National Parks & America’s Pioneer Identity

I read biographies voraciously in the second grade; our school library had a whole series of them. Amelia Earhart, Betsy Ross, George Washington – I distinctly remember Thomas Jefferson hating to have his hair cut with a bowl on his head. The biography of Kit Carson said he was a pioneer and explorer who helped clear the west for the settlers. Isn’t that what we all learned? In 1993 (and two weeks ago), I was reading a National Park Service plaque about Kit Carson at Canyon de Chelly which explained that the site was the last stand for a group of Navajos before Carson put them on the Long Walk. The Long Walk? I didn’t remember reading about that part of his biography.

Fortress Rock, Canyon de Chelly, Site of Kit Carson’s campaign of genocide

Kit Carson, American Mass Murderer
Carson, according to modern bio excerpts, was a tireless explorer, traveled 20,000 miles on the back of a mule, spoke nine Native American languages, and married two native women. He fought off the Mexicans and Spanish in the acquisition of California for the United States. In the 1860s, the U.S. army put him in charge of clearing out the west, focusing on the Navajo, who refused to be relocated to a reservation. In 1864, he came into Canyon de Chelly, where hundreds of Navajos had lived for decades, just as the Anasazi had lived in the cliffs for centuries before. Carson attacked them as Spanish soldiers had done before him, and the Navajos climbed up into their hill fortresses for protection. Carson’s response was the euphemistic “scorched earth policy,” meaning he drove their livestock into blind canyons and slaughtered them. He burned all their crops, every last cornfield and melon patch. Then, he waited out the people until they came down, starving. He gathered them together – and other Navajos who had been captured – and drove these thousands of men, women, elders, and children 300 miles across Arizona into New Mexico to the Pecos River. That is the Long Walk. Continue reading “National Parks & America’s Pioneer Identity”

The Land of Rock and Cactus, Part II: Canyons and Culture

Owachomo Bridge, Natural Bridges National Park, Utah

This second week of our trip finds the intrepid southwestern travelers braving the trails through Santa Fe and northeastern Utah. I thought about entitling this Canyons, Cuisine, and Conversation because we had the chance to visit with so many good friends and eat good food… or Canyons and Chiles … or Canyons and Calderas … or Canyons and Calamities, but I couldn’t think of a good “C” word for the art. And Santa Fe had so much art!

Santa Fe: More Artists per Capita

According to something called the Location Quotient at the website Citylab, Santa Fe is the second largest mid-sized U.S. city for art. In other words, there was an awful lot of art for a city of only 85,000. So much art that every other building downtown is a gallery. The famous Canyon Road boasts over 120 galleries along its six blocks. The community garden across from our hotel entrance began with an arch made out of wheelbarrows, and the nearby railroad stop was fronted by a football field-sized canvas with twenty separate photography exhibits. So much art that even the orange traffic cones are turned into artwork. Continue reading “The Land of Rock and Cactus, Part II: Canyons and Culture”

The Land of Rock and Cactus, Part I: Looking Up

Sunset at Canyon de Chelly, Chinle, Arizona

“Where are you going THIS time?”

My friend was kidding, but we are traveling again for the fifth time this year, and it’s not getting old.  THIS time, we’re traveling into the land of enchantment, the land of mesas and long horizons, the land with dirt that coats your shoes and pant legs and gets into your pores. This is the land of rock and cactus, a land of exceptional beauty, the jewel of America, the Southwest.

Bombing down I5 through the Central Valley, we were happy to turn east through Bakersfield instead of  crawling through El Lay Basin for five hours. In Palm Springs, we stopped at a small but delightful botanical garden called Moorten’s which boasts the World’s Largest Cactarium. The yucca and ocotillo sprawled with joy across hand-lettered signs. The greenhouse was full of rare variations: cactus with hair six inches long and soft to the touch, cactus that grew downward from a hanging pot, and even cactus that stretched like a pile of snakes along the ground — “Grows Horizontally.”

In Redlands, a small college town on the east side of San Bernardino, the “fast food” joint called Red Panka, begs to be franchised.  The theme was Peruvian food and my quinoa shrimp saltado salad was virtuous and delicious; the fried plantains for dessert topped it off beautifully. I jotted a note to my Post-Traveling Self: Convince someone to open a Red Panka shop in Castro Valley! Continue reading “The Land of Rock and Cactus, Part I: Looking Up”

Not to See the Eclipse

Road Trip II: Up to Portland

Summer jobs when you’re in college are a grind  — hot, low-paying, mostly boring. Chasing shopping carts around in a parking lot. Xeroxing rolodex cards. Interpreting cheeseburger orders in sophomore-level Spanish through the drive-thru window. Our daughter Lee has been pulling 5:30 am shifts most of the summer, unloading the trucks at Homegoods, schlepping rugs and mirrors around for hours. If she’s lucky and they give her a full shift, then she spends the second half smiling at customers who give long elaborate stories about why they have no receipt but want to return this ceramic dog with a chip in it.

It seemed to me she deserved a road trip before heading back to school, so we were determined to take one. A close friend lives just up in Portland. That’s only two days drive. Synchronize your watches! Pack up the car! We’re heading north!

Continue reading “Not to See the Eclipse”

Pilgrimage through Chicago

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
— Carl Sandburg, Chicago

20170710_124921Sandburg also called Chicago the City of Big Shoulders. We climbed into those arms and clambered onto those shoulders this past week to take a look round at the marvelous views, sample the tastes of comfort and home, and walk among the canyons of glass and brick.

For me, this was a tour with two hats — three if you count the actual purpose of the visit, an excellent writer’s conference run by the good folks at GCLS. (I returned with a suitcase full of editing tips and bursting with new Facebook friends, cheers, all!) I went both as tourist and former Chicago resident. I went to school at the University of Chicago, as my bio notes. Like everything else with Chicago, it was a time of cognitive dissonance. I hated the experience; yet, it was highly necessary and garnered me more money and better jobs throughout my career. I appreciated the city’s architecture and art, but I loathed the weather and the B-School atmosphere. I reveled in the local food but gained 25 of the 100 pounds that I would later battle to lose and gain, over and over. As we toured the city, enjoying every nuance and cranny until we were repeatedly exhausted, I was resurrecting buried memories and trying to give the town a proper send-off in contrast to the grab-diploma-and-get-out-of-town that was my June 1985.

So this is a “travel” post, and I do recommend visiting Chicago if you have not done so. But it was also a pilgrimage for me.  I did find pleasure in the echoes of my youth (or yout’ as Joe Pesci says in My Cousin Vinny). I also found that even the most unpleasant memories are now funny rather than painful. Mostly, I found a lot of feelings of home. Continue reading “Pilgrimage through Chicago”