Edging West

Adventure + Culture + Environment

Month: September, 2012

Chimney Rock: A Short Reflection on Sacredness

A landscape reveals many faces. It is understood in many ways and interpreted to serve many purposes. It shifts and weaves in and out of perceptions-perceptions that vary depending on culture, philosophy, or religion even. Humans have always and continue to ponder this reality. Often, the reality or decision to conserve aligns with a shared sense of beauty or wonderment. Universally, we recognize beautiful landscapes. It is a sense, having an almost indescribable, mystic origin. How do we really know? Where does that understanding come from? The Grand Canyon is understood as a world treasure, but the austere, desert ranges of Nevada left (historically) for nuclear testing. Land kept and land used. Heaven and hell.

But, an appreciation for beauty (and justifying actions) can also transcend beyond that simpler norm into a deeper, layered understanding of place. The Chimney Rock Archaeological Area of Colorado holds this truth. It is a land tapestry filled with history, spirituality, and richly perceived by many as a “sacred place”, a place of religious gravity. For that reason, and others, the site becomes a National Monument this Friday.

(Joe Hanel, for The Durango Herald, covers specifics of the upcoming declaration)

Reminded of Aqua Prieta.

The Devils Hwy: A True Story, by Luis Alberto Urrea, is not a new book; it was released in 2004. For whatever reason it was unknown to me until seeing a recent interview with the author on Moyers & Company. Ergo, I read the book and am glad I did.

In January of 2005, on a rock-climbing trip to Cochise Stronghold, Arizona, my friends and I drove across the border to explore. It was raining, the desert was wet for once, along with the large granitic domes, and our climbing on hold.

Getting into Aqua Prieta was simple: you drove in. No checkpoints, no customs. No one is worried about those heading in. This remote corner of the west is far removed from the resort complexes; we found industry instead, along with rows of shops with trinkets and boarded, broken liquor stores and motels. The local tavern keepers were curious as to our situation, especially after learning we were not off-duty Border Patrol. They were friendly. We were an oddity.  Few Gringos travel to the northeast corner of Sonora.

The cross back was complex: you waited. Long lines of cars, longer searches, with rickety concession stands and zealous salesman to pass the time. Open market. Small boys, on foot, pattered the dusty way, trying to sell candies and snacks, their version of a lemonade stand, except the stakes were higher. One boy even went for it, in front of dozens of cars and a small army of Border Protection Officers. He ran and he climbed a fence and landed in a narrow, dry drainage made of concrete. It was the void between. He raced higher towards the next and final fence. He did not get far. It was a daring act. He was barely a teenager, but old enough to understand urgency. He made a choice.

Sonora/Arizona Landscape

I still wonder if he ever crossed. Maybe he ventured (risking his life) deep into the deserts and through the mountains and canyons that transcend this political line? I hope he found what he was looking for. The landscape and our desires have little to do with our structure; it is the same on both sides. In The Devils Hwy: A True Story, Luis Alberto Urrea looks, importantly, beyond the borders and conditions we create and into the human condition-that universal search for a better life.

A Continued Destiny

The Western image is one of prosperity and self-reliance. When Clint Eastwood swaggered onto the Republican National Convention last week it was to images and sounds of the lone gunfighter-a commander of place and situation. Regardless of political persuasion, it is hard not to embrace (if only slightly) this western myth and how it was so immortalized by painters in the beginning, and John Ford later on. That myth is a simpler understanding of the world, of right versus wrong, good versus evil, and trials justified by faith and destiny. It is one of wild futures, needing to be grasped, staked, and tamed, person, land or otherwise. That mantra has carried our conflicting history and continues on. It is our success as a nation and our darker conscious too.

Monument Valley, the icon of Western image.

Today that relationship with land is more complex, but at the essence embodies a similar timbre. Leaders of the political arena (bi-partisan, too) recognize that the last great frontier is energy. Of course the great irony is this exploration is not for national self-reliance, but contribution to a very global market and highest bidder. Regardless, conservation, a very conservative ideal at its core, escapes discourse. Instead, the narrative is driven by rugged expansion and the quest for more. The 2012 Republican Platform embodies this Western image perfectly, and advocates  “an all-of-the-above diversified approach, taking advantage of all our American God-given resources”. Once again it is a destiny, a Manifest Destiny, a continued rationale for how we understand and interact with our land.