Surprise Bones as Writing Process – Part 1 of a Travelogue by Michael G. Smith

Editor’s Note: When my friend Michael set off, I encouraged him to write up some of his thoughts and adventures for Miriam’s Well. I’m delighted to present: Surprise Bones as Writing Process – Part 1 of a Travelogue.

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I am on a six-month road trip through Utah, Nevada and along the Pacific Coast north of the Bay Area. Ultimately I will arrive in Bozeman, MT where I do chemistry research at Montana State University four months per year. One reason for the circuitous route is to shake up my writing practice and skills. The process feels stagnant. My poems have lost zip and creativity. It seemed to me a diverse range of terrain, ecosystems, ecotones, climates, towns and people would be good medicine. Surprise and uncertainty these medicines’ healing properties, I am going to trust providence, karma and kismet.
 
Today I am in Hanksville, UT, a sneeze-through town forty miles east of Capital Reef National Park. On my way to the park several days ago I stopped here for breakfast. While eating at Duke’s SlickRock Grill my waiter asked me about my road trip plans. A couple at the next table overheard the conversation and started telling me about a nearby dinosaur fossil dig, the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry. I had never heard of it, but Bob and Nancy, whom are volunteers at the site, encouraged me to spend time there later in the week when they would be digging.
 
I was a little irked someone suggested I change my westward plans. Nothing about the portly appearance of Bob and Nancy indicated they would be comfortable or enjoy hours beneath a hot sun chipping through hard sandstone. But as I listened to them it became clear this Houston geologist and paleontologist couple knew the terrain and dinosaurs. And this was their tenth consecutive spring dig season.
 
Other fossil hunters joined the conversation. The restaurant was full of them! Retired volunteers, university students, and interns and staff from natural history museums chimed in with tales of river basins, floods and sauropods – tales from a former world brought alive to the present. The magnitude of their enthusiasm hinted their quarry was special. The cardboard cutout of John Wayne behind the bar suggested I did not need to spend much time indoors.
 
I then remembered a rule I set before departing Santa Fe – if a detour involved the natural world I would readily apply the brakes and turn. Something 150 million years old and still revealing itself is something to brake for. My dinosaur-loving niece, whom I would see a few weeks later, would love the stories and pictures. I modified my post-Capital Reef westward plans, vowing to return in a few days.
 
Now at Duke’s campground I jot down bones I have unearthed that help my writing process – keep eyes and ears open, ask questions, take notes, know that I know little (which is true!). Be willing to explore. Take the unexpected turn when offered. Dismiss nothing, including exuberant fossil-hunters. Backtrack when necessary. Read maps. Accept, accept, accept. Use a real compass with real magnetic needles – the smartphone app may lead you astray. When hiking up and down graveled hills to take pictures remain mindful of rattlesnakes – they are camouflaged. Each sentence is metaphor.
 
Next up – Fossil Digging as Writing Process

Cano’s Castle—Beer Can House

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Cano’s Castle—Beer Can House

From Atlas Obscura: Cano’s Castle is a set of four gleaming towers, built single-handedly by Donald “Cano” Espinoza, a Native American Vietnam vet.
Built largely out of beer cans and other metal refuse, for Espinoza the castle serves as a thanks for having his life spared during the Vietnam war.
Cano says his main influences for the Castle are “Vitamin Mary Jane” and Jesus.

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On State Street between 10th and 11th Avenues in Antonito, Colorado. You can see it from Main Street-an amazing outsider art castle!

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Stockyards Cafe

A piece I wrote on late spring road trip appears in a cool new-to-me e-zine (tldr).

Breakfast. In the old stockyards. Walk in, I’m the only woman other than the

tough competent waitress.

Rich keeps his hat on. Smoking section—one black guy at table of white guys.

Big working guys. I can’t help but worry—Donald Trump supporters?

It helps to be old in these situations, as I now am, white haired.

In the smoking section, a guy now lights up a cigar.

http://www.tldrmagazine.com/#!Stockyards-Cafe-Amarillo-Texas/b15ki/577e82780cf2e63d266019af

Internet Resources for Finding Offbeat Roadside Attractions

This blog has been reporting on road trips almost back to its beginning, including an early musing from me.  A road trip includes the objective of getting from point A to point B, but can encompass an enormous variety of recreational and entertainment activities.

Road trips are as individual and idiosyncratic as the people who take them.  The trips that I take with Miriam typically try to address both of our interests and traveling styles.  Prior to the appearance of the Web in the mid-1990s, printed guidebooks were the leading source of guidance for crafting a road trip, but now an overwhelming breadth and depth of information about what’s out there along your route can be at your fingertips within seconds.  Native American archaeological sites, Spanish colonial missions, Civil War battlefields, model solar systems, botanical gardens, giant fruit and vegetable sculptures–you can theme a trip on any or any combination of them and pull together an itinerary from Web sources (or probably from apps, but someone else will have to write that post).

A visit to Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum in February reawakened my curiosity about the range of personal outsider/visionary/folk art projects that were to be found along the country’s back roads, and motivated me promote their place in our trip itineraries (I still regret that one of my favorite road trips, which included a visit to southern California’s Salvation Mountain, occurred a few weeks before the inception of the blog and never got blog coverage).  In addition to my old standby trip planning websites, I found new ones to guide me in my search for roadside attractions that embody particularly individualized creativity.  I’ve written up a number of the websites that were used to generate ideas for stops on the trips chronicled on Miriam’s Well over the last month or so and in mid-March in the hopes of encouraging readers who are interested in seeing visionary artworks (or just giant fruit) for themselves in situ.

Roadside America

Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com):  The name “Roadside America” comes from a classic roadside attraction, a miniature village in Shartlesville, PA that dates back to 1935.  As noted on this website, which has been around since 1994, “road trip know-it-alls Doug Kirby, Ken Smith and Mike Wilkins introduced readers to the world of offbeat tourist attractions with their books, Roadside America and New Roadside America.”  The site has allowed them to expand their coverage and keep it current, aided by an eager, crowd-sourcing crew of devotees of the unusual.  The site claims coverage of more than 12,000 distinct places, including a wide range from commercial attractions to personal, visionary creations and from the small to the massive.  Attractions get a “story page” that features a write-up of from one to many paragraphs, along with pictures, comments by readers, listings of nearby accommodations, and links to nearby attractions.  There’s also a blog, round up discussions of particular types of attractions (e.g., “Big Fruit,” “Mystery Spots,” and “Shoe Trees”), state maps, and features supporting the creation of personalized lists and trip itineraries.  An app is available for iPhone users.

Spaces Archive

Spaces Archives (www.spacesarchives.org):  This website is run by SPACES (Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments), described as “a nonprofit public benefit organization created with an international focus on the study, documentation, and preservation of art environments and self-taught artistic activity.”  The site is an extension of the organization’s mission of identifying, documenting, and advocating for the preservation of these environments.  Given its different mission, the site has many fewer attractions than Roadside America, and includes both international and now-destroyed “environments.”  For road trip planning, it’s probably best to use the “Explore by Map” feature on the front page.  One drawback is that many of the map locations are only approximate; I had to refer to other websites for more exact locations.

Detour Art

Detour Art (www.detourart.com):  Detour Art is “dedicated to the sheer joy of outsider, folk, visionary, self-taught, vernacular art and environment discoveries found all along the back roads (and side streets) around the world.”  There is a fair amount of overlap in attractions with Spaces Archives, but Detour Art also notes galleries and museums that feature the types of art that the site finds of interest.  The website describes the places that it covers both as “environments” (like Spaces Archive) and “sites.”  There are regional pages for the West, South, Midwest, and Northeast, and you can search by state, but I accidentally stumbled on what are probably their best geographical aids, their regional Google Maps mashup pages (the one for the South is here).  The most recent blog post is dated two years ago, leading me to be concerned about whether the site is being kept up.

CLUI

The Center for Land Use Interpretation (clui.org):  CLUI describes itself as “a research and education organization interested in understanding the nature and extent of human interaction with the surface of the earth, and in finding new meanings in the intentional and incidental forms that we individually and collectively create.”  Road trippers will primarily be interested in CLUI’s Land Use Database.  As with the other websites covered here, each place has its own descriptive page; sights/sites can be searched or can be accessed from the map at clui.org/ludb.  Much of what they list are things like power plants, dams, and military bases, but they also cover land art and other large cultural installations.  As with Detour Art, there are signs that the Land Use Database content is not being kept up.

Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura (www.atlasobscura.com): Atlas Obscura purports to be “the definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places,” covering over 9,000 places around the world.  It’s similar to Roadside American in its breadth of interest, and its editorial policy seems to allow for articles on a variety of cultural topics, not just physical attractions.  I’ve found the website interface less user friendly than some.  Individual entries include links to “Related Places” that I find somewhat mysterious (e.g., I couldn’t quite figure out why there was a link from Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park in Oklahoma to the Bettie Page Mural House in Seattle).

TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com):  Although I more commonly use it for its lodging and restaurant listings and reviews, the website does have an Attractions category.  Because of the huge number of people contributing ongoing write-ups, the reviews can be helpful for learning about relatively recent changes in the status of attractions.

Creating Your Own Trip/Route Maps

Although I’ve looked at a number of “Create your own road trip” websites, I have yet to find one flexible enough to let me create my desired road trip without a titanic struggle.  I had some success with Google Earth/Maps, but I did feel that I had to spend an excessive amount of time inserting places that weren’t in Google’s database and tweaking routes.  I do find Google’s Street View feature helpful to get a sense for what a place looks like from the road.  One mapping tool that I feel fondly towards, although it doesn’t do routes, is BatchGeo, from which you create a map by pasting labeled data from a spreadsheet, including latitude and longitude.  I’ve used it to create maps for several different purposes; here’s an example of a road trip map (there’s info about each marker below.

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