The last time I’d visited the Grand Canyon – I don’t really remember how long ago, but at least 20+ years ago, it was already showing signs of the times: mass tourism. Back then one had to get a permit to go down Angel Trail to the bottom, whereas in 1969, my first time, you could just go. Now caravans of rafters can be seen as distant yellow dots going down the rampaging rapids, the parking lot at the visitor’s center is vast, and buses take you along the rim to the west of the old center whereas before you could drive yourself. Outside the gate of the park sits an opportunistic town with motels and fast food places, along with a new “Western” steak house or two. They all come to see the Canyon, or perhaps to have their pictures taken in front of it after a quick glance. They stay a few hours, and one can overhear them as they mention having seen Zion, Bryce Canyon, and a few other places, “done” in the last few days.
I came to do a “re-make” of a film I did in 1970 in 16mm, Canyon. It was a five minute single camera viewpoint passage through a day, from sunrise to sunset. It was very good, and garnered comment from Amos Vogel in his book Subversive Cinema (he died recently, some months ago), and laid the groundwork for much later work, from Muri Romani, to a passage in the most recent, Coming to Terms. I decided to return, to shoot again in wide-screen HD, and with financial and temporal limits removed, make what may be a 60-90 minute version. I certainly shot enough to do so – actually two of them since I shot with two cameras, looking in different directions.
Given the new mass-tourism set up I was able to spend the night unnoticed, sleeping in the ’91 Subaru, in the parking lot of a large apartment rental complex, just a walk from where I could catch a 4 a.m. bus to set up some minutes before the dawn sky brightened. Meant arousing myself at 3:15. I stayed until sunset, around 8:30. The price was a burned upper lip, conversations with a handful of kind people (who offered water and more), and a lesson in patience. I was tempted to stay another day or two, and do it again from a different viewpoint, but the general haze discouraged me and I think I will apply for an artist’s residency of two weeks which the park offers – no pay or travel, but a place to stay and I imagine some assistance if needed.
I moved then back northward, passing through the Navaho reservation to the east, up into Utah, and the towns of Junction and Circleville, where I’d spent an autumn in 1989, preparing and then shooting Sure Fire. Like many, and perhaps most, of the small towns I’ve passed through in travels this last year, these places appear to be on their last legs. Buildings for sale, collapsing; boarded up houses, and a general air of decay and abandonment. The cafe I’d done the opening shot in Sure Fire was no longer there (though a new one was), some buildings I’d wanted to take shots of were gone, and everything seemed shabbier than 20+ years ago. The spiel which Wes, the lead character in the film, had laid out to his banker, of cheap houses selling well to So Cal refugees had not played out – though it certainly did some 150 or so miles to the south in St George. There a small city is now dwarfed by the upscale housing tracts of gated communities, in turn surrounded with the mandatory corporate big-box shopping malls.
I managed to find a space by an abandoned house to park and spend the night unhassled. Awoke early in the morning and returned to Circleville for a breakfast and to take a mess of shots there and then in Junction.
Back in 1989 when shooting the film, I’d noticed one house which seemed as if a minimalist had moved out West, having taken his house and simplified the facade to a blank white, and making everything on his property white with red trim. Since he’s punched a window in the facade and put on a few little decorative items – patriotic American flag butterflies – and the place bears the wages of time. Previously he had some seeming Kelley-like abstract panel sculptures in his yard; they’re not all there and those that are now sit outside, by his fence. And on his car was a license plate which hints at the mindset.
As I left Junction early in the morning I noticed chem-trails being laid out in the sky above, and as I drove northward, these same “clouds” drifted, with new parallel ones after them, on northward me, nearly to Provo. I’d seen the same in the valley around Redding, Ca., though there they were criss-crossed carefully, like an overhead quilt. These are not jet contrails, which normally disappear by evaporating in a few minutes and are from 30-35,000 feet, normal cruising heights for commercial jet traffic. These chem-trails last all day, widening as the wind moves them, ending the day as a smudgy sun-killing haze. They appear to be more in the 10,000-15,000 foot altitude range. Something is “up.”
And having spent enough time at this Sun Valley Starbucks to recharge batteries, clean up and wash hair, and do other internet chores, I’ll wrap up for the moment and head on up to the Sawtooth range.