Saturday, March 23, 2013

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 3/23/13:   I've been to see the Boss, the Duke, the King, the Queen and the noblemen they serve.  I have spent another few hours with the cowboys.  Not just the movie cowboys, the cowboys.

  Here in Oklahoma City is a world class museum devoted to the history of the west and the people who built it then .. and now.  In my opinion, it is presented as well as anything the Smithsonian has ever done on any subject. It is wonderful, and I come back again and again.  If I have to stay overnight to visit the museum, I stay over.  It's just that good.

  I believe in pictures.  Here's a random sample I took of the museum's collection.

  The cowboy we know came here around the time of the Civil War looking for a job.  There were cattle in the Texas scrub and they formed the basis of an industry.  

  A lot of what he or she learned was taken from the Mexican Vaqueros, who were already riding and herding and had adopted the equipment and techniques that served best.  Vaquero..Buckaroo?  Whatever works.

  Take a look at these guys.  The one on the left is from the southwestern territories, and one on the right is from the north.  

  The one on the left is wearing the big hat that shields him from the sun.  His clothing is lighter.  

  The man on the right is wearing a narrow-brimmed hat because of the winds he faces.  He's dressed in a long duster and generally heavier clothes.  

  However fanciful it seems, the working outfit of the real cowboy is probably one of the most practical "uniforms" ever devised.  It suited.  It was necessary.

  Look at the spurs.  When they could afford it, the cowboys got not only the best, but usually looked for something with a little style.  The collection of working gear..everything from boots to saddles to chuck wagons and guns is here.  It's endlessly fascinating and it's educational.

  One section goes to great length to show you how the cowboy's boot came to be as we know it today.  Bascially, it started with the English riding boot and worked up from there.  The fancy stitching you see is there to reinforce the upper sides, and the upper sides are there to keep the rider from getting his legs torn up in the mesquite and other brush.  Further--did you know that the cowpunchers often wore two pair of pants?  They would put on a pair of corduroys for padded warmth and cover them with Levis for durability.  Over that, they'd add leather chaps to further protect their legs--wooly chaps in the winter.

  I'm a big rodeo fan.  Mary Alice and I used to go to the Cheyenne, Wyoming rodeo every July.  I still do. It's great fun and as important as a sport to westerners as the NFL.  

  Bronc Riding is serious stuff.  Rodeo got started in ranch corrals where cowboys could show off and have a little fun with the skills they used every working day.  Horses were intrinsic, of course.  Bull riding came later..probably on a dare.

  If you happen to look through a fence, sometime, and see an eye like the one below looking back..that's a Bull's Eye, Friend, and you will do well to go on about your business..someplace else.
   But if you do sign up to ride, you can check a specific bull in the record books and see how he's done in the past.  Skilled riders study the bull..see how he steps out of the chute and how he will turn so the rider will be able to anticipate the animal's moves.

  By the way, the Bull usually wins.

  It ain't easy, I think.  I shall remain an interested observer, thank you very much.


End of the Trail
  The museum is an art gallery in many ways.  The famous statue above is the first thing you see when you enter the Grand Foyer.  


This statue of Abraham Lincoln is at the other end of the main corridor.


But art takes many forms.
Chief's Head Dress
Rooster Cogburn's head dress & eyepatch.
John Wayne Collection

"Fill Your Hand."
John Wayne collection.

   The movie cowboys have a gallery, of course.  They are an important part of how the old west is viewed, even though some of it is pretty far-fetched.  But some isn't.  The movies may be how a great many of us got our first glimpse of  that history.  I know I spent a lot of Saturday mornings at the Morgan Theater, watching a western, a serial and 17 cartoons.  Impressions are made in a lot of ways.

  I don't want to focus entirely on The Duke, but he and his family were very generous to the museum.  All the others are there..Roy and Dale, Gene Autry, Jimmy Stewart, James Arness, Walter Brennan, Tom Selleck.  Selleck even donated narration to the introductory film in the museum theater.

But, yes..that's Wayne's famous six shooter.  In the movies, its grip looked orange; in reality, it's ivory, turned a beautiful, soft color by years of handling and exposure to the sun.  The oils in our hands can do that to real ivory..and that's real ivory.

Main Street

  There's a complete western town in the museum.  It starts at the Livery Stable, goes to the railroad station past the saddle shop, runs past the newspaper office, the saloon, the bank and the church. 
Lock 'em up.

And if you don't behave yourself, the Marshall is just across the street

Photographer approaches the bar.

  I found the saloon.  

  And behaved myself.

  You have to see this place.  Believe me, I only scratched the surface here.  Put it on your bucket list and plan to spend some time.  It's just wonderful.

  See you down the road.



Friday, March 22, 2013

Back on the Trail

New Mexico, on the Jornada del Muerto

Amarillo, Texas.  Evening.  3/22/13:  It's a long lonesome road out there--the trails of early explorers parallel the highway.  Spanish patrols went down through this region in the 1500s, looking at villages along the Rio Grande near Las Cruces.  I started there this morning, going north, and my path is smoother than anything they ever dreamed..and faster.  I started at 8am in one time zone and ended here in Amarillo at 6pm in the next zone over.  Tomorrow, I'll hurry on to Oklahoma City for a at visit the National Cowboy Museum--a very special place.  I'll leave that story or another time, though; just know that it is a place that you ought to see.
   Turning east out of Albuquerque, I joined the route of old Route 66.  Nat King Cole would be proud of me--I'm passing a lot of the key notes of his song:  Albuquerque, Tucumcari, Amarillo, Oklahoma City.  Mighty pretty.

  I bypassed Santa Fe, this time.  Mary Alice and I always homed in on Santa Fe when we were traveling in this area--if we were within 350 miles, we went there so I could buy her some Indian jewelry or art.  Without her, it just didn't seem very appealing this time.  Maybe I'll come out next year and stay at one of the B&B's near the city and venture out to the pueblos and on up to Taos.  But that, too, is a story for another time.

  Take a look at that.  Guess where I am?   It's Texas, all right.  The old pickup's a 1931 model and..contrary to first impressions..its part of the scenery at a local restaurant.  It sets the scene though.

  I noticed that the famous Cadillac ranch is just down the road from here.  
The Caddies are still out there in that field along the road, noses buried, tails in the air.  And I saw a crowd around them as I hurried past.  I didn't need to stop, thanks.

  The wide sweep of this landscape can be inspiring and beautiful..and it can be moody.  Depends on who sees it, I guess.  Sometimes, I swing to moody.

   I don't want to burden you with my troubles..I try very hard not to.  But with my sweet wife's recent passing,   I must tell you this part of the country really speaks to my lonely soul.






Thursday, March 21, 2013

Way Out in the Outback

High Desert Near Tubac, AZ
Las Cruces, NM.  3/21, 13:  I fell in love with mountains early in life. Then, it was the Appalachians, a gently rolling, heavily wooded landscape whose near horizon would cozen you.  Later, I discovered the Rocky Mountains and those of the desert southwest and fell in love all over again.  The romance has been growing for years.

  Wednesday, my hosts, John and Marsha Taylor, sent me into the outback..way back in the outback.  John has a bright little All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) called a Rhino.  Nothing stops a Rhino..nothing.  We went south of his home in Green Valley to a spot in the  Tumacacori Mountains, near the US/Mexican border.  It's public land; cattle graze there--but for the most part, it is just a vast, empty, wonderfully beautiful landscape.  I take a lot of pictures where ever I go..but I always feel there's more of the story they could tell.  I'll do my best. As follows:
  They call that (left) the Elephant's Head.  See it?  Squint your eyes and use your imagination.  It adds to the mystery.  

  The wonderful thing is the clear air and the great distances you can see so effortlessly. The mountains surround you in the distance and frame the nearby.  

  At this writing, the desert in that region had just begun to bloom.  Wildflowers were just showing color, the Ocotillo were starting to bud and the Mesquite will leaf out soon.  Which reminds me:  the Mesquite is not really native to the region--its seed was imported by cows from other states.  Their manure spreads it.  I told John that makes a cow a "Johnny Crappleseed."  

  Well, HE thought it was funny.

Rainbow Cactus
This is a little "Rainbow" cactus.  It was 6 to 8 inches high, just soaking up rays at the roadside. 

  Other than cows, we saw no wildlife that didn't fly,
although I'm certain it was looking at us.  The desert has snakes of all kinds and stripes, big cats, coyotes and who knows what else.  Humans make a lot of noise--particularly humans with machines.  So, the animals keep their distance and I have no idea how welcome we were--but we all got along.
                                      Prickly Pear and Mesquite

  Of course, there's other traffic in the desert.  Being that close to the border, we met the Border Patrol.  They work the area on ATV's, horses and helicopters, doing their best to control the human flow out of Mexico.

  The picture above is not only aggravating, it is sad. Hoping to fit in or, maybe become invisible, the "Illegals" exchange the old work clothes they wear to get into the US for better clothing brought across in backpacks that now lie abandoned in the path.  We saw packs, shoes, hats, shirts..even blankets discarded in the mesquite.  We were told there is drug traffic over the same trail, but of course we saw no evidence of that.

 (Left) Lost Crutches, Arizona.

  When John goes into the desert, he rides with friends.  It's more fun that way, there's a tailgate party somewhere along the ride and, since the run will be several miles long through very rugged and steep terrain, it's safer.  We did about 32 miles.  You could get hurt out there alone, although the ATV's are remarkable little vehicles that have no fear of anything.  They can tip over if you do something stupid, but stupid is discouraged and everybody has a real good time.  At the end of the run, they literally drive them back onto their trailers and tow them home.

Da Gang
John Taylor photoing Jim Slade photoing John Taylor


  You do see evidence of past habitation out there.  There are stone foundations, dams, corrals and water tanks.  Some of the water works are still used for cattle who run freely..but for the most part, the structures are silent markers of a time gone by.  

  They stand lonely now, in a place where people lived their lives..or sought their livelihood.  

 When I stand there and look around, I often wonder why anyone would try to make a place for themselves in such physically demanding country so far from the rest of the world.

  I wonder.

  And then I take a quick breath, look around again, see the mountains,  desert landscape, tiny flowers among the mesquite...and I think I know. 

  Peace, Friend.




Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Green Valley, AZ.  3/19/13:  It was a town like so many others; a single street, wide and dusty..two saloons, a hotel and a jail.  All you need out here..all you'll ever need.  To make a movie.

On Monday, Mick Lowman, who knows everybody and everywhere, took John and Marsha Taylor and me to Mescal.  You've been there, probably.  Anywhere you look there's a building you've seen in some western movie.  Let's shuffle some photos.
Saloon.  Quick and the Dead

  Frank Brown is in charge of security at Mescal. That's not a costume, either.  He's for real and one of the greater guys you're ever going to meet..unless you go where you're not supposed to go.

  On this very special occasion, though, Frank took us to see it all. 

  Thanks, Frank.

Back Alley, where the outlaws hide.
The tree where they hung Maverick (Mel Gibson)
Maverick at the Hanging Tree
Tombstone Boardwalk
OK Corral
Tom Horn Jail

Tom Horn's View

Through Those Swinging Doors,
Quick and the Dead

Another great day, Pard.  Seeya down the trail.



Sunday, March 17, 2013

  Biosphere 2

Tucson, AZ Sunday, 3/17/13:  Saturday was exhausting, but totally exhilarating.  My cousin, Dale Robinson (a retired IBM'er) and I visited Biosphere 2, the closed atmosphere experiment station north of Tucson.

  It has a fascinating history. It was originally conceived as a way to build a complete, self-sustaining world within a massive enclosure, an effort that fell 
short when it was discovered that oxygen was being absorbed to the detriment of the 8 people who hoped to spend 2 years inside with no exposure to the Biosphere 1, the atmosphere the rest of us enjoy every day.
That opened to question the ideas about building an enclosed society on a place like Mars. 

  The facility has gone through several evolutions since then.  Now owned and 
operated by the University of Arizona, a great deal of the work now focuses on Climate Change.  It's ideal for that.

  Inside are several climate zones..jungle, ocean, desert, savanna.  The tour inside covered over a mile; we climbed stairs, we descended tunnels.  We couldn't get over it.

  Notice the bamboo in the jungle.  They can cause a drought in there to see how the plants survive..or not.  The ceiling is 90 feet above the floor--and the jungle goes to the top.  There is a 25 foot deep ocean where the effects of the atmosphere (as we are making it) on coral and other sea life can be studied in real time or in time speeded up.  In the desert, they're looking at the decomposition of rock to soil.  
 To get the effects of a salt marsh, they moved one from Florida to the facility and, near the ocean, the plants filter salt and fresh water just as they did down there.  It was rescued, by the way before it was to be wiped out so someone could build a parking lot.

  And on..and on and on.  It's an enclosed world where you can see for yourself what may happen in the future if trends continue.

All of that was reasonable and understandable.
To me, the realm of the fantastic emerged when we learned how Biosphere 2 "breathes."
Caves of Wind
 We saw our first wind cave in the desert.  Air flows out of handlers in the basement, maintaining temperature, humidity .. the movement of atmosphere inside the facility.  Each environment is carefully modeled for an exact match of the outside world.  

  There are two domes flanking the can see them in the upper picture.  These are its lungs..huge, circular rooms in which massive aluminum disks weighing several tons virtually float in the air, pressing the atmosphere, maintaining  pressure throughout the connected, glassed-in laboratories.  Walking into one of those "lungs" and looking overhead is a humbling experience.  And when you practically blows you out the door.  
Flying Disk

   Incredible.  Beautiful science.  Learning by doing--discovering what we don't know..making sure we maintain what you do know and, hopefully, improve it.

   Biosphere 2, inside Biosphere 1.  

   What a marvelous day.