Saguaros & Rock Art

To most of the world, these prickly giants symbolize the American West. To me, they seem like a large family, gathered together after a long time of absence, merrily chatting away. Their posture, their gestures – expressive, daring, even obscene, the way they lean on each other; I feel at home among the Saguaros, never mind our differences (mainly in size).

We traveled a long way to meet them, because they gather exclusively only in small parts of the U.S. West; Tucson is one of their favourite spots, especially for the ”younger” among them.

Did you know that their branches begin to grow when saguaros reach 60 to 75 years of age? That is for those growing in the Saguaro National Park; in areas of lower precipitation, it may take up to 100 years before arms appear.

An adult saguaro is generally considered to be about 125 years of age. It may weigh 8 tons or more and be as tall as 50 feet. The average life span of a saguaro is probably 150 – 175 years of age. However, biologists believe that some plants may live over 200 years. The estimated number of saguaros in the Saguaro National Park is 1.8 million.

With such a long lifespan, it is only fitting that Saguaros would have chosen to gather here, in a land dotted with archeological sites spanning more than 8,000 years of prehistoric and historic-period occupation.

One of these prehistoric sites, accessible to visitors, is Signal Hill; a small hill with petroglyphs created by the prehistoric Hokoham people on the boulders that cover the hillside. Saguaro National Park, Tucson, AZ

January 29th, 2019

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

I love cacti. The way they grow to enormous heights in harsh environments where other plants simply dry up and die; the way they preserve water and keep the desert alive; and the way they bloom, producing some of the most beautiful flowers on the planet.

Whether in a ”controlled” habitat like the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum or in the wild, cacti command respect and admiration in equal parts – and, come to think of it, they can also teach us a thing or two about the virtues of social distancing.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery & classes, natural history museum, and aquarium all at once, dedicated to the education, protection and conservation of nature in the Sonoran Desert Region.

The David Yetman West Trailhead leads to a 3,9 loop trail of moderate difficulty, with sweeping views of the desert – that is, if you start early enough to beat the heat.

January 27th, 2019

Out of the Box

15 untitled works in concrete, 1980–1984

“The fifteen concrete works by Donald Judd that run along the border of Chinati’s property were the first works to be installed at the museum and were cast and assembled on the site over a four-year period, from 1980 through 1984. The individual units that comprise each work have the same measurements of 2.5 x 2.5 x 5 meters, and are made from concrete slabs that are each 25 centimeters thick. Funding for the project was provided by the Dia Art Foundation.”

Are they only fifteen…? One loses count after the first pair or three… It took us an hour to complete the walk; looking back, they stretch as far as the eye can see. And, despite their, well… concreteness, they seem lightweight, blending into the landscape as if they sprouted from the earth, growing organically, effortlessly, in their own time. Nowhere does there seem to be so fitting a place for these squares than here – Judd knew exactly what he was doing.

The Arena, 1980–1987

“The Arena was built in the 1930s as a gymnasium for the soldiers at Fort D.A. Russell. After the fort closed in 1946, the gym floor was torn up for the wood, and sand was laid to provide an indoor arena for horses. In the mid-1980s, Judd restored the building, which was largely dilapidated. Judd left the long strips of concrete that had originally supported the wooden floor, and filled the intervening spaces with gravel. For practical considerations, Judd poured a large concrete area by the kitchen at the south end, and a smaller area at the north end of the building’s interior. These two areas comprise half of the total area of the building. Judd also added a sleeping loft and designed the outer courtyard, which includes areas for eating, bathing, and a barbecue.”↓↓

Robert Irwin
untitled (dawn to dusk), 2016

“In July 2016, the Chinati Foundation opened a new large-scale artwork by Robert Irwin. It is the only permanent, freestanding structure conceived and designed by Irwin as a total work of art.

Irwin had been developing and refining a design for the long-abandoned former army hospital site since 1999. Situated adjacent to the museum’s campus, the site was a C-shaped concrete structure, lined on all sides with a long sequence of windows that surrounded a central courtyard.

The building is formally divided in half, with one side dark, the other light. Inside, transparent scrim walls are stretched taut from floor to ceiling in black or white respectively, bisecting each long wing and capturing the always-changing natural light. The connecting corridor has a progression of scrim walls that sequentially cross and fill the space, with an enfilade of doors for passage.”↓↓

It has been one of the most rewarding, unforgettable ”museum walks” we could have ever hoped for. Not the most comfortable perhaps, as a large part of it involves field walking, with rattlesnakes and cacti being an integral part of the ecosystem, extra-ordinary nonetheless.

**

Dress appropriately: boots, long thick trousers and long sleeves will do the trick.
Beware of what you don’t see: some cacti have two kinds of thorns, those you see and can avoid touching but also those tiny, hair-like, invisible ones called glochids that will stick to your skin even if you don’t touch the cacti and will sting and itch for days. Worse yet, they will stick to the fabric of whatever you happen to be wearing and will only go away after a couple of machine washes.

The Chinati Foundation – Marfa, TX

October 7th, 2018