16 March, 2007

Arizona hi-jinks

What a world we live in—a blog can become the measure of one's existence. I fail to post for a week and my folks think I'm dead. Well, I'm not dead. I just took a little trip is all. D wanted to see Arizona, and see Arizona we did.

We took a wave-rider (terrifying) and then a kayak (wearying) out on Lake Havasu, just around the corner from the remains of John Rennie's 1831 London Bridge, purchased in 1968. En route to the resort we passed the podunk 'town' Quartzsite, with its nudist bookstore (heavy turquoise necklace, cowboy-hat) and the tomb of the legendary camel-driver 'Hi Jolly'.

On the way back we detoured 30 odd miles to the abandoned mining settlement Swansea, deep in the desert. Signs alerted us to the 'primitive' roads, strewn with loose stones and throwing up dust-trails in our wake. We munched fresh buffalo-jerky and swigged bottles of water growing steadily less chilled; on the radio was Rush, Led Zeppelin and REO Speedwagon, which seemed vaguely appropriate. Swansea turned out to be the quietest damn place I'd ever been. Out there you can hear neither the wind, nor the birds, nor the roar of rocky roads—not even the dust whispers with lizards. As far as the eye wanders, you can make out only the distant buttes. This picture, a close-up of a slag-heap, rather resembles one of John Ruskin's geological sketches:

I dug into the ground with my fingers, making out the edge of an old wooden beam buried in the sand, and coruscant dust stained my shirt. 'By 1909, with a population of about 500 people'—reads the brochure—'the town blossomed to include saloons, a general store, post office and even a moving picture house. The first train arrived at the adobe depot on the new Swansea Railroad in 1910. By May of that same year, the furnaces began producing the first copper at a rate of 50 tons a day. Unfortunately, Mitchell, who invested heavily above ground and not enough in the mines, was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1911. . . The mine fell victim to the Great Depression and a declining copper market, and never boomed again. The last milling was reported in 1944.' All that remain are fragments of houses, blocked-off adits, and scraps of metal quite brown in the 90-degree heat. In the desert, there you feel free.

At Vicksburg a nice old woman came out of her little shack of a store, from which she sold beaded jewellery and bits of old junk, to talk to us about cacti and packrats, snowbirds, chrysocolla and swapmeets. By this point, D had heatstroke and I was sweating suntan-lotion with a sore jaw from chewing dried buffaloflesh. So we called it a day.

More intellectual adventures soon.


Robert said...

Your trip sounds like fun! I too was wondering if you had had enough of blogging.
Your description has filled me with optimism, restored my interest in Arizona.

Fresh buffalo-jerky does not sound very appetising! To an Englishman it sounds simply terrible!

The film "Tremors" was filmed out there was it not? Great "horror" film but may deterred tourists, and isn't it where the aliens were kept in the film "Independence Day"? That's the film designed to put intelligent people to sleep!

What so often worries me about really isolated places beautiful or otherwise, is that you think they must be the cleanest most un spoilt and so healthiest places on earth. Then you discover that they detonated an Atom bomb there in the 1950s five miles away and that any closer to ground zero is out of bounds for another 500 years. We have an island in the Outer Hebrides which is contaminated with Anthrax - for decades.

Again from Hollywood I remember a film from the early 1950s called “The Amazing Colossal Man”, all about a soldier who had been exposed to radiation in an atomic test graphically shown on screen. He then started to grow and grow until he became a King Kong figure in the desert- quite frightening for a 9 year old in 1959. (Same time as “The Birds” and the other one about the beast with a million eyes!)

However I do remember better than ever the first wild life film I ever saw. It was called “The living Desert”, again from Arizona. It was captivating and quite brilliant for its day.

John Cowan said...

Buffalo tastes basically like beef. But I do not understand, since jerky is dried meat, how it can be fresh, except I suppose in the sense of freshly dried -- but why should that matter?

Robert said...

Biltong in Old Southern Africa was dried (antelope) meat that the trekkers would survive on. In small quantities it is delicious. Jerk is not a polite word in English-English!


Anonymous said...

Sounds warm.

I vaguely remeber what warm feels like.

Arizona is gorgeous in its way.

Relax. Chew some jerky.

There's time for essays later.

Anonymous said...

Not only your folks were wondering.

Deserts have a strange and fragile beauty, but nonetheless I find them wholly uncongenial, except in photographs.

Desolation and heat are too much to overcome; that is possibly why others have cameras and I have books.

Welcome back.

Anonymous said...

Having lived in Nevada, I know the desert's extremes...and how the silence and space provide the wonderful illusion that nothing's happening (even as the sun is busy with its death rays and the rattlesnakes and scorpions encroach). Great place to think (if you can find shade)! Top-notch reportage as ever, Conrad. That opening photograph is an aesthetic marvel...

Conrad H. Roth said...

Thanks, friends. Sadly, buffalo does taste like beef. They had elk and ostrich as well but still, I doubt they would have tasted much different. As for 'fresh', I don't know either--I assumed 'freshly dried'--but the rhetoric worked on me! I'm afraid, Robert, I have not seen any of those movies; however I think that La Paz county desert is pretty much unspoilt (although 100 years ago it was less unspoilt). No bombs near here to my knowledge!

Anonymous said...

I view absence from blogdom as a sign of life. Do you separate poetry from intellect? For I find the stuff of both in this latest account...it is why I visit you.

Erik said...

I'm almost jealous because everything, nothing exempted, is the opposite of outdoor life here in Friesland: dry-wet, cool-hot, brown-green, trees-rocks, etc. By the way, maybe new chances come up for the copper mining: in Europe we have many thefts of copper and bronze (along railroads, construction places, even - Robert it's a shame - sawn off statues. The media report it's the booming economy in China raising the copper price.