Impressions of the South-West, USA
Driving through the North American continent, from coast to coast, but not in a straight line: that is what it took to explore the States of the South-West, the four States which have all one single border point in common at the so-called 'Four Corners'; we visit them clockwise from the North-East: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, and we add adjacent Nevada. Five remarkable States, with character, a strong identity and history.
The page of American history we open here speaks indeed of archaeology, of ancient Puebloan cultures, of regions and cities which rose under Spanish colonial rule, became part of independent Mexico, were annexed into the USA and today combine all these stages of influence in a very distinct character, sensed on the plazas and in the streets of cities like Taos and Santa Fe in New Mexico, or Tucson in Arizona. The mid 19th century of gold rush has also left its marks on our page of history, in places like Silverton in Colorado and Virginia City in Nevada.
Colorado's natural backbone are the alpine Rocky Mountains, with summits of eternal snow and valleys of unspoken pristine beauty. In New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, the protagonist is rather the Colorado Plateau of red sandstone in which for the last 70 million years rivers and other types of erosion have been carving their sculptures, called Canyonlands, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Arches National Parks, Dead Horse Point and so on. The list is too long to enumerate, the places of awe and spectacular greatness of nature too numerous to visit all.
Ancient Puebloan cultures. Tiwa and Hopi people and so many other tribes and clans, with 15 centuries old cliff dwellings and towers four and five floors tall, huge ceremonial buildings called kivas, trade routes connecting the Great Houses, there is abundant proof of advanced communities with an organised political and religious life, and with artistic skills displayed until today in the delicate jewellery of local turquoise stone. Nearer to the Mexican border, the Hohokam culture with exquisite ceramics and huge community buildings.
Yes, with its spectacular sandstone landscapes, the South-West is essentially a desert, but definitely not a cultural one. And this is probably the most important thought one takes back home from a journey through this extraordinary corner of the United States.
* Scanned Slides, 1988
Before visiting the place of your choice:
No picture can transmit the full emotion of a real experience, ever. That is so much more true at the Grand Canyon, where the mere landscape of escarpments and flat-topped mountains drops vertically towards the canyon floor carved by the Colorado River, where the colours and the play of light and shadow change by the minute as the sun travels over the canyon to end its daily itinerary over the Western horizon. Figures do not transmit emotions either, but they do help to grasp the sheer enormity of the Grand Canyon, 446 kilometres long, at its largest 29 kilometres wide and up to 1,857 metres deep: the result of 2 billion years of geological activity and 5 million years of erosion by the flow of the Colorado River.