On the Road, Tourist, Traveling, Uncategorized, United States

Wild. Wonderful. Wyoming

I’m a sucker for a diorama. Always have been. Maybe it was those sugar eggs we got at Easter with the little scenes inside, or an over-eager grade school homework project  that did it, I don’t know. Maybe I just like how life looks, all laid out for view in a tidy defined box. Whatever it is, it’s stuck with me. So when I pulled into the Southeast Welcome Center on I-25 outside Cheyenne, Wyoming and perused the brochures to see what might be found in Casper, where I was headed for the night, it is no surprise that the flyer for the Fort Caspar History Museum caught my eye.  And it didn’t disappoint.

Captain's letter awaits an envelope

Captain’s letter awaits an envelope

The museum is on the site of Fort Caspar, and the remaining buildings – officer’s quarters, the mess, the store and stables – have been restored and stocked and they sit away from the main museum site, so when you stand there, wind blowing up from the Platte, sun bearing down on an early fall day, squash ripening in the fort garden, you can *almost* sense what came before you, quiet, isolated. Blue coats, sabers, and captain’s hats adorn the bunks, checker and card games are laid out on communal tables next to tin mugs, ready for rowdy players and beer. A telegraph machine waits for news on a table in its own cabin. Off to the side, a Mormon Ferry buggy stands proud. Diorama, real-size.

Soldiers quarters in the mess

Soldiers quarters in the mess

Telegraph table.

Telegraph table

Inside the museum, the history of Wyoming has been lovingly recreated in one diorama after another. A display of stone tools through different eras of history outlines changes in the land and the people, new kinds of stone, new types of tools, arrival of Europeans. Around it, in wood and clay, miniature native Americans hunt mammoth, hunt buffalo, build teepees, fend off Europeans, and then attack them. Men and horses fall in gory fashion, red-painted blood oozing from their detailed clay bodies. It’s miniature America in all her glory.

Miniature America, in all her glory

Miniature America, in all her glory

Wyoming is full of little treasures like this: pieces of history that have been picked up, cleaned off, embellished and put on display. I skipped three other museums in Casper in favor of getting back on the road to Bozeman, and didn’t even touch on others that are sprinkled along drivable routes across the state. Maybe it’s the benefit of oil dollars, though neither Fort Caspar nor the Welcome Center itself (which had a historical display, including a dinosaur skeleton and a number of dioramas) glossed over the boom and bust effect of the industry, that fund all these little gems.

And what would be the point in hiding this ugly truth? You can see it in the life-sized diorama of scenery that is Wyoming itself as the land goes by. Towns like Story, Buffalo, and Bar Nunn pulling you off into the distance of gas-scarred hillsides. Mule deer and cattle graze side by side on rolling grass-spotted hills and mesas, hiding between rock skyscrapers, divided by snow fences, waiting for winter.

Wyoming rolling by

Wyoming rolling by

You feel the state in your bones as you drive it: riverbeds of cottonwoods changing colors and hardly another tree in sight except on the distant jagged mountains.  Red rock, granite, trains winding through. The Crazy Woman river running across it, running through you as you drive by. Wyoming. Wild. Windy. Wonderful Wyoming.

Sun after the rain on I-25

Sun after the rain on I-25

Wild. Wonderful. Wyoming.

Wild. Wonderful. Wyoming.

On the Road, Tourist, Traveling

Walnut Canyon

IMG_2397It looks like nothing coming in: a highway exit outside of Flagstaff, a quick sharp turn and the road becomes small, quiet. High, arid mountain scenery. Smell of rain coming in. You get out of your car, walk to the edge, and it falls before you:  a  canyon of dripping limestone and piñon, layers of rock and earth weathered by wind and rain, striated by history.

Look  a little closer. You’ll see what they saw, the Sinagua, who lived here for more than a century, over seven centuries ago. You’ll see crevices that could become home, protect you from wind, hold the heat of a hearth fire. You’ll see the river water below, dirt that could become clay, that could become bricks to build houses in the high-walled world. The view of the eagles, to keep watch. Plant life so diverse it is unrivaled elsewhere in the valley.  And so you build.

IMG_2315Down the 185 steps from the ranger station, the canyon is so quiet you can hear a child sigh from the far end of the trail. You can hear your own breath as it stumbles from your lungs, unaccustomed to the 6,700-foot elevation. You can smell, on the warm wind, the black walnut in the creek bed below, and when you look down to find the source, you’ll find instead a hawk, lumbering below you, working his way up on the current, until he soars above your head, and still beneath the canyon ceiling.

You can duck into the empty houses tucked into the wall and stare at the residue of hearthfire smoke on the ceiling, and wonder what it was like to live here. And while tucked in this studio apartment that used to house a family, you’ll look across the canyon and realize those striations you see in the rock, half of them are filled with homes just like this one, scattered across the area. If there were still families here, you could holler to your cross-canyon neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar.

crop flowerNo one really knows what caused the Sinagua to homestead in Walnut Canyon, or why they left.  The name itself is a misnomer:  these are native peoples, not speakers of Spanish. Here, just as at Montezuma’s Castle and Tuzigoot, the settlements aren’t far from water. Though climbing more than thirty stories of steps to carry it isn’t ideal, the safety gained from living in an almost imperceptible hole in a rock is worth the effort.

Sinagua settlements up and down the Verde Valley, now mapped by Arizona Highway 17 running south from Flagstaff to Phoenix, all share this same mysterious fate: their development appears at various times, and then they are deserted. Some groups, like those at Montezuma’s Castle, stayed more than four hundred years. Others didn’t last.  Around 1250 AD, after less than 200 years of habitation, Walnut Canyon was abandoned, leaving behind evidence of ample, healthy trade with people as far away as Central America, but no reason for departure. Hopi legend claims the Sinagua as an origin people of their own. Other theories say the Yavapai came and pushed out the Sinagua. Whatever the reason, they left , gifting us this trove of historic mystery in their wake.


For more images of Walnut Canyon and Montezuma’s Castle, please visit the Ruins of the Southwest Gallery.

Life Skills, Moving, On the Road, Tourist, Traveling

Leap of Faith

A guy should really buy you a stiff drink before he pulls you onto his lap and straps on a harness.

That’s what I’m thinking a few minutes before jumping out of a perfectly good plane. I don’t say it, because let’s face it, though I may have four points of 1500-pound web and metal connection to Tyler, the instructor,  I don’t really know him well enough to be quite that…forward. Despite the fact that I am also sitting on his lap, and in addition to my ass, my life is in his hands.

Moments later he leans forward, taps the pilot on the shoulder, and hollers into my ear, “you ready?”

Fear has prevented me from changing the expression on my face from the frozen smile I had when we took off, so I nod.  At this point, I’ve made the live-or-die decision to go ahead with this business. Matters are really out of my hands on the whole ‘parachute opening’ thing. Now, I’m worried about puking during the jump, which would be fine for me because I’m wearing goggles, and on the bottom, but I’m sure that wouldn’t work out well for Tyler.

Things you don’t think about in advance: of course the plane door opens upward, like on a DeLorean. Otherwise, in 120 knots-per-hour it would come smashing back on my legs, which are now dangling out the hole in the plane’s hull. I’m trying to rest them, ladylike, on the step above the landing gear, but they are just blowing to the side, so I leave it be.

“Chest out,” Tyler says into my ear. “Lean forward,” almost like he’s teaching me to dive. And just like learning to dive, the anticipation is the worst part. With a little lean and a slight push, we’re gone.

There is a moment of tumble, of inertia and movement, and then there: below me is a postcard of wine country. It’s chilly and windy. My mouth is open; when I gave velocity a smirk, it took a gaping grin and pulled all the moisture from my tongue and teeth. I kick my legs out behind me, trying to hit Tyler in the butt just like I was instructed, and let my arms fly out  at my sides. The fall is free and gleeful, and loud with the rush of sky blowing past my ears. You can’t help but yelp, or yip, or yahoo, and so I do. Freely, and gleefully. The fear is left back on the plane with the pilot, coming in for a safe landing on the little air strip far below us.

Then Tyler taps my shoulder again, and again asks, “you ready?” and with that, there is a tug. I hear a flap of fabric against the wind, the sound of a luffing sail, and then the chute snaps taut above us and things become quiet. The vineyards line up below for inspection, organizing the hills into orderly view. Tuscan mansions, wine valley bungalows, trailers and the makeshift labor camps of early pickers speckle the landscape.

Tyler gives me a choice between being still and doing some loops and turns. “Loops and turns,” I shout back in the wind. “Loops and turns!” After two turns, I shout again, “actually, no loops and turns!” I (or more like Tyler) narrowly escape the puking scenario and we return to our graceful float, featherlike. We watch the earth rise to meet us for a five-minute eternity. And then, “lift your feet in front of you,” and here the ground is, right in front of the hangar from which we took off, landing pad of a lifetime, and we walk right in.

Tyler and I, right after walking right back down to the ground

Tyler and I, right after walking right back down to the ground

Dallas, Goodbye, Life Skills, Moving, On the Road, Preparing, Tourist, Traveling

Dallas in My Rearview Mirror

Tomorrow, I will pack my car and watch Dallas fade in my rearview mirror for the last time as a resident. As excited as I am about the beginnings this end represents, I find myself more mixed than I expected about the ‘no-mores’ and ‘haven’t-yets’ that come with it.

Foggy Day in Dallas

Foggy Day in Dallas

This isn’t an ‘I left my heart in San Francisco,’ kind of moment; Dallas and I have never had that kind of relationship. I came for a job and brought an attitude with me, assuming I’d be here two years, and leave. I never actually checked in, so I’m not sure you could call my approach checked-out. But it definitely was disengaged.

My sweet hundred-year-old home in a rare snowfall

And then a few things happened that kept me here. I liked my job. I could afford to buy a house on my own.I fell in love with the house – and then with the convenience of living in Dallas. I ignored that part of me that wasn’t actually doing any actual ‘living’ – an ignorance that is easy to come by when you do yard work, house work, and burglary prevention, get a dog to play with, and watch too much t.v.

After years of returning to San Francisco and Seattle on vacation and wondering how to respond to questions like, “when are you going to get out of there,” I started getting defensive. “It’s not so bad. It has it’s good points,” I’d respond. And then I’d try to list them, and realize my list was short. ‘No state income tax’ is a weak argument in Seattle, which also has no state income tax, in addition to Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, the San Juan Islands, the Olympic Peninsula, and public transportation that actually gets you somewhere. So I realized I needed to augment my list. I started getting engaged.

I actually liked what I found. Dallas has great music venues, many of them in cool old theaters with no such thing as a bad seat in the house. It has Big Tex, the Texas Star and a handful of good dive bars. In the last couple years, I’ve heard speakers from Junot Diaz to Madeline Albright, watched a taping of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, seen Hair, West Side Story, and Alvin Ailey (among others), and heard bands from Metric to Loretta Lynn. I’ve seen Gordon Parks and Cindy Sherman exhibits. I’ve watched the arts district grow by one theater, then another, then an amazing public park the draws people outside for food trucks and chess games and yoga class. And when I tire of Dallas, when I crave some lefty funk, I head to Fort Worth for an afternoon at the Amon Carter or a night at Billy Bob’s. My time is here is ending, but my opportunities to explore are far from over.

Relentless Reunion Tower

Relentless Reunion Tower

I haven’t yet made it to the Canton flea market, or another Chef DAT dinner. I haven’t learned to love the Cowboys, or even how to talk about football, no matter how good it may be for my social life or career. I haven’t learned to two-step, though I have the boots to do it. I haven’t yet eaten at Nazca, that new place at 75 and Walnut Hill – someone go and let me know how it is.

Despite all I haven’t done, my life here has much familiarity that I will miss: driving by the 1-2-3 Divorce storefront on Fitzhugh, which always makes me smile; brunch at la Duni; morning dog walks on Swiss Ave, watching old, neglected houses come back to life during a loving restoration. I’ll miss Taco Joint migas tacos to start the day. Pizza, wine and writing Wednesdays at Times Ten. Nights at the Granada, or the Kessler, falling in love with music I’ve never heard before, or moving on from music I thought I loved. I’ll miss frontage roads to anywhere, and valets to park you everywhere (actually, I won’t – I HATE valet). And of course, I will miss my friends.
In truth, what I will miss most about Dallas is the one thing so obvious to those who know me here, and so foreign to those who know me elsewhere. Even as a resident Dallas, I am an intellectual tourist. The joy, frustration, challenge, and growth that have come from being unable to assume the people around me, even close friends, agree with my outlook (political, social, economic, artistic, what-have-you), are unlike anything I have experienced in any of the other wonderful cities I’ve been lucky to call home. At home in Dallas, I travel regularly through a place so foreign, I could likely stay forever and never have it feel like home. And there is some benefit to that, as I’m sure I will find on the road.