Monday, November 29, 2021

Test pattern


Austin's Store, Randsburg, CA

After 15 years of my blog posting at around 4:00am every Monday morning last week it posted on Sunday afternoon when I finished writing and clicked Publish. This week it didn't publish at all as far as I can tell. Neither Peggy nor I got the email that indicates the post in online. It's disheartening to miss a post after something like 735 weeks without missing a post.

So, this is a test to see if you get the blog right now, 10:36am MST or tomorrow or not at all.

Good luck to me.

The photo above has nothing to do with anything.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Full Metal Jackets

We drove east on I-40 from Tucumcari to Oklahoma City, a stretch of ugly nothing punctuated by the occasional grain elevator and a mile long feed lot whose odor stays with you for an hour. It’s not a trip you take lightly. Actually, it's not a trip you want to make ever. But we had to and there we were midway between Godforsaken Ron Jon, New Mexico and OKC.

Forty miles before Amarillo, speaking of ugly nothing, I saw a towering elevator on the horizon. I am drawn to cylindrical forms anyway. As we came abreast of the elevator, I saw a line of semi-trucks and semi-trailers lined up along the north frontage road. It was like the back-up at an inspection station at some state line somewhere. The vehicles were all pointing west as if waiting to enter New Mexico.

It was odd. I couldn’t explain why there would be a dozens of dead trucks in the middle of no damn where. Come to think of it I still don’t know why. And damned if I’ll go back.

We didn’t stop for photographs or for an explanation, but I filed the sight under “have to stop here on the way back.”

I had the bent metal cemetery in my mind when we headed back to Taos on Saturday. For reasons I can’t explain I knew that the the ferrous conglomeration was going to be the very next exit. And, sure enough, in the distance I saw the elevator in question. I didn’t know the number of the exit, the name of the town or if there was name for the place at all. I learned all that via Google and Google maps in the comfort of my office.

The place that I later learned is ghost town of Landergin, Texas gave me a passel of worthwhile photographs and two blogs worth of fodder.

Today’s chapter features the bodies of the dead trucks and next week’s will be the grain elevator looming over the whole shebang.

Landergin, it turns out was founded by the John and Pat Landergin whose father had escaped Ireland’s Potato famine of the 1840s. It began as a cattle ranch and when the Chicago Rock Island and Gulf Railway came to the Texas Panhandle in 1908 the town of Landergin was born. Then the nearby town of Vega was founded, and John Landergin opened the First State Bank. The brothers bought more ranch land and in 1912 built a mansion on Amarillo’s Polk Street. Their company floundered after John’s death in 1923 and their holdings were auctioned off.

As of 1936 Landergin had one store and 15 residents. By 1980 two businesses remained and today there appears to be a truck repair shop and the hulks 50 or so vehicles that have had their last rites.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Oklahoma OK

Buick Valve In Head Motorcars

Two weeks ago, Peggy and I drove to Oklahoma City. It’s 450 miles of flat and mostly ugly, especially the Texas Panhandle part. It's a vast nothing punctuated by the occasional grain elevator and a mile long feed lot whose odor stays with you for half an hour. But the trip was essential since Peggy was part of the prestigious Small Works Great Wonders show at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. According to the museum, “The exhibition features works by 100 of America’s finest artists.” With that billing she had to attend and, as her spear carrier, I came along for the opening shindig. Turns out the 200,000 square foot museum was epic in scale, had the largest collection of paintings by the Taos Society of Artists that I’ve seen and the Small Works Great Wonders opening was boffo. That’s theatre lingo for huge crowds and huge sales. 

Coffee with a splash of Buick

Nichols Energy Services

The museum alone was worth the trip and Oklahoma City isn’t the backwater I have avoided like the plague for decades. It is after all in deep red Oklahoma and my expectations were muy low. 

But, cowboys and cowgirls, Oklahoma City was a real city, had a measure of sophistication, a bounty of charming historic neighborhoods and quite a food scene. I am chastened by my misjudgment of the place. Next year I’ll almost maybe look forward to returning.

We stayed in Bricktown in a decent hotel but in a neighborhood long past its prime. Once a vibrant entertainment district Bricktown is a somnolent, shabby cluster of 1980’s chain restaurants and karaoke bars. It’s the kind place with the kind of restaurants that, and I quote, “Appall me.” Bad chain restaurants make me lose my appetite until I find redemption in a well operated local establishment. 

I have a nose for good restaurants if I do say so myself. So, to escape Bricktown I found an all-day breakfast place at the corner of NW 10th Street and Broadway. Breakfast is my favorite meal as you know. In the neighborhood called Automobile Alley, so called because it was once ground zero for car dealerships, were myriad locally operated eateries including the worthy Hatch Early Mood Food. It served one Hell of breakfast and boasted a buzzy clientele that streamed in and out that Friday morning at 10:30.

Where good restaurants congregate you'll find a healthy residential neighborhood supporting them. Such was true in Automobile Alley. Handsome brick car showrooms had become caf├ęs, bars, restaurants, fitness studios and hip looking engineering firms. 

And more importantly as Automobile Alley gentrified it kept its early 20th century bones and a trove of Art Deco signs the likes of which I’ve never seen. I haven’t done the neighborhood justice with these meager offerings, but you get the picture. 

High wire act

The stairway to nowhere

And there was an architectural novelty, a spiral fire escape suspended in the alley between Broadway 10 Chop House and the parking garage where I was standing. The metal snake led nowhere and didn’t reach the ground. It was mysterious and playful at the same time. The relic was salvaged from Marion Hotel across the street and became a quirky piece of public art.

The Marion is becoming luxury apartments which will make the lovely folks at Broadway 10 and Packard's where we dined muy happy.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sublime Solitude

Nested in the rolling desert is a trim single wide and a shed.

Connecting the Grand Canyon to the Four Corners are two-lane roads that traverse Navajo and Hopi country. For the second time in three months, I’ve driven those roads. In September we drove US 160 from the Grand Canyon to Chambers, took a right through Tuba City and on to the Four Corners and Shiprock. As I expressed in an earlier post, I was more enchanted by those 150 miles of stark emptiness than by nine days at the Grand. More recently I drove to Bluff, Utah after photographing Mesa Verde and Hovenweep. As I drove to Bluff on San Juan County Road 162, I saw a part of the Navajo Nation I’d never seen. It was as captivating to as the Navajo Trail, perhaps more so because it was even less populated. And that’s saying a lot. It was on that short stretch of road that I came to understand the chest filling appeal of the Navajo homeland. It’s well established that I am drawn to forever vistas. It’s the number one reason I give for choosing to live in Taos. But there’s more to it than that.

Scattered homesteads flicker below a wall of red rock.

Tonalea Sundown

Navajo Handmade Jewelry Here

The Four Corners and the Navajo Nation’s expanse and epic skies dwarf those of my chosen home. That big empty, those towering mesas, buttes and outcroppings reduce the mark of man to insignificance. We are dwarfed by the immensity of the earth and the heavens. I was once again enchanted by the vast emptiness and by the spare habitations strewn like specks against the towering immensity of the place. The Navajo Nation boasts a population density of 6.6 people per square mile on a sprawling reservation that's larger than Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined. Manhattan sports 77,781 per square mile. It's hard to grasp. In Navajo Country the immensity of Mother Earth puts us in our very small place. That juxtaposition of the forever and the ephemeral is breathtaking

Nestled into the arid landscape are Navajo and Hopi homesteads, so small they’re easily missed. More often than not they’re trailers or manufactured homes with a corral, and sometimes a Hogan. Seen out of context they speak of poverty and desolation. But, looking more thoughtfully at the hardscrabble tableau, there’s space and grandeur in every direction. That’s the kind of wealth you cannot buy. One can imagine simply being and contemplating the land and sky at daybreak or sundown. That was my realization when I pondered a simple Navajo community glittering against a red mesa. The serenity of the scene is inexorable. The towering silence is meditation.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

The Watchtower at Desert view

The Watchtower at Desert View

As I began to research the antecedents of Mary Colter’s iconic buildings at the Grand Canyon, I referred to her recently republished 1932 book Watchtower at Desert View. It became my roadmap for a Four Corners photo safari and, potentially, an article about Colter for Shadow and Light magazine.

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde. See Round Tower on the far right.

Round Tower at Cliff Palace

In her book subtitled Manual for Drivers and Guides, Colter gave special credit to Round Tower at Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park for being the inspiration for her Desert View Watchtower and to Hovenweep for being the most complete repository of Pueblo Indian architecture and construction in the Southwest. In her words, “There is no area in the United States with more archeological interest.“

Her plainly worded and highly detailed manual set me on a path to Mesa Verde near Cortez, Colorado and on to Hovenweep which straddles the Colorado-Utah border some 70 miles northwest of Cortez.

Mesa Verde sits on two mesas rising 8,500 feet above the Montezuma County valley floor. It was impressive in scope but lacked access to the major sites, Cliff Palace, and Long House. I had intended to photograph Round Tower at Cliff Palace to show its influence on Colter’s design of Watchtower. That, in fact, was my primary objective for visiting Mesa Verde. The closest I could get either site was 400 yards, so I was unable to capture the extraordinary stone and mortar work of the Ancient Puebloans a thousand years ago. And while I was able to get record shots of Cliff Palace and Long House, they fell far short of “art” and didn’t do justice to the craftsmanship on display.

Twin Towers, Hovenweep National Monument

Detail, Twin Towers at Hovenweep

Detail, Desert View Watchtower

Fortunately, Hovenweep made up for it. Tucked into the Colorado-Utah border, the compact monument afforded access to all the important sites via the Little Ruin Trail. From the trail which dropped into the shallow canyon and back up the other side I could get within a body length of every ruin. The only thing between me and the elaborate rock walls was an unobtrusive cable strung between permanent stanchions. Now I can show examples of Ancient Puebloan stonework and contrast it with the rock walls of the Watchtower. Notably, Colter employed local Hopi craftsman to apply the rock and mortar cladding of her Watchtower which was in actuality a steel and concrete structure.

The Desert View Watchtower is 70 feet tall making it, according to Colter, the tallest of the many towers that populate Navajo and Hopi country. That contention is disputed by some.

The lines and proportions of the Round Tower at Cliff Palace informed the design of the Watchtower at Desert View though the raw materials were very different than those at Mesa Verde. The rocks at Mesa Verde were carefully hewn. However, the stone available to Colter was very similar to that of Hovenweep as was the exposed position of the Watchtower akin to the towers at Hovenweep. And so, mortar less permeable than the mud used on Mesa Verde’s sheltered towers had to be used on the Watchtower. Photographs of the details of Hovenweep’s towers became the models for Colter’s masons. And the rocks for the Desert View Watchtower were used as found, another departure from Mesa Verde. The inspiration for the shape and taper of the Watchtower may have been Round Tower but the construction materials and application were all Hovenweep.

Connecting the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde and Hovenweep among others are two-lane roads that traverse Navajo and Hopi country. For the second time in three months, I’ve driven those roads. Next time I'll share my thoughts on the big empty that draws me so. 


y tuned, explorers.