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.
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.