Sunday, December 30, 2012

Roll Tide

There are a couple of things about coastal Alabama that I really get.  One is the weather and the other is the ocean.  Say what you will about rednecks and crackers and that every other human, women included, wears a Crimson Tide hoodie, the lovely folks on Mobile Bay's eastern shore can lay claim to  miles of pristine beaches and to sinuous bayous lacing the coast.  Besides I grow weak at the knees when it's 70 degrees in December. 

Gulf State Park’s new pier juts into blue water for 1540 feet making it the largest on the Gulf.  Opened in 2009, the gargantuan pier replaces a smaller wooden one destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.  2,500 feet of fishing space along its rails welcome fishermen who can cast for King Mackerel, Mullet and Bonito 24 hours a day.  Below the pier white sand stretches for miles east and west. 


Another kind of pier probes Ducker Bay at sunset as long haul trucks on I-10 track the horizon.  Alligators crisscross the marsh beneath the walkway and crawfish cling to the pilings at the waterline.  The moist richness couldn’t be more different than the arid high desert of northern New Mexico.  The briny air at sea level seems as heavy as it is crisp and light at 7,000 feet in Taos. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Feel the love

My friend and erstwhile traveling companion John Farnsworth passed on the query, “Can portraits still be original?”  I imagine the question was asked in light of the gazillion portraits that have been taken, drawn and painted over the centuries.  My answer was “yes.”  If a photograph, for example, captures something indelible about the person, a state of mind or a distinct personality, it is original.  And since no moment in time can be replicated absolutely it is an original by definition. 

With my response to the question I attached a photograph made last week of my niece Hannah and her boyfriend Chris.  I submit that the image is sweet as Hannah herself, and as original.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Please help. I'm falling.

The moment I got a glimmer of the Grand Canyon’s epic South Rim I descended into an abyss of corny snapshots and Kodachrome post cards.  The Grand has that effect.  I skirted the rusty maze for a dozen miles or so, pulling into every scenic vista for a hackneyed memento of the canyon’s grandeur.  Transcendence escaped me that’s for sure.

Still to paraphrase an old bromide, a bad day at the Grand Canyon is better than a good day at the office. 
I hadn’t been there for thirty years or so and still have a straw cowboy hat I bought in Flagstaff on the trip with the kids.  I’m a guy with lots of hats that are scarcely ever worn.  But then I’m also “all hat and no cattle” to use western lingo to describe a dude, a pretender and a tenderfoot.   Every boy, it seems to me, wants to be a cowboy and that’s been true of me since mom bought me my first boots in Tucson back in 1951.  The smell of leather still transports me to the Santa Rita Hotel, Porter’s Western Wear and the Rocky Mountain Oyster Club.  Rocky Mountain Oysters are, shall we say, byproducts of the round up. 
With that stream of consciousness I've wandered past my Grand Canyon moment.  Novelists often describe how the book wrote itself.  I think I just experienced that on a pedestrian level.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Take the long way home

As I wound my way home crossing the Navajo Nation near Tuba City I missed my turn to Ganado and found myself once again on familiar turf; an honored theme throughout this adventure.  It’s as if my co-pilot, literally a Pilot, was going to take me through Cow Springs and on to Kayenta whether I wanted to or not.  The long cut probably cost me two hours but what the heck, it’s only time. 

Since I hit the road in Havasu muy late, the sun falling behind me created a heavenly glow on the homesteads and tiny settlements dotting highway 160 toward the Four Corners.  The Navajo reservation is a vast place made even vaster by enormous sweeps of desert scrub punctuated by the occasional hillock or mesa.   It’s an empty beauty of which I never tire.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Most Happy Fella

John reconnected with the lovely Betsy Tuesday.  It was a heartwarming scene as the big galoot embraced his sweetheart after lo these many months.  When we arrived Betsy was smiling through a long charge from her perch above the Victorville valley floor.  The sun shone, birds sang and all was right in the world.

The mechanic, the erudite Austin Stockdale, told John that his 1986 Vanagon would take him anywhere his heart desired but that an oil change wouldn’t hurt.  That’s when John’s eyes glazed over.  Oil changes and John Farnsworth are words not uttered in the same sentence.  John said he might top her off instead.  There’s no arguing with that, ahem, judgment.  But I digress.
It seems to me that Farnsworth was mighty lucky to have found Austin.  The guy diagnosed the problem, a cracked distributor cap, replaced it and housed the wayward bus for six months or so for pocket change.  Merry Christmas and a hearty ho ho ho to you, sirs.

The pics included capture the magic moment for all to share.  Happy trails John Farnsworth.  Write when you learn how.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Below Low

The thirty five mile long Salton Sea clings to life at 226 feet below sea level.  A watery inland sea that was caused by a Colorado River flood in 1905 the Salton’s salinity increases each year and when summer temperatures reach 115 a noxious sulfur odor wafts as far as Los Angeles.  Once a playground of the famous, Guy Lombardo set several speedboat records there, the Salton Sea has descended into shallow salty death rattle.  What’s left is a population on the fringes of society on the shores of a lake it can’t use but with the faintest glimmers of the inland lake’s brief heyday.

The Salton, it seems fitting, sits astride the San Andreas Fault.  If one terminal illness doesn’t kill it another certainly will.  A waiting for the apocalypse Eden housed in shambling mid-century houses and oxidized 1940’s trailers. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Abandonment Issues

Photographing Rice, California is like visiting an old friend.  Rice, formerly known as Blythe Junction, was a water station and substation for the Santa Fe Railroad in the thirties and grew to robust population of 15 by WW ll.  Today nada, zip, zilch.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Hualapai Nation

The Hualapai Reservation established in 1883 occupies a million square acres of northwestern Arizona from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Interstate 10 and west to Kingman.  The 2,300 Hualapai have embraced tourism as a path to financial sufficiency and are best known for their so-called Sky Walk, a much maligned platform of glass and steel that extends 70 over the Grand Canyon and which, many would say, is out of keeping with a wilderness environment.

Today Peach Springs feels desperate with an over arching melancholy.  It was not apparent, at least in late November, that the tourism model has had much traction and government service continues to be the Hualapai’s primary source of employment.  Unemployment hovers at 40% as it has since 2004.


This post is long on visuals and short on verbage as my body is on tilt.  Too too much fun with Big Daddy Farnsworth,  These are companions to the corral pics of my last post and are sort of obligatory since it's Sunday and I haven't been late yet.  I have one word "sky."  It's mighty big over the Navajo Nation.


Saturday, December 01, 2012

Corral Fever

Yeah, I know I have a thing for corrals.  The wood rail ones hung together with rope, wire and twine.  This beauty in northern New Mexico near Gallina had us doing a screeching U-turn and jumbling north on a rutted path toward Navajo ponies, wild burros and Hereford cows.  A galvanized water tank completed the ensemble.

We’ve taken two full days for a one day journey but no matter.   We have the wind at our backs, ample memory cards and a craving for two lane black top leading to nearly nowhere.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wagons West

Stock Tank, Cow Springs, Arizona
Friday with any luck I hit the road with buddy John Farnsworth, the noted painter and photographer, for a meandering trip through Navajo country, across Arizona and into the Mohave Desert of California.  John will pick up his beloved Betsy the VW camper in Victorville and head to parts unknown.  We may knock around together for a few dusty desert days then John will head to LA for a Kachina show at the Autry and I’ll boogie back to Taos by the way of who knows where.  

John and I have been threatening a photo odyssey for several years so rescuing Betsy has given us  the excuse we needed.  When I proposed the trip he asked if we could take backroads, the proverbial Blue Highways.  That's right up my alley so I said absolutely.  In return I extracted his commitment to actually sleep at night.  The guy's a night owl and I am decidedly not.  It's an odd couple pairing.  Sitcom to follow.

You may get more frequent posts over the next week since I’ll be swimming in new material.   I guarantee that you’ll get a daily post if you subscribe to John’s blog.  He’s approaching his 800th daily painting, by the way, each available through a daily online auction.  Yup, 800 paintings over 800 consecutive days.  That’s commitment folks  or maybe he should be committed. 
Abandoned Station, Rice, California


Sunday, November 25, 2012

He ain't heavy

This is the first time in the life of this blog that I have deleted the day's post.  There was nothing wrong with the entry save that the image had been used before and that's not our deal. I posted the earlier photograph because it‘s part of a show benefiting the homeless and hungry that opened Saturday night at my Taos Gallery, Wilder Nightingale Fine Art.   It seemed fair enough at the time.  

Instead what you see below is visual story for which you each can weave a narrative.  It might relate to the too common social maladies referenced above.  It has that feeling.  Or maybe it’s just a guy catching a smoke.  In any case, I found the sequence really evocative.  A lean lonely character rounds the corner of the Plaza Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, New Mexico, a newly lit cigarette dangling from his mouth.  He walks a dozen steps into the sunlight and squats down.  His hanging head speaks volumes to me. Heavy hearted, solitary and isolated are descriptors that come to mind.  That's some sad dude.  What do you see? 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bosque Branches

The Bosque del Apache offers much more than birds.  In a fertile riparian habitat that hugs the Rio Grande near San Antonio, New Mexico are placid ponds with sun bleached deadfall.  The ivory like branches and their reflections form captivating abstract compositions in the dark waters of the shallow pools. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fly Ways

Late last winter we drove to Socorro and through the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Sanctuary for some of the best bird watching in the southwest.  Bosque Del Apache which means “woods of the Apache” lies in the flood plain of the Rio Grande River in central New Mexico.  The bosque is home to more than 500 species of birds most notably the Sand Hill Crane, Blue Heron, Snow Goose and the rare Least Bittern.  The Least Bittern, I’m sure you know, is one of the smallest Herons.  Quiz to follow.
I’m no birder but I am impressed by the sight of a bizillion Snow Geese wintering in balmy New Mexico.  Balmy at least compared the Arctic tundra where they hatched and first took flight.  They spend half the year migrating to and from the frozen north and as far south as Mexico.  Calories provided by some of America’s richest farms and fields along the route.



Monday, November 05, 2012

Connective Tissue

Rarely do I do a follow up post.  Here's one.  The railroad car shown above displays the words Emmett Kelly painted over the words Santa Fe as you can see.  We can deduce that Emmett’s name was affixed at a later time probably after the car was decommssioned or sold to the Verde Canyon Railroad. 
This follow up is prompted by an email from my long time friend Lenny Levenson in Florida.  It seems that Lenny posted today’s blog post to flikr and that elicited a response from Emmett Kelly’s son-in-law Steve Woodburn.   This is all this morning, folks.  Mr. Woodburn said that Emmett had retired to Arizona where he became active in civic affairs and he was likely honored for his good works with the Emmett Kelly rail car.  That’s as logical a scenario as any.  But another friend Jim Rogers in Dallas wondered if Kelly had been a big enough star to warrant his own car.  I had wondered as much.  Then I did a little research that indicated Kelly died and was buried near his home in Sarasota.  That muddys the water a tad until you compute that Sarasota is the winter home of the Ringling Brothers circus and it's fitting that he be buried there.  One supposition begets another question.

But mostly this is about the magical and speedy connection the internet and social media can make between humans and information.  I'm amazed and a little inspired by the interaction bred by a post to a relatively minor blog and it's extended reach through social media.  I connect with Lenny and Jim.  Lenny connects with Steve Woodburn and back to me.  I post the whole shebang and the circle starts anew.  As Lenny said, “Small world.” 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Railroad Redux

It turns out that I’ve photographed the Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale, Arizona on at least three occasions, the first in 2004 and the most recent a week ago.  One of my first shots from the railroad, then called Verde Valley Railroad, is the close up of my beloved engine 1512.  The other from the same visit in 2004 is the mechanical detail, specifically the “truck” below.  When I walked toward the train last weekend there was old 1512 giving me the eye.  
1512 in 2012
1512 in 2004

This time I wandered to the graveyard of mothballed passenger cars.  If there’s anything I like better than vintage rolling stock it’s the ones put out to pasture that really speak to me.  The one shown below is named for Emmett Kelly, the sad faced circus clown from the mid twentieth century.  Kelly was arguably the most famous clown ever.  I don't know why the car was named for him.  Maybe all passenger cars in that era were named for famous folks.
Emmett Kelly 2012
Emmett Kelly 2012

Truck 2004