Tag Archives: Arizona

Tucson’s Everyday Architecture

Tucson’s everyday architecture sprawls across the desert in dusty houses and apartments, it feels utterly different from anything on East Coast or Midwest U.S.A. As much as it feels utterly different from anything in Europe.

When I go home now, I am ever more struck by just how sprawling it is, how much space lies between homes, how many empty lots there are, how much unused land. How small and boxy the houses are, yet how I like those better than newer developments — they are not pictured here because we only drove past them, tracts and tracts and tracts of them where houses never where before. Huge boxy houses that fill as much of the lot as they can manage.

I am struck by how in older neighbourhoods, so many of the newer houses look more like bunkers than anything. How much colour improves things, but can’t improve everything. How much I hate the fake look of expensive corrugated iron and false painted gaps in the plaster showing false adobe bricks. People trying desperately hard to make their boxes interesting, but doing it in a way that shares a terribly kitsch vision of the Southwest and a terrible sameness. Like the vigas that emerge from both sides of the house so you know half at least are false beams and carry no weight.

Everything false in its conformity to some southwestern idiom, a moving target from howling coyotes with neckerchiefs to kokopellis to the next culturally appropriated fashion that lies in wait. I don’t know what that means for us.

Strange too, just how many mobile homes will never again be mobile, despite the themes of wolves running wild, freedom. How lots with 5 to 20 of them have become housing integrated with all the other kinds of housing, a regular patchwork. I never much questioned mobile home parks further out in the desert where I used to live, or those lonely settlers perched in areas without services. But here in mid-city, how exactly did it happen here?

It struck me how streets look so much the same, one after the other. They are charmless really, and this is how we have chosen to build them. Charmless as a whole, but at the same time in my mother’s neighbourhood between Pima and Speedway, Swan and Columbus, there are some wonderful old houses you know people constructed themselves when this land was first subdivided, their uniqueness invisible unless you look hard. There are even a few lots here and there filled with almost natural desert where the old house is hidden somewhere back there behind it all. If you want the real, it is old faded wood with paint peeling, tiny houses with their big porches often screened in, dusty collections of assorted junk in the yard. Probably they were here before anyone else, definitely here before air conditioning. Back when porches were essential things. These lots stand as they were, refusing to believe the city has grown around them.

I love that kind of stubbornness.

I didn’t take pictures of all or even most of it, I didn’t quite know how. And some of these are from up along the Rillito where Columbus dead ends into it…the rich people’s homes conquering the hills, but an awesome old round stone house sits up there too. It’s not as fun taking pictures of what is resolutely non-picturesque, but I am going to try it more often, try harder. How else to capture the meaning of a place, this everyday dust and space that sits alongside all those beautiful things that people are proud of here, the gracious and historic buildings, the places we go to wonder or to relax. The desert. Yet none of this compares to the desert, and I am sad to think that this sprawl of wood and brick and purple-painted bunkers is what destroyed so much of it.

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

The Chiricahuas in the Clouds

The Triangle T ranch looks pretty good in the daylight, and it’s cool to walk in the footsteps of Glenn Ford — here’s part of the set from 3:10 to Yuma:




We drove down Dragoon Rd to the mountains, had to pull over between the stalked rubble of harvested corn fields filled with hundreds of Sandhill cranes. I have never seen anything like them, beautiful and all massed together in mid-migration, their backdrop the waste produced by human need for energy. I wanted my canon SLR more than anything, but didn’t have it, so this is as good as the pictures get.


Despite the sunshine, a handful of low clouds gathered along the Chiricahua mountains, and we drove up into them. Land of the standing-up rocks and of the Apache once, before white soldiers spilled their blood into the ground, stole this land. Stole these rocks, Rhyolite carved by ice and water into beauty.

These are taken from the Echo Canyon trail, which was unforgettable and I cannot believe we have never done it before…




A climb through the grotto…



…then down through a land of wonder.











Down a passageway that almost looks like cut stone and out again…


leaving the cloud for the sun (rather than the cloud leaving us, as Mark first thought — I’m usually the one to say things like that).





Down into the valley and looking back out where we had come from and where we would return…


Then around to look deeper into the Chiricahuas, and loop back around to the car.


From sun to cloud and ice.


The day didn’t quite end there, but this post is.


Sonoran Desert Easter

Easter was one of my favourite days, a day to celebrate Spring and Handel on KCET and Easter baskets full of candy. I didn’t even mind church, it would smell like wax and masses of Easter lilies and the sermon would be about love and joyfulness and life and the hymns would be some of my favourites. Then home and an ever more challenging hunt for Easter Eggs and later a feast of a dinner…

But early Easter morning was mine and clear and bright and full of promise and I would wander out in my shabby old robe to pick flowers for the table and Spring in the Sonoran Desert is extraordinary though I think many people never see it. I love England’s banks of daffodils and masses of bulbs, but miss the more secret, delicate beauty of flowers that bloom amongst the rocks and gravel.



And Phacelias, these do often grow in banks of glorious blue:


The queen of desert flowers because they are more rare and the colour of cobalt, larkspur:


Globemallows, these grow everywhere, especially in old lots throughout the city, thriving where nothing else seems to grow:


Fiddleneck — but those little hairs along the stems hurt your hands, so I often left them out:

butterfly and fiddleneck

Desert Sage:



California poppies:


There were other poppies, tall and pale yellow and also rare. Desert honeysuckle:

trumpet flowers

Eriatrum Difussum or miniature woolystar — these carpeted the hill behind my house along with monoptilon bellioides:

Eriastrum Diffusum or Miniature Woolystar

monoptilon bellioides or Mojave Desertstar

Erigeron divergens:

Erigeron Divergens or Spreading Fleabane

Wild onion:

wild onion

Desert lupins (but is that what we called them or what they really are?)




Not all of these went into the bouquets of course, clutched in my little hands and lovingly arranged. And there are a number that are missing from those recovered in this March expedition, like desert chicory. I took all of these pictures in the Spring of 2009, I can’t remember why I was in Tucson but it was the last Spring spent with my dad.

Funny that I was born on Easter Sunday, so I remember we used to treat it as more of a birthday than the day I was actually born, though I think that stopped when I was quite little. My dad died on Easter Sunday the year after I took these. I can’t decide now if it is a day too overburdened by significance, or good that life and death should all be wrapped up like this. It is not my decision anyway.



I am often sad, however, that I am not still running around the desert in my sandals and faded blue dress.



`My last set of pictures and post from Arizona…just a few days wandering yields so much. After reading Orientalism I know when writing about an old movie set I should do something more thoughtful about Westerns and representation and how I sit in relationship to the myths of the West and its occupants. But this won’t really be it, just a quick beginning.

In my youth I refused to watch most Westerns at all, especially after the first time I realised a white dude had actually painted himself brown and was pretending to be an Indian. That was a moment of pure WTF. I sided with the Indians and Mexicans and I knew in advance they always lost. I hated that male violence was always so stupidly extreme and defined everything, as women fluttered around them like anachronistically clean and well-fed butterflies. We did, I confess, watch a lot of Bonanza, but I thought John Wayne was an asshole and wanted no part of anything that made him look like a hero.

I still think John Wayne is an asshole. That’s why I now like The Searchers so much.

Now that I have left the desert, I yearn to catch site of it in the multitude of films shot in the very same hills to the SW of Tucson where I grew up. Along familiar trails even. But there are more reasons than that to like James Stewart in Winchester ’73.

Tucson never appears at all in the TV show Maverick, but James Garner cheers me up just to look at him. Nichols may be even better, I’m just sad that the Rockford Files aren’t filmed in Tucson too. L.A. is overrepresented.

I’ll stop listing the Westerns worth watching because I will leave things out (like Lee Marvin! Cat Ballou!) But what is fascinating is the way that the the manufacturing of the Western myth in movies left a trail all across the South West in the form of movie sets and theme parks that sit oddly with the detritus of mining and cattle ranching that actually marks the passing of the old west.

One I had never heard of, next to the Superstitions just south of Apache Junction, is Apacheland (APACHELAND since 1959, is a registered trademark of Apacheland Movie Ranch © 2014).

The name itself is after the Apache trail, or Apache Junction perhaps. All of them together just serve as another expression of how white people have no shame at all at appropriating the names and cultures of those they have massacred and forced to leave the area entirely. And then made money making moving pictures about a rewritten version of that history.

This makes the use of the word ‘innocent’ in its own description a bit dubious:

Apacheland 1956-1959

From its innocent inception of a theme park and western movie studio in 1956 to its founding in 1959 as “The Western Movie Capital of the World,” this is the first chapter in a 55 year history of Apacheland Movie Ranch that covers Richard Boone, Ronald Reagan, Elvis Presley, John Wayne and Henry Fonda to name a few. Apacheland Days at its finest.


This was always meant to be a tourist destination, a show:

Sadly most of it burned down, so its relics have been picked up and moved to the Superstion Mountain Musuem:

Despite all of this, I get a little thrill knowing that these buildings have been the backdrop for the work of some of my favourite people:



I will include Elvis in that, here is the chapel from Charro!:


It is, of course, dedicated to Elvis. Vegas, eat your heart out.

It also contains some pictures of what Apacheland once looked like:

And then because this is indeed a mixture of the real and the unreal, they of course have my favourite exhibit in all western museums — the obligatory board of barbed wire:

Outside, and again outside of Hollywood all together, is this wonderful collection of old mining machinery, like the Cossack Stamp Mill, dragged here with love from Bland, NM and now being restored to working condition.

An old water drill:

And amazing bits of machinery rusting:



Perhaps the most memorable exhibit is inside:

Superstition Mountain Museum
But to return to Hollywood, here is the monument to the wonderful Tom Mix, who died here in a car accident — much further down the highway, but it seemed to fit here:
Tom Mix Monument

And a monument to the leisure activities of many a good resident of Arizona. I miss it.
Tom Mix Monument

Apacheland Filmography

1956 Gunfight at the OK Corral – Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas

1960 Apache Trail Documentary – Documentary of Superstition Wilderness

1960 Have Gun, Will Travel – Richard Boone

1961 Bonanza – Lorne Greene,  Michael Landon, Dan Blocker

1961 Stagecoach West – Wayne Rogers, Robert Bray

1961 The Purple Hills – Gene Nelson, Kent Taylor

1961 The Broken Land – Jack Nicholson, Kent Taylor

1962 Showdown at Redrock – Frank Wilcox, Leland Wainscott

1964 Blood on the Arrow – Dale Robertson, Martha Hyer

1964 Arizona Raiders – Audie Murphy, Michael Dante

1965 Death Valley Days – Ronald Reagan

1965 General Motors – Lorne Greene

1966 Death Valley Days – Robert Taylor

1967 Ice Capades in the Desert – Carolyn O’Kelly, John Labrecque

1967 Pepsi’s ‘Girl on the Go’ – Corinne Calvet

1967 Dundee and the Culhane – Warren Oates, John Drew Barrymore

1967 Death Valley Days – Robert Taylor

1968 Hang Fire – Jerry Vance, Lindsay Crosby

1968 Charro! – Elvis Presley, Ina Balin

1968 Will Rogers Institute – John Wayne

1968 Death Valley Days – Robert Taylor

1969 Ballad of Cable Hogue – Jason Robards, Stella Stevens

1969 A Time for Dying – Audie Murphy, Richard Lapp

1971 Second Chance – Brian Keith, Rosie Grier

1972 Guns of a Stranger – Marty Robbins, Chill Wills

1976 The Haunted – Aldo Ray, Virginia Mayo

1977 Sweet Savage – Aldo Ray, Charles Samples

1977 Jacob and Jacob – Alan Hale, Jake Jacobs

1978 Blue Jay Summer – Ken McConnell, Teresa Jones

1983 The Gambler: The Adventure Continues – Kenny Rogers, Linda Evans

1994 Blind Justice – Armande Assante, Jack Black

1994 Playboy Goes West – Royce O’Donnell, Ed Birmingham, Hank Sheffer

1995 Ford Motor Company – Waylon Jennings


Protection Through Power: Titan Missile Museum

Able to launch from its underground silo in just 58 seconds, the Titan II was capable of delivering a 9-megaton nuclear warhead to targets more than 6300 miles (10,000 km) away in about 30 minutes. For more than two decades, 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States stood “on alert” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, heightening the threat of nuclear war or preventing Armageddon, depending upon your point of view.
Titan Missile Museum website

Titan Missile Museum

If you had any doubt about the masculine nature of this power, and this strategy….

Titan II’s primary mission was deterrence. Deterrence is the art of creating in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack, preventing the start of the war.
— Sign posted at site

The video we watched was entirely cold war, full of ‘the enemy’ this and ‘the enemy’ that. It left me with a visceral hurt. A fear for our future. A quaking at this kind of madness because I can only see people’s faces, imagine their lives and loves and dreams, I cannot imagine an enemy. I was suddenly grateful to Stanislaw Lem, who pushes this thinking as far as it can go to serve as a warning too bitter for real satire (I had just read Peace on Earth, which chimed word for word with the rhetoric here).

It has a terrible logic to it, one you can feel and understand. Yet a logic that at no point meets with or shares anything with the logic by which I live my own life. My own logic that is continuously at risk due to theirs.

Not only did we create a missile capable of destroying this world as we know it, the propulsion system was driven by a mixture of two deadly chemicals, in themselves destructive of our earth.

Titan Missile Museum

Inside it is full of old technology, boxes of unknown lights:

Titan Missile Museum

The gear I associate with dreams and hopes of space travel, rather than mass destruction, making them eerie in this place:

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

Technologies to maintain a constant temperature for the sake of the chemicals, to protect the missile so it can be sent even after our own destruction at the hands of the Russian has been assured, to protect the people who must send it:

Titan Missile Museum

Everything on springs so the ground rocked by impact of their nuclear missiles, the release of our own nuclear missiles … nothing can be felt, and nothing but a direct hit can destroy this place.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

The control room with its fascinating banks of ancient computers and instruments.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

The control panel from which the missiles are sent to any one of three targets — no one at this site knows what these targets were. Absolved from responsibility of prior knowledge, crisis of conscience about loved ones, remembered streets, priceless treasures. The tour guide walked us through the launch sequence, the buzzers sounded, just as they would have sounded at the end of the world. Even knowing it was all for show, I can’t describe the feeling this left me with. The way my heart stopped its beating a moment. The sadness.

Titan Missile Museum

And the missile itself, the first glimpse with a reminder that no one can ever be alone in this place:

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

The blunt face of extraordinary violence, terror, death.

Titan Missile Museum

The relationship to space exploration technology is so clear I wonder that I ever felt them disentangled, that I ever could have possibly imagined a benign program to explore the stars. The components below evoke SF memories to me, I love metal. You could forget they were designed to kill every human being within 900 square miles of an air blast — because we could chose whether it detonated on impact or at altitude.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

You are allowed to see everything, take pictures of everything, ask any question. Because technology has advanced so much we now have far deadlier weapons deployed in very different ways. Probably in many more places. We still stand on the brink of destruction.


Apaches, Trails, Flats and Dam(n)s

From Apache Junction we headed east, out to Tortilla Flat. An old camp ground for prospectors, stagecoach stop, camp for the workers carving out the road and long-time tourist destination. Population 6.

Tortilla Flat

Tortilla Flat

Tortilla Flat

Tortilla Flat

Tortilla Flat

Canyon Lake:

Canyon Lake, AZ

The makers of the road, from the Tortilla Flat Museum:

Construction of the road began in 1903. Crews worked at both ends building towards each other. Nearly 400 Pima and Apache men worked on the road and later the dam.

Severe thunderstorms washed out sections of the road from time to time causing setbacks. However the crews prevailed, surmounting some of the most difficult construction challenges known up to that time.

Apaches were to do the roughest work on the road to the dam. And article read: ‘Where water is 4 miles distant and white men won’t labor, Indians will work for cheaper wages and will walk for the water.’

Tortilla Flat

War had raged through this basin between 1871 and 1875 as General Crook fought to force the Apaches into the reservations.

After short, brutal wars with the government a Military Reserve of 900 square miles was established in 1871 to accommodate both groups. However, this Reserve was rescinded by Presidential Order in 1875 and all of the people, Yavapai and Apache alike, numbering around 1,700, were forcibly marched to the San Carlos agency east of Phoenix. By the late 1890′s the reservation system was breaking down and beginning in 1900 the survivors of the removal began drifting back to their home country in small family groups. In 1909 a postage stamp reservation was established in Camp Verde, followed by additional parcels in Middle Verde, Clarkdale and Rimrock. Today the descendants of these stalwart Yavapai and Apache people live in communities totaling about 600 acres.
Intertribal Council of Arizona, Inc.

This explains the shift from warriors to exploited workers, part of the economics of oppression and broken treaties.

After Tortilla Flat, State Route 88 shortly turns to dirt (a surprise, that, I didn’t do my homework and didn’t realise any state routes were still dirt). It is well graded, but very narrow in places as it winds through a spectacular canyon wilderness. I was pretty glad to get to the bottom, I think my passenger was even happier. I honored the men who built it. Definitely drive it from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Dam so you get to the hug the inside of those hairpin curves and watch the views opening out beneath you.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Apache Lake:

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

You can get a better sense of the road looking back at it winding over the hills:

Apache Trail

Apache Trail

Roosevelt Dam:

Made entirely of mortared blocks of stone and brick, Roosevelt Dam created what was in 1911 the world’s largest artificial lake – Roosevelt Lake with a million-acre-foot capacity, a depth of up to 190 feet and 89 miles of shoreline. Wrestling the 344,000 cubic yards of masonry into place in the remote, flood-prone canyon proved unexpectedly dangerous. During construction, which relied on an innovative 1,200-foot-long cable line with iron scoops that could hold 10 tons of rock and mortar, 42 men died.
Arizona Scenic Roads

Roosevelt Dam

Roosevelt Dam

Roosevelt Dam

Roosevelt Dam

The spectacular Route 188 bridge:

I love bridges.

State Route 188 bridge

State Route 188 bridge


Taliesin West: Architecture in the Desert 1

First the nuts and bolts: Frank Lloyd Wright began building Taliesin West in the Scottsdale desert east of Phoenix, AZ in 1937 after his doctor sent him to winter out west for his health. Like the Great Depression wasn’t happening. It was thus built as a seasonal complement to Taliesin East in Wisconsin, and Wright continued work on it every winter until his death in 1959.

The first three years Wright spent the winter living in a tent on the site. His many apprentices as part of the Taliesin Fellowship lived in their own tents, and constructed the building under Wright’s direction. The massive volcanic rocks found on the site and used in constructing the walls were labeled depending on size as one-apprentice, two-apprentice, three-apprentice, four.

Sometimes five.

It could not have been easy to be an apprentice. The two primary impressions I carried away with me: an amazing moulding (if not micromanaging) of space, and arrogance.

Above all is its horizontality, emphasized through building shape and the use of lines running at the same elevation throughout. They are best seen on the vault — an archive room for all of Wright’s work and built to mirror the mountains — but you can see them appear in almost every picture.


This is one of the unifying features, a second comes from one of the petroglyphs found on the property (moved to become decorational of course, as white people did in those days). What Wright saw as two hands interlocked in friendship:


This can be seen at the entrance, and branded throughout, particularly in the fairly splendid gift shop:


What I liked: the mastery over space. The low ceilings of anterooms that carried you through them quickly, allowed you to feel a great opening up as you entered the main room. The way that he created walls and corners that invited you to explore, hid the full expanse of a room then channeled you through space to experience it fully.

The counter to this? His management of your experience. Inconsiderateness too, as one of those compressed spaces designed to be uncomfortable as it leads you to the office where he worked to impress clients was also the workspace of his secretary. I suppose the effect changes if you are seated?

The height of everything was also absurdly low, I can’t imagine my brother getting through this place unscathed at 6’6″. I am enjoying imagining him seated on the low chairs resting his chin on his knees. Wright claimed he was 5’8″ but was probably 5’6″, and this might explain it all.

Every year the apprentices had to move all of the furniture into the ‘kiva’ (god I hate appropriations of native culture), including at least one piano. Playful twisting entries must have become genuine nightmares.

I loved what he did with light, diffusing it through the room, infusing the space evenly so as not cast shadows on blueprints and drawings. He achieved this through the use of canvas as a ceiling, clerestory windows, recessed lights, floor lights (supposedly invented as Wright loved films and hated ushers using flashlights to help late patrons find their seats). The light was perfect.

Those canvas ceilings however? Every year the apprentices had to take them down and store them after removing absolutely everything from the rooms. Upon their return the following winter, the canvas had to be soaked and restretched. They leaked in the winter rains.

The walls…I didn’t like them initially and on a large scale I am still not too much of a fan. After studying them from within the rooms, however, I did grow to like them more. They were placed with care and artistry. Dark and rounded stones from the bed of a nearby wash complement the large volcanic rocks in shades of ochre, grey and black.

Still, they must have been awash with scorpions and other insect and reptile life. I’d love to have gone over them with a black light back in the first six to seven years of the buildings’ life when the third wife had not yet won her epic battle for the installation of glass windows. The rocks cemented in place with multiple nooks and crannies were perfect for them. I grew up in a never-finished home in the Sonoran desert with little separation between inside and outside. I loved the lizards, liked the snakes, groaned every time we had to chase the tarantulas outside with a broom (or if they were being insistent catch them in the little trash can and take them for a longer walk), and hated the scorpions (I was stung twice and it hurts) and the wide array of other stinging biting things. Especially verdugo bugs that suck your blood and raise welts.  Every morning we fished various large insects from the bath tub. The amazing insectile life attracted to even a single light in the evenings are almost certainly not things you’d want to live with.

Inside/outside is no joke, and screened porches the best of inventions. Still, I like some playfulness with that idea, and love that you can see the mountains through the buildings:


The cold is no joke either. We had no heat growing up, just a little wall heater about a foot high in the bathroom that would warm you one section at a time. Nights regularly get down to freezing in the winter and I know it’s not Minnesota but still, no windows? The most enormous fireplaces I have ever seen in my life (and that includes a hell of a lot of medieval castles)…where did the wood come from?

Apprentices I guess. It’s no surprise his widow installed heating just after he died.

I did like his attempt to avoid framing space to create a structural distinction between inside and outside when the glass was finally installed. On reflection I imagine it was the desert wildlife and rain rather than his wife that probably won that battle. He seemed a very stubborn man.


I almost admired his tenacity over views. When he returned one winter to find that powerlines had gone up between Taliesin and the mountains to the southwest, he wrote to absolutely everyone to get rid of them — and not these big modern powerlines of the picture below, but the little dinky old-school ones stretching from the wooden posts.


He wrote letters to the governor and to President Truman. When they didn’t come through he changed the orientation of the whole complex to focus on the mountains immediately behind them to the north and east, moving the kitchen, closing off an open area with a wall that shielded his guests from the horrors of modernity.

His guests were of the best, of course. Every Sunday he and his wife held formal black-tie affairs, catering to as many of the elite as they could entice to make the long drive.

He also refused to let his wife plant citrus trees. Again, he cared more for the views.

I think what troubled me most was that despite Wright’s insistence on natural materials found in the area, despite this house being designed for the desert, it fails to be an ecological house in a number of ways. I was a little troubled by his rejection of European architecture while embracing a strange orientalism to transplant here — both in the Chinese porcelain theatre scenes scattered at transition points throughout:


As well as in a number of other elements:


Despite this, it still feels to me like the midwest transplanted. Adobe walls work so much better than stone and concrete to insulate rooms, both for summer and for winter. There was some talk of passive solar using concrete floors and such, but with so many completely open spaces (particularly before the glass was put in), and these walls, the inefficiency of giant fireplaces and no wood stoves…cold. That place must have been so cold.

He also built this house thinking there was no water on the property. They brought it all in on a flatbed truck making weekly trips. Both crazy and unsustainable. They’re lucky they drilled and actually found plentiful water, but they created a landscape that hardly blends with the environment, though I’ll admit its usefulness in case of fire and to soak the canvas ceilings. The grass might have been a nod to the families with young children, but this isn’t precisely a good area for playing in:

IMG_0731 IMG_0727

I do really love this door, the use of this splendid boulder. In every Wright house I’ve visited there are always places and views I truly love.The interiors especially, and the large living room and office and workspace for the apprentices were no exceptions to this (though I couldn’t take pictures).

I loved the performance spaces as well, the large theatre and the cabaret. I enjoyed his mastery of accoustics and the amazing sound of a tiny music box when amplified by the recess containing the piano. It was probably his favourite parlour trick.

I was horrified that all of his apprentices had to perform.

I kept thinking this house must have been impossible to keep up, kept remembering that with his apprentices Wright had a small army to do so. While my heart consistently bled for the apprentices, this brings me to the final thing I really did like about this place — its role as both a workplace and living space, a laboratory, a community. A place to learn by doing. It must have been an amazing experience, although a very difficult one that I doubt my temperament would have allowed me to participate in. Still, it must have been most rewarding for those who did, and many have stayed on. They certainly earned their places.

A few more views of the things I did really like, despite all the critiques:

IMG_0732 IMG_0753 IMG_0755 IMG_0739 IMG_0751 IMG_0746
Other Architecture in the Desert posts:
ArcosantiBefore ‘Architects’ | Mining Zombies, Cadavers and Ghosts


Picacho Peak, Rinches and the Civil War

This is one of the places I have always driven past, never actually been too, yet has always been a marker so eagerly looked for.  The distinctive peak can be seen heading both ways on the I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, but my favourite sights of it have always been when it’s telling us we’re almost home.

It was cool to see it from the desert instead, across the biggest saguaro ocean I have seen:


I never realised how this same peak had marked space for so many others through the past centuries…must have been so much more important through past centuries. Imagine the relief traveling cross-country when it finally came into view and you knew you were on the right trail through these thousands of miles of desert.

This lovely little resume is from Arizona State Parks: The Beginning by Charles B. Eatherly:

The unique shape of the 1,500-foot Picacho Peak has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. One of the first recordings was in the 1700’s by the Anza Expedition as it passed through the area.

In 1848, the Mormon Battalion constructed a wagon road through Picacho Pass. The forty-niners on their way to California used this road. In the late 1850’s the Butterfield Overland Stage was carrying passengers through this area. Picacho Peak’s most noted historic event occurred on April 15, 1862, when Confederate and Union scouting parties met in the Battle of Picacho Pass during the Civil War. This was the largest Civil War clash to take place in Arizona.

IMG_0699 IMG_0707
I never knew there was a Civil War battle fought here. The Arizona Rangers were on the side of the Confederacy I believe, given the flag flying above the monument they raised.

A good reminder of history and the role the frontier areas played in the racial oppressions of slavery…and apparently proud of it. Of course in old corridos, Rangers are los rinches, and always bad guys. They were part of the anglo land grab, enforcing the transfer of claims from Mexicans and Native Americans, and rinches were used to break up the cowboy strike of 1883. It’s hardly surprising they’d chose the side they did.

Here’s more on the Confederate Rangers and the godforsaken idea of the ‘ocean-to-ocean’ Confederacy:

In February 1862, a band of Confederate Rangers under Capt. Sherod Hunter raised the Stars and Bars of Tucson, Arizona, part of an effort to create an ocean-to-ocean Confederacy.  In order to thwart this move, a Union “Column from California” under Col. James H. Carleton set out across the lonely desert toward Tucson.  On April 15, Union cavalry under Lt. James Barrett met with Confederate Rangers near Picacho Peak, a rocky spire 50 miles northwest of Tucson.  Barrett was killed almost immediately and fierce combat continued for more than an hour before the Federals retreated.  Although the Rangers’ victory at Picacho Pass delayed the Union force, the following month Carleton’s Californian’s eventually took Tucson without firing a shot.

They do a reenactment now every year I am told. Luckily we missed that.

We got in just at sunset — a bad time of day to capture the massive face of Picacho Peak itself sitting in deep shadow, but very beautiful climbing up and looking out over the desert:
IMG_0689 IMG_0691 IMG_0697IMG_0676
Picacho Peak remains in my memory for one other reason, as the first place I ever saw a porn magazine. They were just sitting stacked up on a shelf at the perfect kid eye level in the little store there we’d stopped at to get water or something once. It was a funny little fake-tudor place that is now just a heap of beams and rubble though the sign is still there (you can see it on the far right, I didn’t manage a shot of the ruin). The tradition of smut continues however:  IMG_0709
The Ostrich Ranch has been a fixture for years as well (1999). I love that it’s the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch — don’t know how happy John Wayne would have been of course…  IMG_0710


Kartchner Caverns

It is full of shadows, depths, spaces with a presence and a texture. Against these, between these, through these spaces the formations stand clumped or alone, strange and wonderful and misshapen. The skill of the lighting picks out the speleothems: tiny and delicate twigs and antlers, the fragile and luminous curtains, the massive and awe-inspiring flows. Above them all arches the roof, itself a thing of wonder, a broken and shifting mass of banded limestone that hides mystery in its fractures and faultlines.

It is much about the spaces of darkness as the wondrous formations of calcite dropped and bubbled and crystallised and soda-strawed by water laden with minerals and pigments that has worked its tortuous ways through the limestone to create. It is still creating.

I just wanted to sit there and stare. Drink in. Feel. Something shifts inside of you in places like this.

I still remember the excitement when the knowledge of these caves was made public — 1988, and I was just a kid. We’d only ever seen the fake (but very impressive) caves at the Desert Museum, and trying to imagine something magnitudes bigger, more wonderful, more beautiful…I stretched high and wide to do it.

I failed, but not for lack of trying.

Even then mum had impressed upon us the wonderful gift that Kartchener Caverns were, how important it was that they get it right, that they protect such a thing of wonder and age still living and growing. The story of how they had been discovered and that secret kept hidden, protected for fourteen years as the cavers Tenen and Tufts and the Kartchners tried to figure out how they could be protected — well that story always wrapped those caves around like a blanket, and gave their fabled wonder even more strength. Even that young we knew that people ruin things like that if you do not protect them. When the waiting list stretched to years for entry once it finally opened to the public, I think I nodded, unsurprised. It was expensive. Not for folks like us. I was still glad they were protecting it though.

Fifteen more years of exploring all over Southern Arizona and I still had never been.

We went today, and they were more beautiful than I had imagined. Bigger and stranger and more wonderful.

Even now, the theme of stewardship, of these caves as something that belongs to the people and need to be cared for by us so that they can still be there for our children and grandchildren is what is emphasised most. It made me happy, I wish we had more talk like this.

We were in the Big Room. Words fail, as do pictures, to give you any sense of what it is like to stand there

Courtesy of AZ State Parks
Courtesy of AZ State Parks

Pictures flatten it out somehow, remove that echoing sense of vast enclosed space. Remove some of the awe. Remove the warmth and the humidity and the smell of rock breathing. Still, it was torture not to be able to take pictures or just sit there and stare, try and drink all of it in. Other people deserve a turn here though, and the tours are always full.

What surprised me most were the formations, these wonderful rippled sheets I had never seen before:

Courtesy of Kartchner Caverns State Park

Helictites, ‘eccentric’ stalactites that have defied gravity, twisted and turned and curled upon themselves. Fried egg formations, formed of crystal so that light shines through them. 1-centimeter crenellations ridging and rippling up and down certain formations as they do in caves all around the world, and no one knows why (how much do I love the unknown, the undiscovered, the still-waiting and still-inexplicable). Lips and ledges and wonders of all kinds.

Courtesy of Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic
Courtesy of AZ State Parks

From April to October this room is a nursery for myotis bats and we yield it to them for the summer — that was perhaps one of my favourite facts. We will be back to see the Throne Room and Rotunda, but I wouldn’t mind making this a yearly pilgrimage.


Santa Teresita and Clifton, AZ

Santa Teresita de Cabora…that is how she was known to the thousands who loved her, and believed she could cure the sick, the blind and the lame. So we went on a quest to find Teresa Urrea today,  one of the more extraordinary figure of the Southwest borderlands. It was inspired by reading Ringside to the Revolution by David Romo (which you should read, without a doubt)…but when we started looking we found so much more.


Her life defies summary, but I shall try. In 1873 she was born in Culiacan, Mexico, the illegitimate daughter of a Yaqui woman named Cayetana Chavez and the local landowner, Tomas Urrea. She worked with the local curandera…known alternatively as Huila (a Yaqui name) or Maria Sonora (a Yori name, we shall disregard it). While an adolescent she went into a coma, her father ordered a coffin, and the story goes that the night before her burial she suddenly sat up. She said that they should keep the coffin as someone else would die within 3 (or possibly 5 days). She was right, and they buried Huila.

From that time on she was famed for her healing powers, powers both of traditional medicine and faith. She never charged for her service. And the thousands came…so many that Porfirio Diaz feared her powers in leading an insurrection and expelled her from the country…revolution was already boiling along the borders among the Yaqui, the Mayo, the Tomochic. And they revolted up and down down the border in her name, they carried her photograph cut out from the papers next to their hearts. Federales saw her mounted on a white horse leading them, even though she was hundreds of miles away. They were called the Teresista Rebellions, and although I grew up an hour from Nogales, I never knew the Teresistas had risen there.

Diaz said that El Paso was too close, so she moved to Clifton…she traveled, always attracting thousands seeking healing. And she returned to Clifton when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, she built a house there, and died in 1906, peacefully, she was only 33. 400 people attended her body from the church to the grave.

And yet today no one is sure where she is buried. And that is quite a story.

Apparently in the Clifton area there were three cemeteries. There was the whites only cemetery (known simply as the Clifton cemetery, though now it is officially called the Ward’s Canyon cemetery.) There was the Mexican cemetery. And there was the Catholic cemetery. Clifton is a mining town, only a few miles from Morenci, and the largest pit mine in the country. At some point Phelps Dodge decided that there was copper under the Mexican cemetery, and they wanted it. And so they dug it up and dumped all of the bodies from there into…an unmarked place. Supposedly in the whites only cemetery, though that puzzles me really, it would have made much more sense to have put them in the Catholic cemetery, especially as apparently that now belongs to PD as well. And since it was unmarked…it is hard to say.

It’s unimaginable really, especially given the relationship Mexican families have with their dead. It fills me with a kind of fury. But segregation even in death is enough to do that. And there’s the lovely story in the Roadside History of Arizona (full of interesting facts, though nothing about such things as strikes, civil unrest, Mexican saints or etc etc)… in 1904, 40 orphans were brought to the town by New York nuns, happy that they had found good Catholic families willing to adopt them. Sadly, the children were white, the families Mexican, and the good whitefolk of Clifton couldn’t have that. Vigilantes took custody of the kids, and every court up to the Supreme Court supported them in their efforts. Vigilantes are nothing new around here, nor is government support for them.

And so here is the cemetery that was once whites only

You can see Morenci’s open pit in the background. We thought that Teresa’s grave had been (provisionally) identified and marked, we wandered up and down, and found nothing. The graveyard is on a steep hillside, with many of the graves themselves forming the terracing, and the ultimate disposition of bones over years of torrential summer rains an interesting thought. Below is one of the spots I thought they might have dumped a load of calcium and dream rich dirt.

It contrasts with the more worthy sections…

Even Mr. Greenlee for whom the county is named is buried here. Under a small pyramid of rock. I don’t think he would have appreciated PD’s idea, it makes me doubt that they managed to bury an unnamed load of Mexicans here. But perhaps they did, and the outrage was great enough from both communities (united if only in this), that that is what forced them to relocate graves properly when the towns of Morenci and Metcalf were claimed by the pit as well.

We navigated at temperatures of 103 or so…and even hating the idea of a white’s only cemetery (though it isn’t quite at this point…), it was still haunting and some things were impossibly sad, like this, hid amidst great marble headstones

6 years old, chiseled by unskilled hand…and then I found this one a few steps away

Born and died the same day. And you realize how hard and bleak and terrible life could be, for everyone. But heartbreaking as they are, the Chapmans got to keep their headstones. Teresa Urrea has been erased.

So we headed into town to ask where the grave could be found. We started at the courthouse, moved to the recorder’s office, and there met Berta who was amazing and took us to the library over her lunch break, where she had started a file on Teresa. And all of a sudden I started liking Clifton again. I have photocopies now of the original article from The Copper Era (nice title, no?) from January 18, 1906, announcing her death. And a handful of others published in local papers, and one with a picture of a grave they think just might be Teresa’s.  We returned to the cemetery, to the grave we thought just might be the grave in the picture of what just might be the grave of Teresa Urrea. It was missing the wooden cross though….And we left our flowers, red plastic roses, and fresh white calla lilies, deciding that she would be understanding if we hadn’t found her, and anyone else who might be buried there would be happy.

And then we headed into downtown Clifton, up to Morenci…but more on that later. Another stirring tale of racism, labor strikes, evil mining companies…exciting stuff!

And last thing, a brilliant fictionalized book about Teresa is by Luis Alberto Urrea, The Hummingbird’s Daughter.