Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vantage Points

While the big river is the namesake of the newly minted Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and certainly its crown jewel, it’s the Taos Plateau that beckons me.  The plateau, a swatch of arid scrub that stretches west 25 miles to San Antonio Mountain, is a flat desert punctuated by the occasional hillock and the faintest remnants of human occupation.  Two picturesque corrals and a couple of homesteads adorn TP 71 between the Rio Grande and Highway 285 and more are bound to be discovered as I return to those dry environs.
There’s nothing like the flats to showcase the snow capped Sangre de Cristos looming to the east and to accent the epic sky that I love so. Prompted by that sky I entered the Taos Plateau from the south on Gravel Pit Road and followed high lines to a batch of hippy built residences where a taut and sinewy cyclist was popping a wheelie.
Later above the John Dunn Bridge I followed a rutted path almost to the rim of the gorge to behold the epic show.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Prime Desert Property

Area code 775 encompasses most of Nevada and has a population of exactly 12.  Pretty much everything but Las Vegas and Reno is in the big, empty 775 which is traversed by US 50, itself nicknamed America's Loneliest Highway. There’s prime land to be had in the verdant reaches of the Silver State and the price is so so right. Or, instead, you can choose a slice of paradise in the netherworld of the Mojave Desert.  Why you would do either is a question best left to psychiatric professionals.

Property number one lies just outside Death Valley, a moniker based on the likely result of being left beside the road in mid-summer.  And you’d face a similar fate were you to be stranded ten miles west of Edwards Air Force Base on plot number two.  If the temperature didn’t get you the winds would.  Last January those winds nearly tore the door off my poor Pilot.

I get a kick out of For Sale signs on worthless patches of nothing.  It goes to show that hope springs eternal or that there’s hope that one is born every minute. Unless coastal California falls into the blue Pacific, a not entirely remote possibility, these may not be your best real estate plays.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Peace on earth

When a friend told me that painter Louisa McElwain had died at her own hand at her home in Santa Cruz, New Mexico I absorbed the news in the abstract but not as a flesh and blood occurrence.  That was a year ago.  And it’s not as if I knew the backstory, the lead up to such a tragedy.  We were on a painting and photography trip into Canyon de Chelly back in 2004 and traded stories around the campfire.  And I’d spoken with her at a couple of her openings.  That’s about it.  It just didn't seem plausible for someone at the peak of her talent and success to take her own life. She was just 59.

Recently as I was sorting through some portfolios I chanced upon photographs I’d taken of Louisa in Canyon de Chelly and those images prompted this post.  She was in love with painting en plein air and her excitement to make art in the warm canyon sunshine was palpable.  Her students watched her intently, happy to be in her circle of influence.  They were acolytes.  They wanted to paint like the Louisa McElwain. 

Louisa painted big, bold and prolifically.  Two or three 3’x4’ pieces a day, paintings selling for $10,000 or more even then.  And she sold plenty.  Not that she got all the money.  She talked about one gallery absconding with $300,000. For most artists that would be a career.  For Louisa it was a nuisance. 

She was also newly in love with Joe Emerson, her neighbor in Santa Cruz.  He catered to her every need in the canyon and did so with great joy.  He was as en rapt as she.  They married.  But he died after a brief illness in January 2013.   I remember that Joe, a retired Army Major, was politically to the right of Attila the Hun and had utter disdain for all things foreign especially the French.   Xenophobic is too mild a description. Joe was a tough guy to like.
The nature of their recent relationship is unknown to me but it’s reasonable, given events, to think that Joe’s passing had affected her greatly.  Nearly as conservative politically as Joe, Louisa had recently become deeply Christian, a combination that isn't rare.  One wishes that her faith had comforted her more.  We wish that she had found peace in life. 

Sunday, March 09, 2014

High Plains Drifter

There’s a stretch of NM Highway 104 that runs east of Las Vegas for about thirty miles of undulating pastureland on its serpentine way to Tucumcari.  It’s a piece of road that has captured my fancy for twenty years or so. I do love my prairie and plains.

As we headed back to Taos after a two day jaunt to the metropolis of Canyon, Texas we found ourselves on 104. Props, by the way, to the wonderful Panhandle Plains Museum in Canyon where we were attending an invitational painting exhibition and which was the reason for our trip. Not so much for the dry little burg itself. That’s dry as in no libations to be had in the entire county, one of eleven Texas counties with that dubious distinction.  The folly that is prohibition will be studied in detail at a later time. Damn near happened today.

On the Saturday of the show it was a balmy 72 and on Sunday it fell to high of 23 in Canyon. Not only that, the forecast for the whole of the South Plains was for freezing rain and snow squalls. Heading back on I-40 just before Tucumcari we were turtling through blowing snow at 40 miles per hour.  Never the souls of patience we gambled on going overland on the aforementioned 104 as had been our plan.  At the height of land half an hour shy of Las Vega we were buffeted by cross winds and surviving slick roads but when we dipped down to the high plains the skies parted and the grasslands glowed with the saturated colors that follow a deluge.  Behind us was a crystal forest and beyond the beckoning plains after the rain.

This little spread has all the icons of prairie life that a guy could want, an abode, a windmill, a stock tank and a corral.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Full Metal Jackets

There are lots of ways to look at something, up close to wide and long and everything in between. The range of possibilities with a subject are darn near unlimited and so it was with the Campbell Memorial bus that sits in the nether reaches of the former Frontier Drive-In in Center, Colorado .  The defunct theatre is the more obvious subject but the bus has its advocates, as well.

Outback is a graveyard of decommissioned travel trailers, church busses and long haulers. It’s as good a place as any for a covey of bent metal relics. See a sliver of snowcapped Sangre de Cristos middle left just above the red container. Yes, that is the right turn signal of the Campbell Memorial church bus in pic one.