked up some snakeshot yesterday to deal with the buzzworm. Can't let the cat out and he's getting ornery. Summer finally made it to California. It's hot here but it's good to be home.


Ken Seals said...

Stupendous account, Robert.Good job on the pics, too.
I enjoyed every paragraph, except your ragging on the Texans (:-)
Ken (Born in Austin) Seals

Anonymous said...

terrific stuff- i'm ashamed i'm so lazy i don't explore like you do - KEEP WRITING


Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,
I was looking for several days for a new entry on the Blast, as I now make the annual Southwestern trek vicariously with you! Didn't want to call and bother you while driving (or selling). Loved the photos and I'm very happy you made some $$. A little adversity helps the work ethic. Emotionally, I had a relatively stable household in A.G. , never moving. Schoolteacher parents with a hamburger budget. My father had a nervous breakdown when I was in the eighth grade but got back to work after a couple of years. That was as bad as it ever got for us. But I started hustling, selling, and working from the age of twelve and have never stopped.
Thank you for sharing all the great images, anecdotes, and insights. You and Ezra Klein are the only blogs I always read.


Blue Heron said...

Ken, you can be from Kansas or Missouri. You can't be from Missouri, Kansas and Texas.

Ken Seals said...

Haven't you heard of the MKT Railroad?
It's Missouri, Kansas, Texas.

Anonymous said...

Yo bro. just awoke from the most intense dream I can remember having in many years...came down from the loft to ponder and saw your post mail...spectacular photos which must show your love of the new camera...and a great writeup. Really happy for you and your trip Rob!

back to dreamland!


Sanoguy said...

Say it ain't so about the Texans at La Fonda. That can't be true. Can it possibly be true????

Randy Walters said...

Really an exceptional installment, Robert. Missed the posts while you were away...

Anonymous said...

Great read thank you Sir. Welcome back and keep writing yours is the only blog I read.
Recovering Deli Guy.

Anonymous said...

WOW!!! I want to paint that sky! (but I only paint what is mine to do)...wonderful, I have driven so many of the same roads as you do, with the same peaceful
and important for me reactions. I have been to that LOVES near Seligman, and took pictures of some interesting people I wanted to paint. Photos gone now!

Thanks for all of it! Carol
PS (interesting to be completely cut off by fire right now unless I want to go to El Centro or Pal Springs.)

Kim said...

Stunning photography & commentary.
So glad your shows were a success!
Best always,Kim