The Pencil Lesson

Let’s see if I can still write.

Decades ago I had an idea for a classroom research/writing lesson, probably upper elementary in nature but very adaptable to middle and high school grades. I called it The Pencil Lesson, and its ulterior instructional goal was to make students aware of jobs/careers other than “astronaut” or “marine biologist” or “NFL quarterback.”

Overview: After examining an ordinary No. 2 pencil for its component parts, students are guided through the research into how each part ends up in the pencil. As they do that, students should become aware of the employment opportunities at each step of the way. (N.B., the point is not to interest students in these specific careers but to make them more aware of the multiplicity of jobs represented in our everyday surroundings.)

Engagement: Create a TikTok-like video showing how pencil erasers are planted like seeds to grow the new crop of pencils. (N.B., I’ve done lessons like this where a class absolutely fails to detect the bullcrap. Be prepared.)

After the video, allow students to yuk on it, then ask the Essential Question: Where do pencils come from?

In small groups, have students “analyze” a No. 2 pencil. What are the constituent parts?

  • wood
  • graphite
  • paint
  • ferrule
  • eraser
  • stamped lettering
  • glue (to hold the two halves of the wood together!)
  • other?

After whole-group discussion, assign each group one of the components. Have them brainstorm/imagine the path that component must take before it ends up in the pencil. (It’s probably most effective for them to work backwards from pencil to source.) Emphasize that not knowing specific steps is to be expected; just put a big ??? in the chart and keep going.

From there, each group researches their putative process, filling in the ??? segments and fine-tuning the segments they thought they knew.

At this point, you might ask each team to present their findings to the class so that everyone is up to speed on how we get pencils.

For upper elementary, this much of the lesson might be enough. If so, make sure that you promote discussion of the jobs involved in each step. For middle and high school students, you can push that aspect of the lesson by having them list the workers that are required to produce the component at each stage, and if you’re really dedicated, have each student pick one job and head to the federal Occupational Outlook Handbook and prepare a short report on the job’s requirements/training/salaries/prospects.

And there you have it: a massive research/writing lesson that could easily take a couple of weeks in your class.

Followup: Let a few months elapse, then ask if students have been looking at objects around them and imagining what it takes to bring those objects into existence. Classroom discussion/sharing, etc.

A rant about gin

I wish to make a complaint.

Prohibition ended in 1933. So why is it illegal for me to buy this gin?

Sure, if I walk into the General Store at Grand Canyon, I can buy it there, but I certainly can’t buy it at Kroger here, nor at any Kroger in the state of Georgia.

Not only that, even though Coweta County finally repealed Prohibition last year — 90 years late — and we are starting to get our first liquor stores now, I can’t buy it there either, nor at any liquor store that I know of.

Why is that?

I’ll tell you why: the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association. Go read their page. They control what the liquor stores in Georgia can and can not sell. If Thumb Butte Western Sage Gin is not on their list, stores can’t sell it and you can’t buy it.

Not only that, but GADA is determined that you can’t buy it directly from the distillery either. (Go read their page!) The very idea of grocery stores having a liquor section gives them the fantods. PROTECT OUR PACKAGE STORES is their entire raison d’être — consumers be damned.

Why is this? These bottles are filled with legal substances. Why is it illegal for me to buy them? I need answers.

(I must give a tip of the hat to Rep. Matt Brass, who is otherwise a rightwing dinglehopper, for introducing multiple pieces of legislation to free us from all this nonsense.)

Grand Canyon 2022, Pro Tips

It’s taken me a while to get to this post, since I’ve already done several on the topic, but here’s a recap.

Note: No pro tips for Santa Fe.

Grand Canyon

Go. Please plan to stay at least two days. You can, as many do, drive in, take a few photos, and be on your way, but that is just losing a piece of your soul.

Stay in the park if you can. That way, when the tourists go home at 5:00 you will have the Canyon to yourself. However, if they don’t have any rooms, staying in Tusayan — the hamlet just before the park — is fine.

If this is your first time, then stop in Tusayan first to see the iMax movie about the Canyon. Also, the Pink Bus tours are worth it, especially the sunset tour.

Hop that Blue Route shuttle and ride it all the way around. Learn where All The Things are.

Drive out to Desert View and the Watchtower, then drive back to the Visitors Center or Village, stopping at every overlook.

Don’t miss the sunset.

Any of the restaurants are fine. El Tovar Dining Room is expensive. The restaurant at the Best Western in Tusayan is surprisingly good (at least it was during our prior visits; we didn’t make it there this time). Cocktails, however, are basic. (Note: The entire world is suffering from supply chain issues, so give the poor bartender a break.)

Yes, you should buy that t-shirt/coffee mug/tschotschke.

Top pro tip from this visit: Stop at a Wal-Mart in Phoenix or Flagstaff and buy those cheap camp chairs. Pop ’em open rimside, then sit and watch the canyon. You can thank me later.

Grand Canyon 2022, the Swag Edition

Before we get to my conspicuous consumption, two more photos from Monday morning as we walked to breakfast:

That youth has his horns coming in. (They looked crooked; is there orthodontia for racks, or is this poor thing doomed to a life of mockery and disdain?)

So, in Santa Fe, almost immediately as we walked from Las Palomas to the Plaza, I found this beautiful silver medallion:

Navajo-made, it seemed a perfect piece to wear to Alchemy as we take GALAXY for its first burn outing.

On the Plaza, I found a hat similar to the one I was wearing, but nicer.

The brim is wide enough to shade my nose (some basal cell cancer concerns there) and the ventilated crown is nice.

And then we found a very nice hat for evening wear:

I may have a thing for hats.

As we walked Canyon Road’s galleries, hoping to be taken with some new piece, I found a new earring:

Sweet little infinity signs. (For those wondering, I have only the one ear pierced; I have a little box of “spares” for the second one.)

This time as we walked Canyon Road, we ventured into the little side pockets of smaller galleries, where we found Jeffry Schweitzer, an illustrator.

This sweet little book is barely sixteen pages long, but the sentiment is heartwarming. Jeffrey doesn’t know it yet, but he may be the illustrator for my children’s book.

On Thursday, the International Folk Art Market was, as I said, a disappointment in general, but I did find these desert bells from Africa:

They have the most beautiful tones with long-lasting resonance. I regret not getting a few more of the smaller ones to use on my Wilder Mann outfit for Alchemy.

And then there was the Panama hat.

Handmade in Ecuador — which is where Panama hats are actually from — its wide brim and general snappiness made it a no-brainer purchase. You will have admired it in several selfies over the last week, I’m sure.

On to Grand Canyon, where the General Store provided me with two essentials:

…light (this is a little camp lantern; you can pull the top up for a brilliant LED lantern, or push a button for the top to become a flashlight. Very useful on darker-than-usual paths.) … and…

…gin! I ran out of Western Sage a while back and just recently ran out of Desert Rain, so I was gratified to see them still available. Western Sage may be my favorite gin. (There will be a rant about this later.)

Generally when we travel, especially out west, I look for lizard sculptures for my collection. This trip I hadn’t seen any that demanded my attention, until Friday night at El Tovar. There I found this little guy:

A closer look:

Incredibly, that is not paint. It is the technique known as millefiori, “a thousand flowers,” most often associated with Venetian glass. If you’ve ever made or seen pinwheel cookies (or sushi!), you’ve seen the simplest version of this: you create long tubes of dough/glass/clay so that when you slice it the slices have patterns in them.

What you’re seeing on this lizard is astoundingly meticulous layers of polymer clay, sliced thin and applied to the basic lizard shape. This lizard is handmade, albeit not in the U.S.; we saw some large sculptures on Canyon Road that used this technique and they were stunning (and expensive).

At Desert View we came across these stone sculptures:

Just as I collect lizards, my Lovely First Wife is drawn to elk. It’s one reason she gladly returns to Grand Canyon, where they are as numerous as squirrels.

Finally, I could not resist:

Grand Canyon National Park map socks! Am I cool or what?

NEXT: PRO TIPS!

Grand Canyon 2022, Day 6

First, a video from Day 5 that I forgot to upload:

[This post is a day late because we were flying home yesterday. Duh.]

The Western Tanager joined the chipmunk in wishing me a good morning.

Today we took the Blue Route shuttle to the Visitor’s Center and walked back to the Village, a distance of a couple of miles.

The views are as usual awesome.

This is at Mather Point, at the Visitor’s Center, probably the only view most people get of the Canyon — and that’s fine, if unfortunate.

Here’s a longshot of the viewing platform. See the tiny little dots? Those are tourists.

And here we are, being not-tourists.

The more time you spend at the Canyon, the more curious you become about its ecology. The area is in a long-term drought, and there are stresses associated with that, but on the whole the life there is adapted to that environment. Here’s a dead juniper:

Only it’s not dead.

Not even close.

Lizards abound but are difficult to get photos of.

Panorama.

The photos take themselves.

This is looking over at Bright Angel Trail, which starts at the rim by our cabin and goes all the way down to the Colorado River and then back up to the North Rim. [NOTE: Do not attempt.] There are people on this trail. You see them, right?

Even with binoculars, they were hard to see.

Our plans for the afternoon were to eat a nice lunch, then take the Red Shuttle back out to Hermit’s Rest to watch the sunset, ending with snacks at Hermit’s Rest and a nice shuttle ride back to the Village.

That’s not what happened.

The restaurant at Yavapai Lodge at which we wanted to lunch wasn’t actually open for lunch, so we settled for their Tavern… which was not quite the best meal we’ve had there. We soldiered on.

Here’s the waiting area for the Red Shuttle:

What you’re not seeing is the dozens of people waiting for the shuttle, part of the estimated hundreds making their way to Hermit’s Rest — which is not a large area. After waiting for a while as more and more people joined the line, we began to realize that 1) it was going to be way too crowded up there; and 2) waiting for a bus to get back after sunset was not going to be fun.

So we decided to bag that idea. Why not just walk/hike up to Trailview Overlook, the first stop on the Red Shuttle, and watch the sunset from there?

I should have taken photos of the very steep and precipitous trail up there, but we were too busy trying to stay alive on this .7 mile climb to care about that.

Here’s the view from up there:

It is, as advertised, a view of Bright Angel Trail and the Village.

You know what’s not visible from Trailview Overlook? The sunset. It would have been behind the forest up there.

So we hiked back down and just walked back up to El Tovar to our usual spot.

However, even this chaos was a good thing, because as we walked up the hill past Thunderbird Lodge and the mini-herd of elk who have taken to dining there, we heard a loud, high-pitched whistling call.

It was one of the mother elks, who had been so focused on her grazing that she and her baby had become separated. (It was similarly focused on a patch two lawns up.) She was calling it, and it responded. My Lovely First Wife actually got footage!

That made the whole venture worth it.

The sunset did not disappoint.

We then retreated to the bar at Bright Angel Lodge — they call them “lounges,” not bars — where we gifted our chairs to Christine, our bartender, who was delighted.

I have mentioned that the cocktail game at Grand Canyon is not, shall we say, elevated. Here is the bar at Bright Angel (and it’s not a lot better at El Tovar):

I decided to challenge myself to come up with a cromulent cocktail using these bottles and the typical bar collection of juices, sodas, etc. Christine abetted me in this crime.

Dear reader, I failed. The pinkish bottle in the middle photo is a prickly-pear-flavored vodka, and since one of my hits is the Prickly Pear Daiquiri, I brainstormed with that one. I avoided rum, since that would have been reduplicative. The best I could do was 1 oz brandy, 1/2 oz PPF vodka, and lime juice, and — boldly — a salt rim. We tried a second one using bourbon. Neither had any body to it.

Christine added Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice to both, and that helped, but on the whole I would have tossed them in the sink at home. Oh well. Xanterra, if you’re listening, my offer to serve as artist-in-residence cocktail consultant stands.

One last thing: At the bar the night before, one of the TVs was playing by-god cornhole championships (of which, I kid you not, there are multiple). They made the golf on the other TV look thrilling. This night, the TVs were playing car races, which are also mind-bogglingly boring.

We teased Christine about not having cornhole on the agenda and settled in for snacks and cocktail failures. But then…

This is the Lucas Oil POWRi National Midget League. They spend their couple of laps skidding around the curve of the dirt track.

But that’s not the most ridiculous thing. Here’s the lineup for Heat 6:

Emerson. Chance. Ryan. Kyle. Brannigan.

Kaylee, for Cthulhu’s sake.

Every heat was like this. It sent me into a giggling fit that attracted attention. (FYI, Kaylee came in third. She’s adorable.)

It was time for bed.

I’m not going to blog about getting home, other than to say: Yo, SanTan Brewery & Pub at Phoenix Sunport, dudes, fix your “order from your phone” thing so that it doesn’t randomly add cheeseburgers and an IPA to my order of chicken fingers. Poor server had to fix it all. And if you’re going to feature your Saint Anne’s Citrus Rose Gin[1,] you should probably try to get some vendor at the airport to sell it, not to mention having it as an option on your “order from your phone” thing.

Next up: the swag report, and pro tips.

—————

[1] Coming soon, a rant about liquor distributorships.

Grand Canyon 2022, Day 5

We watched the Canyon again today.

We did so by driving out to Desert View, on the eastern end of the park, and then stopping at nearly every viewpoint on the way back.

The main attraction at Desert View, other than the Canyon, is the Watchtower, designed by Mary Colter back in the 1930s. Like the Canyon itself, it is endlessly fascinating to watch: Colter’s vision of an organic structure resulted in stonework that at first appears random, but upon closer examination is intricately designed.

The whole area is being redeveloped in concert with the Eleven Associated Tribes to feature an Inter-Tribal Cultural Heritage Site, hopefully to be open next year.

The view from the Watchtower is, of course, spectacular.

It’s the point at which the Colorado River does a hard right and heads west, dropping some 300 feet almost immediately.

We found a shaded spot, popped out our camp chairs, and settled in for some Canyon watching.

There, unbelievably, trails down there.

We have questions for Park Rangers. For example, in this next photo, if you find the rapids on the left side, right above them is a little white spot on the cliff. Even with binoculars we could not tell what it was, since it’s surrounded by completely black rock.

I will not insist that you participate in our stop-by-stop Canyon watching, but I’ll share some things.

Another view of the mighty Colorado River. As a fellow watcher commented, “It doesn’t look that big to have done all this.” Of course, it’s a matter of scale — the river is about 300 feet across.

Flowers.

At one of the stops, thistles:

The junipers are laden with berries…

…which got me to thinking. Some enterprising entity, perhaps the Eleven Associated Tribes, could ethically harvest juniper berries and package them for people who are interested in distillations and infusions, i.e., teas, essential oils, gin.

One would not offer just the juniper, of course. There’s desert sage…

… piñon trees, germander, all kinds of herbs and plants that could be harvested and sold to the likes of me.

At one of the stops, a trio of ravens greeted us, and after they hung around a bit, I shared my water with them. Always — always — make friends with the ravens.

I’m not sure what this shrub is, but its blooms are nice. Is it juniper? All the other junipers were in full berry.

Even the dead trees are picturesque.

My Lovely First Wife adventuring out onto a promontory. A bit.

One last panoramic view:

Back at the Village, we decided on a multi-phase plan. First, we’d check out the Hopi House for a couple of items we’re still looking for. Then we’d slip into El Tovar’s cocktail lounge and have a drink and a charcuterie to tide us over. Then we’d sit out and watch the sunset, which is always the main event. After that, we’d retreat to the Bright Angel Tavern for a light supper.

The gang was back.

Including this goober. How the hell did he get into a fenced-in garden?

Not only that, but when we came back around from Hopi House, he was gone. Over charcuterie, we asked the waitress if she knew how he did it. Yep, all of them know just to push their way under the fence. Later there was another one in there.

After we finished our cocktails, my Lovely First Wife suggested that I run back to the cabin to get the chairs while she paid the bill. (It is not a short distance back to the cabin.)

That’s okay. I got to see the fawn suckling.

It’s eating grass, but it’s still dappled and still wants its milk.

We settled in to watch the sunset, and now I will walk you through how the Canyon is one of the most watchable places ever.

Your establishing shot:

(We were joined by this little bug, who trundled back and forth in front of us the whole time.)

As the sun sets, the Canyon goes darker…

…and darker…

…while the sky above remains brilliant.

This sunset had an extra bit; since the sun was behind clouds while it was setting…

…when it finally sank to the horizon, its light escaped the clouds and…

… the Canyon was lit again, for a moment.

The sun…

…the Canyon…

…and then, behind us…

So, just your typical sunset over your typical Canyon with your typical rainbow with your typical elk grazing all around you.

Finally, the sun set.

We headed back down to Bright Angel Lodge, where we greeted our bartender Christine and had a light supper of fish and chips. We told her of our sunset experience and she commented that camp chairs are on her list to acquire, so we immediately offered her ours. We can’t take them back with us and we were wondering how best to gift them to someone else. (Apparently there’s a gear swap kind of thing, but we can just give ours to Christine.)

One more day!

Grand Canyon 2022, Day 4

After breakfast, we hopped the bus to go over to Market Plaza, and I was startled to be warned by the bus:

It took me a long moment to realize it was the bus driver’s name.

One of my goals in coming here was to replenish my supply of local gins:

Mission accomplished.

Once we secured our purchases back at the cabin, we walked down to the Red shuttle to head out to Hermit’s Rest.

Neighbors greeted us.

I don’t think they were actually getting ready to head down into the Canyon — heat advisories for the bottom are off the charts — so perhaps their trainers just bring them over here to keep them in the habit.

A selfie while waiting for the shuttle, in my new Panama hat.

Our goal in heading out to Hermit’s Rest was to be away from the hustle and bustle of the Village and to sit and watch the Canyon. (We took our purchased-at-Walmart-in-Flagstaff-for-$5.99 lawn chairs for this purpose.)

[A chipmunk just jumped up on the wall next to me, greeted me, and chirped along its way.]

Which is a nice segue back to Hermit’s Rest, where we started by getting an ice cream from concessions and sitting to eat. Victor joined us.

Who’s Victor, you ask?

The most dangerous beast in the Canyon, your ground squirrel. They are fearless and opportunistic, and you must not feed them. Which of course two boys from Russia were doing, so Victor and his cohort were all over the place. I’ve found that if they’re insistent, just blow in their little faces and they get the hint.

Victor, after getting the hint:

We moved on out from the concession area towards the Hermit’s Rest trailhead and found a spot in the shade with a relatively unobstructed view of the Canyon, and we sat.

We sat for over an hour, just watching the Canyon: it changes in the light every minute, and if you nap (or blog) and then look up, it’s a completely different place than when you last looked.

A strange and wonderful thing! We were sitting there when we noticed a sundog above us.

It was faint, but it was large. There were two segments, so I got up to take a better picture, and behold: it was actually the outer of two rainbows.

This is a good vacation.

Eventually we headed back to the cabin and rested up. We dressed for dinner at El Tovar and began walking up to the Lodge while the sun was setting.

We turned a small corner and…

… a young elk trying to drink from a leaky water pipe. The southwest is in the worst drought ever, and the wildlife is suffering along with the humans, so it wasn’t surprising that this animal took advantage of our infrastructure. People were fascinated and respectful, although as we moved on to El Tovar there was one girl who seemed to be moving right up to the beast.

Dinner was lovely, though the dining room was very hot and stuffy. After dinner we stopped at the lounge for a final drink before heading back to the cabin:

l to r: an Ellsworth Kolb (named after one of the brothers who relentlessly photographed and promoted the Canyon back in the day), which is brandy, Amaretto, clove, and cinnamon, and which I have been told I need to replicate ; and a good old gin and tonic.

I will say that I am a little surprised that the cocktail game at Xanterra’s establishments isn’t stronger. At the very least, shouldn’t they be offering the local gins and vodkas in their cocktails? They should hire me as an artist-in-residence for a year to up their game.

Anyway, heading back to the cabin we encountered: a gray fox on its evening rounds; three young elk grazing by El Tovar; two baby elk curled up in front of the Thunderbird Lodge; and their mother, sitting across the sidewalk and watching us calmly but alertly.

Grand Canyon 2022, Day 3

My view this morning as I blog:

There is a difference between traveling and vacationing. When you travel, you’re Going To All The Places and Doing All The Things. When you vacation, you don’t. Usually when I blog about these things, we’re traveling, but this is a vacation. I’m determined it’s going to be a vacation, and so far my Lovely First Wife agrees with me. (It was a close call when we drove past Petrified Forest National Park on our way to Grand Canyon, but we tabled the idea.)

So you will have to forgive me if these posts are not as detailed, interesting, or amusing as they usually might be.

Day 3, Santa Fe. The International Folk Art Market (IFAM) is quite the org, despite not making it clear on their website that although the festivities did indeed begin July 5, the actual market didn’t open until July 7. We drove to the location where IFAM had shuttle buses to drive us to Museum Hill, hopped aboard the bus, and had a pleasant conversation with a nice Texan lady, whose husband’s stoicism became understandable as the journey wore on and it became apparent, after she repeated the Ali McGraw story, that she had some kind of memory loss.

We were there on the special “early bird” tickets so that we could do the Market and then hit the road to Arizona and not end up pulling into Bright Angel Lodge at midnight. Here’s the line to get in:

It moved quickly enough. Here’s a uninteresting shot of one of the tents:

There were over 100 artists from all over the world. You may be thinking of “folk art” as being somehow primitive or lacking on polish or sophistication, but the wares of this market were nothing of the kind. All “folk art” indicates is that it springs from a folk tradition, not from the art academy.

Again, I failed to take many photos, but here’s an extravagant example:

There were a lot of textiles and jewelry, baskets and useful objects, and a smattering of purely decorative items. I had expected to be overwhelmed with things that needed to come home with me, but there was actually very little that appealed.

Part of the problem was that everything was extremely expensive. There were some really funky straw hats from Africa that I could have worn to a burn, but not for $250. The first woven shirt that appealed to me was $500. You can see why I could resist purchasing. I did walk away with an actual Panama hat (from Ecuador, of course) and a couple of brass temple bells for the labyrinth, but even there I imagine I could find the same objects for a lot less money elsewhere.

Another problem, at least for me, was that most of the merchandise was far more professionally produced than I was comfortable with. I mean, do folk artists always sew laundry care tags into their shirts? I just didn’t sense a lot of folk in the art.

And so, regrettably, we can not recommend the International Folk Art Market as a Thing To Do. The Folk Art Museum is, of course, one of the most amazing places you will ever visit, but the Market is for very rich ladies who decorate.

We hit the road, down I-25 and across I-40 to Flagstaff. Because I was driving, I don’t have any photos of the amazing landscapes through which we drove. After we switched off, I did manage to wrangle a shot or two.

In Flagstaff we stopped at our favorite little hippie crystal store to buy silver chains for some of our new jewelry — yes, we have a favorite hippie crystal store to buy silver chains in — and then at Wal-Mart for a few necessities like a couple of camp chairs so we can just sit here and watch the light change over the Canyon. Then it was a beautiful drive up Hwy 180 to Valle — again, we were practically the only car on the road — and on up to Grand Canyon.

::deep breaths::

We moved into our Bright Angel Lodge cabin, strolled up to the Lodge, and had a light supper at the bar, making friends with the bartender and a couple of park employees, and feeling that urge to chuck it all and come here to work.

Grand Canyon 2022, Day 2

We began our day with a sun-dog, always a pleasure.

After a leisurely breakfast at Henry & the Fish coffee shop/bakery, we were on our way to Canyon Road, the heart of gallery art here in Santa Fe. We parked at the east end and walked all the way down to the Teahouse, where we had lunch.

In between we stopped at most of the galleries on the way. So many beautiful things in that half-mile stretch, but none of them claimed my attention the way the Thomas Hamann piece did in New Orleans. (There are some ideas that I’m STEALING FROM THE BEST for my own purposes…)

There was one piece that struck me, part of an exhibit at the Historic Santa Fe Foundation, by artist-in-residence Julia Tait Dickenson. We almost didn’t go in, because we all know how Hysterical Societies can be, but it was staffed by a lovely volunteer and the exhibit was a knockout: Dickenson makes brooms using natural materials, with found objects for the handles.

Don’t raise those eyebrows; these things were gorgeous, a challenge to regard every object you come across in your daily life as a similarly potential handle.

This one spoke to me:

It is an Dogon folk carving with glass beads. I needed this to hang on the wall in the playroom with all my other labyrinth-oriented artwork. But if you see that little red dot on the card, you will know that the broom had already been sold. Why I didn’t see it to begin with is beyond me, but I was doomed to disappointment when we stopped back by to buy it on the way back to the car.

Oh well, it’s not as if we’re not heading to an International Folk Art Market in the morning. Also, I got the artist’s contact info and will see if she has a similar piece for me.

After a quick nap back at the hotel, we headed to our major event for the day: Meow Wolf.

Oh my. We have been to Santa Fe multiple times but somehow never made it to this astounding installation. This trip I was determined that we would do the thing.

And it is a thing.

I am not going to attempt to describe it to you other than to say it is mind-blowing. A group of artists has taken a building and converted it into a labyrinthine fun-house of surreal multiple realities.

Here’s a picture of us getting lost before we even started. (We headed down the hall to the bathrooms instead of entering the exhibit itself.)

Graffiti in said hall:

When we finally made it to the correct entrance:

Yep, it’s a house, the home of a family that has somehow triggered a multiverse catastrophe. Don’t believe me? Just open that refrigerator and go on through. Or slide down the washing machine. Or crawl through the fireplace.

I don’t know what happened to my camerawork, but this is the forest we found ourselves in.

Nothing is normal. There are stairs, balconies, rooms, secret passages. Cabinets open to reveal surprises. Everything is topsy-turvy. Everything betrays multiple intelligences working together to screw with your brain.

Rooms exist outside our reality:

There is a narrative, of sorts, about what happened to this family, with clues everywhere, and that’s a whole meta-layer to the experience that you engage with at your peril. I made note of it (I liked the hamster showing up repeatedly) but soon just gave myself over to the experience. My Lovely First Wife persisted in untangling the threads.

Every surface:

Inside the ice cooler:

See the buttons? Each one changed the colors and activities of the lights as well as the sound track.

Then there was this room:

…where the button-eyes of the critters launched some really fine EDM. From there, we exited into an underwater fantasy:

There was a room with a “laser harp”: thin red threads of light that, when you “plucked” them, created sounds. There were tiny hideouts. There was a seat that put you on your back and when you slid into it you found yourself looking up to the front of the bus that apparently was taking off to the International Space Station. There was always more to see.

It takes about two hours to wander around, get unlost, and go on your way.

We found ourselves in awe of the thing on multiple levels. First, there was the sheer audacity/exuberance of the installation. It dared you not to be blown away by what you were seeing and experiencing.

Second, there was the incredible inventiveness of the artists involved. Some rooms had displays of dozens of tschotschkes each of which had been had crafted into some surreal little thing. Whole cities from an alternate universe might be floating over you. Soundscapes were different in every space. Banks of TV monitors had odd things playing on loop. The house was full of family photos, personal documents, newspapers. It was dense.

(We noted afterwards that it’s extremely family friendly. There’s nothing in the least lewd in the exhibits, and even the aliens who wandered around every now and then weren’t scary. The children who were there were having a blast.)

Lastly, there was the architectural/theatrical design: a twisty maze of space, each area flowing into the next, with the literal two-story house giving way to the multiverse with stairs and slides and walkways. Every structure was secure and sturdy, and exits were clearly marked. It was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into making the space as safe as it could be.

We can highly, highly recommend Meow Wolf (now with installations in Vegas and Denver).

After exiting through the gift shop and into the relative silence and calm of the New Mexico evening, we decamped to Tonic, which seems to be the only craft cocktail bar in Santa Fe that we could find. The drinks were excellent, and the bartenders even rose to the occasion when I asked that I wanted a Manhattan but “do something to it.”

I will be trying the Seaside Negroni at home, albeit with a correctly spelled naval strength gin.

And that was day 2 of our vacation.

Grand Canyon 2022, Day 1

I’m sure there should be a rule about blogging a trip before I have finished blogging about a previous trip, i.e., Greece, but here we are. We live such a glamorous lifestyle — this summer alone we have Greece, To The Moon burn, Grand Canyon, placement trip to Cherokee Farms, minor surgery — that it’s hard to keep up. Apologies.

Our friend Leonard Winters has moved to Santa Fe and alerted us to the International Folk Art Market, associated with the International Folk Art Museum, which you will recall I adore. (Is Leonard here to welcome us to his new town? Of course not; he’s back in Newnan selling his house.)

I checked the dates, booked a flight/car/hotel, then decided that we’d hit the IFAM (as it is familiarly known) on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday, then drive to Grand Canyon on Thursday for the rest of the week. Perfect.

You may imagine my surprise when we arrived in Santa Fe to find that the Market actually doesn’t open to the public until Thursday. “July 5” was simply when the correlative festivities start, including a $1000/person gala opening on Wednesday night. ::sigh:: The travails of the glamorous, amirite?

We landed in Albuquerque and headed to the Payless car rental desk. Hilarity ensued. First of all, Payless doesn’t have a desk. They have a little printed sign alerting you that the Budget desk is handling those rentals. The gentleman who assisted me seemed to be some kind of management person who was filling in and not at all familiar with how the Payless interface worked, but he finally got it all worked out.

We headed out to the car, which actually was the first one we came to. After loading our stuff in the back, I noticed the note scrawled on the driver’s side window: DEAD BATTERY. I checked; it was dead. Back I went to the Budget desk, where I lucked out and got the more competent young man. He type a bit and gave me a much nicer car, a Ford Edge.

I will say now that I love living in the space future, with its Apple CarPlay and large format navigation touchscreens. I may need a new car in the near future.

As is traditional, we hit a Wal-Mart for water and snacks for the road. We had begun following the “quickest route,” i.e., I-25, but before we left Wal-Mart we decided to head up Hwy 14, the Turquoise Trail, and have lunch in Madrid.

Here’s your first Pro Tip: If time is not of the essence, eschew I-25 in favor of Hwy 14. If you don’t stop in Madrid, it adds only 20 minutes to your travel time, and you are often the only car on the road. No interstate traffic, no maniacs riding your tail, no endless billboards and Hooters.

Instead you get this:

Spectacular. We stopped in Madrid (MAD-rid) for lunch and little light shopping. At first glance, Madrid is just a haphazard collection of shops and galleries splattered on either side of a couple of curves of Hwy 14, but it’s a thriving community. A former coal mining town, it retains all that social and physical infrastructure and is quite a happening  little place.

For example, at the Mine Shaft Cafe where we ate lunch — great burgers! — they have an incredible lineup of live music for the weekends:

“Scorch folk”? I had to look it up.

We pulled into Santa Fe and headed to Las Palomas, the little boutique hotel we discovered on our cross-country trek back in 2013. It has not changed: still funky and delightful.

Yes, that’s a dead tree, painted blue, with yellow birds perched on it.

We settled in, and that’s when I discovered that the Folk Art Market didn’t exist for the likes of us until Thursday morning, necessitating some jiggering of plans. Stay tuned.

We did a little heavy shopping — jewelry and a couple of hats — then headed over to the Plaza for the first public part of the Art Market, a parade of all the artists from the various countries. There were about 100 artists from literally everywhere, with volunteers carrying little signs just like the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. (There was one guy from Texas.)

It was very exciting. The festivities continued with each nation being invited onto the stage and invited to sing or dance or whatever. It was not, alas, very interesting, and we were not in a position to see it very well, so we decamped to the rooftop bar at La Fonda hotel.

My first-class margarita, and my Lovely First Wife’s clarified milk punch. That was very tasty, but the process involved in making such a thing is prohibitive.

Santa Fe. The rooftop view was not perhaps its best side, but the landscape is lovely.

We walked back to Las Palomas to change for dinner at 315, one of our favorite restaurants from our trip here in 2018. The food was marvelous, the wine was great.

Sidebar: I must note that the pandemic has dealt a serious blow to the cocktail community in terms of production. Several months ago I noticed that Averna Amaro had disappeared from the shelves, and when I checked with some Twitter neighbors (including Sother Teague of Amor y Amargo) I found that the east coast at least had been without Averna for five months. The west coast confirmed. Now it appears that green Chartreuse is also missing. This is serious, people.

On the way to 315, we passed by the San Miguel Church, which we had not seen before.

It is in fact the oldest church structure in the U.S. The original adobe walls and altar were built in 1610, about the same time as Saint Augustine was getting going over on our side of the continent.

We made it back to the hotel, where I was delighted by one change in the place:

Lights on our bird tree!