Category Archives: 1914-2014

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo

I keep forgetting that Scuba hasn’t set his nightstand clock since the time change, so I feel like I’ve had more than one extra hour this week, even though I want to get in bed for the night at 6:45 or so. I know that once he does change it, I won’t realize and I’ll lose an hour. It all comes out in the wash, right?

I took the photo above at the Taos Pueblo, which was one of the stops on my trip that I’d really like to take my little family back to see. I’m something like an eighth generation Texan on my mom’s side, but that’s pretty much no big deal to the people who have family homes there dating back 1,000 years. If you go, and you should, make sure to take the guided tour. I admit that I’m usually a little too cool for school and turn my nose up at those, but these tours are led by people from there, and are very much worth your time and your generous tip to your guide. There was a funeral happening there the day we visited, so we had to wait in the parking lot for a little bit for them to open. As we walked around with our guide taking photos, we could see the houses in the distance where the family was gathering. I bought Christmas ornaments and fry bread and a bracelets for the girls that ended up being too small. And photos. I took so many.



Taos Pueblo ChurchFry BreadTaos PuebloAlso, we spent some time talking to a photographer there, a woman whose grandmother told her that Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams both were self-entitled assholes who acted as if the native people and their culture were there to supply their creative needs. They didn’t respect when and where it was okay to take impressions of the people and their lives and their homes. They were so full of themselves, she said, they felt entitled to use anything in their art, like it was up to them. And I couldn’t help but think about what incredible, magical photos Ansel Adams may have been able to capture if he’d just listened and been more respectful.




Arizona road

Arizona. That sky is addictive and I’d like to go back and be under it some more.

Petrified Forest sky

Looking down is pretty rewarding, too.

Petrified Forest

Petrified Forest

The Petrified Forest was my favorite stop on our trip. It’s such a perfect living metaphor, I love it: You see it from far away, and it doesn’t seem like much. Kinda drab. Blah. Then you get into it, and you notice a shiny, colorful piece of rock. Just one, maybe. And then? Everywhere you put your eyes there’s this gorgeous color. All over the ground. And the more you see, the more you see. And it’s the same place it has been for a very, very, long, long time, but every time someone sees it for the first time (or in my case, the second visit but the first time I *saw* it), it’s new. And hopefully, every time someone leaves, they take with them not a rock, but a lesson they needed — about openness, or judgement, or delight, or patience, or beauty. About keeping an eye out for color when all you see is drab. About perspective, and appreciation, and wonder.

1504-36a-570A 1504-32-00207My great-grandmother, Bea, and my great-uncle, Ed, in the Petrified Forest 100 years ago when you could still drive wherever and climb around and bring pieces home with you.

I imagine her showing these pictures to someone and telling them, Oh, the photo doesn’t do it justice. You should see the colors! And even 100 years later, with an awesome camera that captures color and very complimentary late-afternoon magic hour light, I feel the same when I look at the hundreds of pictures I took that day. You really should go there, I think, near the end of the day when the sun is getting low, and see it yourself.

I’d like to take a swing at deciphering my lessons from the Petrified Forest, the real reason that I think it grabbed me by the shoulders and took my breath away. So I’ll claim some of all the things I listed already, but for me, it mainly has to do with living and dying. Mostly dying. I like when it seems as though maybe is nature taking pity on us and sharing hints about all the unknowns. Look, it seems like she is saying here, you think these trees are all dead, but really they’ve turned into something intricately beautiful. And so will you.


Or, you know, maybe the trees just got jealous of that sky and they spent all the energy they had trying to copy those colors and they petrified themselves.


Chapter One

For about thirty years I thought that I would write a book about the trip I took this summer. I didn’t think about it every day, but it was settled in my mind. An eventual fact. I pictured making the trip in the fall, and (I don’t know why) I thought I would drive alone. Slowly. Stopping whenever I wanted to. In my daydreams, I traveled in a silver Airstream, and for a really obnoxious couple of weeks or so I thought I wanted to find a typewriter from 1914 to bring along. At the end of every day, I’d park the trailer, crack open a beer, look at the old and new photos, and type up my story. The Airstream windows would be open as the southwestern sun went down, the breeze billowing the curtains as I worked at the typewriter, the paper coming out the top tinted by the fading orange light.

I know.

Look. I’m sure you have some sappy daydreams, too. I’m just being honest.

2014 was always so far away until it wasn’t. In 2012 I met a documentary filmmaker. Wouldn’t it be incredible, I thought, to make the trip with her? Or, maybe I could invite this really talented photographer I know, and also this blogger who does all these great interviews? We could travel together and each do our own project – me on the specific trip my great-grandparents took, and them from a broader, 100 Years Later perspective. Last year, a published author I know encouraged me to get a book proposal together for him to share with his agent and I started it and restarted it and picked up back up again so many times. A literary agent pressed her card into my hand and asked me to call. And I meant to. I honestly thought I would.

When I couldn’t get anywhere with an outline and book proposal I thought I just needed to take the trip first. How could I know what the story would be like (coffee table photo book? Memoir? Biography of my great-grandmother?) until I’d taken the trip and figured out what it was. I bought myself an extravagant, lovely journal so I could at least write about things as they happened, every day. I carried that journal through eight states (nine if you count changing planes in Texas) and it is still blank.

Now I’m back home with a couple thousand photos and so many thoughts and memories and feelings to process. The trip was an amazing success. It was nothing like I imagined it would be. It was better than I hoped it would be, missing sunset-lit Airstream and all. It was quiet and it was often ordinary, except not really. I am probably not going to write a book about it. I’m not saying never, but what happened that I can’t really explain is that it doesn’t feel like it needs to be anymore. It’s gone in my head from, This is going to be so cool! I should write a book about it! to That was one of the coolest things I ever did. I’m so glad I went. I’m not sure if I’m a flake or if I’m just content with the experience, but I don’t need to.

Of course I very much want to document the trip for myself my brother and my kids and anyone else who is interested, but I’ll do it here instead of on the URL I bought a few years ago. I’m tempted to kick myself for failing after being gifted this rare opportunity, but I don’t think any book ever written because it should have been came out worth reading. The only good ones are the ones that have to be written and I don’t have one of those.



This is the first stop on my trip, though it’s not really part of the 100 years ago trip – the house in Liberty, Missouri my grandmother lived in when she starting dating my grandfather in the mid 1930s. Her father built the house, and this is taken from the side. That porch. Swoon.

99, 100 – Ready or not, here I come

Bea & Baby EdMy great-grandmother, Bea, and great-uncle, Ed, in Arizona’s Petrified Forest, 1915. 

About a hundred years ago, my great-grandparents took an incredible trip in their Buick, with their baby, sometimes on roads and sometimes on wagon tracks, across a big chunk of the U.S. My great-grandfather, Edgar, was (among many other things) a photographer. He took photos along the way and developed them at night as they camped out with a tent connected to their car. Many of the photos were made into postcards that he and the other travelers sent to their loved ones.

To Miss Kitty WilliamsDear Kitty: Rec’d your letter and since then have been to San Diego fair and expect to start to Ventura Thursday (21st) roads were fine and if it does not rain think we can make trip in auto fine. If anything hinders will drop you a card tomorrow eve (Wed)  If we have good luck will get there some time Thursday evening. Ella Morris. 

In less than two months, I’m going to fly to Kansas City and then drive with my dad’s siblings along some of what’s remaining of the route their grandparents traveled. We are compressing two separate treks taken over two years into seven days on the road. We’re going from Kansas City to Colorado to Utah to Southern California to the Grand Canyon to Santa Fe. We’ll have air conditioning and sleep in hotels and yet not be nearly as well-dressed as they were. We will stop and take photos in as many of the places they did that we can, and we are hoping to meet up with some of my great-grandfather’s other descendants along the way.

When I was a teenager in the 80s and thought about taking this trip, the thing that struck me most was how OLD I would be – I couldn’t imagine it. All of a sudden, here it is and here I am, ready to go.