Thursday, May 27, 2010


Arizona is bizarre by nature. It’s why I love living here.

Lately it’s gotten downright dystopian. New laws are beyond Orwell, more paranoid than Philip K. Dick, pushing into Kafka country. Beside the immigration and ethnic studies absurdities, there’s the ban on human/animal hybrids.

I keep imagining some poor guy finding a mermaid in his backyard after a freakish thunderstorm. She gasps for salt water. He offers to drive her to Rocky Point and the Sea of Cortez. A neighbor sees him helping her into his car. Soon an incredible array of government agencies are closing in . . .

And soon we won’t need permits to carry concealed firearms. Wyatt Earp wouldn’t like it, but Emiliano Zapata would approve. I'll feel nostalgic for the days when I could see the holstered pistols of my fellow shoppers.

Sometimes you have to get away from your everyday environment. The road gives you new perspectives.

Soon we were out from under the smog of the Metro Phoenix Area, and passing the Bassass BBQ Steakhouse. Ah, sweet, weird Americana! The Centipede God shed his grace on thee.

I had trouble negotiating the diabolical traffic circle at the turn off to Montezuma Castle. It kept trying to redirect us to a Yavapai-Apache-owned casino. Franz, did you hitch a ride?

Montezuma Castle isn’t really a castle and probably didn’t belong to Montezuma. It’s a sophisticated, five-story cliff-dwelling built by the people who have come to be known as the Sinagua. It was built in the early 1300s and abandoned in the 1400s. It’s young for a Southwestern ruin. Volcanic eruptions and climate change may be the reason the people left, but there’s no way to be sure. This was the same centuries that the people who would later be called the Aztecs went to the Valley of Mexico on the advice of a talking idol.

People of the Southwest (AKA Aztlán) tend to migrate, hit the road, move.

The next day we visited the older Sinaguan ruins in Walnut Canyon. We had visited them before, but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of these cliff-dwellings in a vertical forest. They weren’t frosted with snow, and still seemed like an earthly paradise.

Did the Sinaguans leave here for Montezuma Castle, or Mexico? Do our highways follow the paths of their migration trails? Only the petroglyphs know for sure.

At the Anasazi Restaurant in Gray Mountain we indulged in Navajo tacos. Then the landscape got psychedelic. Rocks and mountains jumbled by cosmic forces had stories to tell. Was that the ghost of Max Ernst on the ancient motorcycle?

Finally, in Kanab, Utah we ate next to a neon cowboy boot at Houston’s Trail’s End. They also sold synthetic coonskin caps and wooden rubber-band rifles: Postmodern relics of later migrations, other road trips, younger myths. There are myths all over the Wild West, old ones haunting the landscape, new ones being born, according to a tradition over twelve thousand years old.

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