Our goal for the day had been to get to Taliesin West – Frank Lloyd Wright’s western architectural school, and, we were to learn, the mothership of the Wright cult – for the four o’clock tour, have an anniversary dinner somewhere in greater Phoenix and spend the night in the western part of Phoenix, so we could easily get to Los Angeles the next day. We made it to Taliesin with lots of time to spare thanks to Google Maps and Phoenix’s excellent highway and boulevard system.
In 1968-69, I worked in Phoenix, part-time, as the Construction Manager on the John Gardener Tennis Ranch on Camelback but I never visited Taliesin West. Thinking about going there on this trip, I sort of wondered Why? I have been to Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo when I was there in the 60s but didn’t see the Guggenheim in New York or any Wright-designed house until later (except the Morris Shop on Maiden Lane in San Francisco, one of my favorite places). Thinking about going to Taliesin, I remembered back to those buildings as great. Now, after Taliesin, I still think they are all great but I had forgotten that they were really not very good. What I mean by that is that the buildings were great as sculpture, as showcases for Frank Lloyd Wright, but they were not very livable or, even, usable.
The Hollyhock House on Olive Hill is terrific and it is my favorite Wright house, so far, but I wouldn’t want to live in it; it just wouldn’t really be very livable without some major remodeling like opening it up to the spectacular view. The Guggenheim is another example; the expanding spiral that is the center of Wright’s design is striking from the outside – although, as I remember, there was a lot of criticism when it was built in that it didn’t fit in with the surrounding buildings, Wright’s answer was that everything else was bad architecture and he couldn’t be expected to match them – and makes a great entry inside but it is not a very good place to show art (it is easy to get too close to a work of art and OK to see from across the way but impossible to see anything from ten steps back and the slant and curved wall don’t help). The Guggenheim is, however, a great place to see Wright’s particular genius and so is Taliesin.
We finished the day part of our day watching the sun go down from Taliesin which is when I took the picture on top. Wright was still there when the power lines were put in and he objected by calling his Congressman but he was old, the world had changed, and the power lines went in. After gassing up – at Cosco – we went to the Twisted Grove for a very good, but not particularly memorable Anniversary dinner. Then it was a short drive across town – on expressways and Interstate 10 – to a motel.
I just got a new book, Grant by Ron Chernow, and thumbed through it to find a couple of my favorite Grant moments. This one caught my eye during this season of both Thanks and National Anger at those who don’t agree with us politically or, even, morally. The story takes place in the McLean house at Appomattox, Lee has capitulated to Grant’s unconditional surrender demand, Grant has written a short Agreement in pencil with terms that surprised Lee in their generosity, and the pencil copy is given to Grant’s aid, Ely Parker, a full-blooded Senecan, to copy in ink.
When introduced to the swarthy Parker, Lee blushed deeply, eyeing tensely his complexion. “What was passing in his mind nobody knew,” Porter said, “but the natural surmise was that he first mistook Parker for a negro, and was struck with astonishment to find that the commander of the Union Armies had one of that race on his personal staff.” Another onlooker thought Lee momentarily offended since he believed “a mulatto had been called on to do the writing as a gratuitous affront.” Evidently, Lee relaxed when he realized Parker was a Native American. “I am glad to see one real American here,” he ventured, shaking his hand. To which Parker retorted memorably: “We are All Americans.”
This section of the trip was the most spectacular and held the biggest disappointment. To start with the spectacular, Show Low is at 6,345 and Phoenix is at 1,086, that is a big drop, more than 5200 feet, the biggest elevation change of any leg of the trip so we should have expected it would be spectacular but it didn’t occur to me.
As an aside, the story behind the name, Show Low, is kinda neat. In the 1870s, some versions say 1876, there were two guys – Corydon E. Cooley and Marion Clark – that owned a ranch together in the, now Show Low, area. They started to get on each other’s nerves – I guess, although the ranch was bigger than 1,000 acres – and they agreed that two was one too many and one should leave. To decide who, they settled on a card game to pick the stayer and leaver. But neither was able to win the game so they then decided to just cut the deck of cards with the guy with the lowest card the winner. Cooley drew a two of clubs and Clark moved away. To celebrate, Cooley renamed the place Show Low. End aside.
Back in Show Low, we had a great free breakfast – the best free breakfast of the trip, by far – and headed downhill into the heat.
Driving along the Colorado Plateau at near 7,000, it is hard to see how anybody could make a living here. Yes, in the picture above, I can see a barb-wire fence which would imply that cattle are being kept off the road but we have not seen a cow in hours (if at all since Big Spring). When we enter the town of Springerville, population 1,961, I begin to pay more attention to the question, What do these people do?There is a Safeway in town and a McDonald’s and a Post Office bigger than the one in San Mateo when I grew although, even then, San Mateo was a much bigger city (town?). It had been a while since our brunch and we were getting hungry but it is Sunday so everything is closed. We decide to go to always-open Safeway to see what they have in the deli department, but on the way, we pass the McDonald’s and I suggest we just grab a burger. It is our second trip to a McDonald’s this trip – and the second in the last twenty years, for me at least – but the burger is fine and we are on our way to Show Low.
As an aside, the Springerville question, What do these people do? wouldn’t go away so I started googling around Springerville. It turns out, Springerville is chock-a-block full of interesting things. It has the only high school football field covered with a geodesic dome – eighth largest dome in the world – it is the home of Arizona’s Madonna of the Trail statue, it has an Indian ruin, Casa Malpais,that is a National Historic Landmark, and it is only 35 miles away from a ski area that tops out at 11,200 feet. Springerville also has the oldest movie theater in Arizona ( it was originally named the Apache Theatre, but that name was changed to El Rio in 1937, eighty years and still counting before the Washington Redskins changed their racist name). My point is that this little, out-of-the-way place, seemingly boring and not even worth stopping for, isn’t boring at all and I think that goes for almost anyplace on our trip back and forth across the country. This is a complex, diverse, and fascinating country full of places worth visiting most of which we just cruised through.
In Show Low, we check into our Motel – a Days Inn but locally owned for something like 60 years – then went out to dinner at The House, which billed itself as a Yard Bar & Eatery. When we got there, they were closing down the kitchen and cleaning up, something that has happened to us more than several times on the trip. We were their only customers – in what looked like hours – and we ate on picnic tables. Michele had Sweet Corn Fritters and Pork Wings, and I had The Big Green salad with salmon. They were both served in cardboard boxes – sort of like what Whole Foods uses with their takeout bar – with plastic forks and paper napkins and it was the best salad I had on the trip. It was shockingly good; fresh, crisp, greens, with a perfectly cooked piece of salmon, and a vinaigrette that was sublime. If this were at home, we would eat here often (and we would bug them to use real plates and flatware).
At long last, we are on our way home, the last couple of laps, at least. Only three more nights and we get to sleep in our own beddy-bye. Tonight, we will stay in Show Low, like San Angelo, a place we never heard of until we started looking for a place to stop between places we have heard of. Normally, driving between Albuquerque and California, we would stay in the Flagstaff area but we are trying to stay off major highways and explore new areas (for us).
After a nice brunch at the Hyatt Regency in Tamaya – with my sister, husband Jim, and Jim’s daughter and her husband – north of Albuquerque, we backtrack through Albuquerque and then head west on Interstate 40. We have driven this stretch of 40, maybe, a dozen times and are anxious to get off which we do near Acoma Pueblo just after we stopped for gas.