Excerpt: South West Journals 1981-2014
A Fastwurms Road Trip – Aug-Nov 1987. To set the stage, we had driven across Canada from Toronto to Banff to do a site specific installation, we decided to bring our Kayaks mounted on the roof of an old Dodge Dart. The idea was to save money by camping and using the kayaks on local waterways to find isolated camping spots.
- SkunkWorks, cattle marker and chlorophyll, Georgian Bay, Outer Fox Island, Summer solstice 1987
The fall equinox is upon us layered back and forth over itself, in crevices and open peaks with delight, bursting colored leaves and bugle calls from rutting elks. Rocking out as we leave the Banff’s Walter Phillips Gallery and Birch Girl Plaza. Wurms on the lamb, we begin our new road work rolling south towards the US, down the Columbia Valley.
Our first stop is possibly the Snake River in Idaho but really; we’ve never been down this road before so all bets are off on reaching our destination and the first night’s are always a bit bumpy. Pulling over into a vacant lot by water, we took out the kayaks and minimum overnight gear, something we will be doing for a while, and we go off on the water in the dark moonless night, the sky is overcast. We got on this still nameless lake, maybe Pend’Oreille and paddled into the dark till we found a reasonably flat area to camp. As it happened it was very cold on that flat rock inches away from the lapping shoreline which kept me awake most of the night, I spent the night slip sliding in dreams that have left a shadow on my brow. Then the sudden early this morning, to wake up on a golf course, with early golfer chit chat, just beyond the bushes, we had to scoot off and paddle quietly and back to the car. We’re on the road again sitting I’m the back seat writing, local radio station hissin’, I say it ain’t fair I tell you these hits of white noise from the speakers without any message are making me jumpy. Lakes pop up and down behind walled cities of trees. To simply say I left in the predawn hush by the lapping waves the beings of dissolving dreams. This breeze on a lake called Pend’Oreille inspired this ghost lullaby,
A flytrap a treasure
In the square root for pleasure
With cascades of dribbling thoughts
Backseat jailbird on wheels in this road remake movie
Passing aspen forests and weeping gasoline sunsets
Tears of joy on my cheeky Kerouac cheek
Onward looking for that backseat finish line.
Christmas is only many rivers away, this Car-finement sedation makes me want to yell stuff from the backseat, when you roll from the back it’s like you do not exist, a passenger floating time and landscape, that is unless someone speaks. So I dream of the Mozart club in Goldfields Nevada, still days away. Alas but lost in a bundle above the road near Hell’s Canyon dam Idaho and Mozart can wait. So now I know that it gets chilly in Idaho at night in late September so at a thrift shop stop I bought some gloves to stoke the Devils hole. Watching from the backseat touching those shadows in my broad movie panel brain, with the big picture flashes of jumbled memories without associations, drifting clouds, past farms, clustered houses, and hazy valleys beyond exit ramps. We three roadsters called Jak Shellac Crew in search of the yellow duck billed Goddess subsumed. We are in search of the daisy chain of hot springs, where we can dissolve into the landscape leaving traces of our existence in the mud. Oh late classical child of God on the road towards going without a road moving in full gear towards the second sunset; the sweet smell of skunk pressed into the tar it is September 23rd, 1987 and 6 PM still sliding along the road. Wurms bearing down at the Dear Creek hot springs one mile west side of collapsed bridge on Highway 55 towards Crunch Idaho. We found hot tales and steaming pools fueling good dreams beneath hot jewels in the clear evening light, the jewel sky drew us from the spring and up to the top of the ridge to dissolve beneath the Milky Way.
Good sleeping after a long soak, this morning we are thirty eight miles out of Boise Idaho, hills are green gold color with big Ponderosa pines. As we roll, I watch lumber trucks careening past us with ten logs to a semi. Another hot day ahead, last night dreamt that my IBM back home with it’s compact disc, was really a vanity mirror reflecting back to me all I have ever put into it’s boxy heart, all those hours of mine hidden and awaiting future display.
Radio blaring, if I hear that same song one more time I’ll expect a paycheck from Los Lobos, I mean sharing the group audio reality is something I didn’t expect. I urge Dai to put in this black cassette from my pack,shove that cassette into the dodge. I don’t know it feels like time is spinning backwards and now life is sweet on a two-way street, black rubber bag with Public Image. Now a snake oil stop and stretch at a thrift shop where I got the biggest Wichita Stetson money could buy and cost me $2.95 made of genuine beaver felt. I complemented that with some cowboy boots for desert romping for a dollar and for .95c also threw in a western style grey suit, all American cowboy Napo dude, it’s a natural gas Glenn Campbell moment for a canuck tumbleweed trying to fit into the landscape.
- New kayaking stetson, $1.95 at the thrift shop in Boise Idaho
Back on the road the Nevada dream scenes accompanied by engine rambles, cylinders rolling like a chunky guitar riff and no brick walls to stop this black dodge desperado machine delivering it’s sun baked occupants into the heart of America, sipping beer and pumped on Public Image. Why is the open road this feel free wanting to disrupt the industrial order, to put a dent into time itself. That human emotion in the shadow, from dust to dust we make our pie with the finest crust. Then earth our home sweet home plate with tectonics towards the void compressed down inside her breast, crumbled melted down a cycle to have a rest. God never left I know, we are God each one of us existing at this particular frequency, when you die you have to make yourself very small to get back on the highway back to this frequency. That’s if you intend on dropping by again.
In the spread of books, diaries, corn chips and beer I was sharpening a prayer for that empty sunrise ahead and just caught sight of the sinking moon, ominous landscape, hidden military bases, fortresses of the global mushroom cloud showers, lights in the night sky coming and going, air seems hunkered down behind that ridge. I continue to write “A cry rises beyond the gangplank of future cargo, leaders of the industrial complex remove your masks and release our souls. You make us unable to grieve for our automatic feeding tubes, your eighteen wheel long loads of office furniture, towards what possible future”. I know what’s best and now I’m calm again hugging the hot air drifting through the open window from the plains as we roll along towards San Francisco.
Runaway truck ramps as we drive down a sixteen percent grade from the mountains to the plains, earlier tonight checked out the geysers that have been trapped by the energy Department for steam turbine power. Took time to walk uphill to a five hundred foot lookout with twenty foot jets of steam coming from vents they had installed. On the way back to the car heard gurgling sound, I began my charge downhill and came to a sudden stop sliding on the loose dirt and stones. Standing at the edge of a sixty foot drop, looking down towards bubbling dark pools of boiling water coming up from the ground, my heart still racing at how close I had come to running off the cliff. No more running in the dark on mountain tops, your not a Buddhist monk.
- Diana’s Punchbowl, Monitor Valley, Nevada
We left in search of another spring something that would cook our carcasses, we headed down the Monitor Valley in search of Diana’s Punchbowl. We arrived in the early evening just before sundown, it sits almost smack in the centre of the valley, in the way off distance you can see plumes of dust from pickup trucks. Air is so clear, but those truck are far away, ten miles maybe, the punchbowl is on a rise of land, we overlook everything up and down the valley, and only maybe at a fifty foot higher elevation. . A long splash in a hot pool under the amazing star field with the air cooler at an elevation of about five thousand feet on a plateau by the foothills of the big Smoky Valley, we camped chatting into the night by the fire.
Early AM we are heading towards the Tonopah Basin but I think we are still leaving the big Smoky Valley. Just threw a spider out of the car no use bringing it with us to California away from it’s clan.
Late this afternoon we arrived at Pyramid Lake, and we are out on the water as a full force gale appears from nowhere without rain and brings only dust and waves rocking our kayaks, the water is very salty and the water level is way down on account of the California leaching Nevada dry of water from far and beyond, water management in America started bold in the nineteen thirties and drifted towards sad times. It makes me despise the smugness of the state that sucks up all the water out of the West. We camped out of the way from gawking tourists, the wind is warm but steady tonight I found an amazing bug half grasshopper half bee, where we are is near a pyrite cave on a reservation with cows and bulls wandering around us, I have my kayak along one side on the ground to keep them from trampling my tent I hope to get a panoramic photo of the lake at sunrise.
Now our second day in California and visiting a friend who has asked us to meet him on some remote road which turns out to be a pot farm, after we were ok’d we went into this large five thousand square foot quonset hut filled with twelve foot tall plants. Got an amazing buzz from just sniffing the air, but gunshots in the distance from paranoid pot farmers straightened us out and we got out of there. Tomorrow we are going to find Kandy somewhere in Bodega Bay on the Russian River as the dodge dart carries us meandering the 101 , to find that restaurant or bar. Amongst the redwoods we end at a small bar called the Bodega Casino, inside is a long bar with men looking at a Detroit Jays game or might be the Mets and Jays, I don’t know I’m not into it.
There’s a large pool table in the centre and a few pinball machines and a videogame. At the front only one woman sits nursing a beer, the only other woman is Kim and in the bartender’s face looks half melted like cheese witx dripping down someone’s face. We ordered three shots of old Crow and three bags of potato chips, on the walls everywhere are deer trophies and we play pinball. Some guy watches baseball stand up to leave says, “sorry Bill your TVs got a lousy picture I’m going down to the Manny’s Bar. He leaves as Kandy enters and we head to her cabin from there. We do all the California dream trying out our weed and catch up on our travels then we settle for a nights sleep with people in other hidden away cabins laughing and talking late into the night. The next day we go to a nude beach watching seals and naked all body types, with boobs and cocks swinging as people parade up and down the beach. Dai and I go swimming, the water is so cold we get little boy penises, just a few inches away from having vaginas.
On the second day we to do ecstasy and head to Harbin Hot springs with it’s neo-Nazi decor, we watch people love bomb each other and float and lukewarm pools then move on to the hot pools where the men are drown proofing themselves in the snug fit of scalding water. All around California girls are stretching displaying their healthy nude flawless bodies, we are hillbillies and they barely notice us. I go into the total immersion show from the 115 degree pool to the one with large block of ice. As I move between the hot to ice water I start getting this image of this hot oxygenated blood falling from the sky and mixing with falling snow, after a while I have no idea if the water is hot or cold. The next day we head to San Francisco and spend the day at Haight-Ashbury to go to the anarchist bookstore and I buy a copy of Earth first “No compromise in defense of Mother Earth”. We spent the night sleeping in Kandy’s van somewhere off Haight Ashbury, listening to some cult tapes by Mafou and drinking wine.
The next day we headed down the coast to the Esalen Institute where is a combo of Institute hot tub thing, Timothy Leary gave lectures there back in the 70s, years later I asked him about the Esalen Institute, he simply laughed and changed the subject on me. Anyway we went there at three in the morning and listened to the roar of the waves and the star studded sky deciding if we should stay the night until the creepy hour started and all these strange weird people started hanging out, roving around and checking us out, weird creepy Manson type people, so we headed out and we camped up at Big Sur. The thing about camping in the desert in California, you just don’t know who might show up to burst your little nature admiration bubble.
At Big Sur we hung out for two days, we drove by Zanadu and I thought about Randolf Hearst and Citizen Kane, then we parted with Kandy and we headed south towards Death Valley via Bakersfield and China Lake. We just had to check out what was at China Lake see if we could spot any special aircraft they were testing or something we camped in the Panamint Range at 23 Skidoo, named after the gold rush of 1923, that’s why it is called 23 Skidoo, it is made up of abandoned buildings preserved by the searing summer heat. I slept out under the stars and at some point I was awoke by the sound of rolling rocks and when I opened my eyes a coyote was looking down at me sniffing my forehead, it stood back when I opened my eyes. The coyote had awoken me when I had felt warm breath over my forhead and that sort of quiet sneeze that dogs do when sniffing me to see if I was dead, I suppose.
I was perfectly calm, I rolled over and there five feet from me the coyote had moved back and stopped for a moment watching me, I saw four or five other coyotes back in behind him, they all turned and left and I went back to dreamland. It was a weird night, pretty wacko I slept just with the bedroll so from here on I’m going to forget about the tent for a while. There are allot of gold and silver mines around Death Valley, it’s 10 AM and the heat is already unbearable so we head over to the Keen Wonder mine where there’s a sulfur spring that we can soak in the pools of cool water at six in the afternoon we decide to take a hike up the funeral mountains.
We then hike 3 miles to the base to the valley floor, it’s still inverting the heat so we decide to break camp at 3 AM when it will be cool temperature will make our move towards Zion. The year before we came to the Keen Wonder Mine, a silver and gold mine from the last century. Last year I did a meditation the results of which I left a regenerating crystal in a sagebrush as an anchor when away from the place. The basic message I got in this meditation was I had to leave New York City within three months or die. I promised to return in April but at that time I was in Italy so I had to wait a few months to return exactly one year later. That’s why the coyotes where so significant to me, that first time at the Wonder Mine where I got the message to leave NYC, my spirit guides called me arrogant and said they weren’t gonna help me anymore unless I left NYC. Then deep in my belly I felt what was like a cold snake curling up inside me, I felt so alone, but when the hot coyote breath woke me up at 23 Skidoo a few night ago I knew all would be ok. By the way I did leave NYC being hunted down by some criminal types wanting to kill me, but that’s another story.
I left a pouch in a specific sage bush and took the crystal I had left for the entire year before. The pouches total content was beaver teeth, blue corn grains, Birch bark with a heart on it drawn with blood and seed from my penis, dirt from Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands, an Italian Fascist medal with a battle Goddess with the ramparts of old Rome as a headdress given to me by a Roman female Shaman , an acorn from Big Sur,all in a deerskin pouch. During the night of trying to sleep I went to the spring at about 2:30 AM and I heard the big horn sheep come galloping down the side of the Funeral Mountains and they came to our camp charging full speed up and down the rock cliffs stopping to drink water from the pool and then charging off again, we watched the performance and at three we split heading past Zion Canyon and finally to the North rim of the Grand Canyon to camp for the night.
it was a really cold night and in the morning was awoken by the song of giant Blue Jays, in the Grand Canyon we went down, a thousand feet then back up to cook up a dusty meal.Our destination was Lake Powell and as we drove away from the North Rim we saw a lot of deer on on the way and also allot of little dead baby deers, car magic victims. We got to Page, and camped on the edge of an RV park, it was like being on night maneuvers with the brat patrol driving around in the atvs’. We got up early so the water would be calm for our paddle to the entrance of Navaho Canyon, before all the boat came out to shake up the water. After an hour we reached the mouth of the canyon and decided we would split up for a few days.
It was a long hard paddle to get the end of Navajo Canyon, something I was able to do by early afternoon after stopping a few times to check out possible future campsites. The one issue is how vulnerable you are in these narrow canyons if you are being passed by a large boat, a Chris Craft, because of the confined space of the canyon, the waves hit the canyon walls and may come back at from two different angles so it’s very hard to navigate its like moving through a diamond wave pattern and the more boats coming at you the more difficult it becomes. At around six o’clock everybody goes home for supper and that’s it for the night all becomes quiet. Tomorrow is Saturdays and I figure it’s going to be nuts so I am looking for a secluded hideaway. I went to the end of the canyon where mud gurggles and girdles the canyon, it’s mud you shouldn’t venture into. The kind of mud that swallows you up to you hips, if lucky. Just about a mile back where I want to get back up to the top of the canyon. I decide to move back up river to clear water and possibly fish.
I found a great camp along with three ducks hanging out at a bunch of crows one of which knew several calls from top to hot to honk to woo hoo, so I taught him Napo and he hung around all day and had some fish. Today is my third night in this incredible fissure in the canyon. In the distance I can hear boats but they can’t get to where I am, they would have to navigate a channel 18 inches wide at places, in a 3 foot deep channel, with the canyon walls going up a hundred feet on either side. Only another kayak could make it through this little narrow canyon that opens up into a large pond about 100 x 75′ with a little island in the center. It is clear and filled with fish, the bottom is 8 feet deep and it gets deeper and has a beautiful emerald green appearance to it. It is very mesmerizing in contrast all the red sandstone all around in the morning or afternoon light. The entire area is enclosed in with only one way that takes a bit of a climb to get up to, there you can see a wall of rocks, possible an past native ruins. I went up to the high desert where I found a grinding stone, it still had traces of grey green on it’s underside, the top was bleached pink and fit well in my hand. I’m sure the water has dropped about 10 feet as a result of how the Colorado is now flowing much slower than then when at the beginning when they flooded the for the Powell dam. Saw a lot of fish and it’s really tasty cooked on an open fire on a mesquite stick. You soak the stick for a few hours to keep it wet, the skewer the fish, mouth to tail. Found a spot where catfish were plentiful and great tasting.
- back canyon with possible native dwellings to the left. Navajo Canyon, 1987:
On the fifth day I wandered back out onto the main waterway at our appointed rendezvous. From there we went to the second Mesa to visit ancient Hopi villages, en route we stopped into the city and had a visit look around of Christian Massey town where Sun Chief escaped from at the turn-of-the-century. After camping on the second Mesa in rain and mud we went onto the third Mesa and Keane’s Canyon man on the Gallup New Mexico dive bought say up highly ceremonial arrival and onto the ice caves near Carlsbad and stayed in Grant at a terrible motel with corpse orders seeping from the cracks in the walls we drove through Albuquerque north to Santa Fe and finally stayed in Taos where they have arsenic and iron Hot Springs. We did an iron soak and I also tried out an arsenic soak, everyone felt weirded out one in the kitchen made carrot soup for us and homemade corn bread, truly delicious.
The next day at the car bumper café somewhere off the main road, we settled down to our infamous beans on bean’s breakfast that kept us all playing the same tune for the next two days in the car-finement as we proceeded north. At the Colorado Sand dunes is where we found ice and snow in the morning and took time out to go up the dunes to shoot some film, afterwards we headed north to past Colorado Springs and Denver on into Nebraska. Everyone is hunting mule deer and big horn sheep, the state has this weird redneck overtone as pickups full of cowboys riding around looking for game and a good time kinda reminded me of another road trip going threw Ohio.
On our way to the Black Hills saw a golden eagle hovering above the road in a powerful wind on the border of Colorado and Nebraska as we head towards South Dakota. Pulled a porcupine off the road,a recent roadkill moments between Hot Springs and Custer South Dakota. Stopped by the Wind caves last night and decided to camp because of the driving snow; in the morning Kim found an eagle feather by her tent. The Black Hill locals are really very friendly and the surroundings are beautiful, I can see why the Sioux Nation fought so hard to keep them. Past Pine Ridge, on our way past Wounded Knee towards the Rosebud and cutting down to the eighty towards Chicago, the horizon is my necktie and the earth is my shoe, sniffing’ ghostly remembrances, surrendering back home to you.
Moving on through along the slaughter yards of Chicago, remembering long ago a trip to Graceland and laying a wreath at the Kings graveside; it was a wreath made of zip can beer tabs, something Kim Kandy and I picked up in Nashville at a thrift shop.
The winter weather was down on us we had been on the road for three months, crossing into Canada at Sault Ste Marie where the first part of our trip came back to me. It had taken us to Fox Island out in the middle of Georgian Bay which we reached after two hours hard paddle, Outer Fox Island is south of The Chicken islands. We then drove on to Lake Superior and stayed at the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, where I slept out on the water with my tent floating 2 or 3 inches above the water on reeds. I got a bit wet but I was gently rocked by the waves all night long. The night before I had slept on the beach just past Sault Ste Marie, during the night a huge storm came up off the lake.
In the morning when I unzipped my tent, I saw on the beach huge timber thrown about everywhere up and down the coast. Everywhere except my small tent area, chilling, blessed but very foolish. Somewhere near Eagle Tooth Provincial Park, we hid the car and took our kayaks out away from the highway to camp. We watched locals picking wild rice from flat bottom boats, and then they went home. After Brandon, Manitoba we found a night camp on Oak Lake and got chomped all night by mosquitoes and no wind blowing, a hot no air kinda night.
We passed Regina and stayed in a motel in Medicine Hat really late at night, then onto Drumheller and a trip down the Red Deer River where I found a dinosaur skeleton up on a ridge by some hoodoos on a rainy morning at 5 AM, but that’s another story. From there, we drove into Banff and stayed for two weeks preparing our installation “Birch Girl Plaza” at the Walter Phillips Gallery. After which we made our way down through the Columbia Valley to right where this story started.
- Dinosaur bone, Red Deer River, 1987 photo:napob