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Blythe, CA


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Geoglyph

Outside of Blythe, CA there are geoglyphs that I have read about for years but never seen. Both Ellen Meloy and Barry Lopez wrote about them in such a way that I felt like a fool not to exit whenever I passed Blythe on Interstate. I was heading to Gallup, New Mexico for a weaving workshop and had one extra day to kill. Although I had intended to go to the Grand Canyon I did not leave Los Angeles until 3 PM, which left me roughly at the edge of Blythe by nightfall. I don’t like to drive at night anymore so I decided to I check into Red Roof Inn and go looking for these famous glyphs the next morning.

At dawn I woke up, made a cup of black tea, stumbled into my truck and went looking for the site with only a vague notion about where it was. The clerk at the motel (who had never actually been to the glyphs) gave me directions that seemed simple enough the night before. By the time I had driven few miles outside of the city limits, past the green pastures that the Colorado river provided for this otherwise dry desert center, I was heading North and had not checked my odometer. Ruefully aware of my lack of survival skills, it suddenly hit me that I was not in Los Angeles anymore and ought to be paying closer attention to what I was doing.  The desert can make you delirious, see things, and lose your bearing…

Geoglyphs, or intaglios, are different than petroglyphs. Instead of being carved from a perpendicular rock face, they are carved onto the face of the Earth, from the horizontal pebble-scape. As I crept along the 95 and the sun started to rise I was only a few miles out of town. I felt a rush of fear course through me. How little do I think about where I am actually going these days? I blindly follow my GPS through city traffic in a daze. I am addicted to the little voice that tells me I am heading in the right direction, to the reassurances. But out here I am mostly alone on the road, except for a single semi that is pulled off on the slim shoulder. I felt far away from others and close to the limits of things I understood. This feeling that plays tricks on my ambitions. Opposing desires began to battle within me. I could return to my hotel room where it was dark and cool and known, and get back on the highway heading for Gallup, or I could push further along the empty, unknown road, seeking what I might find.

I have not brought any sort of map, nor thought to program the desired location into my phone (reason is the first thing to go when you lose your bearings) but I glance down at a post-card of the glyphs that I bought the night before in the motel lobby. On the card it says that the glyphs are15 miles North of Blythe. Thinking to myself that surely I had driven at least that far, I turned my truck around and headed back towards a bend in the road that looked more promising. As I pulled a U-turn in the middle of the empty highway I saw the mile marker, 14 miles to Blythe and immediately knew that I had not gone far enough. So I pulled around again, passing the truck parked on the side of the road for a third time. I waved sheepishly. A mile up the road, past where I had turned around the first time, there was a historical marker and Bureau of Land Management sign, and I caught a glimpse of the Colorado River. It was already 7:30 AM and I could feel the heat of the day rising.

My friend Leslie Ryan says that the desert is like a museum. And there is definitely a sense of preservation here, a sense of stasis.  At the same time the BLM sign welcomes me, it also warns against driving off road or disturbing the landscape in any way. And there is a wooden fence that funnels me through a somewhat lunar terrain. The sun pierces my eyes, and rests on my shoulders. I forget my hat on the seat of the truck. I don’t wear sunscreen. I blindly stumble up to a chain link fence and gaze across the intaglio scraped from the desert floor.

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The light is gold and brown. The ground is corrugated and parched, covered with pebbles. The shadows of the fence posts are long and bend away from the low relief of the glyphs. The shadows are crisp and black and they fascinate me.  They make a kind of hypercube shape on the ground that counters the 95 ft. span of intaglio. Like a veil, the shadow of the chain link gently covers the round pebbles. Without form or substance, light perseveres or it is blocked I feel as if I’ve walked into another dimension, a place where time is being marked. Not so far from the road I hear a few more trucks passing. My thoughts wander around the contrasting light and dark. Is man really different now than before?

The shadows of the posts project across the pebbly ground making their Cartesian mark over this older, mysterious scape. . The vertical marks the horizontal in a silent conversation. These two inches of depth are enough to set an idea in motion, whatever needs to be set here. I sense it, but I do not understand it. The length of the glyph speaks to the length of the shadow of the fence, to the time of day, to the direction I am facing. But I am all turned around and barely know which direction my head points. I am a confused spectator at this event, of this system. A few beetles make their morning trek for food in front of my shoe.  Again, I am compelled to leave and stay simultaneously.

I name this glyph ‘Man and coyote’. I quickly decide this. And I make up a story as I travel up the BLM road to the other site. I stand in front of a glyph that looks like a woman, right between her legs and torso, looking into the mountains I feel initiated and awakened. Later I read that creation myths are told there.

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Freemont State Park, Utah

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I just spent eight days driving thought Utah, NV, AZ and Colorado. The destination was the Contemporary Art Museum in Boulder, Colorado where I went to install “Tapestry X,” an installation or 8 tapestries based on the CMYK primary colors. I decided to do a little research for my Great Basin Interview project while I was out there. I was excited because this was my first opportunity to  see the Eastern edge of the Basin.

The first night I camped above Zion National Park by the Kolob Reservoir on the advice of the park ranger. The campgrounds in park were saturated with travelers. In fact there were so many people at Zion that Satruday I felt like I was in a NYC subway station at rush hour! So, after driving all day from Los Angeles and losing precious daylight I had a brief conversation with the ranger at the back country desk and then hightailed out of there.  The road to the reservoir was breathtaking and a fairly steep accent. It meandered in and out of the Park, first along the North Creek tributary to the Virgin River and then climbing the ridge that overlooked eroded red canyons galore. It continued into grassy meadows (outside the park) with very happy looking cows grazing and kept climbing through shrub pines and finally into Aspen groves that were bursting in bright yellow fall color.  I camped in an Aspen grove on the edge of the water and woke at dawn.

Although the resevoir was beautiful, it too populated with fisherman for my taste. They drove their trucks in and out all night, which of course sounded like they were going to drive right through my tent!  It was noisy. Utah rednecks.  I’m not sure the lower campgrounds in the park would  have been much quieter.  But the Lava Point campground was a nice spot in a Ponderosa grove that I might give try if I ever go back that way…How many times do you say “I’ve got to come back here,”  and then you don’t go back for 20 years? Well, that is what I said about Utah 20 years ago when I saw it for the first time.

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The following day I chose to drive along the back roads behind the meadow down into Cedar City and the Great big empty Basin–mostly in honor of my interview project , but also to get away from the crowds in the Park.  I only saw only one other truck on drive over Cedar Mountain to the I 15. The dirt road was very well maintained and it cut though more high meadows and Aspen groves, Pondersa and ranch country. My adventure began here, on this perfectly empty Sunday morning, on an unknown road between a national park and nowhere. After and hour or so I made the steep decent into Cedar City to ear breakfast. Then I headed North through the silvery blue-green flat Sevier Valley, so happy to be out to the Mojave and hugging the mountains.

The interstate was a mostly empty, except for a few trucks and lonely travelers heading to Salt Lake City doing 80mph!  And the road got even sparser as I climbed onto the 70. I felt silly climbing back into the mountains that I left earlier in the day.  But the point of this zigzag was to visit the Freemont Indian State Park, where I arrived at noon, fully dazed and windblown from light and heat and speeding along at 80 on the highway. Honestly, it takes every bit of reason and strength I’ve got, to chart a course on the open road and then stick to it.

The Park was established in the late 1980’s.  When they were building the I 70–the goal was to join with the I 15–they ran across a large Freemont dwelling smack in the middle of where the Interstate was slated to go.  The highway department halted, and archeologists came out from Brigham Young  and excavated about 20 sites along Clear Creek all a just few miles into the main pass that connects the Great Basin to the Colorado Plateau. The so-called Freemont people are the ancestors of the Paiutes. They traded without he Anasazi and lived in pit houses that were (sadly) demonstrated in the parks reproduction. The pit houses looked a lot like Dine, Hogan houses to me….  I took a hike around the site. The main houses had been destroyed by the freeway construction which cut right through the middle of the village. The museum they built to preserve the objects that the archeologists found was small, but nice, with a figurative remakes of a Freemont woman, a pit house diorama, cool sandals, atlatls, pottery etc.. I watched the information film about the whole excavation affair inside the museum. According to the film the Hopi recognize the Freemont’s as their ancestors, and the Navajo also. At least one sacred sites was razed to build the interstate, and there is an atlatl-throwing contest at the campground every year. I bought a book about the archeological dig and headed outside.2013-09-29 12.34.15

I meandered around the park and found the spot where the Hopi man in the film says that their emergence must have been. The wavy lines of the petroglyph at the site indicated this. A snake slithered right by my feet as I walked up to a very impressive rock that overlooked the road–a peaceful peaceful spot. Maybe the wavy line meant “snakes live here.” There was a PBA (patterned body anthropomorph) under the wavy lines. This figure is one way they link the Freemont’s across the Basin. I tried to imagine the village before the road cut though, before the whizzing of trucks on the highway, and I could not. But the air was still and quiet, even hot. I felt pretty grand sitting across from the glyph and looking out across the valley, almost far enough from the big city.  I did not go into the canyons to look for more petroglyphs although there were surely many more. I’m happy to see one or two. As I walked along the back of the ridge where there was a row of cliffs made of white calcium mixed with red earth. Perhaps there was clay here.  It was a sheltered spot, not exactly a meadow but an open areas with large table like rocks and shrubby pinyons which provided shade. An image of people working came to me:  Pottery, petroglyphs, performances.  The place made me think of  work AND play.

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Then I went back to the truck. I wanted to try another of the many walks along the creek described in the video.  I decide on the trail that led to the cave of “1000 hands.” It followed a beautiful creek for a while and then doubled back which frightened me for some reason. I felt torn about heading on to Moab, which I wanted to reach by late afternoon, and going on to the cave.  But the creek coaxed me along.  I felt like I was a child again, exploring the creeks where I grew up in Virginia. I dipped my hands into the cool water and splashed my face. The cool mountain water was very refreshing. When I got to the cave I had the distinct impression that the hand prints were female.  Perhaps it was a place for birthing children. It looked like there were only about 40 hands to me. Were there really 1000 hands that I couldn’t see?  2013-09-29 12.58.12

I find it ironic that I’ll have to read the Department of Transportation’s report on the Clear Creek excavation if I want the “full report,” ie. more information than my book by Janetski. The destroyers are also the preservers. What if I want an entirely different sort of information about the Freemont people? I want to know how the women gave birth for instance.  That is surely not in the DoP report. I want the hear the oldest myth the one you can only remember part of…

When I asked the lady in the gift store “Why didn’t they just move the road?”

She replied, somewhat avoiding my question: “Looters would have come and stolen everything. This place it so remote. It would be impossible to protect the site from scavengers.”

I had to agree with her about the remoteness.