by Robert Bestor
The arid, wind-swept expanses of the American Southwest are of course covered in awe-inspiring natural wonders. From the Grand Canyon to Monument Valley and from Arches National Park to Mesa Verde, seemingly around every bend, over every bluff and behind every tumbleweed, mother-nature’s biggest and best work, standing with head held high, chest filled with pride and a defiant chin, abounds.
In such a grandiose place it’s easy to feel small. Fortunately these wide-open spaces have attracted and inspired some big thinkers who in turn have dreamed up some the finest and funkiest of roadside attractions. On the long and lonely highways and byways east of Las Vegas we visited a few such oddities early this spring.
Other than what I find pleasing and what I find puzzling, I know little about art and art history. I am aware, however, that one of its biggest conundrums is its definition. What IS art? Well Michael Heizer’s Double Negative certainly had me pondering that very question. Located an adventurous few miles down a rough gravel road atop Mormon Mesa near Overton, Nevada, Double Negative is pretty much a really big ditch. But I must admit, it’s kind of cool. One of the first “earthworks,” art that uses the earth as its canvas, Double Negative is simple and stark. At an impressive 1500 feet long, 30 feet wide and 50 feet deep, this example of “land art” amazingly feels scaled to its surrounding desert landscape. It’s definitely worth a detour if you are in the neighborhood. You can get there in a sedan but an SUV would be better. Just don’t drive off the edge of the mesa!
Another of our digressions as we sped east on US 15 came courtesy of the United States Post Office. With only somewhat handy GPS coordinates, we were able to locate a concrete airmail directional arrow just outside of St. George, Utah. Also known as beacons, these arrows are scattered about the country and guided airmail pilots before modern navigation systems came into use. Transcontinental Air Mail Route Beacon 37A is in excellent condition. It sits on a bluff on the outskirts of a housing development, just a short walk up what we nervously dubbed “rattle snake hill”, and also offers a tremendous view of the surrounding desert.
During the golden age of the Hollywood western, Kanab, Utah was a hub of film activity. Over the years, movie and television classics like Stagecoach, The Lone Ranger and El Dorado were filmed in the area. Most of what remains from that era can be found at Kanab’s Little Hollywood Museum and Gift Shop. While the place is a little funky, tired and threadbare (kind of like me), its collection of movie sets evokes fond memories of gritty westerns and their heroes, villains, drunks, and innocent bystanders caught up in it all. On a hot afternoon it’s not to difficult to imagine Gary Cooper riding into town in search of a cool sarsaparilla, or Lee Van Cleef looking for some whisky and a little trouble to go with it. The museum is free so it’s definitely worth a stop and the gift shop has all you’d expect including cowboy boots, hats and shirts, and movie posters and Native American art. And if you really love it, it looks like the place, and everything in it, is for sale for a cool 2.85 million dollars. Hmm? Nancy and I do have retail experience……