from Fearless Puppy on American Road by Doug "Ten" Rose
or Consequences I
To a boy from the northeastern part of America, the Southwest looks like
Mars-as-a-work-of-art. Breathtaking red clay buttes are spotted with green
and brown vegetation. Most of this vegetation would be very confused if it
lived in the Northeast. It seems to be neither tree nor bush, but something
Technicolor canyons and solitary rock formations look as if they’d been
dropped onto the flat desert face from some far away galaxy.
Abandoned ghost towns are much eerier in person than their cardboard cut out
backdrop-for-a-western-movie counterparts could ever hope to be. Wooden
shutters slap back and forth against rotting clapboards on windless days, as
if propelled by the breath of actual ghosts in this former frontier. The
spirits of those who failed to make a life in this desert a hundred years
ago seem to be warning newcomers of the difficulties they can expect. They
exhale their despair and inhale their attachment. They never get to move on.
These spirits had hoped this place would be their Camelot. Instead it became
a cemetery for their dreams, and in many cases for their families.
A normal breeze doesn’t have the otherworldly smell that air movement in a
ghost town does. It’s the fragrance of history. Hope, glory, and demise have
gone by so long ago that no one remembers who they belonged to. They
reappear to scare the stagnant atmosphere into movement.
Despite the emotional gravity of ghost towns, they are actually no more than
a short misplayed note in the majestic symphony that is the Southwest’s
desert. Vast expanses of scenery too beautiful for humans to have possibly
built were here long before these now abandoned settlements were a twinkle
in a wagon train’s eye. They will still be here long after the mini-malls
Giant cacti are camels-as-vegetable-matter. They store a year’s supply of
liquid life in their bodies while surrounded by rock, clay, and sand that
have long ago died of thirst.
An occasional lone ranch house stands amidst several thousand acres of
nothing testifying to the strength and sheer audacity of the human will; but
for the most part, this land looks much as it did before humanity existed.
The Southwest is also one of the few areas in North America where the
continent’s original human inhabitants are still readily available. These
natives have suffered “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that even
Shakespeare’s imagination could not fathom. In some places, they survive the
harsh result of the human cruelty inflicted upon them with the same
fortitude and grace they used to survive the harsh natural environment
before their holocaust. In other places, their survival is more reminiscent
of the bone chilling decay of a ghost town’s clapboards, and the breeze of
lost souls that moves the shutters of its former windows.
Nights are a bit colder than days back in the northeastern states. It gets a
lot colder at night in the southwestern desert. Moonlit cacti host the
lizards, rodents, and snakes on their evening hunting trips. Coyotes in
packs define clever and resourceful by their cooperative survival efforts.
The harsh majesty of the Southwest exacts a price, even from its survivors.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Danger and beauty abide together under the
powerful sun, and often under the same rock.
One must master the truths of this environment—or one will surely suffer the
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