Tuesday, August 26, 2008

GTT II: Enchanted Circles in my Mind

Northern New Mexico is an enchanted place, and while the locals will tell you the whole state is enchanted- goes the state motto: New Mexico, Land of Enchantment- I think most of the enchantment lies on a 84 mile (135km), 2 lane route called the "Enchanted Circle." The Circle is listed as a New Mexico "scenic byway" because of its amazing views of Wheeler Peak (the state's highest point), the vast cacti spotted desert, and the diamond blue Eagle Nest lake. I love these sights and I'm glad I can see them all easily from my truck on a 2 hour day trip.

After my folks came and picked me up in Denver, we head down I-25 into New Mexico and spent a few relaxing nights in Angel Fire, a ski town on the south east end of the route. During our stay we took the obligatory trip around the Circle, driving clockwise around the route. Though I'd gone round the route plenty of times in the past, it finally dawned on me that the Circle is about more than majestic natural wonders: the Circle is a seer's crystal ball containing the entire New Mexican universe- from unchanged Indian dwellings to museums honoring Indian killers, i.e. Kit Carson's house; there's the impoverished Mexican, white, and Indian folk living in shitty trailer houses across the way from high class ski resorts nestled in the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains, and don't forget the long-haired, turquoise sportin' hippy artists selling blurry digital pictures in the town square, or the burly, chainsaw-wielding mountain men deforesting the hillside in order to carve depressed looking bears and goofy lookin' gunfighters out of timber, now toss in a some middle-aged biker dudes sweatin' their asses off in leather, add a dash of dying-breed cowboy, and lastly but certainly not leastly, throw in whole shitload of Texan tourists peeing their pants in excitement because after 8 hours of bash-your-brains-against-the-steeringwheel-driving they're finally in the mountains, breathing mountain air, and paying way too much for shoddy t-shirts- yep, the Enchanted Circle magically circumnavigates everything that is New Mexico, both geographically and culturally, so if New Mexico's got it you'll find it in the Circle. Now that's one hellova nice scenic byway for you.

So what did my family and I do whilst touring the Enchanted Circle? Well, we stayed at a hotel/ski resort called the Legends and ate great Chinese food in Angel Fire. From our base in Angel Fire we headin' clockwise into Taos and visited the eclectic town square before stopping by the "hecho in Mexico," southwestern store on the east side of 64 as you head out of town. We saw piles of Indian blankets and old-school furniture (painted so at any rate).
Then there were the ceramic chili peppers dangling from the front porch ceiling. It all looks cheap as hell- unfortunately the prices aren't- but it takes great pictures! Not satisfied with buying a t-shirt like the rest of the Texas tourists, ol' dad upped the stakes and bought 'em a poncho, and not just any poncho, but the biggest damn one on the premises. An elephant could wear this thing, leaving the newly clad Poncho Neily looking like a gringo in a blanket. What you don't see under that eagle curtain is dad's 44 magnum 6 shooter, so you best quit laughin'.

Goodies bought, it was off to the Gorge. The Gorge is just one of the places where the Rio Grande river cuts a scar into the New Mexican earth. This gorge is deep, hence the name, and is extremely difficult to photograph well.

Thank goodness I had my tripod (thanks CJ) with me so I could get this great shot of the fam in front of a terribly shadowed Rio Grande Gorge. *Future note: take pictures of gorges at high noon or not at all.

I got some of the greatest shots of my life at the Taos Pueblo Cemetery. We were gonna check out the tourist destination made famous in part by Ansel Adams's photography, but our wallets decided against it because of the $10/person entry fee plus an additional $5/camera fee. Too much for a family of 3 with a camera, so I just snapped some shots from the free parking area.

I'm sure we missed some amazing sights inside the place, but I'm extremely pleased with the way this photo of the cemetery, bell tower, and Wheeler Peak came out.

Making our way into the northern part of the Circle we made a soft right in Questa (a place not good for much but buying liquor after Der Martt closes) and cruised on into the small, one-street town of Red River. Red River is one of the most charming places on earth. Full of all things touristy, the town is home to a small ski resort, a few bars and steakhouses- one of which, Texas Red's, was the absolute, hands down best place to eat a steak before the place mysteriously burned down a few years ago only to re-open in a renovated gas station. Now the place sucks a fatty, making you feel like an idiot for paying $15 to eat a thunker steak inside a gas station. Come on Red. Texans love Red River more than any other stop on the circle because it is tourist t-shirt central. Fortunately Poncho Neily was driving so we passed the t-shirt shop but that didn't keep us from stopping at the chainsaw art shop.

Forget the great artists and mediums of the past; the chainsaw is the new paintbrush, and tree trunk the new canvas. This 5'5" (165cm) carved cowboy will run you $5oo, and you better have a pick-up and three corn-feds with you to help get it home.

The little swinging bear makes much more economical sense. He's cutest carved critter I've ever spied and seeing that flag behind him just gets me all fuzzy inside. Buy this little fella, give him a home. My mom bought my uncle Butch a bear that stands about knee high (my knee, not her's), and with a big ol' smile on his face holds a sign saying, "Go Away Asshole" in its cutely shaped paws. Just kiddin', the sign really doesn't say asshole.

Bear and poncho in tow we had gotten what we'd came for and it was time to head back east to Texas. We broke the circle by taking the road up the bald hill behind Eagle Nest, where I took a stormy shot of Eagle Nest lake, one the "proper" enchanted wonders.(I really like this shot and look forward to taking in again now that I have a UV Polarizing filter to sort out those blown heavenly highlights up top.) A little bit down the down the windy road that follows the Cimmaron river (best fly-fishin' river flowin') east out of the Circle, we stopped for a photo-op in front of the huge and steep cliffs known as the Pallisades.The Palisade are a big attraction evidenced by the big pull-off area and the marker in front of them. These cliffs are sight to behold for the flatlander, especially for the kiddies making their first trip into the mountains.

I took tons of photos along the way and began struggling with nature shots. The New Mexican skies are a blessing to any photographer as they transform any mundane object into a dramatic subject. I didn't remember there being so much sky in Japan; I suppose the Japanese traded it for high rises and power lines. With the big New Mexican skies wrapped safely in the globe of the Enchanted Circle, we pushed out east, making our way into the Texas panhandle; a story for the next and final installment of GTT-Gone to Texas.


To see more of my photos just click here to visit my flickr page.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

GTT I: 3 Friends and his Baby

My good friend Jeremiah picked me up from the airport and let me crash at his place for a few days until the folks came up to get me. Hangin' out with J is always a pleasure and after a year without him it was double. J is the best listener in the world which makes us a good pair because I'd tell my whole life story to a fence post if I thought it laugh at the funny parts. I just walk around talkin' and J gives me a smile and a "yeah man, I know what you mean." We're yin and yang, near opposites except for our love of comic books, the 80's blockbuster "Major Leauge," and our shared histories with fundamentalist Christians, and, apparently, that's more than enough to keep people best of friends for years.
On my second day in Denver, J and I took the new "Light Rail" train from the University of Denver into downtown to take in the sights and eat some Arby's roast beefs. While downtown we took advantage of 16th Street's "Free Ride" eco-friendly bus to get up and down the avenue. At the end of the line and a block north sits Union Station, the city's landmark train station originally built in 1881. It's quite a sight, although it's unfortunate us Americans don't have many opportunities to travel by train anymore.
Union Station is located in LoDo (Lower Dowtown), that's where Denverites go to drink and eat at expensive joints. The district is expensive but it's one of the few place in Denver's smoggy urban sprawl that gives a glimpse into Denver's rich history as a frontier town. The old buildings really make you feel classy as you stroll beside them wearing a Batman t-shirt. After cruising around LoDo and visiting The Tattered Cover, one of my favorite bookshops, we headed on back to the Universtiy of Denver to take some pictures of its picturesque campus before meeting up with more old grad school buds.

The University is Denver is one nice campus. Just about every building is plated in gold leaf or clad in cheap Mexican copper. Of course it's the students' tuition paying for all that architectural bling, but so long as they can take classes in these secular cathedrals of learning then everyone's happy; everyone with a hefty scholarship or rich parents at least.

Here's what I talking about: to the left is the clock tower that's connected to the gym and fitness center. To the right is the domed Center of Tourism and Hotel Management, and behind some new copper monstrosity. Fortunately for me, none of my borrowed grad school tution went to DU, no, it all went to Iliff School of Theology which allowed me take one class per quarter at DU under their much cheaper tuition banner. I learned how to doubt god and wrastle my inner demons (whether I had 'em or not) at Iliff, at DU I learned everything I don't understand about philosophy and matters of the soul while taking classes with good lookin' rich girls;)

I still had a few friends to meet in Denver so J and I went up to Kit's place and shot the shit for a bit on the porch. I do love chattin' on porches. If I were a business man I'd stoically do all my business in a plastic chair on concrete with a view.

Kit's a really smart fella who's passionate about social justice, football, chess, and free food. When I was in graduate school I played a couple hours of chess everyday. It really hindered our studies but we didn't care. We talked about complex global affairs like Latin American dictators, Bush, the seemingly violent core of Christianity, and spring time DU girls in short skirts. Rrrrr! I loved playing chess with Kit because I couldn't lose, really, the dude cannot seem to win a chess match. He either looses or stalemates! You'd think he goes out of his way to not win. I didn't care much though, chess isn't all about winning or not loosing when your sitting in front of the Rocky Mountains with a good pal shootin' the shit and pushin' the pieces.

That night J, Kit, and I met up with Marc-Paul, his wife Melissa, and their new adorable sweet little 8 month old littlin' Evelyn. What a great family those three make. Marc-Paul is a genius who has read every book I've ever thought of reading. He teaches GED classes at his father's inner-city parish to at-risk and in-trouble high schoolers. Every now and then he'll slip in a little Foucault and assign 'em a little Ayn Rand to read. Him and Melissa married during my first year in Japan and created Evelyn in my second. It's crazy introducing yourself to your buds little girl who's wearing her green peas (which are all organic and super duper sweet; I know cause Marc-Paul let me try some bright green goo). Hell, I'm not even married, and childern, at my age, well that's just loco.

But talk about one interesting family, they won't let Evelyn watch the TV. In her whole 8 months of birthed life that bright blue eyed little girl has only seen about 6 minutes of TV. Now how bout that. There's a genius in the making here, and when she changes the world or wins the Nobel Prize I'll be able to say that I ate a bit of her all organic green peas when she couldn't even stand on her own two feet- assuming I'm still alive then. My god, I'm already sounding like an old fart.


Photos: top left, J before the Denver's skyline taken just west of LoDo. top right, J with his guitar. Jeremiah is an awesome guitarist who writes and sales his own music. He's played a few gigs where he showcases his soothing sounds. Next, Denver's Union Station in LoDo. Under that, me on a street corner in LoDo across from Union Station, photo and borrowed Batman shirt provided by J. Next at left, DU's workout center's gold-leafed clock tower, come on. right, more copper buildings. Next, Kit on his front porch at the Iliff student appartments. He just got out of the shower. Lastly, Marc-Paul, Melissa, and Evelyn, the happy family.


In the 19th century, people from across America began writing GTT on the doors of their abandoned houses before immigrating to the greatest state in the union. That state is Texas of course. And that's where I'm writing from now, from Lubbock, Texas to be exact; home of many a legendary musician like Buddy Holly and the Maines family. Lubbock is my hometown where, before I went off to graduate school in Denver, Colorado, I lived for 20 years give or take a couple.

It's good to be back home after a long stay in Japan. Of course I miss the Japanese community I was a part of in Washimiya, Saitama, and I miss the feel of Japan- the sway of commuter trains, the sight of old bent-crooked women digging up radishes from the neighborhood garden, hell, just the sight and sound of Japanese people in general. I miss Japan, but I'm learning to readjust to life in Texas though I can feel the wave of reverse-culture shock swelling towards me.

I left Narita airport on Wednesday, August 6th at 6:00pm and arrived at Denver International Airport on Wednesday, August 6th at 6:00pm. Lookin' at the times you might think I teleported, believe me I wish I could have, and in a way I suppose I did, it's that old school form of teleportation where you spend 10 hours flying in a dark bucket then, after a 3 hour pause in San Fran, do the same thing again for 3 more hours into Denver.

In the upcoming postings I'd like to share with y'all my journey back to God's Country from Denver; let me tell you my own gone to Texas story.

Photo of me by Neil Burrus at the Texas Sign just outside Texline, Texas (that's a lot of Tex'es) on Highway 64/87. Texline is a small town in Dallum County, the north westerner most county in the Texas panhandle.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

From the depths, farewell Japan. みんなへ、さようなら

Tomorrow I will get on the airplane that will take me away from Japan for an indefinite amount of time. I already miss all the friends I've made here these last two years. You have kept me alive in this once strange land. You gave me laughter and food and, most importantly, a sense of belonging.

The greatest gift Japan has given me is indestructible self confidence. I know I can survive and thrive in any situation I find myself in, even if I don't know the way out or what the next step will be. It is this confidence that will and must sustain me in America, in that land that has changed over the last two years but at the moment seems so mundane in my mind. I don't worry about surviving back home; I worry about being happy while I readjust to my "home," a concept which is now filled two realities, my home in Japan and the place of my family. I will remain an inside-outsider for some time yet to come I reckon.

This will be the last post I write in Japan. I still have a few posts about Japanese matters to write and those will have to be written State-side.

It has been a dream here in Japan and now it's time to wake up and carry my feelings and lessons learned forward, across the Pacific and onto the American highway. That is where my future lies, a grand reunion tour across my native land on the back of a two wheeled beast that I won't have to pedal. Thank you Japan, and when I say that, I'm thanking all the friends and families, students and teachers, that made my life here brilliant. I will return.