Category Archives: Places I’ve Been

Superbowl Campground

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When we planned our trip to The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, The Lady of the House and I decided to camp the night before our visit. At that time of year (early April) The Needles (Squaw Flat) campground in the southern section of the park is on a first come-first served basis, and we didn’t know if we could get there early enough in the day to snag a campsite. We looked at the Free Campsites website in hopes of finding something totally free close to the park entrance, but the free spots we found were father away then we wanted to be.

We ended up figuring things out on the fly due to a four day delay imposed on us when my van’s water pump had to be replaced. While I drove, The Lady pulled out the informational brochures she’d picked up in Canyonlands during her visit the previous summer.

There were three campgrounds on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land outside the boundaries of the National Park. The camping fee at each was $5 a night. That wasn’t quite as good as free, but pretty dang close.

We were aiming for Creek Pasture Campground.  It was the closest campground to Highway 211 (the road that would take us into the National Park), and it seemed to be big enough to offer us hope of finding an available site.

We thought the trip to the campground would take us about five hours. We left Winslow, AZ early enough that we thought we’d get to the campground before dark. We had visions of cooking dinner, eating it leisurely, watching the sun set. I’m not sure what happened. We did stop to hand a can of Fix-a-Flat to a couple having tire trouble in the Navajo Nation, but that couldn’t have set us back more than 10 minutes. We stopped for one gas and bathroom break, but that took 20 minutes, tops. I also pulled over to take a photo of the Utah sign when we crossed the state line, but The Lady didn’t want to fight the wind, so she stayed in the van. Could my photo op have cost us more than three minutes?

After we got into Utah, the sky turned overcast. It was dusk when we passed through Blanding, and dark when we went through Monticello. I was glad the GPS lady was there to tell us when to make the turn onto Highway 211; otherwise I might have missed it in the night.

At some point after we turned onto the 211, the rain started. Suddenly I was driving on a twisty, turny, curvy mountain road in the dark and the rain. I really should be more scared than I am, I remember telling The Lady.

I saw the sign for Superbowl campground, but figured it would be full on a Saturday night. We hoped the larger Creek Pasture Campground would have a place for us.

Maybe the rain has sent people home already, I hoped aloud.

We found Creek Pasture Campground, and I drove slowly down the entrance road, then through the campground. Every campsite seemed to be taken. We saw one that appeared empty, but when I jumped out of the van to investigate, I found a tent pitched behind some vegetation. Another site appeared deserted, save for the registrations slip clipped to the pole. The departure date was the next day, and I suspected the campers had been chased off by the rain, but I had no proof. We didn’t want to risk being on someone’s site if they returned, so we decided to backtrack and check out Superbowl.

We turned onto the main road into the campground and followed it to its first offshoot. We turned down that road. Immediately to our right was a campsite. There was no car parked there, no tent pitched in the bushes, no registrations slip on the pole—in fact, no pole. I pulled the van right in, and we let relief wash over us. We had a legal place to stay for the night.

The rain continued, so we didn’t get out of the van to cook dinner. We just ate snacks and laughed a lot, as if we were at a slumber party. I fell asleep and didn’t hear another sound, but The Lady said it rained all night.

Sunday dawned clear and sunny. As much as I hate driving in the dark, I love arriving in the dark and waking up to the surprise of beautiful scenery. I hadn’t had that pleasure since boondocking at Indian Bread Rocks in Arizona more than a year before, but we really lucked out at Superbowl Campground. I couldn’t stop oohing and aahing when I stepped from the van.

Of course, my photos don’t do justice to how our surrounding really looked. The rocks were red and huge and the formations so very Utah. Even the walk to the pit toilet was wonderful in such a beautiful location.

There was a sign on the information board saying the campground had been under renovation. That probably explained the brand-spanking-new fire ring and picnic table on our site. The renovations maybe also explained why the campground seemed bigger than 17 sites. Maybe it had been expanded as well as renovated.

There was only one pit toilet serving the entire campground, so there was a bit of a wait to use it, but it was decently clean on Sunday morning. There was toilet paper available, which is always a plus. The campground didn’t have a camp host, but someone was servicing that restroom.

The Lady and I took a brisk walk around Superbowl so I could try to get some good photos. As we walked around, we saw other campers cooking breakfast, packing up, and generally starting their days. Lots of campers looked young and athletic. I saw helmets in the bed of a truck, making me think the campers on that site were a group of rock climbers. I know practically nothing about rock climbing, but even I could see it would be exhilarating to climb any of the surrounding formations.

All in all, Superbowl campground was peaceful and surrounded by beauty. I was not upset to drop into the iron ranger the envelope with our $5 camping fee enclosed.

I took the photos in this post.

 

Meteor Crater Natural Landmark

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I took this photo on the road to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark complex the first time I tried to visit in 2015.

I’d planned to visit Meteor Crater Natural Landmark once before. I’d taken exit 233 and driven nearly 6 miles to the parking lot. I’d even gone into the visitor center, but when I saw the price of admission, I turned around and left.

I’d budgeted $10 to see this roadside attraction. I probably would have splurged and spent $12, but when I saw the price of admission was $18, I went back to my van and got back on the road. I doubted looking at a crater would be worth $18.

The Lady of the House thought this story was hilarious.

She’d never seen the meteor crater either, but her son, The Boy (now a grown man in his 20s), had visited some years ago on a field trip. The Boy had been quite impressed by the crater during a time in his life when he was not easily impressed. (Upon visiting the Grand Canyon as a child, all The Boy could say was, I hate this stupid Grand Canyon; his favorite part of the trip was the ride on a shuttle bus from the parking lot to a scenic viewpoint.)

He just kept talking about how big it was, The Lady said of her son after his visit to Meteor Crater Natural Landmark.

The crater wasn’t originally on our trip itinerary. We hadn’t planned to be on I-40 at all, but waiting for my van’s water pump to be replaced delayed us by four days. We cut the New Mexico portion of our trip out entirely, which meant we had to get to Utah by a different route.

Since we’d be on I-40, The Lady really wanted to see the meteor crater.

You pay the $10 you budgeted when you stopped before, The Lady told me, and I’ll pay the $8 difference.

I told her it was a deal.

The Meteor Crater website said guided tours were available. I called the Meteor Crater office and found out the guided tours were included in the price of admission. I always like to take a guided tour if it doesn’t cost extra. I find I learn more from a tour guide than I do if I’m left to my own devices reading informational placards.

The night before our visit to the crater, we boondocked off I-40 between Flagstaff and Winslow, just outside Walnut Canyon National Monument. We’d hoped to arrive at the crater in time for the first tour at 9:15 in the morning, but we were running late. In retrospect, we were glad we’d missed the first tour because when we arrived, we still had time to use the (clean) restroom, buy a few souvenirs in the (well-lit, neatly arranged, not overpriced) gift shop, and watch the (entertaining, informative) short documentary IMPACT! The Mystery of Meteor Crater.

This photo shows the entrance to the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark complex.

Before we did any of those things, we had to pay the admission fee.

The worker who greeted us at the door was all smiles. She welcomed us and pointed to the sign above the box office where she said we’d see the prices listed. We already knew the prices (they’re on the internet, as The Lady said to me later, thus a matter of public record), so when The Lady walked up to the box office, she chirped Two, please! and didn’t balk when the ticket seller asked for $36.

A young couple walked in right behind us. I’d noticed them in the parking lot. They looked like neo-hippies, or at least the man did. He had long hair and a big beard and wore baggie pants that probably allowed him to do the sun salutation in the morning and wrap his legs around a djembe at the drum circle at night. The woman looked less like a hippie and more like a Whole Foods athletic urbanite in a tank top and those hiking leggings that are in fashion with women who engage in outdoor sports.

The fellow was talking to the greeter. I wasn’t following their conversation, but I heard the fellow say $18? in surprise. He lady friend echoed $18? in pure disbelief. I thought it was really funny that the couple was having the same reaction I’d had during my first brief visit.

The greeter must have confirmed the $18 admission fee. Then the fellow seemed to be asking if there were a place they could look at the crater for free; I’d had that same thought during my first visit. The greeter must have told them there was no free viewing because the couple left the building.

The Lady and I, however, went deeper into the building. Then we went out a door, up some steps, past the under-construction Astronaut Park, and into another door. We were now in the area housing the Discovery Center, the restrooms, the Subway restaurant, the gift shop, and the theater.

I guess they wanted to get their money’s worth on that graphic, The Lady said.It was on everything from road signs to restroom signs.

First stop: Restrooms.

Second stop: Gift shop where I bought postcards and The Lady bought The Boy a souvenir t-shirt to replace the one he’d bought during his visit and outgrown.

Third stop: Theater where we watched the informative short documentary IMPACT! The Mystery of Meteor Crater.

After the movie was over, it was time for a tour. We fell in with Jake, our tour guide, who took us right out to the edge of the meteor crater. I was glad we’d opted for the tour because visitors don’t get nearly as close without a guide. I was glad the weather was good too because tours are cancelled due to bad weather, including high wind speeds. I was also glad The Lady and I were visiting in spring because in the hot Arizona summer the tours are cut short.

While visitors can see the crater from the observation area (including through a big glass window for the days it’s too hot and/or too windy to go outside) and can get close-up looks through the free telescope views, no one goes out to the edge of the crater without a guide. I’m sure it would be a huge liability issue to have people standing so close to the edge and perhaps trying to climb down into the crater. The people who own the crater (yes, it’s privately owned) must feel safer having a guide keep an eye on people who go where there are no barriers.

We walked out on a short paved path, and there it was to our left—Meteor Crater. The Boy was right; it was big. Other words that came to mind when I saw the crater were huge, massive, immense, and fantastic, yet it’s difficult to put into words or even capture in photographs just how stupendous the crater really is.

We learned from the movie that the floor of the crater is large enough to house 20 football games being played at the same time, while the sloping sides of the crater could accommodate stands big enough to seat 2 million fans. That’s difficult to imagine, even while I was standing right there looking at the crater.

I didn’t quite begin to understand how big the crater is until I looked through one of the observation telescopes. Looking through the telescope, I could see the floor of the crater where a 6’ tall (I later read) cutout of an astronaut stood in front of a chain link fence. The cutout and the fence both looked itty bitty, even through the telescope.

I learned the following information from a brochure we received at the ticket counter: From the viewing platform,

the floor of the crater is 550 feet deep, equivalent to a 60 story building.

The crater is over 4,000 feet across and 2.4 miles in circumference.

Wowza!

Jake the tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. He talked about the impact of the meteor that had

The Lady dances with (a cardboard cutout of) an astronaut in the Discovery Center.

created the crater and the process by which the theory that the crater was made by a meteor (not a volcano as originally thought) was proven. The Lady really enjoyed the second stop on our tour—The Rock Table—where Jake did a show-n-tell of how the meteor impacted (my pun—totally intended) the geology of the area surrounding the crater.

After the tour ended, The Lady and I made a quick pass through the Discovery Center. This area had a lot of

information about meteors and space. There were interactive exhibits, like the one letting the visitor lift an earth rock and comparably sized piece of a meteorite to show the difference in their weights. The Discovery Center seemed to do a good job explaining scientific information in ways kids could understand, while still keeping  the exhibits interesting for adults. I wasn’t so excited about the Discovery Center that day after being out in the sun and the wind during our tour, and knowing I still had hours of driving ahead of me, we kept our visit short. However, the Center must be very popular on days when it’s too windy to go outside or during the summer when the heat cuts the tours short.

You’re probably wondering if the entire experience is worth the $18 admission fee. Folks do get a lot for the price of admission, including the guided tour, the opportunity to view the movie, free use of the telescopic viewers, and access to the Discovery Center. Once you’re in, you’re not nickeled and dimed to death. Also, visitors are allowed to bring in water and snacks, or get their hands stamps for reentry and go out to their vehicles to eat and drink. Every part of the operation The Lady and I saw was clean and well-maintained, so no one is slacking on maintenance in order to line pockets. Finally, all of the employees I encountered (including the clerks in the gift shop) were friendly and seemed happy, so I suspect the workers are being paid decent wages. I’m always happy when workers are earning decent money.

So while I can’t say an $18 admission fee is in my budget, I do think the people who pay that amount get good value for their money. For folks interested in space and heavenly bodies in general and meteors and the impact they’ve had on earth in particular, as well as those interested in geology and the history of the earth, Meteor Crater Natural Landmark would be a very interesting attraction. I’m glad I went, and I appreciate The Lady subsidizing my admission fee, but I wouldn’t encourage travelers on tight budgets to give up something else to visit here unless they were huge fans of meteors and the craters they leave behind.

This photo does no justice to how deep and wide Meteor Crater really is.

I took all the photos in this post.

The Night Garden

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The first thing Nolagirl and I saw at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity was The Night Garden by Jenneva Kayser.

The festival’s website calls The Night Garden a

colorful, illuminated landscape inspired by bioluminescent plants and fungi…created on site and consist[ing] of sculptures made of woven recycled fabric and translucent porcelain clay. The artist invite[ed] visitors to “take a walk through the wild landscape—an underwater desert in outer space!”

What in the world is “an underwater desert in outer space”? Wow! I don’t even know what that means. In any case, Nolagirl and I were fascinated by the cacti made from fabric.

On a March 7, 2018 post on the Mesa Arts Center website called “Woven Together,” Kayser writes of the assistance she got to create this installation. She orginally proposed to create a small piece in a “tucked away” location. She thought she’d be doing all the work herself. When the review committee asked for something bigger to display in a more prominant location, Kayser needed help.

About forty people snipped and wove as we processed all the recycled fabric into string, and crocheted the vines and cactus that make up the garden. Four hundred fifty pounds of t-shirts later, I am full of gratitude for a task I simply could not have done alone.

On her Instagram page, Kayser describes herself as “Studio Manager at Mesa Art Center. Artist, poet, cook.” That’s all the biographical information I can find for this artist. Also, is she the same Jenneva Kayser, poet, interviewed in a 2014 issue of Geosi Reads? Ms. Kayser is as mysterious as The Night Garden itself.

The aforementioned Instagram page is a great place to see what The Night Garden looked like at night, something I’m sorry I missed. It’s also a great place to get up close and personal with the textile sculptures.

There’s so much for me to like about this piece. I love that this art is created from recycled fabric. What a fantastic use for 450 pounds of t-shirts! I so appreciate people who can create beauty from items one step away from the trash. I’m also attracted to bright colors, so the reds and purples and fluorescent yellows really drew me in. Since the Sonoran Desert has wormed its way into my heart, any scene with cacti catches my attention.

The Night Garden was a fabulous welcome to the spark! Festival. It drew me and Nolagirl right in and awakened our sense of wonder, preparing us for the other enchanting art we would see that day.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Boondocking Near Walnut Canyon National Monument in Arizona

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The Lady of the House jumped out of the van and took this photo for me.

The Lady of the House and I started our epic road trip by camping outside of Flagstaff in a location we found courtesy of the Free Campsites website. We planned to visit the Meteor Crater National Landmark and Winslow the next day, so the location off I-40 was perfect for us. The free camping is in the Coconino National Forest right outside Walnut Canyon National Monument.

According to Wikipedia,

Walnut Canyon National Monument (Hopi: Wupatupqa) is a United States National Monument…The canyon rim elevation is 6,690 ft (2,040 m); the canyon’s floor is 350 ft lower. A 0.9 mi (1.4 km) long loop trail descends 185 ft (56 m) into the canyon passing 25 cliff dwelling rooms constructed by the Sinagua, a pre-Columbian cultural group that lived in Walnut Canyon from about 1100 to 1250 CE.

This photo shows the well-maintained dirt road into the boondocking area. I believe this is the road Google calls Oakmont Drive and says becomes Cosnino Road.

From Interstate 40, we took exit 204 as directed by Google, then turned onto Walnut Canyon Road, which we followed to Cosnino Road. When we saw the Walnut Canyon National Monument sign, we knew we were close. We arrived before dark, so it was easy to see where we were going.

We turned off of the main road (Walnut Canyon Road) onto a well-maintained dirt road, which I believe is the road Google calls Oakmont Drive and says becomes Cosnino Road. This well-maintained dirt road had no signs, but we suspected we were in the right place because we could see RVs parked among the trees.

We hadn’t gone far down the dirt road before we saw a flat spot with evidence of previous camping (a fire ring made from stones, a log fashioned into a bench). We decided that site was good enough for our overnight, and I pulled the van in between the trees.

While we were preparing and eating dinner and later while we were getting ready for bed, something mildly strange occurred. At differnt times, a couple of different pickup trucks drove like bats-out-of-hell on the well-maintained dirt road past our camp. The trucks weren’t gone long; shortly they were driving fast in the opposite direction, ostensibly back to their camps. It was as if the drivers had gone to the end of the road, then turned right around and come back. Where did they go? Why did they come back so soon? What was the huge rush? Other than these strange drive-bys, the camping area was very peaceful. We heard no evidence of partying–no loud voices, no loud music.

Campers before us made a fire ring from stones and fashioned a bench from a log. I sat on that bench to eat my dinner.

The Lady discovered this mountain view.

The next morning The Lady went for a short run and came back to tell me she’d found a mountain view and other campsites. She said she’d show them to me, so I went on a brisk walk with her.

The other campsites were at the top of a slightly steep incline. The

Rutted and rocky dirt road

problem getting to the sites wasn’t the road’s climb so much as the road’s poor condition. I was glad I hadn’t tried to take my van up the rutted and rocky dirt road.

The campsites up top (evident because of stone fire rings) were nicely tucked into the trees and deserted, which surprised me. Sure, it was early April, not prime camping season, but I thought someone would have camped up there on a Friday night. However, it seemed we’d had that entire part of the boondocking area to ourselves.

Unfortunately, the fire rings weren’t the only evidence of previous campers; folks had left trash on more than one of the sites. Also, not far from where we camped, we saw the remains of two sofas. I can’t imagine how anyone could have forgotten two couches out in the woods. Maybe it’s supposed to be a hunting blind? The Lady asked

Whoever left these couches on public land left a pretty big trace!

skeptically. I don’t think so. I think the sofas were hauled onto public land specifically for dumping! What a travesty!

Overall, The Lady and I were pleased with our free camping. I would absolutely stay in this boondocking area again.

 

Terrible Experience

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This photo shows the Double Arch, right across from where we utilized the pit toilets before starting our hike to see the North and South Windows.

I’d stepped out of the little building housing the pit toilet and was waiting for The Lady of the House to step out of the little building she’d gone into. We were in Arches National Park, near the Windows Trail. We were on our epic road trip, and we were having a great time.

I was standing to one side of the walkway. Two women passed me and went to the front of the pit toilet buildings. They were older than I am, probably in thier early to mid 60s. One woman was wearing a rather bashed up black cowgirl hat glittering with black sequins. The woman with the hat looked at her companion and declared, This is going to be a terrible experience.

I kept my mouth shut, but I thought it a shame she’d decided what kind of experience she was going to have before she even allowed herself to experience her actual experience.

My experience with the pit toilets throughout the national parks we visited was that they weren’t so bad. They all had toilet paper, most offered hand sanitizer, and none disgusted me. The Lady and I ulilized one at a scenic overlook at the very end of the day, and we both noticed the floor could have used a sweep and the outside of the risers could have used a wipe, but it was still on the pleasant end of the pit toilet spectrum.

Some of the pit toilets we encountered were smelly, but that’s the nature of decaying of animal (human or otherwise) waste. Folks who flush away their excrement don’t always realize the pit toilet stench is a normal result of the process of decay. Sometimes they don’t seem to realize that loudly complaining about the stink isn’t going to make it go away.

I think perhaps this sign I saw in the pit toilets thoughout the national parks in Utah is helping to keep things clean.

I can tell you from experience, finding feces on the floor near a pit toilet is a terrible experience. Having to clean up the feces is even worse. I wonder if the lady in the black sequined cowgirl hat had ever had that experience.

I took the photos in this post.

spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity

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Nolagirl and I were going to hang out.

I have to bring my kid to Mesa, she said. She’d been thinking about checking out the free spark! event at the Mesa Arts Center. I told her that was fine with me. Nolagirl always finds the quirkiest, funkiest, grooviest, all-around-most-fun activities in the greater metro area, and I’m pretty open to trying new things. If Nolagirl likes a cultural event, I’m probably going to like it too.

I looked up spark! on the internet. The event’s website says,

This year’s Festival of Creativity will feature an exhibition of 16 art cars, multiple hot rods and lowriders, and interactive arts experiences for people of all ages. spark! celebrates the imaginative spark in all of us, by showcasing Arizona artists and performers and inviting visitors to explore and enjoy live music, aerial dance performances, hands-on experiences, live art-making, installations, demonstrations, a variety of foods, a beer, wine and cocktail area and more.

We arrived at the event around noon. The crowd consisted of a lot of families with kids, but there were plenty of adults without children out there too. I was glad to see the event wasn’t packed; we could still move around just fine and experience everything that was happening.

We entered the festival from Main Street. We could hear the music of the 1950s being performed by Come Back Buddy as we approached. The music was good, and I’m sure I was tapping my foot and swaying my hips, but it was The Night Garden by Jenneva Kayser of Tempe, AZ that really got our attention. We were fascinated by the cacti created from what the aforementioned website calls “woven recycled fabric and translucent porcelain clay.”

As we moved through the Shadow Walk between the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum building and the Ikeda Theater, we encountered another stage where Rising Youth Theatre thespians were performing Light Rail Plays. According the theatre’s website,

Teams of youth and adult artists work together to explore the public transit experience with original plays from a youth perspective…Performers…travel between platforms to maximize the number of people who can experience performances!

We didn’t stop to watch the performance, although we did pause briefly to see the vast array of “food” that festival participants had molded and shaped. The sparks! website calls this participatory activity led by Elliott Kayser a “Community Still-Life in Clay.”

A dining room table set in the style of a classical still-life painting, complete with ceramic serviceware, [was] created prior to the event. During the festival, colorful clay [was] given out to festival-participants with a prompt: to make food that they associate with family tradition. Performers dressed as waiters…compose[d] and arrange[d] the finished “food” within the still-life.

It’s like a coloring page on a car!

A little farther down was a chalkboard car folks could decorate with colored chalk. This interactive experience was the brainchild of artist Kyllan Maney. The sparks! website says this 1981 BMW 528 was

pre-installed with chalkboard paint on the exterior and black lights in the interior. Festival goers [were] invited to color the car in a pre-planned design with chalkboard markers. Vinyl chalkboard shaped birds [were] temporarily adhered to the ground making pathways to the interactive art car, to mimic shadows [of] the birds flying overhead.

When we walked up, volunteers were cleaning off the chalk so newcomers could experience the fun of coloring on a car. We didn’t linger to do any decorating of our own.

The next cool thing we saw was the construction of an art car under the leadership of Harrod Blank, and (apparently very busy) artist Kyllan Maney. The spark! website explains the finished result will be an art car called “Desert Marlin” which was

I love the glass saguaros on this art car.

inspired by the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert. The exterior will be covered with cactus and succulents ranging in size and texture, created out of metal, glass and painted directly on the car. The interior, inspired by the “heart” of the Mesa Arts Center community, will be created by visitors to the festival. They will be invited to create and add a piece to the car during the event.

It was probably when Nolgirl said art car while telling me about the event that I was totally in. It had been a long time since I’d been to an art car event, but I think it’s really cool to take something as ordinary as a motor vehicle and turn it into something original and unique. Nolagirl and I spent probably the next hour looking at each of the sixteen art cars and two art cycles on display in the Arts Center parking lot.  (I’ll be sharing photos and info on my favorite art cars in upcoming blog posts.)

I had so much fun sitting in this chair!

After looking at the art cars, Nolagirl and I went off in search of a restroom. Before we found the restrooms, we found magnificent wobbly chairs. Based on Weeble Wobble technology, the chairs swayed, tipped, and rolled, but never dumped the occupant on the ground. Nolagirl and I both tired out a chair, but I think I enjoyed my experience more. Once I realized I was safe in the chair, I relaxed, leaned back, and had a good ol’ time. I would have played in the chair for the next half hour if little kids hadn’t been waiting their turn.

(I made up the part about Weeble Wobble technology. I mean, yes, there is a certain technology that allows Weebles to wobble but not fall down, but I don’t know if the chairs worked on the same principle.)

We were directed to a restroom in the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. I was surprised to see a proclamation of “free admission” on the door. Admission wasn’t just free on that day, but all the time! Wow! I will remember to take advantage of this free admission if I’m ever in Mesa again.

After our visit to the (very clean) restroom, we decided to spend some time with the museum’s exhibits. I was glad the museum was a manageable size. I go into art overload rather easily, so I was happy to see three rooms of current pieces and be done.

When we left the museum, Nolagirl was hungry, so she ordered some food from the Short Leash Hot Dogs truck. I found an umbrella-shaded table, and ate a LÄRABAR® while I waited. After our lunch, we thought we’d seen it all and started heading back to the car. When we got to Main Street, I asked, Is there more to see over there? so we walked over to check. Yes, there was more to see!

There were more cars over there. They weren’t art cars, but they did have bright and shiny paint jobs and they weren’t like the average cars on the street. These were hot rods and low riders representing different car clubs. I couldn’t find any information about these cards on the sparks! website. Although I’m not a huge car buff, I did enjoy the bright, shiny colors of the automobile exteriors.

We were heading to the corner when we saw a crowd gathered against the rail above the museum’s courtyard. What’s going on over there? we wondered, then saw the women sitting on the museum’s roof. Oh! It looked like we’d be able to catch the last performance of the Dark Sky Aerial  theatre company.

Photo courtesy of Nolagirl.

It was a mesmorizing performance both above and below us. (I’m confident the dancers performing on the ground were part of CaZo Dance Company, but I couldn’t find any information online to confirm this assertion.)

While six performers in white dance and tumbled in the coutyard below, five women in black used the outside walls of the museum as their vertical stage. They flew through the air, harnessed to ropes that both tethered them to the stability of the building and allowed them to soar through the air. In about a dozen minutes, the show was over. Lots of people  were still having fun at the spark! event but for me and Nolagirl, the performance of Dark Sky Aerial and CaZo Dance was a magnificent end to a fun time at the festival.

Photo of me enjoying myself in the titly chair courtesy of Nolagirl.

 

I took the photos in this post, unless otherwise noted.

 

Rockhound State Park (NM)

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I’d been hearing about  Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM ever since I’d started hanging around rock people in Taos. It was a state park, they’d tell me with wonder in their voices, where you could mine for New Mexico minerals. Maybe I’m just a Negative Nelly, but I doubted there would be many shiny rocks left in the park after thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of visitors had already taken home all they wanted.

I finally got to visit Rockhound State Park in December 2017. I was heading west from Truth or Consequences, NM, and I had a state parks pass, so I decided to spend the night in the park’s campground. I arrived late in the day, so I didn’t stop at the visitor center. I didn’t go to the visitor center the next day either. I can’t remember exactly why. I remember I was sad because of recent relationship troubles, so I guess I was content to stay close to my van home.

When I pulled into the campground late on a Sunday afternoon, most of the developed campsites without electricity were occupied. I didn’t want to pay an additional $4 for electricity I didn’t need, so I was happy to get what seemed to be the last available basic developed site. My site was close to the day use parking area and the adjacent trail. My site was also within walking distance of a clean pit toilet. I was grateful to have a flat spot to park my van.

This photo shows the view of the campground from the beginning of the Jasper Trail. I was camped next to the first ramada on the left in the foreground of the photo.

The campsites are quite close together in the area where I found my spot. During my first evening there, I very clearly heard my next door neighbor’s side of a phone conversation. He was sitting outside near his large rig, but I could hear him so easily, he might as well have been sitting at my picnic table. By the sound of his accent, he was from Wisconsin or Minnesota, and he wasn’t too impressed with the campground we were in. He and his wife preferred Oliver Lee State Park, he told the person on the other end of his conversation. I would have preferred silence, but I guess we were both destined to be dissatisfied that night.

I drove around the campground while looking for a site, but once I found my place, I didn’t venture away from my loop. I just didn’t feel motivated to walk around the campground. I suppose I wanted to stay close to the security of my cozy home. I certainly didn’t want to experience yet another cold New Mexico state park shower, so I didn’t seek out the bathhouse.

The loud Midwesterner and his lady left in the morning and I had a few hours of quiet early in the day. I cooked some breakfast, then tidied the van. I planned to leave the next day, and I wanted to be rested upon departure.

In the afternoon I decided to go for a walk on the nearby Jasper Trail. The trail started just across the pavement from my van, so I didn’t have far to go to get to it. I wasn’t so interested in the trail itself, but I did feel like I needed some exercise. I wanted to stretch my legs and get my blood circulating.

I walked for maybe half an hour. I saw scrubby bushes, cacti, and some rock formations, but no cool shiny rocks. I wasn’t really looking for shiny rocks, and I didn’t get off the trail, so I’m not really surprised that I didn’t find anything I wanted to load into the van. I’m sure a lot of people had walked that trail before me and any nice rocks were long gone from the immediate vicinity.

This photo shows a view of the jagged rocks I saw from the Jasper Trail.

The State Parks website says of Rockhound State Park,

Located on the rugged west slope of the Little Florida Mountains, Rockhound State Park is a favorite for “rockhounds” because of the abundant agates and quartz crystals found there.

I suspect folks who are interested in collecting rock specimens in the park know where to look to increase their chances of finding what they want. Perhaps the workers at the visitor center advise rockhounds on where to dig for the minerals they seek.

Not long after I returned to my camp, a loud, slightly dilapidated, medium-size motor home pulled into the campground. I noticed it right away. It circled the campground, then chose the site right next to mine. To be fair, the site right next to mine may have been the only available one in the place.

After the loud conversation from next door the night before, I was hoping for a quiet evening. Unfortunately, the man who disembarked from the noisy moter home was not a quiet man. Fortunately (for me at least), he latched onto the couple on the other side of him. The man was loud and animated and quite possibly on meth. There was just something about him that made me want to avoid eye contact.

The motorhome man built a campfire and convinced his other neighbors to sit around it with him. I avoided eye contact with all of them by keeping my head down while I cooked dinner. When my meal was ready, I ate it in my van. Once the dishes were washed, I got in my van and locked the doors. At some point the newcomer settled down and went into his own rig, where he was quiet enough not to disturb me for the rest of the night.

I was out of the campground the next morning before check-out time. I had a list of thrift stores I wanted to visit before I left Deming, and I was on a schedule, so my time of lingering was over. The motorhome man didn’t bother me, for which I was thankful.

I would stay at Rockhound State Park again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay there. It was a fine campground, but not spectacular in any way I noticed.

I took all the photos in this post.

Drawing Room

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Nolagirl and I were walking towards the Mesa Arts Center on Main Street in Mesa, AZ.

I want to go look at that rocketship thing, I told her.

Right there by the lightrail stop? she confirmed.

I explained I’d taken phots of it in 2016. but I didn’t have any information about the artist. I wanted to find the name of the piece or the name of the artist or something.

We walked across the street, and Nolagirl gazed at the art. I wouldn’t have called it a rocketship, she said, but I get it.

I suspected it wasn’t supposed to represent a rocketship, but that was the closest comparision I could come up with. The round, tapering shape suggested a 1950s concept of space travel to me.

I couldn’t find any permanent information about the art, but Mesa was having a silly event where folks could interact via text with inanimate objects downtown. This piece of art was part of the project, so I was able to find the artist’s name in a cirlce on the ground.

Nolagirl actually texted this object as I was looking for information and taking photographs. Their exchange was rather boring. We were totally over it when the sculpture asked what business we wanted to see downtown. A free box! I chimed in, but I think Nolagirl had already told the art something else.

These faces belong to real people. Those people are part of the Mesa community.

The art piece does have a name, although I couldn’t find it anywhere in the area. (I didn’t go up on the actual lightrail stop waiting area where the seats are. Maybe the name of the art is somewhere over there.) According to Ralph Helmick’s website, the piece is called Drawing Room. The website explains about the faces on the piece.

Its walls are comprised of graphic cutout silhouettes of an inclusive array of actual Mesa citizens. Each profile occupies an oval frame that connects with its neighbors, the collective creating a soaring web of community.

I think it’s really cool that the silhouettes are of actual people who live in Mesa. I wonder how the folks were recruited. I wonder if folks ever scrutinize this piece of art to find their own image or the image of a loved one.

Helmick’s website also says,

Taking the shape of a giant conic form of perforated metal, viewers recognize it as a visual beacon from blocks away and walk underneath while passing to and from the light rail.

You can definitely see this piece from blocks away. It’s a good landmark for not just the lightrail stop, but the Mesa Arts Center as well. I definitely noticed that it’s a portal. To get on the train or return to Downtown Mesa, commuters have to pass through this portal of community.

You must pass through this portal of community to catch your train.

 

The website mentions another thing I’d noticed.

Viewers looking up from beneath the sculpture may draw parallels between our interest in the expansive mysteries of the universe and our quest for civility and fellow-feeling here on earth.

Well, ok, I didn’t draw any parallels or think any deep thougths, but I did notice that it’s really cool to stand within the sculpture and look up, up, up all the way to the hole in the top. The experience is a little dizzying, but very, very cool, especially when light and shadows are playing on the metal.

The CODAworx website says

Ralph Helmick is a sculptor and public artist.

Since his first public art commission in the mid-1980’s – the Arthur Fiedler Memorial, on Boston’s Esplanade – he has worked in various materials (including metal, stained glass, cast resin, and found objects) to create large-scale public sculpture in parks, schools, museums, and other public spaces across the US.

As I did research on Drawing Room and Helmick, I was surprised to see the artist had created another sculpture I know. Helmick is also responsible for the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial on Town Lake in Austin, TX. I’ve visited that staute before. The muscian wears a poncho and a big hat with a brim running all the way around it. Austin folklore has it that as a tribute to Vaughan, fans leave joints on the brim of his hat. I suppose it works as a sort of “take a joint, leave a joint” gift economy, because I was told to always reach up and search for a joint. I suppose if there’s one up there, the finder smokes it in Vaughan’s name. When I visited the statue, I reached up, but didn’t find any treats on the hat.

I took the photos of Drawing Room in this post. My friend Lou took the photos of the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial. Thank you, Lou!

Mural Row

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Nolagirl and I were walking on Main Street in Mesa, AZ, looking for the Big Pink Chair. We approached a building at McDonald, on the south side of Main. I saw murals painted in large, shallow alcoves on the east side of the building.

I’ve never seen these before, I said.

The murals show Arizona natural landscapes and other snapshots of the state’s natural scenery.

I love the vivid sun and the way this painting seems to invite the viewer to stop right into those mountains. I don’t know who painted it.

The mural below was painted by Matlock the Artist, as we can see from the stenciled “signature” on the bottom left of the piece below. Matlocktheartist.com seems to be out of commission, but I traced the moniker to Mark Matlock, artist and owner/curator of (possibly defunt) Fragment Gallery in Tucson. The most current information I could find (2015) is that Matlock left Tucson and moved to Mesa.

This larger-than-life rendering of saguaro blossoms is my favorite of the nature scene murals. The desert is extra beautiful when the saguaros are in bloom.

I think it’s great when the artist has an element from one painting invisibly span the empty space between the two murals and pick up in the adjacent painting. I think this technique helps show the relationship between the murals and make them seem less like isolated pieces. In the pieces above and below, you can see how the artist has used this technique with the the tree branch that runs in front of the saguaro and ends up in the top right corner of the mural featuring the young woman.

Only one of these murals includes the human form, in the person of a young woman standing under the phases of the moon. Who is this woman? Who does she represent? Why is she standing under the changing moon? Those are questions I can’t answer.

I also wonder who painted this mural. I can’t see a signature anywhere. Can you?

I don’t see a signature on this mural either, but it reminds me of a small painting on the other side of Main Street, just down from the Smith-O-Lator cookie store.  Perhaps the same anonymous artist created both paintings.

The spines on these cacti look wicked!

The following mural is called Three Riders and was painted in aerosol by Kerry Niemann of Apache Junction, AZ. Niemann

studied painting, drawing, and sculpture at the University of Kansas in the early 1990’s…

Currently, [she is] most interested in drawing the people and places where [she] live[s]…in Apache Junction, including the mountains, rodeos, restaurants, cars, bull riders, spectators, actors, horses. [She] also paint[s] murals of similar subject matter.

I like the juxtaposition here of a very traditional Western scene topped by an abstract representation of the sky. I wonder if the three figures on horses are perhaps riding off into hell.

Chuck Wan signed this mural of larger-than-life birds, but I can’t find any information about him, other than his collaboration with Carlos Mendoza on a mural for sale through Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Anyone know anything about Chuck Wan?

On the other side of the building, where a wide alley bisects the block, we found more murals painted in large shallow alcoves. While the first murals we saw depict scenes of the state’s natural beauty, the second set shows aspects of mid-20th century American Southwest civilization such as advertisements on Route 66 and other highways and byways of a pre-interstate era.

 

I don’t see a signature on this depiction of the Buckhorn Baths sign.

These are all places in Arizona, Nolagirl said in awe.

She was right, according to information I found about these murals in a December 2015 article in the East Valley Tribune. More specifically, the murals depict places in Mesa. The article, “Downtown Murals Evoke Mesa Memories” says,

Murals that depict neon signs on businesses that previously operated in the city [Mesa] have been painted on the west wall of Surf and Ski building at 137 W. Main Street.

According to the East Valley Tribune, Anthony Galto re-created three vintage signs in this mural.

According to the aforementioned East Valley Tribune article, the next mural was painted by Jesse Perry. On his website, Perry says,

Using an abnormally bright color pallet to deliver my New School Pop Art Style, my work is both bold and versatile, often filled with humor and fun loving characters of the Southwest, commonly laced with hidden messages that speak to the idea of unity and community.

Jesse Perry’s website says he painted this mural with spray paint. I love the Arizona sunset sky.

Also featured in the East Valley Tribune article was this mural by Mark Matlock, aka Matlock the Artist. According to the article, only black and white photos of the sign he chose to paint were available ,

 so he had to choose colors for the mural. His desire was to make the mural look like an old post card and look like neon. He used a wash to rub over the final work…

My favorite of the neon sign murals is this one by David “Dski One” Oswoski of Mesa. I like the slightly blurry edges which gives the piece a dreamlike quality. I can imagine being a little kid in the backseat of the family Buick, eyes half closed after a long day of fun and seeing this sign beckoning me to spend the night in one of their clean, comfortable beds.

I was glad to spend some time with these murals; they really help beautify the two walls. It’s nice to have these downtown reminders of Arizona’s colorful commercial past and its fragile natural beauty.

Penny Pinchers in Quartzsite, AZ

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The Man and I were in Quartzsite, AZ. We were near the Big Tent, heading to meet our California boss. There’s a gift shop on the Big Tent side of the street, as far from Central Blvd (Highway 95) as possible. The structure housing the gift shop is permanent, but I don’t know if the store is open year round, or only in the height of the winter tourist season. You’ll know you’re there when you see the big rock painted tastefully to say, “Welcome to Tyson Wells.” The building itself has words painted on it as well. The words on the building proclaim, “Cards” “Gifts” “Games” “Ice” “Soda.”

As we walked past the store, I saw a sign alerting me that I could press pennies inside. What? This was my fourth winter stay in Quartzsite, and I was only now discovering the penny squishing machine? Apparently so.

I decided to smash a penny later, when I had more time.

For some reason, I only encounter penny presses in Nevada, Arizona, and the California desert. I’ve smashed pennies in Jerome (AZ), Las Vegas (NV), and Baker (CA). Why have I never seen a penny press in New Mexico?

This is the press…er, pincher…I used to squash a penny for my friend.

All of my penny pressing is on behalf of an old friend of mine. Years ago, she told me she collected smashed pennies, so now I want to squash a penny for her whenever I see one of the machines. My endoeavors may be in vain at this point, but I’ve continued to perservere.

I went back into the gift shop at Tyson Wells one morning a few days later. The place was deserted, save for the very chipper woman working. She was stocking, but she told me to let her know if I needed any help. I said I just wanted to make use of her penny press, which I had already seen standing near the check out counter. She said that was fine and went about her work.

I walked up to the machine and fished two quarters and a penny from my coin purse. I fed them into the machine, then decided on what design to engrave onto the penny. I decided on Hi Jolly’s tomb since it was the most uniquely Quartzsite of the three designs.Then it was time to turn turn turn the crank unitl the penny fell with a clank into the dispenser cup.

I only saw this penny press as I was walking towards to door to leave.

My work was doine. I called out thanks to the woman working and headed to the door.

I stopped in my tracks after about two steps. There was a second penny press right next to the door. I’d never seen two penny presses in one place before (and I’d never seen them called penny pinchers either.) I didn’t press a penny in the second press, but I did take a photo of it.

Now I know Quartzsite, AZ is also on the list of places where pennies can bre pressed.

I took the photos in this post.