In 2006 I took a Road Trip from San Francisco to New Mexico and back over the course of a month, writing and taking photos all the way. Two years later I had a show of paintings based on those photographs. This is one of a series of twenty-nine posts of those paintings accompanied by the relevant diary entries.


Elephant Feet, oil on board, 8 x 24 inches

16.May 10th 2006

So I drove the 64 to Cameron, the 89 and 160 to Tuba City and onto the 163 at Kayenta to Monument valley. Saw the Elephant Feet, two natural stone pillars near Kayenta-then stopped at the Navajo Nation Memorial and took a stroll to look at the medieval Indian village c1280.

This monument looks interesting but I barely skimmed it in the diary. I was probably seeing too many things and moving too fast, but I think that is the nature of the Road Trip. I also saw these Dinosaur footprints, just west of Tuba City. Didn’t mention them in the diary at all.

Another thing not in the diary…I was sure the signs that said END DAYLIGHT HEADLIGHT USE were protest signs decrying the use of car headlights in day time…

016 dinosaur footprint, navajo nation, AZ

Dinosaur Footprint, oil on board, 8 x 8 inches

Then, Monument Valley. Enquired about horseback tours but a fat lady (Indian) in a red cardy, who was in charge, was passed out in her jeep. I went to have lunch and became increasingly more disenchanted. All the things I am doing because I am ‘supposed to’, became, ‘I have to’. I decided I didn’t want to take another tour, not even in my own car, around Monument Valley.

018 lunch, monument valley, AZ

Lunch, Monument Valley, oil on board, 9 x 7 inches (approx.)

Starting to take photos of the ‘sights’ juxtaposed with the ‘real world’. It expresses more what I am feeling…

017 viewing monument valley, AZ

Viewing Monument Valley, oil on board, 9 x 7 inches (approx.)

Impressions:Heaving, thrusting, red and hot-that’s the landscape, columns and pinnacles, cleft canyons, striped pink hued. It’s a very sexual place, (or maybe that was just me), lots of ideas for paintings. 
A dead animal, hind leg in the air, on the hard shoulder at Farmington, Wal-Mart, fat Indians, the road between Ship Rock and Farmington becomes the Waterford to New Ross Road…a bunny darting across the road, a herd of donkeys in the red landscape.
A rotund Navajo lays out her wares on a fold out table at Elephant Feet. A Navajo boy in the Wal-Mart car park tries to sell me beads as I get in my car. I say no and then curse myself. Crows have replaced the buzzards, circling in the sky.

All sorts of thoughts came up-am a tourist in my own life?skimming the surface...Is it good that tourists are herded or corralled?Protecting the landscape?

The interpretive centre at Monument Valley had fueled my thoughts, petrol on a raging fire you could say. Initially I thought yes, it’s a good thing to keep people from trampling everywhere but then, as with a lot of preservation, I wonder who we are preserving things for?Time passes, things erode and change. Why do we try to stop that?

Is my feeling that the ‘wild west’ has been tamed and packaged-like many other cultures including the Irish-just a cliche?Is it better like this?Are these visitor centers and parks a product of our modern culture-the culture of the skin, of the surface. We prefer the wilderness packaged and handle-able, to look at it but not to survive it.

So I drove and drove and now I am in a motel, drinking beer watching TV and looking forward to a night in a BED. I prefer the TV to the ‘real thing’ because its painful to see how the real thing has been two-dimensionalised. You know where you are and what you are doing with the TV. The TV has become more real.

Having been to college (yus, I is now educated) I realise my thoughts were connected to the French sociologists Jean Baudrillards’ hyperreality. If you want to entirely wreck your head you can look that up yourself. Interestingly I only realised this year he did his own American road trip and wrote a book about it which I have bought but as with a lot of Baudrillards’ writing (all of it) I immediately start thinking he should have got out into the fresh air more. Pot and Kettle here. So I haven’t even got past the first chapter.

The other issue that kept coming up was fatness…and I realise my attitude may offend some. To explain, on this trip realised I was overweight for the first time in my life and I was horrified and projecting that horror a lot. Through my 20s I was skinny, I could eat and drink anything (and I did). My college buddy had created the only known flat-chested cartoon hero, Choclatey Clair, just for me. I had remained convinced I was skinny in my 30s but I was filling out. My image of my body was still in my head and I had not yet realised this so I projected it onto others…

The ads on TV portray ‘normal’ sized people stuffing themselves with junk food…in real life there are fat people everywhere stuffing themselves with junk food. Do they actually think they are the same size as the TV people?

Hitting middle-age my body started to change in ways I could not control. I became one of those women I never wanted to be:obsessed with my weight. But now I also understand now how hard it is to shift fat. It’s easy for some experts, young men usually, to say its all about eating less. It’s not. My body has become alien, some days I am fat and some days I am not and its seems to bear no relation to anything in the ‘real’ world. Someone should make a sci-fi/horror film about being a middle-aged woman…from the diary…

My whole front is swelling and drooping simultaneously.

I will always remember driving down the 140, the sun streaming into the car, hitting a gleaming white roll of flesh hanging over the top of my jeans and realising…that’s me!

…but hey!-that fat is coming off!

Further Reading…

Baudrillard, J., (1989), America, New York:Verso



18 responses to “ROAD TRIP : MONUMENT VALLEY

  1. Great set of paintings. My middle aged body expanded into all sorts of places and won’t go back, I’m edging past middle now into old, so expect everything to head south shortly, sigh. I have a rowing machine that’s supposed to put me right, must get it out at some point 🙂 Yes, travelling alone in a foreign land is cool but gives a lot of time for your brain to mess you up!

  2. Ta Fraggle R…When you’re young you think your body will stay the same…and then…it just breaks free!….And you’re right about being on your own…I am really seeing it with these posts. The idea of the paintings was about travelling alone, in the US and in life and about catching those moments where there is nothing special on the outside but inside something becomes etched on the consciousness…it can be uplifting I think…like a communion(with complaining 🙂 🙂 )…but I can only really see now the difference between travelling solo and travelling with a companion. With someone else you are dragged out into the world whereas on your own you fall back on yourself…that’s not all bad…at least I find myself entertaining!…in recent years I have found that making sure to get exercise unknots my head a little and leads to, maybe not less rumination but a little less angst..

  3. My alone trip was quite life changing really, showed me I didn’t like much travelling alone without someone to share things with, but also showed me I could do anything I wanted to without anyone else’s input. My rowing machine is going in my shed which is nearly finished now, so I’ll be soon back to my svelte self 😀 😀

  4. I think its definitely important to do…it embiggens your world!even if you don’t like it it means if it comes to it you won’t be limited..there was a temptation with me to wait for someone to do stuff with…but I am too practical and impatient….glad I didn’t wait!Where was your trip?Have I read about it?…
    The rowing is the best thing I think…but I was never mad about it, poor Bodser only likes exercising one bit at a time!

  5. I went to Cornwall for a long weekend (it was like a foreign country 🙂 ) visited loads of Gardens and the Eden project, tried surfing (failed 🙂 ) if I ever find the pics I’ll do a post 🙂

  6. You mentioned a medieval village at the top and never spoke about it again. I’m champing at the bit to hear about it, especially since I didn’t know there were any permanent settlements before the sixteenth century.

    I was shocked by the viewing platform at Monument Valley.

  7. I know…so strange I didn’t expand on it…though there was a long trek to get to it and I wasn’t prepared….I had read so much about the Navajo and their predecessors the Anasazi but I was becoming so jaded the visitor centres and being corralled that I just sort of switched off. If I remember correctly the Anasazi, or Pueblo people, populated this area around 1000 years ago and their culture is the oldest on the American continent.( I will be visiting Taos Pueblo later in the diary to complain about it and nearly visiting Acoma Pueblo and then giving it a miss…)Their villages are often built into cliffs and made from mud and earth and there are a few in this area, the four corners region ie where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet (I also stood on that point but didn’t mention it-more visitor centre crap 🙂 ) Kiet Siel was the name of the village I saw…you can read about it here..

  8. I think there’s a lot of discussion about the origins of the people of this area. Some theories say the Anasazi came from the north over the land bridge between Alaska and Siberia.

  9. I suppose it’s possible that there were lots of villages built all over America at that time, but they were either destroyed or just fell into ruins and disappeared.

  10. It is….I think at this point in he trip I had decided it was more a reconnoitre to see what I wanted to see in future…I would like to go back and live around there for a few months and get to know it…I was frustrated by being only able to skim the surface….but that’s what a road trip is at the end of the day so I just got on with it from there on in.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s