Category Archives: Places I’ve Been

Two More Little Free Libraries in Phoenix, AZ

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It was November 2017. Nolagirl and I were on an excursion through Phoenix, AZ. We had set out to see Little Free Libraries, and by golly, we were seeing Little Free Libraries.

If you don’t know by now what a Little Free Library (LFL) is, it’s a good time to learn. According to the Little Free Library organization’s FAQs,

anyone may contribute or take books [from a Little Free Library]…If you take a book (or two) from a Library, you do not need to return that exact book. However, in order to keep the Little Library full of good choices for the whole neighborhood, the next time you swing by the Library bring a few books to share. Little Library book exchanges function on the honor system; everyone contributes to ensure there are always quality books inside..

The first LFL we visited was Helen’s Little Free Lending Library on 28th Street. The second one we visited was on Cheery Lynn Street. This second visit was really special because we got to meet the Little Free Library steward. She was the first LFL steward I ever met, and out of all the Little Free Libraries I’ve visited in three states and six cities (Los Gatos, CA; Santa Fe and Taos, NM; Flagstaff, Mesa, and Phoenix, AZ) she is the only LFL steward I’ve ever met!

When we pulled up in front of the Little Free Library on Cheer Lynn Street, there was a car in the driveway, and a young-mom type of woman was taking groceries out of the trunk. She totally saw us pull up, so Nolagirl and I decided we should get out of the car and say hi. We explained to the lady that we were on a Little Free Library tour and asked her if she was the steward of this one. She said yes, we said it was really cute, and she went into her house. It was a totally pleasant, brief exchange.  (It would be surprising and horrible if a Little Free Library steward were a grouchy, mean person who hated talking to strangers.)

This LFL was constructed of wood that had been stained so the natural grain showed clearly. I think the upkeep on this one is probably pretty easy because no paint touchups are required. The sign on the bottom of the door says that this is a registered LFL with a charter number (65262), but it doesn’t have an official name like Helen’s Little Free Lending Library.

Only children’s books were available at the Little Free Library on Cheery Lynn Street.

This LFL held only children’s books, so I didn’t take any. I didn’t leave any either, since I didn’t have any children’s books to donate. I felt ok about my role in both situations. I didn’t need any books, and the LFL was plenty full even if I didn’t leave anything.

Sometime after our visit to Cheery Lynn Street, we went to 11th Avenue, where we found another registered, wooden Little Free Library (charter #10682). This time we did not have the pleasure of meeting the steward. There weren’t many books in this LFL, and I felt sorry I didn’t have a stack to stock it with. What a fun endeavor it would be to drive around with stacks of good books, going from one Little Free Library to another, making sure each one was well stocked with reading material for the people.

Self-portrait in Little Free Library on 11th Avenue. There weren’t very many books in this one.

World Photography Day

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Today is World Photography Day! According to an article from The Economic Times,


World Photography Day…aims to inspire photographers across the planet to share a single photo with a simple purpose: to share their world with the world.

Unfortunately, at the time I’m writing this post (on Christmas Day 2018) I can’t figure out where we are supposed to share our single photo today. The World Photo Day Facebook page hasn’t been updated since August 2017, and when I go to the Wold Photo Day website, I get an Error 521 message (“web server is down”). Maybe by the time this post actually runs in August of 2019, there will be updated information out in the world.

In the meantime, I want to share photos today of two of my favorite things: cameras and vans!

Yep, it’s the Camera Van!

Van is entirely covered in cameras!
Camera Van’s website says, “Before the first camera was glued to the van in 1993, fellow car artist Ron Dolce [said]…’you can’t just glue a bunch of cameras on a van and call it art…You have to paint with the cameras.’ The result? A perfect, blow up-replica of a kodak [sic] instamatic [sic] on the camera [sic] Van’s driver’s side comprised entirely of Kodak instamatics [sic].”

Nolagirl and I encountered Camera Van at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity which we attended in the spring of 2018. There were a lot of art cars there and a few art vans too, including Camera Van.

Front view of the Camera Van, entirely covered in cameras.
The Camera Van website says, “The Camera Van’s front grill features every polaroid [sic] camera ever made, from the Land Camera to the popular “One-Step” to The Swinger.”

Camera Van was created by Harrod Blank. According to Camera Van’s very own website, it is


the world’s most unique rolling photographic studio, truly the world’s ONLY van carpeted wall-to-wall in cameras and rigged to catch the candid expressions of people everywhere.

According to the Tucson.com article “World’s Funkiest Cars Find a Home in Douglas” by Luis F. Carrasco, Camera Van is Blank’s second art car, which he started working on in 1993. The van is

…covered with more than 2,000 cameras and assorted photography paraphernalia. It took him two years to complete.

Detail of the passenger side of the Camera Van.
The Camera Van website says of the passenger side, “…a representation of the human eye glows and gazes outward in color lens filter, flashcubes and mirrored glass.

Harrod Blank is also the creator of the Art Car World museum in Douglas, AZ. According the the musem’s website, Art Car World is


[a] museum dedicated entirely to the celebration and preservation of this popular mobile art form…located in historic downtown Douglas, Arizona. Currently under construction, Art Car World will feature a permanent collection of 42 popular Art Cars with more on rotating exhibition.

Art Car World is located at 450 E 8th Street in Douglas, AZ and is open by appointment only. You can contact the museum to schedule a visit or to get more information via email at excentrix@aol.com or by sending a letter to the street address given above.

The back of the Art Van is full of cameras.
There are more cameras on the back of the Camera Van!

Be sure to visit the Camera Van website to see the surprise on the vehicle’s roof.

If you like, take some photos today. Share them on Facebook or Instagram or go old school and have prints made. However you do it, use photography to share your world with the world.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read about another art van called California Fantasy Van  and an art car called J Gurl that were also at the spark! Festival.

I took all the photos in this post.

Friendly by Nature Little Free Library in Phoenix, AZ

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The Friendly by Nature Little Free Library. The top and side are mosaics.

My favorite Little Free Library (LFL) Nolagirl and I visited during our Phoenix Little Free Library excursion was the second one we went to. This one has the name “Friendly by Nature,” and the charter number is 5974. This registered LFL is decorated with beautiful, colorful mosaics and sits at the front of a yard decorated with more mosaics.

If you don’t yet know about the gift economy of the Little Free Library movement, here are a few things you should know. According to the Little Free Library organization’s FAQs

Little Free Library is a registered nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.

The left side of the Friendly by Nature Little Free Library shows a saguaro cactus and a hot hot sun.

As soon as Nolagirl parked in front of the house this LFL belongs to, I was attracted to the library’s bright colors. I was really excited when I got out of the vehicle and moved closer to the library and discovered the brightly colored scenes were composed from irregular tiles. WOW! I also greatly appreciated the desert scenes featured on this LFL. Pictured on the LFL are a saguaro cactus, the hot midday sun, and the starry night visible when one leaves the city behind. Beneath the moonlight, there is a row of books, much like those found in the actual Little Free Library.

The other side of the Friendly by Nature Little Free Library shows the desert night and a row of books ready for reading.

The outside of the Little Free Library was not the only thing on the property sporting bright mosaics. Several round poles just beyond the LFL were also decorated with colorful tiles. I didn’t want to infringe upon the privacy of the steward of the little library, but I did snap a few photos of other pieces of mosaic art.

I was so impressed with the artistic work that I wrote out a quick note expressing my appreciation. I left the note tucked in the LFL. I think it’s really important to tell people when we like their work. I know from experience that artists often don’t get enough positive feedback, so I like to rectify that situation when I can.

This mosaic is visible without going too far onto the property of the Little Free Library’s steward. I love that the lady’s nose is made from what appears to be a cup handle.

I left my email address on the note, and several days later I was pleased to find a message from the artist in my inbox. She wrote,

Thank you for the postcard regarding my Little Free Library and my other mosaics. I retired from Intel about three years ago and started making mosaics.  I have done many commissions.

My adobe house, courtyard and casita are my inspiration!

The artist then invited me to come over and see more of her mosaics! Wow! I was so flattered. Unfortunately, I already had plans for all of my days in Phoenix and I was unable to visit the artist and see more of her work. So disappointing! I’ve dropped the ball during my subsequent visits to Phoenix and never made plans to go over to this gracious woman’s house. My bad. Maybe someday I can still pay her a visit. I sure hope so because I want to see more of these splendid mosaics!

The sun shines above it all.

Helen’s Little Lending Library in Phoenix, AZ

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I was in Phoenix visiting Nolagirl in November 2017. She knows I love Little Free Libraries, so she suggested we visit the ones we could find in town. I thought it sounded like a fun excursion, so I readily agreed.  I’d visited Little Free Libraries in Los Gatos, CA , Mesa, AZ, and Santa Fe and Taos, NM and was really excited to see more of these awesome manifestations of gift economy.

For folks who don’t know, the Little Free Library website says

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.

The first Little Free Library (LFL) we visited that day was on 28th Street. Nolagirl said she passed it all the time.

A wooden box on a pole is designed to look like a small house with a peaked roof. The box is painted a deep blue and has lavender trim.
I love the color scheme of Helen’s Little Free Lending Library.

When we approached the LFL on 28th Street, the first thing I noticed was the great color scheme. I love the dark blue main color, especially with the lavender accents. I also like the four little windows that let you look into the library and the door that swings open to offer access to the books.

The next thing I noticed about this LFL is that it is “official.” There is a charter number (44511) on the left hand side of the sign that comes from the Little Free Library organization. Having a charter number means this LFL is registered with the Little Free Library organization and should pop up on the organization’s internet map of LFL locations. The LFL organizations says other benefits of registering a Little Free Library include

receiving a steward’s packet of tips and advice,…access to a private Facebook support group, and more.

Before I started writing this post, I had another look at the photos I took of this library. When I looked at the photos, I realized this LFL has its own name. It’s not just some generic Little Free Library. It’s “Helen’s Little Lending Library.” This realization leads me to ask many questions. Who is Helen? Yes, she’s probably the library steward, the person who maintains this LFL, but who is she really? Why did she decide to start a LFL? What’s her favorite part of having one? Also, how does a Little Free Library get its very own unique name? Does it cost extra to name your LFL?

The door to the Little Free Library is open, and there are two rows of trade paperback books available.
These were the books offered the day I visited Helen’s Little Free Lending Library.

There were several books to choose from in Helen’s Little Lending Library, but nothing I really wanted to read, so I left them all behind. I also left behind a couple of books I had to donate. I felt good about being a contributor. After all, we can’t expect Helen to do all the work to keep this Little Free Library going. I was glad to help.

I took the photos in this post.

Off the Cliff

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The Man and I and Jerico the dog took my New Mexico State Parks Pass and went camping at Bluewater Lake State Park between Gallup and Grants, New Mexico. We were staying in the Canyonside Campground near the trailhead for the Canyonside Trail.

Tall, tree-covered canyon walls in the distance. Shallow creek in the foreground.
Bluewater Creek down below

As you may have guessed from the name of the campground and the trail, we were camped on the side of a canyon. Specifically, we were camped above the canyon, but trees and vegetation blocked the view of Bluewater Creek down below. It was easy to forget the land dropped dropped dropped right across from where the van was parked.

It was late September, late in the camping season, so we had the campground loop mostly to ourselves. Some folks in a popup camper were in the area when we arrived on Saturday, but they left late the next day. An elderly couple camped catacorner and across the road from the site we had chosen, but they moved to a spot with a shade cover in a different part of the park after a couple of days when the weather forecast called for rain.

Because the area was underpopulated, The Man felt comfortable throwing the ball for Jerico. He threw the ball away from other campers and kept it pretty close to home.

As I’ve written before, Jerico loves to play ball. He loves for us to pet him, he loves Rachael Ray dog food and any sort of yummy treat, but most of all, he loves to play ball. In the last year, it has become possible to throw the ball enough to wear Jerico out. After fifteen to twenty minutes of chasing and retrieving the ball (depending on the temperature outside) he has to lie down and rest, but in another fifteen or twenty minutes, he’s raring to chase and retrieve the ball again.

A man and dog stand on a rock overhang. Both look down into a green canyon.
Jerico and The Man look down into the canyon.

The Man has thrown the ball for Jerico for countless hours in the last seven or so years. He’s usually very careful to never throw the ball anywhere dangerous because Jerico doesn’t have the sense to stay away from danger. All Jerico cares about is the ball. Jerico focuses entirely on the ball. He doesn’t think about where the ball is going or the relative safety or danger of going after it. Once the ball is thrown, he simply takes off after it.

The Man is usually very careful about where he throws the ball, but this day something went wrong. Whether he was distracted and didn’t think about where he was aiming the ball or if the ball bounced and went off in the wrong direction, I don’t know. Suddenly I heard The Man yelling No! and Stay!

I’m sure you’ve guessed what happened. The ball went toward the canyon and Jerico was not going to hesitate to follow it. Luckily, The Man intervened in time and kept Jerico from blindly giving chase.

The Man put Jerico in the van and searched the area around the drop off in hopes of finding the ball stopped by a large rock or fallen tree branch. No such luck. The ball was gone. No doubt it had rolled and bounced its way down to the canyon floor.

Jerico was not happy about the loss of his ball. He looked at The Man expectantly and barked.

In the past, when the Man was done playing, he sometimes took the ball away from Jerico and put it out of his reach. I think that’s what Jerico thought had happened. He settled down after about ten minutes of barking and expectant looks. However, later in the day, he got more insistent inhis looks and barks. We knew the signs. He was ready to chase the ball again.

A dog plays with a popped soccer ball that's bigger than his head.
Oliver will chase and retrieve any ball, even if he’s popped it, even if it’s bigger than his head.

The Man usually travels with a supply of the blue racquetballs Jerico likes to chase. (Of course, Jerico will chase and retrieve any ball, but the racquetballs are light enough for him to bounce off his nose and catch in midair.) The Man looked all over the van and couldn’t find a single blue racquetball. He realized he’d left the extras in his van which we’d stored in a friend’s backyard over 300 miles away.

Jerico grew more insistent. He really wanted to play ball.

Look dude, The Man said to him, we’re not going 30 miles to Wal-Mart just to get balls.

Jerico obviously didn’t understand.

We had to keep a close eye on the dog. He kept trying to go near the drop off to sniff around. He’s part beagle, so I have no doubt he could have picked up its scent. We were still concerned he would jump off the cliff fof the ball with no concern for his safety.

A dog in an orange harness stands among rocks and tree.

By the next morning, Jerico was being a huge pain in the neck. He would look at us and bark, toss his head, and prance around. We knew what he wanted, but had not way of giving it to him. The barking just went on and on.

I guess we’re going to have to go to Wal-Mart, The Man grumbled.

We had some things to do at the public library in Grants, then The man and I had a lunch date at the local Pizza Hut. It was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived at Wal-Mart. We made a beeline to the sporting goods department, only to find there wasn’t a single racquetball to be found. There wasn’t even an empty space on the shelf where racquetballs should have been.

The Man said we’d have to get tennis ball, but we couldn’t find any of those either.

The Man went to the nearby toy department and asked for help, but the associate he brought back to sporting goods with him couldn’t find racquet or tennis balls either. She shrugged, said she was new, and wandered back to the boxes of toys she’d been unpacking.

Another worker we cornered said to look for tennis balls in the pet department. We found some there, which we purchased, but we wondered where the tennis and racquetball players of Grants get their balls.

Once back at our camp at the state park, The man pulled out one of the new especially-for-dog tennis balls out of the package and played a game of fetch with Jerico. You can bet he was super careful to throw the ball well away from the canyon.

Two Horses

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Two bronze horses stand facing in opposite directions. The texture of the sculpture is irregular, as if the bronze is thickly applied.
Two Horses by William Barnhart

It’s difficult to adequately capture the sculpture Two Horses in one photograph because the piece has many angles to explore. I’d taken one shot of it (the photo above) during my visit to downtown Mesa in the spring of 2016, but I never thought this photo was enough. During my exploration of a few blocks of downtown Mesa with Nolagirl in March of 2018, I was able to get a few more shots.

Close up of the face of a bronze horse. The texture is irregular, as if the bronze is dripping.
This bronze horse has quite an expression on its face.

Two Horses was created by artist William Barnhart. According to Barnhart’s website, he received a BFA from Brigham Young University in 1984 and continued with graduate studies at Arizona State University in 1985. He is a resident of Mesa and has been a professional artist for over 30 years.

You can see more of William Barnhart’s sculptures on his webpage, which shows both sculptures in a pre-cast state and those that have been cast in bronze.

I love the texture of this piece, which begs to be touched. The plaque on the base of this piece explains how Barnhart made the horses look this way.

The sculpture’s unique surface was created by layering wet plaster over modeled forms of two horses, then allowing the plaster to run and drip. The effect is a texture with a random, organic appearance over a highly controlled form. Subsequent processes were used to transform the sculpture into its final bronze state.

One bronze horse turns its head to the right. The other horse is turned away from the viewer. We see its tail. The surface of the sculpture is irregular as if the bronze is thickly dripping.
A different view of the two.

Two Horses can be viewed on the southwest corner of Main and Center Streets in downtown Mesa, AZ. You can find this piece of public art and many others on the guide to Downtown Mesa’s Permanent Sculpture Collection.

Two bronze horses on the corner of a city street. The bronze is irregular as if it is dripping from the statues.

I took all the photos in this post.

Bohemian Rhapsody Art Car

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Nolagirl and I were at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018, looking at art cars. We’d looked at California Fantasy Van, the J Gurl art car, and Zalafayra. Next up: Bohemian Rhapsody.

As you might have guessed, this car is a tribute to the rock band Queen. The art was done by Rebecca Bass and her students at Reagan High School (now known as Heights High School ) in Houston, Texas. This high school is so cool, it has an art car club on its official list of activities available to students!

Art car covered in bling with a life-size representation of Freddie Mercury holding the Union Jack flag.
Freddie Mercury lets his freak flag fly. Oh wait! That’s the Union Jack!

According to an ABC 13 Eyewitness News website (which features a video of Bass and her students creating an art car),

Rebecca Bass is famous in the Art Car community. She’s created about 30 art cars in her lifetime, almost all of them with kids.

Bass leads the art car club at Heights High School. She and her students were even in a movie! The 2011 documentary Art Car: The Movie follows Bass and her students as they prepare a car for the Houston Art Car Parade.

A keyboard projects from the back passenger side door of a meticulously decorated art car.
That’s a full size keyboard on the side of that car!

The city of Houston calls the Art Car Parade the city’s

largest free public event [with] more than 250 rolling works of art …

A fake woman projects from the torso up from a meticulously decorated art car.
I think this woman is holding bicycle handlebars. Perhaps she represents the Queen song “Bicycle Race.” That song was really popular during my childhood. “I want to ride my bicycle/I want to ride my bike!” I didn’t realized until I was writing this post that there’s an official video for the song and it features naked women!

I think it’s really cool that high school students did the majority of the work on this car. While I do like Queen, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the band. What I am a huge fan of is the meticulous embellishment work done on Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow! So much bling! I don’t think there’s one inch of space on this car that’s not covered in shine, sparkle, or flash. This is my kind of three-dimensional collage.

A red guitar is attached to the driver's door of a meticulously embellished art car.
There’s a guitar to go with the keyboard. The band is almost complete.

Bohemian Rhapsody seems to have found a permanent home with ArtoCade out of Trinidad, Coloroado. The ArtoCade website calls itself

a parade!…a festival!…a party!

Art car meticulously embellished with bling.
Bohemian Rhapsody seems to belong to ArtoCade out of Trinidad, CO.

ArtoCade also has an art car museum. The information was a bit unclear, but from what I could ascertain, the museum once known as the Bizarre Car Garage had to vacate its space prior to September 2018. It seems to have relocated and been rechristened as Art Cartopia. I think admission to Art Cartopia is free. That’s my favorite price! (The information I found about Art Cartopia was on ArtoCade’s Facebook page.)

Bohemian Rhapsody detail. “Somebody to Love,” perhaps?

If you’re ever anywhere near Trinidad (a small town just off Interstate 25 near the Colorado/New Mexico border), I suggest you stop at Art Cartopia and take a look at Bohemian Rhapsody. There are so many details to look at on this car! I could have stared at it for hours.

Figures of a drummer and a woman with an ample bottom adorn the back of a meticulously embellished art car.
I’m pretty sure that’s a fat bottomed girl on the left. And look! There’s the drummer Roger Taylor on the right!

I took all the photos in this post.

Zalafayra

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An area on car above tire spelled out in bright yellow "#Zalafayra." Car is decorated with green moss and many tiny little things.

I wasn’t able to find out much about the art car Zalafayra.

Nolagirl and I saw the car at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018. Either there was no sign with the car or I didn’t take a photo of it, so I came into this post not knowing the name of the artist. I had to play detective to get some info to share with my readers.

Front view of an art car covered with moss and coins and antlers and all sorts of little things.
Plastic carrots, money, moss, and antlers, plus other odds and ends.

When a Google search of “Zalafayra” turned up nothing, I turned to Instagram. A search of “#zalafayra” brought me to a video belonging to Scot Campbell (@scotcampbellwindowpainter). In the video, a man identifies himself as Rick McKinney of Marin County, CA and says Zalafayra is his car.

A small statue of a male saint decorates an art car. Bits of broken mirrored glass and painted on orange and yellow flames surround him.
A holy man (Jesus? a saint?) is surrounded by shards of mirrored glass, orange and yellow flames, live moss, and bullet casings. This must be a religious experience.

In the video, Rick McKinney says he likes to “let people make up their own mind about what” the car is “all about.” He points out that he used “live moss, antlers, a bunch of religious figures” on the car. He said he was working with the theme of faith when he embellished the car, and the items on it represent things people put their faith in.

Some people put their faith in money. Some people put their faith in themselves; that’s the mirror…Some people in nature…time, Jesus, Buddha, you name it.

A small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is surrounded by matchbox cars, moss, and other odds and ends.
There’s a lot going on around the Virgin Mary, and I love it. Matchbox cars, a
menorah, Minnie Mouse, a couple of crosses, a tiny dinosaur. How is it all related? It was all related in the artist’s head, and that’s good enough for me.

With additional detective work, I found out a bit more about Rick McKinney on The Lighthouse Peddler website. The man’s not just a visual artist, but a poet as well! (You can read his poetry on his blog Jigglebox.com.)

A tiny 3D replica of The Last Supper is nestled in among the moss.
A tiny Last Supper nestled in among the moss.

In an October 2017 list of “Rick Trivia” by Blake More on the aforementioned website of The Lighthouse Peddler, we learn that Rick McKinney


“[h]as been featured on television a dozen times with his art car Duke.”

(You can see pictures of Duke on the Art Car Agency website and learn more about it on Art Cars in Cyberspace.)

I don’t know why Zalafayra was on display and not Duke. I don’t know why there’s not more information about Zalafayra out in the world. In any case, I feel really grateful to have seen this car, and I hope with this blog post, I’m doing my part to spread the word about it.

Art car is decorated with Matchbook cars, bullet casings, small plastic toys and a yellow New Mexico license plate that read "Art Car."
It’s an art car. Definitely an art car.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read about the J Gurl art car and California Fantasy Van that were also at the spark! Festival.

I took all the photos in this post.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

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Sign reads Oliver Lee State Park Self Pay Station.

It’s been well over a year since I spent a night at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park near Alamogordo, NM. It was autumn of 2017 when I stayed at the park, and I was sad because The Man and I were in one of our off-again phases. This post will not be the most in-depth of my reports on a New Mexico state park, but I’ll tell you about the basics.

I’d left the primitive camping area at Brantley Lake State park with a final destination of Truth or Consequences, NM. I decided I’d visit White Sands National Monument on my way since I’d never been there before and always heard it was a magnificent place. My New Mexico State Parks Pass was firmly attached to my windshield, so I could camp in any developed site in any New Mexico state park with no out of pocket expense.

Chihuahuan Desert scene with blue sky and whispy white clouds, rugged mountains, and desert plants.
View of mountains surrounding Oliver Lee Memorial State Park with the visitors center visible on the middle of the left side.

I knew Oliver Lee Memorial State Park was a bit out of my way, but I didn’t realize it was quite so far out of my way. I didn’t mind the extra miles I drove to get to the park since my pass got me in at no additional cost. Also, I like to see new places and was enjoying my tour of New Mexico state parks. However, if I didn’t have the annual camping pass, I wouldn’t necessarily to go out of my way to spend one night at the Oliver Lee campground.

I arrived at the state park late in the afternoon, after eating at an Asian buffet in the White Sands Mall in Alamogordo. I drove the 17 miles not really sure where I was going but following the instructions of the Google Maps lady who lived in my phone. I didn’t realize until the next morning that to get to the park, I passed the turn off onto Highway 70, the road that would take me to White Sands National Monument. I typically hate backtracking, but I didn’t stress out too much about it since doing so allowed me to visit a new-to-me state park.

Campsite post in foreground has number 32 on it. Mountain and blue sky in background.
Site #32 Can you see the moon to the right of the mountain?

When I arrived at the campground, I drove around the two loops looking for a developed site with no hookups. I settled on site #32.

I knew I should go to the visitors center and learn something about the area, but I just felt blah. I really only wanted to stay close to my van and digest all the food I’d stuffed down my gullet at the Asian buffet.

I did hang out at the van for a while, then decided I should go for at least a short walk. When I’d arrived at the campground, I saw a sign pointing to Frenchy’s cabin. I wondered who Frenchy was and why s/he had a cabin in the park. I decided to walk over there and investigate.

The remains of Frenchy’s cabin. If I remember correctly, the rock wall is original, but the brick wall has been rebuilt where Frency’s house once stood.

According to a New Mexico website,

In the mid-1880s, a Frenchman named Francois-Jean “Frenchy” Rochas started homesteading at the mouth of Dog Canyon. He built a rock cabin…

Frenchy mysteriously met his end just after Christmas in 1894, when he was found dead in his cabin, a bullet in his chest. Although the local authorities determined it was suicide, historians believe it was more likely that someone murdered him in a dispute.

It sounds like the first chapter of a Tony Hillerman novel or a Western movie starring Clint Eastwood!

After I checked out the remains of Frenchy’s cabin, I took a walk to visit the shower house. I found the facilities clean and well maintained. After using the flush toilet and washing my hands, I went over to one of the showers and turned on the water to determine if it would get hot enough for my comfort. Yet again, I found a New Mexico state park with no hot water in the shower house. While there was NO WAY I was going to take a cold shower, I wasn’t too sad because I was headed to the hot, hot water in the bathhouses in Truth or Consequences.

You may be wondering who in the heck Oliver Lee was. According to the aforementioned New Mexico website,


Oliver Milton Lee, [was] a famous local rancher, who raised both cattle and horses, and was instrumental in the founding of Alamogordo and Otero County. Lee established his ranch south of Dog Canyon in 1893 and lived there until 1907…

During this period, Lee was involved in a controversy involving the disappearance of prominent New Mexico Lawyer, Albert Fountain, and his eight-year old son, Henry. The bodies were never found, the case against Lee and others was circumstantial, Lee was acquitted, although the mystery remains.

Oh boy! Sounds like another Tony Hillerman/Clint Eastwood plot. I guess the wild, wild West was no joke!

Apparently Oliver Lee built a ranch house too and folks can visit it, but only with a guided tour. You can call the park (575-437-8284) to find out when you can take the tour.

Blue sky and mountains and tiny half moon.

Those are the Sacramento Mountains you see in all the photos. They look pretty rugged, don’t you think?

After I determined I would not be taking a cold New Mexico state park shower, I went back to my van and hung out until it was time for bed. I wanted to get to bed early so I could wake up before the sun and head out to White Sands National Monument. Before bed, I decided I should visit the restrooms. Luckily I grabbed my Luci light because it was DARK out there. Some of the RVs had lights on their campsite, but there were no streetlights lighting the way to the restroom. I actually appreciated the lack of light pollution so I could get a good luck at the night sky.

I did go to bed early and I did wake up before the sun. Before I hit the road, I was rewarded with the beautiful beginnings of a sunrise coming over the mountains in the east. Oliver Lee Memorial State Park was a lovely place to wake up.

Brilliant wide yellow swath of sunrise over silhouette of mountains
Sunrise over Oliver Lee State Park.

I took all the photos in this post.


J Gurl

Standard

Nolagirl and I were at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018. We were looking at the art cars and came across one that turned out to be one of my favorites of the whole day, J Gurl by Diane Bombshelter from Tucson, AZ.

According to her website, Diane Bombshelter is primarily a painter who creates on black velvet. Apparently she’s really good at painting on cars too.

This is the big picture of what her art car looks like.

An art car is brightly painted with images of bugs and flowers. The Blessed Virgin Mary is painted on the hood.
Can you see the Blessed Virgin Mary on the hood of this art car?

When I got up close and starting looking at the details, I liked the car more and more.

Here’s the sacred heart painted on the back passenger door. I like the way pieces of broken mirror were used to accentuate the painting and add sparkle to the area. Also, the rough edges of the glass could cut the viewer, which I think brings to mind the pain caused by those thorns wrapped around the heart.

Sacred heart painted on the side of art car JGIRL.

Much of the imagery on the car is specifically female and really celebrates feminine power and energy. For example, here’s a uterus complete with egg tubes, ovaries, developing eggs, cervix, and endometrial lining painted on the rear passenger side of the car. Again, mirrors (this time round ones to echo the roundness of the eggs) catch the light and add sparkle and shimmer. Of course the pink background evokes stereotypical femininity but perhaps also a reclaiming of female strength.

Painting of uterus on the art car JGIRL. Ovaries, egg tubes, and endometrial lining also featured.

Here’s a vulva, right over the gas tank! Do you think that placement was random or a conscious choice?

Painting of a red and pink vulva on the art car JGURL.

The details that went into this representation of the vulva make me really happy. The yellow represents flames, perhaps, or bolts of energy. The red jewels outlining the border are also very sweet–more sparkle, more pizzazz. You may not be able to tell from my photo, but the clitoris is entirely composed of shiny little jewels. This vulva is a celebration of womanly parts. This vulva shines!

Art car JGURL has painting of Kwan Yin on the side. Sunlight is lighting her face and head. Glass beads radiate out from her head.

Ah, there’s Quan Yin, one of my favorite manifestations of Goddess energy. According to a Crystallinks webpage,

Quan Yin is one of the most universally beloved of deities in the Buddhist tradition. Also known as Kuan Yin, Quan’Am (Vietnam), Kannon (Japan), and Kanin (Bali), She is the embodiment of compassionate loving kindness. As the Bodhisattva of Compassion, She hears the cries of all beings…

Contemplating the Goddess of Mercy involves little dogma or ritual. The simplicity of this gentle being and Her standards tends to lead Her devotees towards becoming more compassionate and loving themselves…

Don’t you like the way I took the photo so the sunlight makes the area at the top of Goddess’ head glow? I’m pleased with that aspect of the photo, although I can’t remember if it was a conscious composition or a happy accident.

Art car JGURL has a mosaic of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the hood.
This photo courtesy of Nolagirl.

If the Blessed Virgin Mary is more your style when it comes to Goddess representation, Bombshelter has that covered for you on the hood of the car. The image of the BVM is made from flat glass marbles and is surrounded by small BVM statues. The blue flowers are artificial and permanently adhered to the hood as far as I could tell.

It’s obvious that so many loving details went into the design of this car. Even the dashboard is carefully decorated.

Dashboard of art car JGURL. Toys decorate the dashboard and the word "Goddess" is spelled out in Scrabble letters.

My favorite part of this interior decoration is the word “Goddess” spelled out in Scrabble letters. Clever!

In a 2015 article about the Art Car World museum in Douglas, AZ, Diane Bombshelter discussed pushing the boundaries of what cars are supposed to look like and represent in our society.

“Breaking that taboo opens people’s minds. It doesn’t have to be a certain way; it can be this way, too,” she said

“… I wanted to bring art to the public, instead of the public having to go to an art gallery.”

Arizona license plate on an art car. The plate number reads J-G-U-R-L.

I greatly enjoyed seeing and appreciate this art car. Hopefully I’ll see it again someday and take photos of the art on the driver side.

See Diane Bomshelter’s paintings on black velvet on her website.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read about another art car called California Fantasy Van  that was also at the spark! Festival.

I took the photos in this post, except for the one attributed to Nolagirl.