Category Archives: April 2016

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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Pahranagat Valley, Nevada

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Nevada means snowfall in Spanish, but I would have guessed it meant vast or dry. There was no snow on the ground in mid-April in the Pahranagat Valley, Southern Nevada. But the shad was blooming, prickley pears, globemallows, groundsels. Not a drop of rain or the slightest hint of snow.

I met Leslie at the REI store in Las Vegas. She flew from Virginia and I drove from LA. It was a warm Thursday morning when we met in the sportswear isle. I was so relieved to cross that 300 miles of Mojave and put as much distance as possible between me and the sprawling, indifferent metropolis I call home….  We bought a camp stove, a couple of sleeping pads, food and then ditched my truck in a parking lot at the airport and made our way to the edge of the desert, past the glittering casinos and tireless billboards towards the end of day. We rolled up to Lake Mead just as the sun was setting.

Our campground was across from an abandoned trailer park, it had short fat palm trees and a nicely cultivated desert fauna. We laid out our tarp on the gravel under a hedge and pulled the car up to shield us from oncoming car lights in the night. After a fine dinner of warmed over sandwiches from whole foods, I lay down on the ground and let out a sigh of relief. The sky darkened and the stars came out one by one. Leslie and I chatted about our days leading up to that one and the 6months since we’d last seen eachother. I finally felt the city fall off and give way to the open desert.

But as we started to doze off we were jolted awake by a very loud “Hee Haw, Hee Haw!”  It sounded like a heard of wild donkeys on the other side of the hedge. I didn’t know if they were fighting amongst themselves or warning us, but we jumped out of our sleeping bags and onto our feet. Before we knew it we burst out laughing so loud that we scared the animals back from the hedge. Leslie walked across the camp to see who was there and I heard them move back into the night. When we settled back back into our bags we were still laughing in full guttural release.  I felt the fact of my humanness, how imposing our culture was over those poor roving animals, how we were responsible for them being out there in the first place. I felt neglectful, but it felt so good to laugh I couldn’t stop myself. Our laughter marked our presence that night. Somehow it marked our gender too.

recyclingcontainer2 pink-flowers2The next day we met a group of Utah Rock Art Association people in Alamo, Nevada at the Windmill cafe a couple days later. The Windmill was pretty much the only place to eat in Alamo, except for maybe the Sinclair station. Its a generous place with a high A fame ceiling. It is vaulted and scaled like a giant barn. Service is a little slow and there was at least two kitchen disasters the 3 times we ducked in. But the food isn’t bad, and the people are nice. We were getting to know the URARA people, who all seemed to know each other from years of petroglyph preservation and comradry.

I keep turning over and over in my mind the same old questions about the glyphs, as if they are the same. As if I could turn over Heidegger, Woolf and Kubler in one fell swoop. My mind skates along this audacity of my superficiality, looking for cracks where true insight might spring. Never free of presumption, never concise, always within the shadow of doubt but images, stories, feelings, temperatures, observations, afterthoughts and hints of conversations about the landscape I am clearly not native too. Dreams in the night and animals, any way that I might be born into a field of information that can never summed up, only be strewn around forever inchoate like the embers of fire left burning for centuries. I decide that I don’t need any answers, I am happy to keep looking, guessing, returning. And I dose off into sleep laying against a rock and reading about spider woman in a book that Leslie brought me to read. The passage I read outlines the Hopi creation myth of Maseo going to the grandmother spider woman who knows all and tells him where to go into the underworld where the snake clan lives in the kiva. And the book shows photos of the hillside where she lived, that she was that the highway department destroyed in 1984 to build I 70, and the glyphs on the hill were interpreted by

What is a petroglyph? What does it mean? What are they there for? Is it a script, a pictogram, a story? If so what is the syntax? It is certainly different from a sentence, but can it tell a story faster. Certainly there are repeated patterns again and again in the Great Basin, and the pictograms here are different from those in New Mexico. What are the prejudices we bring to them? What can I not see because I am so full of my own thoughts, expectations, desires, and cultural biases? This is the issue with Anthropology, how we can distance ourselves from our culture in order to respect another, and to understand them, to learn from them. If that is what understanding is about.

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