Crossroads

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe NM

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

Three historic trails lead to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

One arrives from Mexico City–El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road of the Interior Land). For centuries, Native North Americans used the sixteen-hundred-mile trade route.

In 1598 Spanish settlers first followed El Camino Real north. It was traveled continuously until 1882.

Another trail enters Santa Fe from the west. Approximately seven-hundred-miles long, the Old Spanish Trail connected Santa Fe with settlements in California. Blazed as early as the 1500s, the Old Spanish Trail was used by Native Americans, explorers, trappers and traders until 1848.

A third route, the namesake Santa Fe Trail, connected Santa Fe with the eastern United States, specifically Franklin, Missouri. The nine-hundred-mile trail was established in 1821 to take advantage of new trade opportunities with Mexico, which had just broken away from Spain. It saw use until around 1880.

Three cultures intersected at the crossroads of Santa Fe–Native-, Hispanic- and Anglo-American. It seemed an appropriate trail’s end for my tour as well. Continue reading

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Parks and rec

National Park ServiceWilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.
–Edward Abbey

Over four-hundred parks, preserves, forests, seashores, rivers, monuments, memorials and historic sites make up the National Park System. During my recent tour of the Southwest, I was fortunate to visit fifteen of them.

Seven of the biggest are in Alaska, including the largest park, Wrangell-St. Elias. At 12,500 square miles, it’s bigger than each of the nine smallest states.

Death Valley is the largest in the lower forty-eight states. The smallest park is Hot Springs in Arkansas at around nine square miles.

(For my post on Death Valley, please see “Death Valley days.” For Mojave and Joshua Tree, see “Wandering in the desert.” For Organ Pipe Cactus, Tumacácori, Coronado and Saguaro, see “Borderline.”)

The National Park Service was created in 1916 to keep the parks unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. They are often called “America’s crown jewels.” Continue reading

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Too tough to die

Gunfight reinactors, Tombstone AZ

Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan

In 1881, Tombstone, Arizona, was the site of the most famous gunfight of the Old West.

On one side were the Clanton brothers, the McLaury bothers and Billy Claiborne, members of a loose-knit gang of part-time cowboys and part-time cattle rustlers.

On the other side were Town Marshal Virgil Earp and his deputies, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday.

Near the O.K. Corral, the two factions faced-off, four against five. Thirty shots were fired in thirty seconds, some from just six feet away.

When the smoke cleared, three of the participants lay dead, three were wounded and three had run away.

Wyatt Earp stood alone, unscathed. Continue reading

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Borderline

Saguaro National Park AZBorders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.
–Thor Heyerdahl

I left Palm Springs, where the streets are named after stars, and drove east to Phoenix. In some stretches, sandstorms raged on both sides of the road.

I passed Desert Center, the birthplace of Kaiser Permanente and the site of General Patton’s Army Air Field training center. Now, it’s only a few souls short of a ghost town.

Sped past Quartzsite, a quasi-city of tens of thousands of RVs. Ten major gem shows and fifteen huge flea markets attract over 1.5 million swappers annually, mostly during January and February. Over three-thousand dealers of rocks, minerals, fossils and jewelry set up shop.

Quartzsite is also the site of Joanne’s Gum Museum with its collection of wrappers from around the world.

In Phoenix I gathered Craig, my college roommate of three years, from the airport. He agreed to join me for a few days during my tour of the Arizona borderlands. A vacation for him and rare company for me. Time to catch up, embellish old stories and write some new ones. Continue reading

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Wandering in the desert

Joshua tree

Joshua tree

Oh, and I remember something you once told me
And I’ll be damned if it did not come true.
Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down
And they all lead me straight back home to you.
–Gram Parsons, 1973

The Joshua Tree wilderness in the Mojave Desert may have been the home Gram Parsons was singing about. Like many, he was drawn to the barrenness of the desert for inspiration and renewal.

He even asked to be buried there.

The Mojave is considered high desert, its elevation over four-thousand feet. It is a harsh and dangerous place, containing both the driest location in North America and the hottest spot on the planet.

A walk quickly reveals its flora are armed to the teeth with needles, thorns and spines. And its animals are the stuff of nightmares: tarantulas, scorpions, rattlesnakes, bats, kangaroo rats, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. Continue reading

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Death Valley days

Near Furnace Creek, Death ValleyFuneral Mountains. Starvation Canyon. Deadman Pass.

The names are not subtle, as Death Valley is not a hospitable place.

Hottest, driest, lowest–it is a land of extremes. In July 1913, the highest temperature ever recorded anywhere, 134 degrees, was reached at Furnace Creek. Daytime summer temperatures of 120 or greater are common. On summer nights, the temps cool down to the nineties.

I chose to enter it in the dead of winter.

The valley was named by a group of Gold-Rush speculators who got lost while attempting a shortcut to the mining fields. After facing numerous topographical obstacles, the so-called Lost ’49ers arrived near Furnace Creek.

In treacherous terrain,  the miners’ covered wagons were of no further use. Some walked out. Some waited for help. Eventually, all but one escaped the valley alive.

Upon leaving, one survivor provided the epithet, “Goodbye, Death Valley.” Continue reading

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Town and gown

King's College, Cambridge

King’s College, Cambridge

English cities York and Cambridge were both settled in the Stone Age and ruled in turn by the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

Over the centuries, a fascinating cast of characters walked their streets while making history.

York, a quintessential market town, served as world headquarters for four different Roman emperors.

Cambridge, home to one of the oldest and finest universities in the world, inspired both Isaac Newton and Pink Floyd.

Oddly, its founding was prompted by a spate of killings. Continue reading

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