Seminole Canyon

Seminole Canyon, artist book cover
Seminole Canyon, cover

It’s been a while, but here’s a new one, still-in-process of becoming an artist book — notes from my journey around the United States after calling it quits with teaching art in the California prison system.  This segment of the trip starts in southwest Texas during the freeze of an ice storm and ends up on the Rio Grande during the aftermath of same storm.

meeting Santa Claus


Rock Art in Dry Fork Canyon

Since our itinerary brought us within a reasonable distance of Dinosaur National Monument, Oola thought we should see some dinosaur fossils. That sounded good to me so we stopped in the town of Vernal, UT ready for an adventure the next day.

There my eye happened on a brochure about some petroglyphs in the area. Ever the glutton for art, I thought we could do one tour in the AM and save one for after lunch. So we found our way to Dry Fork Canyon and the McConkie Ranch (the owners of which graciously allow the public to roam parts of their private land).

Since it was a cloudy day and what sun there was was behind the panels, and since I will not be returning here to re-photograph during this lifetime,  it is difficult to see these images.  I enhanced them (contrast only) in Photoshop.  Click on each image to see an enlargement.

A storm of the previous day left everything damp and cool. It had also produced a flash flood of which there was ample evidence. I found the well-marked trail and began to wonder about my ability to follow it. Twenty years ago, yes for sure, but now???…… The whole time as I grunted and scrambled, I though, “How am I going to get down?” Soon, with Oola urging me on, my greed overcame my good sense. And I said to myself, “Self, Quit Whining.  It’s better this way to help keep destroyers away from the images.”

a short but tricky way UP

When we came to the first panel, frankly I was disappointed. Without an overhead sun to cast shadows, things were hard to see. Then, as I squinted and stared, there came the first whumph!. Suddenly I saw the image, full of the visual intent of a human being who lived perhaps a thousand years ago, right here on this spot. KICKIN’ but … I have seen lots of Fremont Culture images, and these looked a little like a learner’s permit.

What are these two doing?
What are these two doing?

Still, having come this far I was not going to give up. Clambering about I found a few images that seemed to have been “enhanced” by much later hands, if I am correct, probably in a misguided attempt to “explain” the image, scratches instead of pits, “boots” instead of the typical “Fremont Culture” feet.

Then, I turned a corner and felt a heart-stopping “WHUMPH!”. This made all the sweat — and the price that I am going to pay tomorrow — as nothing.

Really, the original is so much more brilliant than the pict

It exudes authenticity, and the authority of the original maker-of-images. It combines painting with the chip-chip-chipping of the stone. It is a story from a past that I can never understand. I soon discovered more images of extremely good quality and form.

As I was looking, scrambling and looking, there came along the path a father-son duet. When you are with rock art people, you know you are with good people. We talked a bit, and Kevin, the father, advised me not to over-do it, that I looked very red to him. Though there was more to see, I decided it best to head back. Looking down it became apparent that some of my return would be by the seat of the pants method, inelegant but effective. Kevin and James soon returned and told me that they had seen an image of a bear. I was sore disappointed, in more ways than one.

The signs all say to stay on the trail.  But it is hard to keep one’s feet on the trail when the wet sandstone crumples under them. Kevin had James help me over the rough, slippy-slidey parts of the trail. They could have traveled much faster without helping me. And I am extremely thankful for their help. Man-angels still live, and chivalry will never die. (Oola is looking for the horse.)

Kevin and James from Houston
Kevin and James from Houston

Oola is dancing to know that there is so much individual good in the world to balance out the bad behavior.  This is probably why we haven’t disappeared as a species.

Kevin and James, if you are reading this, Newspaper Rock is south of  Moab, UT and if you walk into the canyon you will find many more hidden away, just waiting for you to clamber up.

Newspaper rock
Newspaper rock

If, in your tour of Utah,  you go through Canyonlands National Monument, be sure to visit Horseshoe Canyon.  You will not want to go home.

Horseshoe Canyon paintings

PS     (All bets off on the dinosaurs)

PPS   And Mysterious One, this is for you:


I knew you would want to take it home and fix it up!

While driving Hwy 101

You haven’t heard from me because I’m busy turning graphic designers, artists, small business owners, and other assorted students into users of Cascading Style Sheets on the Web.  ‘Nuff said.

Shortly before Spring break, the Wild Card/Mysterious One, Oola, and I decided we needed a break.

Oola and I dropped the Mysterious One off in More Music in Santa Cruz. There he delivered a restored Gibson and a beautiful new WildCard original guitar. The latter he made out of a piece of an old mahogany table he found in a ghetto pile. They sure knew how to make wood in those days! This new guitar plays “like buttahhh” and sings like both an angel and a vamp. The antique Gibson plays great now, too.

Wild Card guitar
Wild Card Guitar. The sound holes are on the side.

Then Oola and I drove east over the hills into Steinbeck country, and the land of the Salinas people and the Chumash people, on to Santa Monica to visit Hiromi’s once again. The fun thing about driving a long trip is that you get to let your mind off its tether to wander purposeless among the hills, the sky and asphalt.

Now the trick is not to let the mind wander too much, or you do what I did – drive Hwy 101 north instead of south – for many stubborn miles. The lady in the black box kept saying “Recalculating”, “Turn Around”, “Recalculating”, “U Turn” in the most annoyingly patient voice. And I knew she was wrong, until I found out she was right.

I saw a sign for Aromas. That reminded me of all the many times I traveled Hwy 101 in my red Datsun station wagon, which I had purchased with the $300 remaining from graduate school. One mechanic friend took a look at it, shook his head, and declared it a sick little car. I clearly remember one long stop in Aromas. Just me and my young daughter, K., in the gas station parking lot, waiting for help. We happened to have some plasticine clay. I entertained K. by making small blue ducks and lining them up on the dashboard. When there was a long enough line of ducks in a row, I entertained myself by making a fist and smashing the little blue ducks one by one. K. made up stories to go with the game until my Bro arrived with a new alternator.

Then there was another time in Greenfield. I was alone, it was getting dark, the car acted funny, I pulled off Hwy 101 and made the mistake of turning the engine off. After a while, a CHP man pulled up. I told him that if I could just get it to start, my car would run. So – miracle of miracles – he positioned his power car behind mine and gave me a push. The valiant little Datsun coughed into life and got me the rest of the way home. I have never been able to thank that man. So if you’re out there, consider yourself hugged.

Then ….. should I tell you about the time K. looked out the back of the red Datsun and asked me if there should be smoke and fire coming out of the back wheel? Uh…no.

Where else did my mind roam off Hwy 101? I accidentally put a lot of cinnamon in the coffee for the thermos that morning. The taste was almost of incense behind the nose.

Paso Robles, and the beautiful Oak trees of California! Mission San Miguel.

Somewhere there is a black and white picture of two cousin-waifs puppy-posing in front of the Mission entrance. The entrance is still there, looking much the same. The children are gone – K. to Dallas, a family, and a waitress job, M. to San Diego, a family, and a mucky-muck job in a huge software corporation.

Mission San Miguel
Mission San Miguel without the two children

In the long lost B&W photo they are still the same, the rollicking birthday party kids in the back of the red Datsun, distracting me so that I did not see the “No U Turn” sign at the intersection – and I got pulled over – and the cop approached my window — and the two children suddenly became earnestly well behaved – and I explained about the noise and the birthday party at McDonalds – and the cop looked at the solemn bug-eyed kids in the back seat ………… and he let me go!!! Funny how things turn out.

Before he became a very good mucky-muck, M. became a teenager. With the consent of his parents, I gave M. the red Datsun. He and the Mysterious One worked on that poor little car and rung a couple of thousand more miles out if it — until M. thought it would be cool to have a sun-roof…………….

Cruise control on 70, I watched thick clouds forming to the south above Hwy 101. The day before I had watched terrifying news videos of clouds swirling down out of a black sky over Dallas. The tornado tossed big rigs along its path and ripped roofs off houses. I phoned K. She was shaken but her family was ok.

There is a billboard on the side of Hwy 101. In a huge font it tells you there are 65 miles to “Win Country”. I puzzled over the spelling mistake. I was traveling through a land which is very good for vineyards, a growing Wine Country. Several miles later there is a billboard with the same spelling mistake, and the word “Chumash”.

Chumash…Chumash. My brain came up with only the great and ancient and vandalized paintings found in sacred places in the land of the Chumash people indigenous to this part of California. Long ago I visited one of these sites, a horseshoe shaped outcropping in the grasses of the Carrizo plains to the east of San Luis Obispo. I marveled at the quality and power of the overlaid paintings and drawings on the limestone walls. And I marveled at the despicable arrogance of the people who scratched their names over the paintings and used the drawings of suns and dreams for rifle practice, an action akin to the burning of libraries or to the unspeakable attack of the Taliban on the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan.

There is a limestone cave in the hills above Santa Barbara. The Chumash paintings in that cave are now protected by a heavy iron gate.

Chumash cave gate
Chumash cave protected from vandals. (Readers of this blog -- and others -- may recognize the tafoni.)

As you gaze into the darkness of this cave the paintings slowly and almost magically emerge from their limestone walls.  After a long, hard look I broke the spell with a flash — just for you, dear readers.

Chumash painting
Chumash painting

So, back to the bill boards and “Win Country, Chumash”. There was a word missing, and I finally acknowledged it — “Casino”. “Win Country, Chumash Casino”. What mixed feelings I got!  Almost as if the big disks in the paintings were turned into roulette wheels.

But the main strand is this.  The ancient Chumash who painted these spectacular paintings and the Chumash of the 21st century were and are REAL people, not romanticized ideals. We are all human puzzles of mixed characteristics and motivations. And the Chumash, like other native peoples, had gaming as part of their culture long before the Spanish showed up.  Known for her ironic sense of humor, Oola says that given the history of disease, enslavement and Christianity dropped onto the Chumash people, somehow the billboards seem to advertize sweet revenge.

More about the Santa Monica part of this trip in the next post.