Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Once upon a time, Emily and I lived near Cave Creek Road. Two of the my favorite landmarks were a tower of toilets, and a pink bar with TOPLESS painted on it in huge black letters. I'm sorry to report that neither lasted into the New Millennium.

After a breakfast of doughnut holes, Em and I went off take Cave Creek Road to the town of Cave Creek. I was pleased to see hand-painted signs saying things like BAD CREDIT AUTO, and business-oriented murals, along with dayglo auto parts robots and a Pet Food Depot with a giant bulldog statue in the back of pickup.

All the flags were at half-mast for the Boston Marathon bombings, but the street couldn't help being cheerful.

It's more small townie,” said Em.

We passed Mohawk Plaza. There are no members of the Mohawk tribe in Arizona, but these days, I see more young Native Americans wearing that hairstyle.

Saguaros were propped up with braces like soft objects in a Dalí painting. Yellow flowers blazed on the roadside palo verde trees. Near the intersection of Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Road was WalMart.

They often build a shopping center – or a WalMart – first, hoping it will attract people out into the desert, to places like the Lost Acres housing development. I often wonder if the first establishments on Mars will be WalMarts.

Soon we were passing through a community of rich people. The homes were all tasteful pseudo-adobe. The desert landscaping seemlessly blended into the real desert. A coyote poked around these properties.

Near a HORSE XING sign and a corral, Em spotted an agave with multiple stalks. She got out at took a picture of this biological curiosity. She attracted the attention of one of the horses. We got out of there before being noticed by anybody's private security team.

Finally, we found the Cave Creek Regional Park, where I found out about the Arizona Blond Tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) – probably no relation to the current governor.

While hiking on the park's trails, looking over an incredible valley, Em said, “I wish all the houses would go away.”

I was reminded of the Rewilding concept, and a story idea inspired by it – something else to haunt me until I write it. I found myself imagining a future Arizona that is mostly parks, nature preserves, and Indian nations, financed by tourism and casinos.

Buffalo Bill's Trading Post, with its rusty dragons, gargoyles, alligators 'n' stuff, stands like a sentry to Cave Creek. There you can find guitar-playing armadillos, wire dinosaurs, faceless, topless angel/mermaids, psychedelic toilets too beautiful for human turds, and calaveras of incredible variety.

This place is magical!” Em said. More than once.

We had lunch at El Encanto, a wonderful, ornate, Mexican restaurant that would make a good location for a surrealistic western. We ate on the patio next to a pond with geese, ducks, and turtles. Birds fluttered around, grabbing scraps while Santana's version of Tito Puente's “Oye Como Va” played.

I imagined a gunslinger meeting a patron to discuss a dangerous assignment. The scavenging birds get bigger . . . finally becoming vultures . . . out of the pond, something large and strange rears its ugly head . . .

We saw a lot Sheriff Joe's deputy's SUVs around, parked and cruising. There's a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Substation in Cave Creek.

Then we went to the Town Dump, that brimmed over with fantastic kitsch, not all of it for sale: A tree full of pink flamingoes . . .a metal mermaid/dolphin orgy . . .giant red and orange legs . . . a long-skulled African . . . colorful junk robots . . . a rusty T-Rex with a stegosaurs dorsal fin . . . Buddhas . . . Wild West furniture . . . unidentifiable monsters . . . life-sized metal apes . . . a giant, metal, horned-toad bench . . . a complete, real goat skeleton . . .a clay pig with Posada's “Katrina” painted on it . . . colorful plastic belts . .

I rode home with a cow skull on my lap.  Now that's real happiness.

Friday, April 26, 2013


I'm looking for futures for Arizona in that new Chicanonautica over at La Bloga.

Most people still see the future as cornball sci-fi:

But the future of Arizona will probably look more like this:

Of course, some folks have other visions:

Meanwhile, Phoenix is getting a new look:

Thursday, April 18, 2013


You never know what you're going to see when you're on the road in Arizona.

There it was, strange graffiti inside the bathroom door of a Black Canyon City gas station: ZION. It was accompanied by an eclectic assortment of mystical symbols – the Star of David included, of course.

Forget your stereotypes. They won't do you much good on these roads where this time of year you can often see yellow wildflowers all the way to the horizon.

Soon we were going eastward, down the 260, along rocky, spacy mountains. Turns out the Fossil Creek Road was closed. We were hoping to take it to the Fossil Springs Wilderness, but that would have to be some other time.

Suddenly, Em pulled over and said, “I need to do something a little bit experimental – I'll be right back.” She went and got up close and personal with some of the volcanic rocks.

I got out of the troque and followed her. I grabbed her waistband, so she wouldn't fall into a canyon with mysterious footprints in the sand at its bottom.

The footprints looked big, could have been human, but there was no way to be sure. They were a long way down. We were also close to the Mogollon Rim, home of the Mogollon Monster, our Arizona version of Bigfoot.

Further down the road we stopped again. Em oggled some weird rock formations and speculated about their origins, while I found a business card for Tranmisiones El Bronco and an empty L&M cigarette pack.

I had visions of the Monster smoking cigarettes while having the tranny on his carro yonkeado worked on.

Then I heard a helicopter approaching. Were about to be busted by some clandestine agency?


But no, it wasn't a helicopter -- it was a group of bikers, some on three-wheelers.

It was April, and there were patches of snow by the roadside, under the pines. We were high in these mountains.

In the town of Strawberry, we found the other end of Fossil Creek Road. It was closed, too. We'll have to schedule an expedition there for the future. Meanwhile, monsters or anything else were safely hidden in the Fossil Springs Wilderness.

The town of Pine had some interesting businesses: Rusty's Taxidermy, Arizona Gun Runners, Sidewinder's Saloon, and THAT Brewery & Pub.

At the Tonto Natural Bridge we proceeded to “Enjoy with caution” as the signs said, getting our adventure fix among the natural hazards, “scrambling from rock to rock.” Em was soon up to her waist in the creek (until she remembered her wallet was in her pocket). There was an active bee hive over the main waterfall, and we saw forms more fantastic than Max Ernst's decalomania paintings.

Toward Payson, guys were pedaling bikes loaded with cargo up the mountain roads.

In Payson, we had Mexican food at El Sierra again. The misspelling on the hand-painted sign had been doctored, but was still funky. The food is good, and the psychedelic sombreros and fantastic carved and painted chairs are still burning after-images into patrons' retinas.

On the way home we passed the Jim Jones Shooting Range. Must be some other Jim Jones. The infamous cult leader died in that Guyanese mass suicide decades ago. Still, I imagine folks taking shots of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid . . .

The blazing wildflowers took my mind off such things as we made our way back to civilization.

Back in Phoenix, on the 202, a sign announced that HAZARDOUS MATERIALS MUST EXIT.

So we did.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Via intercontinental snailmail, my contrubutor's copy of the January 2013 issue of the Polish magazine Nowa Fantastyka arrived in my post office box. At last, I could flip through its beautiful pages and see my story “Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song” translated to “Partyzancki Mural Syreniej Pieśni.”

To my delight, there was also a magnificent illustration by Marcin Kutakowski that captured the spirit of the story:

If you haven't read “Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song” yet, it's available in Marty Halpern's anthology Alien Contact.

And more adventures of Pablo Cortez are in my novel, Cortez on Jupiter, from Kindle and Smashwords.

Friday, April 12, 2013


I reminisce about being a Chicano science fiction writer back in the 20th century in Chicanonautica over at La Bloga.

Of course, my interest in sci-fi goes back to the Fifties:

But not all monster movies were Anglo:

So what's a hard-working vaquero supposed to do along this here border?

Monday, April 8, 2013


As the weather warms up, Metro Phoenix seals itself off in air-conditioning. It's like living on an enclosed colony on a hostile planet. People deny that they are living in a desert, or even out West. They plug into media and entertainment that provides pleasant, dystopian delusions.

Meanwhile, biological bombs turn the hills yellow and purple as they trigger allergic reactions. Arizona is out there. And it's not what people think it is – not even what the people who live here think it is.

So Em and I got into our troque and took a spontaneous road trip into the spring fever dreams. Besides, we had never been down that part of Highway 89, the far northern stretch of which has recently become impassable between Gap and Page due to a landslide, but there was plenty between us and the slide area.

Or as Em, put it, “Just driving on the freaking road is fun.”

Down Highway 60/Grand Ave in El Mirage we passed the Babylon Private Hookah Lounge, an abandoned building with bilingual NO TRESPASSING signs, occasional, ancient stone structures that were too damn close to the road, and a giant, rust-covered mental mariachi. They were all across the railroad tracks from twisted rows of jagged mountains.

Just before Wickenburg, “Where the Wild West is Still Wild,” was Buzzard's Saloon, and more rusty behemoths for sale.

Then we hit Highway 89 into what for us was unknown territory: Yavapai County, magical little towns like Yarnell, names like Skull Valley, long-horned cattle wandering mountains full of granite that were as old as the Grand Canyon, churned up by power of the Earth Mother.

At one point we passed a guy in a black suit, pushing his bike uphill.

We had lunch in Prescott, at St. Michael's Bistro on the 100 block of South Montezuma Street, that is still known as Whiskey Row because it was once lined with saloons. Some of the saloons have become restaurants, but it's all mostly art galleries these days.

There's something about these writhing mountains that generates artistic activity – ancient forces at work. This is also uranium country. And wide . . . open . . . spaces . . . that do have interesting effects on the human brain.

On a hill in this high-altitude spaciness, like an abandoned castle, are the ruins of Tuzigoot, which is an Apache name, mispronounced Anglo-style, for a Sinaguan pueblo. Sinagua is a Spanish for “Without Water.” They harvested a lot of agave fiber that they used for clothing. The skeleton of a red Macaw found there suggests that they traded with the peoples of Mesoamerica. They moved on around the time of the last volcanic eruptions.

There are lost worlds along these lost highways.

More recently, abandoned copper mining towns like Jerome, with crumbling buildings haphazardly attached to treacherous mountains, are getting dressed up with bright paint and art galleries, and an artsy-fartsy/hippy-dippy attitude. It triggers visions of a post-redneck Arizona and fantasies of retirement, and painting sci-if Wild West neo-kitsch to sell to the tourists.

But does anybody come up to these lost places to buy art? How long will this culture last? When will these towns become archeological sites?

I wondered that while we contemplated the quiet waters of Dead Horse Ranch State Park, and herons contemplated us.

As we headed back to Phoenix, a lot of police vehicles, with lights flashing and sirens blasting, charged back in the direction from whence we had come.

Something was up. And the wildflowers were pretty.