- Historic Sites
Southwestward The Great American Space
A journey through a wide and spellbinding land, and a look at the civilization along its edges.
April 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 3
The red rocks on every side evoke The Waste Land.
Then space, more space, ever-empty space, till we get to Phoenix and the plane home. In Phoenix well-heeled Anglo boys have a play yard with great jutting wooden walls framing a platform for riding their skateboards. Up and down, up and down, they ride these walls onto the platform with a fervor that hasn’t been seen outside the Spanish bullring. In Phoenix there is the great Heard Museum of Indian life; here the white man’s interest in Indians comes to a head with room after room of collectibles. There is a splendid array of Hopi kachinas, the ceremonial dolls, many elaborately masked and dressed. A particularly sumptuous collection was donated by Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Back in New York, trying to sleep against the din and the heat, a sea of lights pouring in from every window, I can still see the Indian in Canyon de Chelly who said, “No man can think of us without thinking of this place.” Suddenly disoriented by the verticality of everything in the city, the whirling about after the long, empty miles between settlements in New Mexico and Arizona, I cling, at the last, to every brown particle of earth, to the rock figures in the desert that shone out at us in the early morning. And remember, from the wonderful section on the Southwest in Willa Gather’s The Professor’s House: “And the air, my God, what air!—Soft, tingling, gold, hot with an edge of chill on it, full of the smell of pinons—it was like breathing the sun, breathing the colour of the sky.”