Cowboy Poetry Week: “I Ride an Old Paint”

An American Paint Horse at a horse show in the Czech Republic, from Wikipedia, photo by Karakal

The Death of the Old West

Depending on who you talk to, rumors of the death of the Old West, may be somewhat exaggerated. Some say it died when the railroads started carrying beef on the hoof to places like Kansas City and Chicago. Others say it died when barbed wire was invented. Even today, there are those that infer that the Old West lasted until the automobile and paved roads became the norm for transportation. And finally, there are those that believe that the Old West may still exist in small pockets, where a few determined herders somehow manage to work what’s left of the open range.

The Search

Back during the Roaring Twenties, when speakeasies and Jazz music were the rage, Carl Sandburg went on a search. He was looking for genuine cowboy songs from the Old West. To do this properly, the young Midwesterner dropped out of college, crisscrossed the western mountains and prairies, looking for old remnants of years gone by. Somewhere in the high desert of New Mexico, he came across this beauty of a song.

What’s an Old Paint

First of all, an Old Paint is a type of horse common to the American West. Basically, it is a stock horse with a “pinto” pattern of color. The splotched color separates this breed from the solid, American quarter horse. Except for the color pattern, the two types of horses are similar in size, build and stock. Nonetheless, they are considered two separate breeds, which are both quite popular among American horsemen.

About the Song

Too many, “I Ride an Old Paint”, embodies the spirit of the Old West, as well as any folk song. There are many wonderful elements to the horseman’s tale, but perhaps the unusual method of burial is most telling about the special appeal for this Western lament. I seriously doubt that many (if any) cowhands were treated this way after leaving the world of the living. Yet still, there is a communion with the outdoor range, rarely expressed in Western music,when the corpse of the main character is tied to the back of his horse and then set loose into the bush.

Carl Sandburg at age 77

Who Was Carl Sandburg?

Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois in 1878. After serving in the military in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War, Carl returned to the Midwest, where he worked a variety jobs before he began publishing his own poetry in 1916. As an offshoot of his poetry, he put out a recording of folk songs (1927), gathered from traditional sources. This landmark album included such noted American classics, as the “Sloop John B” and “I Ride an Old Paint”. Over the years, the Old Paint song has one of the most recorded songs in American music.

 

An Afternoon Visit to an Empty Church

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church sits along the San Juan River in Northwestern New Mexico, photo by author

The Church

The church was built in 1920 and still stands on a bluff overlooking the beautiful, aqua green-colored San Juan River. It’s a small building, but apparently the congregation has moved away or now attends mass somewhere else. I just happened across this place last Sunday and was struck by the awesome locale of the small church. Not far away is the Navajo Dam and behind that is the man-made Navajo Lake, but if you approach this special place from the south, you would never know that they were there.

The interior of this church captures the afternoon light on a spring day with great grace.

Inside

In the afternoon light, the church interior took on an almost mystical air, as the intense Southwest sun filtered through the small window above the altar and illuminated the sacred space with sunlight. Fortunately, the camera easily captured this event.

 

A vase with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe sits in one of the church windows, photo by author

Our Lady of Guadalupe 

According to Catholic Online the Virgin Mary first appeared to Juan Diego, a 57 year old Aztec man in 1531, near present day Mexico City. Even from the beginning Juan believed in what he saw on the hillside, but the priests at the nearest church were not so convinced. Gradually, over a few weeks, more appearances by the loved Saint along with a miraculous cure convinced the church elders that the Holy Virgin was present in Mexico.

Here she took on the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her likeness, which mysteriously appeared on a Spanish tilma back in 1531, has been reproduced and copied all throughout Mexico and the Southwest USA, numerous times. Many churches of the region, both small and large, bear her name as does this small chapel built in 1920.

Lightcatchers

A solar prominence
A solar prominence captured on film by the SOHO satellite, Credit: SOHO-EIT Consortium, ESA, NASA

Our Main Source of Light

Even though a minuscule amount of starlight reaches our planet, by far the greatest source of extraterrestrial  energy arrives from our own sun. To an astronomer, the sun can be simply described as our nearest star. In fact, in scientific terms the sun would be classified as a yellow dwarf star, also known as a G V star. Typically, a G V star has a surface temp of 5,000 to 6,000 K and fuses hydrogen into helium to create light. Average lifetime of a yellow dwarf is about 10 billion years with our own sun being considered middle-aged.

High Rise Buildings

Minneapolis tower at sunset
Mirror image of Minneapolis tower at sunset

Recently, I had the privilege of spending a weekend in the Twin Cities, which are  locally referred to simply as “the cities”.  High rise buildings dominate the downtown area, presenting a golden opportunity and graphic challenge for the digital photographer. This one building literally turned a golden color in the fading moments of the day.

old and new towers in minneapolis
St. Olaf’s belltower with tall high rise in background, photo by author

Here is an interesting juxtaposition that contrasts a church tower with a modern high rise.

Reflection of one building on another,
Reflection of one building on another, Minneapolis, photo by author

And here in this scene, the reddish color of one structure is reflected upon the overwhelming blue tint of a different building.

the Mayo clinic in Rochester
Abstracted patterns of the Mayo clinic in Rochester, MN

This image was made in Rochester, which is a small city located about a two hour drive south of Minneapolis. This building  is actually part of the world famous Mayo Clinic, but in this case, it was the striking grid design of the windows that caught my eye.

Modern Architects and Ancient Sculptors

sculpture on Easter Island
Relocated sculpture on Easter Island, from Wikipedia

I know this is pure conjecture, but to me, there is something strangely similar with this sculpture on Easter Island in the middle of the Pacific and the tall towers of Minneapolis. Incidentally, the icon pictured above was only recently returned to its original resting place, as for years, the artifact had been placed on display in a museum. Nonetheless, this sculpture acts in ways that are remarkably similar to some of the more recently completed urban downtown glass towers that can be found in almost any modern city. And this similarity would be that each unit functions as a visual unit, which ever so subtly changes color in the fading light of the evening and early morning hours. True, the high rises have a very utilitarian purpose as well, but in both cases, the play of light on the surface seems to be an intricate part of the viewing process. Furthermore, I think that this was by done by design and original intention.

Des Moines building
Des Moines building caught in the early morning light, photo by author

A Tale of Two Cities

66 Diner on Old Route 66 in Albuquerque
66 Diner on Old Route 66 in Albuquerque

Albuquerque

Albuquerque is the southernmost of the two cities and with a population of nearly half-a-million, it is the largest city in New Mexico. The University of New Mexico is located here along with Sandia Labs, Kirtland Air Force Base and Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute. The city is noted for its location on the original Camino Real (Royal Road) that ran all the way into Mexico and old Route 66, which passed through the city on its East-to-West path. Even today, some of the Art Deco highway architecture can still found within the city limits. Currently the new NM Railrunner passes through the city on route from Santa Fe to the southernmost point.

Poster of ongoing art show on display on the exterior of the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe.

Santa Fe

About 50 miles to the north of Albuquerque at an elevation of 5,000 feet, sits the state  capitol of New Mexico, Santa Fe. Once this frontier outpost was the western terminus of the Santa Fe Trail start began in Independence, Missouri and crossed the Kansas prairie to northern New Mexico. Once trade routes were established with the US, merchants here were able to do business with both the US and Mexico and as a result the town flourished. Much of that heritage can be seen today among the numerous trading posts, restaurants, stores and inns that abound in this high altitude city of only 70,000 residents. Despite its small size, Santa Fe is a busy business hub that sees much commerce and trade.

Nm Railrunner Emblem
A bold image of the roadrunner marks the NM Railrunner train.

The Rail Runner 

Linking Santa Fe and Albuquerque by cheap rail has done many things for both cities. The rail cost between 300 and 400 million dollars and was first opened in 2006 with a run between Albuquerque and Belem to the south. In 2008 the train began servicing Santa Fe, so nowadays almost 300,000 one way passes are used every month. Price of a roundtrip same-day ticket are just under $10 dollars, while a one way is only a little bit less.

The railrunner has a been boon to tourism because of the ease of access between the two cities. Also it has created work commuters, who can ride the rails and save fuel and wear and tear on the vehicles. The number of daily riders has risen each year, yet the rail still falls 10 million short on being self-sufficient every year. Considering the rail line between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is less than five-years old, the overall outlook of the rail service is bright and encouraging for other places that might want to consider setting up rail connections between closely located cities. It should be noted that this is not a high-speed service as maximum speed is somewhere around highway speed.

How It Works 

Leaving Las Vegas

Las Vegas bail bonds ad
Las Vegas abounds with bail bondsmen. Fortunately, I escaped without need of any of their services.

Extended Stay

I never expected that my three-day visit to Las Vegas, NV would turn into a three week overnight stay, where most of waking hours were devoted to my job search. Overall, Las Vegas is a pretty strange city, at least to someone there on his/her first visit. My initial impression was how large the place is and then there was the ever-present desert, which on this part of the planet, was very dry and quite extensive. The population of Las Vegas is almost two million and overall the city is described as being the driest county in the driest state of the union. In fact, why I was there, it barely rained, with much of that moisture being re-evaporated into the air by means of walking rain. During my visit I was fascinated by the city, but this was often negated by the emotional stress involved in trying to find a job in a state with 12% unemployment.

Mission Church in New Mexico
Mission Church in New Mexico

Out of the Mission

As time went on and my job searches continued to yield no fruit, I had to shift my living quarters from a hostel to a Christian Rescue Mission. The price was right and contrary to my expectations, the required religious services were quite enjoyable, due to the outstanding musical contributions from a dozen or so of inspired and very talented musicians. However my love of music and by easy going nature could not prevent me from being kicked out of the place, for arriving late to check-in on my last night. This merely meant that my planned departure got bumped forward by 24 hours.

Supermoon
Supermoon

Night of the Super Moon

My eviction came at 4:15 on Saturday afternoon, so I picked up my bags and took a local bus to Boulder City, a Nevada city located just a few miles from the Arizona border, where hitchhiking was legal. The bus contained only a few passengers, but one adventurous soul had brought his mountain bike with him, so he could observe the rare astronomical event from a desert mountain. The “supermoon” arose 9p.m. and true to its name lit of the desert countryside like a Fourth of July flare. From the side of the highway, the night landscape came alive under the reflected sunlight from orbiting sphere. The light from the full moon made my nocturnal hike to Boulder Dam, all the more stunning, as the moon cast its glare on the rough mountain terrain. Finally around midnight, I set up my tent and crawled inside. However, the intense lunar glare made it hard to sleep. Still, I had  a lot to be grateful for: I had left Las Vegas without incident.


Las Vegas Graphics

Marilyn and Elvis in Las Vegas
Marilyn and Elvis in Las Vegas, America's Royal Couple

Elvis and Marilyn

Elvis and Marilyn are everywhere in Las Vegas. Not only are they depicted in outdoor situations like this, but also real life impersonators may be occasionally seen along “The Strip”. Though both iconic figures have long passed into the next world, their costumed imposters make us believe that perhaps their spirit still lives on.

Holiday Motel on Las Vegas Blvd. in Las Vegas
Holiday Motel on Las Vegas Blvd. in Las Vegas

Old School Graphics

Motels like this venue on the “Strip” have been around for decades. In fact, ordinary signs like this often take on a new life after the sun sets and the neon lights start doing their thing. It seems that every motel has its own little display and art style.

Bail Bonds

Vegas Bonding Agents

For some strange reason Las Vegas abounds with bondsmen advertising their wares to those who might need their services. My guess that the per capital number is rather high, especially compared with other cities. I guess when you have such a large number of visitors, drinking gambling and having a good time, it is inevitable that somebody ends up in jail and needs a bail bondsmen. Some of their outdoor advertising, suggests that the market for customers is quite competitive.

Meoow Sign at the Cat Hostel
Meoow Sign at the Cat Hostel

Pushing the Medium

This wall construction at the Cat Hostel displays very large letters that suggest a certain phonetic sound instead of a living word with actual meaning.

Free Things To Do In Las Vegas

A Vegas Sign On the Uncovered Part of Fremont Street

Palms and the stratosphere in Las Vegas, Nevada.

About Las Vegas

There are two towns in the west named Las Vegas, which translated from the Spanish, simply means the meadows. One of these towns can be found on the eastern slope of the Sangre de Christo mountains in New Mexico, while its more famous relative occupies the arid southern tip of Nevada near the Arizona-California border. Las Vegas, New Mexico is the older settlement as it was a Mexican land grant that became a stop on the Old Santa Fe. In its heyday it was a wild town that supported gaming halls, saloons and prostitution. Some its more famous visitors include Doc Holiday, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and Jesse James. Today it is a quiet Hispanic town with a popular hot springs.

Welcome to Las Vegas
The Welcome to Las Vegas sign is located on the south side of town on Las Vegas Blvd.

Welcome to Las Vegas, Nevada

At the south end of town  on Las Vegas Blvd. (also known as “The Strip” visitors will find the famous sign. On any given day (or night) there will invariably be several picture taking tourists located right in front of this sign. And of course there will be the picture takers snapping away with their new digital cameras. It doesn’t cost anything to visit this popular site (except maybe some gas and wear and tear on your vehicle) so you might as well join the crowd and check out this Las Vegas icon.

The Luxor Resort has a distinctly Egyptian theme
The Luxor Resort on the Las Vegas Strip has a distinctly Egyptian theme

Walking the Strip

It’s a long walk from where the strip begins near Sahara Ave., but if attempted in the cool of the evening, the long walk can be a very enjoyable stroll. Incidentally, the Luxor Resort is located at the far south end near Tropicana Ave. Numerous elevated crosswalks make crossing the busy avenues much easier, as both the road surface and the sidewalks can be filled to near capacity. There is much to see along the way, not only in exterior architecture, but also in the plush interiors of the casinos, performance halls and retail outlets. Be sure to take along a comfortable pair of shoes and drink lots of water.

The Treasure Island Sirens
The Treasure Island sirens know how to really heat things up.

The Outdoor Night Shows

Two venues namely the Mirage and Treasure Island put on free nightly shows, which can easily be enjoyed by those walking “The Strip“. At the Mirage the main feature is the Volcano, a simulated replica of the real thing that erupts every hour from 8 p.m. till midnight, accompanied by some hot Tiki-techno drumming. The volcano is located on an island in the middle of the lagoon that borders the sidewalk. After watching the street show, you might to walk inside the Mirage to play a game, eat or enjoy a drink at the bar. The interior design alone  is worth the journey. At the Treasure Island Resort and Casino there is a more ambitious free performance that features some titillating conflict between a band of pirates and just as many sirens. Check out this short one act play for some lively music and clever scripting.

Indoor Performances

Live (and free) circus performances can be enjoyed at the Circus Circus Resort and Casino. A special stage and trapeze can be found inside for all types of performances which are listed inside near the stage. And for those who want to sit on yet to be released TV productions can make arrangements to do so at the MGM complex. Just be aware that giving your opinion of the show comes with the free admission.

Heart Attack Grill
The Heart Attack Grill can be found on Fremont Street just past the covered area.

Fremont Street Experience

Away from the strip is Fremont Street, which includes a pedestrian mall that serves up lots of free entertainment, including live musical performances,  after sundown. One controversial restaurant provides free meals for patrons, who weigh over 350 pounds, provided they check in with a doctor or nurse first and they don’t share their food with anybody else. The place is called The Heart Attack Grill as the name of the restaurant and most of the dishes will start you thinking about your own diet and mortality.

On a saner note, well designed light shows go off every hour from dusk till midnight. These shows only last about ten minutes, but they feature an incredible array of images and music projected against a huge overhead screen. A must see for anybody spending any time in Vegas.