From Zion to the The Flea

Cutting south from the eastern end of Zion Park, you drive through some of the most colorful canyon land that you can find anywhere. This is the area of the Vermilion Cliffs and Kodachrome Basin, after all. The beauty tends to die down a bit as you go south, with volcanic wastelands covering much of the area just north of aptly named Gray Mountain. I know  “wasteland” is a pejorative term, but I can’t think of one more apt. The dominant color around the road (Rt 89) seems to be a worn-out gray, even though this valley lies between the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon. Perhaps it’s just nature’s way of providing contrast relief for the eye…

Approaching Page, AZ, you drive over the Glen Canyon Dam. As I have been reminded by Lizz after my post on the Grand Coulee visit, Page is a town built originally for the workers building the dam. 

The dam backs up the Colorado River in the first of a series of huge lakes, Lake Powell, which is followed downriver by Lake Mead and Lake Havasu, among others. The fight by environmentalists and others against this dam, along with the Marble Canyon Bridge that is just downstream, was fictionalized by Edward Abbey in his novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” He would, perhaps, have had some choice words for the fact that his books (though not that one) are now for sale in the giftshop atop the dam.

The bridge that actually supports Rt 89 over the canyon at the dam is a beautiful thing,  elegant in its simplicity and seemingly effortless vault of the canyon. 

Page itself has grown some since my last visit here in 1988, but remains a disturbingly green spot on the ochre and red of the surrounding desert. I’m sure I would be happy to have this oasis if I lived here, but it seems wasteful, somehow, emblematic of the fact that Lake Powell evaporates more water each year than the total the engineers originally thought would be lost to the river flow each year due to extraction for cities and agriculture. Somehow they never figured evaporation in to the calculations. The recent drought conditions show in the white rock above water level in the first shot. The marinas at Wahweap, just up the western shore of the lake from the dam, have had to be moved quite a way down the slope and many boat sheds and marine businesses along the highway are now high and dry.

As the land rises toward Sunset Crater and Humphrey’s Peak, the scenery changes again, with golden grasslands and pine thickets emphasizing the higher elevations and cooler clime of the Kaibab National Forest  and the Mogollon Plateau. My destination for the night is Flagstaff. A town I immediately got lost in and retreated from the next morning. I’m sure that it’s a great place, but all I saw in the glare of the setting sun is traffic and I was anxious to be settled in for the night in a motel I could afford. The gas prices on this trip have set me back a bit. Finally I found one and crashed, to get set for the long drive to NM the next day. On that leg of the drive I stopped in Winslow, Arizona (they have a “Standing on the corner” park) and Holbrook, where one of the last TeePee Motels lies on Rt 66, all set up with vintage cars, a billboard proclaiming it to be a heritage site for the state of AZ and a closed sign in the office window. I spent a lot of time shooting black and white images around he place and only after driving away remember that I have taken none with the iPhone… Sorry ’bout that

Arriving in Albuquerque after a controlled burn had taken place in the national forests to the northwest of the city I really thought the place had a smog problem. The wind had piled up a dirty gray haze over the valley, contained by the mountains to the east and south. I was happy to see that only a few lingering fingers of smoke remained in the area the following morning, as I set out for Santa Fe.

I stayed at a KOA campground in Bernalillo, just north of Albuquerque, for two days and I have to say that, as un-sexy and basic as those places may be, I have yet to be disappointed in my modest expectations–clean bathrooms and hot showers along with nice people. It’s a pretty utilitarian way to look at camping, but it’s also an inexpensive way to travel. Long ago, on an ill-fated family excursion with a tired  VW camper, a KOA Kampground outside St Louis provided a respite from the craziness of broken cars and cranky kids with a pool, reliable showers and constantly changing neighbors. Many of the folks using KOA campgrounds use them as a base for long visits, but the other type of traveler one is likely to meet at these places is the person/couple/family that pulls in just after dark and leaves by 7 the next morning, anxious to get on the road and spend as little as possible for a night’s lodging. Conversations are easy to start and often quite interesting. This time I met a couple who had just about everything they owned in a new Ford Transit van, on the way from Ohio to LA, and a couple of Aussie dudes, looking to drive across America on the cheap and then meet girls in Boston and NY.

Santa Fe is a thriving metropolis, complete, my brother-in-law quips, with “hot and cold running quiche.” The old town is tight on parking, shopper heavy and quite lovely to walk around, in a touristy way. I spent only enough time here to find that I could not get into the Georgia Okeefe Museum, since an appointment is necessary in this season. Outside of the center of town, in La Cienega, lies The Downs racetrack, unused for racing at this point but home to the marvelous Flea, a market that operates every weekend in the sprong and in the fall. I dropped in for what I thought would be cursory look-see and got stuck.
Unaccountable mixtures of religious art from many different culture and western themed kitsch shared equal billing with serious antique dealers, rock shops (BIG rocks) and car trunk yardsales.The main tented area is called “The Mothership” and many of the traders (they told me that this was a very different thing than being a dealer) were happy to talk and loved my cameras. I had one offer to trade a large African piece for my Mamiya TLR. I begged off with a “no room in the car” line for most of the purchases, but the prices were amazingly low, and the quality as well as the eclectic nature of the goods was remarkable, especially when it came to religious statuary.I expected the Catholic bent of this offering, but neither its Medieval German putinor this reclining Bodhisattva, African fetish objects and certainly not Spock!

One of the traders spoke of Santa Fe as the new Constantinople, the center of trading– east with west, city and country; the ground where religious and secular traditions overlap and people come to intermingle. A bit poetic and hopeful, perhaps, but this is a very different atmosphere from the antique shows and sales I have attended in the east. One of the traders echoed this in speaking of the Brimfield MA shows, which he had done for years. “Santa Fe is different; more relaxed, more comfortable, with a lot broader focus.”

This was the second to last weekend of the season, and some of the dealers had chucked it in for the year and gone on buying trips to Africa, the keys, Asia; wherever their spirit and pocketbooks drew them. Others would be moving their act indoors for the winter, but all were sure that next spring would see them there again. The Flea seems destined to remain a strong tradition. If you get a chance to be in this neck of the woods, I would suggest you leave the Latte’s and high-culture galleries of the city center behind for a morning and get out to The Flea. It’s a great experience.

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