Edging West

Adventure + Culture + Environment

Tag: Western Culture

Returning To Red Rocks

Part 1 – The Scene

Las Vegas is a strange place. It is an improbable alien of a city, a post-historic city, a re-conceptualization of space and location. The old conventions (proximity to resources or ports) are no longer relevant. Instead temperature, visual aesthetics, and the idea of isolation and fantasy rule. On a recent flight to this thirsty city I was contemplating this and reminded of the lesser known Neil Young song, Peaceful Valley Boulevard, which is a quite literal history lesson on western expansion:

The wagon train rolled through the dusty canyon
The settlers full of wonder as they crossed
A gentle creek where two old oaks were standing
Before the west was won there was a cost
A rain of fire came down upon the wagons
A mother screamed and every soul was lost.

Change hit the country like a thunderstorm
Ancient rivers soon began to boil
People rushed like water to California
At first they came for gold and then for oil
Fortunes were made and lost in lifetimes

     (Later in the song, Young covers climate change, electric cars, and forewarns-just a hint-of an environmental apocalypse)

But I was not en-route to wander concrete fabrications, study the city, or contemplate Hunter S. Thompson drug fevers, visions, or theories on the American Dream. I was again headed for Red Rocks,  a paradise of sandstone cliffs, canyons and superb rock climbing, and I have been traveling here since 2001. Then the drive from the suburban outskirts was approximately 30 minutes.  Now it is under five. Rows of houses (many still empty, some unfinished) stream right up to the boundary of the Red Rocks Conservation Area, forming an obvious line. A casino (sharing the same name) is near this edge, along with the Desert Sportsman’s Rifle & Pistol Club, a free shooting zone.

With my friend George, I drove out to the climbs and claimed, somewhat cynically, that this place, this city, “Represents a void of American culture”.

George returned, “Or is it representative of everything that is American culture?”

This was getting too deep for a climbing trip! We continued down the road into the afternoon sun. Our plan was simple: a 45 minute hike into First Creek Canyon for a short three pitch climb. I had already intended to pawn the hardest pitches of climbing on to George, and I was sure that George already knew this. We have been climbing together for over 10 years; certain things go without saying.

We found the trail-head and unloaded our gear for sorting. A man in his early 60s drove up to us and rolled down his window. He was tan with silvery hair and glowed of wealth. Retirement was easy on this fellow. “Why are all these cars parked here?” he asked. “Is this a free shooting zone?”.

“No,” I replied, “We are going rock climbing.”

Red Rocks and the haze of Vegas

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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.