Day of the Dead

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November 1, Dia de los Muertos – the Mexican tradition of honoring deceased family members – has been getting more and more popular in the U.S.

Is it a result of the American love of scary things? The beautifully painted skulls? Is America’s great melting pot starting to accept Mexican traditions? Who can really say?

For me, it’s a little of all of that. It’s also a nod to my wife’s Mexican heritage.

This photo was taken at the Springs Preserve – an outdoor nature park in Las Vegas. Each year, families set up alters to honor their dead. As people walk through the grounds and stop at the different alters, the families are quick to tell you about the deeds and heroics of their honored deceased. It’s an incredible and humbling experience – almost like a funeral eulogy given once a year, instead of just once.

As we make our way through halloween this year, maybe we should all take a moment in the midst of our sugar buzz and think about how we would honor our loved ones – what would you tell a complete stranger about someone you loved?

Feliz Dia de los Muertos, everyone!

 

Spooky!

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On this fine October Sunday morning, the air smells of fall, which in many cases, reminds people of Halloween. It is in that spirit (see what I did there?) that I chose this creepy picture. On the outskirts of true blue ghost town Rhyolite, NV , lies two spine-tingling items of note: the Goldwell Open Air Art Museum, and the town cemetery.

The beauty of art is a powerful emotion. Here, set in the backdrop of a deserted ghost town, the art especially takes on an air of eeriness. The piece “Ghost Rider”, shown here, was created by artist Albert Szukalski. Szukalski has a few pieces in this strange collection, including the amazing “Last Supper”.

Rhyolite sits right on the edge of Death Valley. It was founded in 1904, and grew exponentially for the next two years. In 1907, however, the city began to falter, and it “died” in 1916.

A few people decided to stick around for their lifetimes, and many were buried in the dusty, gritty cemetery outside of town. During daylight, the town, cemetery, and art installations all seem safe enough, but the harsh desert air feels like it is hiding secrets of the past – secrets we probably don’t want to know anything about!

Guardians of the Mojave

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The Mojave Desert is a strange animal. Somewhat equi-distant from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the Mojave is similar to Death Valley, but has a completely different vibe and personality. It is the dusty, miserable home of 29 Palms – the U.S. Marine installation. It also houses the often-mysterious Edwards AFB and the U2-inspiring Joshua Tree National Park.

The original Route 66 also runs through this area, so you can imagine what might have been there 50 years ago. Roy’s Gas Station and Motel is there, as is one of Roadside America’s grand oddities, “The Shoe Tree”. Which, sadly, has fallen due to its own popularity.

As with many views of the Southwest, one can see for miles – and travel miles before seeing another car or person. One can almost envision Jim Morrison and the Doors dropping acid and dancing with the snake.

And there, in the middle of the desert, not far from a crater of celestial origin, sits two imperial Chinese guardians, marking a non-existent gate, perhaps a quarter mile in length. What they are guarding, exactly, is a mystery. How long have they been there? What is their purpose? Why there? The questions are as endless as the desert itself.

The only thing known for sure is that mysteries abound in the beautiful, magical desert. I often found myself wondering how many skeletons lie in and upon the desert dirt, and what stories could they tell?

Amitabha Stupa

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The Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park, located in Sedona, Arizona, sits in a quiet corner of a neighborhood at the base of thunder mountain. I am a big fan of Buddhist beliefs, so it was a joy to visit on our last trip to Sedona.

The park provides a few short hiking trails, which are lined with Buddhist statues and prayer flags. You can also find crystals and rosaries hanging from trees.

As visitors reach the Stupa, they make their intentions, and meditate on those intentions as they make three trips around the Stupa in a clockwise direction.

This photo is from the rear of the Stupa, and in the background, you can see some of the amazing and beautiful rock formations that the West is known for. If you look closely, you can also see a woman in white meditating in the sun as the Stupa’s shadow makes its way towards her.

This picture was taken on Thanksgiving weekend, 2014. It was a rushed trip, but we did have the opportunity to take a great four-hour train ride into a canyon, where the leaves were starting to change.

The View That Took My Breath Away

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While living in Las Vegas, we took a trip through Zion National Park, Kayunta (Arizona – home of Monument Valley), and the Grand Canyon.

We also stopped in Bryce Canyon – oddly, we had known very little about this Southwestern gem prior to this trip.

In the Southwest, there are many gorgeous views that I never expected to see, as I grew up in the Midwest. Despite the amazing views, I never truly saw a sight that took my breath away – until we got to Bryce Canyon.

This picture is the view that literally took my breath away. I had never seen anything in my life like this. If you don’t know what to expect, and walk up to the lip of the canyon, this sight punches you in the gut. Amazing.

While at Bryce Canyon – a trip taken over Memorial Day weekend – we drove to higher elevations, where it started raining. Then snowing. I laughed and took pictures – it was the first time we’d seen snow since we moved from the Midwest – more than a year prior!

El Sanctuario de Chimayo

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Between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, lies El Sanctuario de Chimayo. It is considered the Lourdes of America.

I mentioned in my last blog post that the desert is amazing. It is also very powerful. I don’t know if it’s the expanse of land between people, the calming silence, the tough way of life, or what, but there is something mystical about Southwest America.

El Sanctuario was built in the early 1800s, and is located in the middle of nowhere. People regularly make pilgrimages there, hiking the miles of New Mexico asphalt in search of something greater than themselves.

When they get to El Sanctuario, they are greeted by a calming statue of the virgin Mary, the sound of a nearby moseying river, and fences bearing rosaries of past visitors. It is said that the church has healing powers – there are walls covered in pictures of those who have been healed during their visit to El Sanctuario.

There are actually two churches on the grounds: the children’s church, which is decorated with bright, engaging colors, and the sanctuary itself. There are no pictures allowed in the sanctuary, but when you walk in and see the “Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas” (the crucifix around which the chapel is built), you are hit by a deep feeling that I can only explain as “something otherness”.

To the left of the altar is a small room, lined with more pictures of “the healed”, as well as crutches and canes that are no longer needed. This is the room of holy dirt.

The legend of El Sanctuario says that the hole dug at one end of the room is where the Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas was found. It is the dirt here that is said to contain miraculous healing powers.

Whether the legend is true or real, I honestly don’t know. I do have a little bag of dirt that I retrieved from that hole, though, and when I recall our visit, I am comforted by warm, calming memories.