A GRAIN OF SALT
No one, traveling east from the Sierra Nevada, can be a stranger to Interstate 80, especially that section between Nevada and Utah. The intense brightness of the Great Salt Lake, spreading in all directions to the horizon, will make you reach for your sunglasses, until you realize that you are already wearing them. The western entrance to this salty wilderness takes you past the Bonneville Salt Flats, a raceway named for the huge and ancient Lake Bonneville that in the time of the mammoths, covered most of the Great Salt Basin. Although fed by several watercourses, this is a terminal lake, regulated only by evaporation. And evaporate it does, at a rate of 3 million acre/feet annually. That is a lot of salt by any standard.
Ambling along in my RV at a sedate 55 mph, past the track where world land records are set at speeds exceeding 600 mph, I was trying to maintain some enthusiasm for the coming 115 miles, a trip I've made dozens of times. Thoughts of "if you've seen one Great Salt Lake, you've seen 'em all" were hard to suppress, knowing full well there is just the one.
It was in this state of mind that I noticed in the far distance something not white in a world beyond white. Once again, here was the strange object that I had first encountered years ago and passed many times, rising up from an otherwise featureless landscape. This giant pillar has what appear to be alien eyeballs stuck up on it, one of which, by design, has fallen to crack apart in pieces that lay scattered below. A few passersby were stepping in and out of the shapes, trying by some tactile sense to understand what imagination failed to register. This time, I stopped.
Called "Metaphor: The Tree of Utah" or simply, "The Tree of Life", this monument pays tribute to times when life was lost. Near here, the harsh environment fatally delayed the Donner Party. In the last century, the crew of the Enola Gay practiced for a mission that would take them to Hiroshima and another blinding brightness we hope never to see again. But the sculpture shrugs off tragedy to end on a positive note, for on it's base is inscribed an "Ode to Joy", the uplifting closing to Beethoven's 9'th Symphony. Life is triumphant.
I get that. And, I'm mightily impressed. But for my life to triumph, there would be more than 75 searing miles to go and I would rather think about something other than the Donner Party when I did it. And so, humming Ode to Joy, I soon neared a manufacturing facility out on the salt.
Pioneers used to drive a team of horses out here, load up what they needed and be on their way. Four barrels of salty sand, boiled down, equaled one barrel of usable salt. In a trade, that was as good as money. Small companies competed for business but in the end, Morton Salt dominated the industry. In 1914, a simple idea for ease of use caused a consumer revolution. A cylindrical cardboard container was designed and a spout added. Into this new packaging went salt with an anti caking agent. A blue label with a picture of a little girl under an umbrella and a new slogan taken from a proverb, "it never rains, but it pours", completed the transformation. An American icon was born.
Later, Morton would add iodine to help prevent goiters, a common ailment that has largely disappeared. Still later, men using shovels were replaced by powerful tractors with huge scoops and the term "Hootin Nannys" entered our common lexicon. Morton Salt maintains over 15,000 acres of evaporation ponds, distributing salt for human and animal consumption and for diverse purposes from water softeners to deicing. I like Morton Salt. They have donated thousands of acres to The Nature Conservancy and I wanted them to know, if they ever read this, that I appreciated it. Thanks.
Within sight of Salt Lake City, I see my last stop. A tarnished reminder not of days gone by but just wishful thinking, Saltair III sits forlorn in a weedy patch just off the highway. It isn't the "real deal". More like the "real place". Called the "Cursed Resort", Saltair burned and was rebuilt twice. This third example was flooded for years when the water advanced, but now the Great Salt Lake has again receded along with people's tastes; there are newer, flashier entertainments to be had. Peeling turrets and doors shuttered and locked with rusty chains offer testament to the way the world and the lake have moved on.
But in 1893, the original and queenly Saltair reigned over the Great Salt Lake offering swimming, dancing, vaudeville, rodeos and even a midway. Huge staircases rose to the second level, pedestals held forests of ferns, and the clink of silver on china echoed through the dining rooms. Tuxedoed men squired their elegantly dressed, bejeweled and coiffed ladies around the rooms in a sea of silk. Pictures attest to a time when this grand old gal rivaled any Atlantic City resort. Saltair has now gone the way of those more elegant times, living not in memory any longer, but only as a curiousity in history books.
A lot can happen in 115 miles. Take my word for it. Or, take it with a grain of salt.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
THE REAL DEAL
"Well, I'm standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and its such a fine sight to see.....take it easy, take it easy....
If you don't know the Eagles song, you are just from the wrong generation. This corner tells you all you need to know about the lyrics. Its like Graceland. You either know it or you don't.
This trip took place in September of 2008. Winslow has fallen on hard times, but two places are really not to be missed here, this corner and another site that is in a class by itself.
"La Posada" or "the resting place", is the last great railroad hotel. Time forgot La Posada for over 40 years until restoration began in l997. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. If this hotel had been left to the ravages of time, the nation would have lost part of it's soul.
Fortunately for us and with a lot of help, this lady picked herself up, dusted herself off and opened for business. There are no pools, no tennis courts or evening shows. La Posada is a work in progress. But, the Turquoise Room, among Arizona's top 25 restaurants, is here. Southwestern "cucina" based on Navajo and Hopi ingredients make this an unforgettable dining experience. Conde Nast Traveler, folks who know a thing or two about hotels and ambiance, rated this hotel as one of "the best places to stay in the world".
And yet, there are no elevators, few ice machines and little cable television. The rooms are not luxurious. If you want food, you will have to go to the restaurant. What could Conde Nast have been thinking! This is my take on their comments. I think authenticity is so rare that people trip all over themselves when they see it.
There are pictures of famous guests everywhere, all the rooms bear their names. Art hangs in abundance, most of it and the furniture is original. You can feel history hang in the air.
The "Harvey Girls" came to civilize the west by staffing hotels with starched linens, sterling silver, china and distinguished table service. They brought with them refinements from the east, the excitement of a new adventure and the hope of finding a husband.
One of the last Harvey Girls was at the hotel for lunch, meeting other women who had come west looking for excitement all those years ago. She was accommodating, cheerful and wonderful fun.
I can't say how much their influence was received and assimilated in the old west, but when we came down later, we dressed for dinner.
There are quite little nooks and water sliding down old fountain walls. The doors and windows in season are open to the breezes with birdsong and flowers perfuming the air. So many corners are available for reading or drinks before dinner. You feel as if you are walking around a place you owned, one worth having, following some older footsteps that came before you. You can hear heels clicking on the tile floors, the echos diminishing in the distance as new ones come closer. In ways hard to describe, it is easy to feel intimately connected with this place.
I left the peaceful confines of La Posada energized. Having connected with a simpler, more gracious time, new insight was gained on the present. Not all of it was welcome. Our world has become so bland, as if some aluminum manufacturer just sided the whole country. So, I tried to hang on to the peace offered here. Where I look at the pictures, I can remember how it felt. And, I'm close enough to return for a weekend now and again.
Trains no longer stop at La Posada. They don't stop anywhere. People have given up train travel and it has disappeared from both our physical and mental landscapes.
"Do you hear that whistle down the line?
I figure that its Engine 49.
Its the only one that'll sound that way.
On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe."
When those of us who go into the back roads leaving the mind numbing sameness of the interstates behind, this is what we are looking for.
The Real Deal.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Does this look like Show Low to you? Me either. It is the inside of a Chinese restaurant, a very good one. My friend Gerri, seated, was moving from Show Low and it was a tough time for her. Show Low was home for a lot of years. We couldn't let her do that last trip alone, so we rode along and stayed with her a few days. During that time, we ate and played games and laughed so hard our sides hurt. There were late night conversations and early morning coffees in pajamas, lovely drives and family visits.
The drive up through the Salt River Canyon was truly spectacular and the high elevations around Greer felt cool and inviting. Someday soon, I will return and take pictures of all those places which will still be there when I am ready for them. For all it's beauty, it is still just real estate.
The view above is priceless.
Friday, June 5, 2009
This is the Gemini Girls birthday party. If it was not a birthday, we would think of something else to celebrate. Whatever we call it, what we are really celebrating is the gift of friendship.
The little indignities of aging are borne better by shared experience; they are even laughable with friends at your side. What is it with memory or the lack of it and growing older? It took me 15 minutes the other day to remember "Best Buy". In my mind's eye, I could see the blue sign and the yellow letters going up at an angle to the right but there was not a snowball's chance I was going to remember that name. There is no doubt that any of my friends would say, "Yeah, I know what you mean. I can't remember either. But I can take you there."
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I love art glass. It draws me in with a mesmerizing quality that is otherworldly. Remember those craftspeople at festivals and fairs who would blow little unicorns and ballerinas to hang on invisible threads that spun and glittered in the sunlight? That's not art glass. What about mille fleurs paperweights and delicate enameled glass boxes or colorful Venetian clowns? I don't think so. All this is by way of saying that there is a master glassblower among us named Dale Chihuly and then there is everyone else.
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is the most remarkable collection of plants thriving in the Sonoran Desert that you will ever see. Walking paths snake through islands of natural landscape that combine form and texture to showcase the cacti to their best advantage.
Combining these two disparate elements would seem foolhardy, yet when natural, wild elegance met with Chihuly's genius, magic happened. Stunning images assailed my senses and I felt physically moved by beauty. Maybe that is one job fine art has to do; it takes you somewhere else so that each part of the image comes into focus and imprints itself on your being.
Today is my birthday, my 61'st. It is also the day I choose to launch this blog that marks the arbitrary beginning of my new, retired life. Although I am far from new and certainly not retiring, the days ahead will be filled with exciting experiences entirely of my own devising. This is the perfect platform to keep up with family and friends and to populate my life with new acquaintances who are only keystrokes away.
But right now, this is my time to kick back and indulge myself. So, I'm eating a big bowl of luscious, sweet red cherries. Then out to Red Lobster later with friends followed by a swim. Really, I'm just going to hang out in the deep end on a noodle. Who in their right mind actually swims after eating a meal like that?