Monthly Archives: March 2019

Kelly’s Masterpiece?

As an artist, Ellsworth Kelly could and often did reduce a subject to form and color.  The results were never flashy; but his paintings were always intriguing for me to contemplate.  I always found them offbeat and individual, and I could always recognize and appreciate an Ellsworth Kelly work from a considerable distance.

When I heard that the only building he designed was being erected on the grounds of the Blanton Museum on the campus of the University of Texas, I wanted to travel there to see it.  Called “Austin”, its construction began a couple of months before Kelly died after a successful, multi-decade career.  This is his last work.

Although his seemingly simple designs were often inspired by European churches, this building is not a chapel although many think it is.  It’s more of a place for contemplation reduced to shape and color.  Its 2 sets of stained glass windows might be judged austere but they were so brilliantly colorful to me that they appeared to burst as I looked at them.

Very popular in Europe, especially in France, Ellsworth Kelly was, as an artist, unusually focused on where his works were going.  His shapes and colors may appear facile and random, but they are not.  He was inspired by plants, buildings, religious themes, etc.

To see Ellsworth Kelly’s only building outside the Blanton, visitors must get a ticket in the museum, which is also worth seeing.  These tickets are included with general admission and the building he designed was, to me, a significant achievement in the form of a curving almost 3,000-square-feet, perfectly balanced white stone building.  Called “Totem” and seen just below, there’s an eye-catching 18-foot sculpture inside that’s placed where a cross would typically be in a church.  I can see why many call this a chapel.

 Kelly designed his first and only building in the last century for a TV producer in California named Douglas Kramer, but it wasn’t built until the artist gifted the project to the Blanton.  It officially opened to the public in February, 2018.

If you think that Ellsworth Kelly’s works are too simple to sell, be advised that  Red Curve V sold for $4.4 million 5 years ago to become the 2nd highest price every paid for one of his paintings.

Several people have told me that they want to see his only building, but few will organized a trip around it like I did.


The New Austin Central Library

When does a library become a tourist attraction?  When it’s the new Central Library in Austin.  Opened in 2017, Austin Central Library at 710 West César Chávez Street calls itself a library for the future and the city’s front porch.  It also entices with the phrase “more than books”.  All 3 were correct and obvious as soon as I saw the building and its interior.

Leandra immediately gave Ruth and me a map that seriously helped us explore and told us about her favorite place, a mostly undiscovered hallway and door on the 5th floor that gives anyone who enters a terrific view of the atrium.  We would never have found it on our own.   We began at the top on the 6th floor.

The 5th and 6th levels contain this library’s nonfiction collection.  Its total holdings exceed half a million books.  Also on 6 is a must-see roof garden that attracts butterflies and includes a Texas Live Oak Tree; and because this is “the first LEED Platinum certified project in the City’s portfolio” according to a Green Building Tour pamphlet, you see the largest rooftop solar installation in the downtown that this library is adjacent to.

In addition to a continuation of its non-fiction books, the 5th floor has an impressive media collection and that spectacular look-down into this building’s 6 story, sunlight using atrium.  It also affords the best view of CAW, a very large red sculpture that looks like, but isn’t, a clock.  There are more sculptures and art works throughout this building.

the 4th floor is about fiction books, reading rooms, magazines, and special collections.  There are people quietly on computers, personal and the library’s, throughout.  Digital magazines, movies, and music abound on 4.

Floor 3 continues the administrative staff area that begins on 4, and is otherwise devoted to children, tweens, and teens.  Ruth loved the puppets everywhere and I loved this library’s working 3-D printer that is accompanied by examples of what it can create.  We both loved the many quotes that are appropriate to a great library, like Abraham Lincoln’s comment, “My best friend is a person who will give me a book I haven’t read.”

What makes level 2 exceptional is an excellent restaurant named Cookbook, more shared learning rooms, a gift shop, a gallery, and a well-used outside entrance.  Cookbook has lots of examples of them and honors the career chefs whose recipes have shaped this fine eating places’ menu.

the 1st floor has a special events center and stadium-seating demonstration area and another entrance that connects this  building to the urban trails adjacent to Lady Bird Lake.

There is reasonable underground parking for visitors.


Rugged Red Rock Canyon

Some think of Nevada as a desert state.  The Mojave, our smallest of 4 deserts, is mostly in California but about ¹⁄3 of it is also found in southern Nevada and northwestern Arizona.  I, however, think of Nevada as a mountain state.  If you drive across it, you experience many mountain ranges at either end of broad valleys.  This is a characteristic of the Mojave Desert.  Nevada’s Boundary Peak is over 13,000 feet, and there are 8 mountains over 11,000 feet here including Charleston Peak, which is close enough to Las Vegas to be considered its high elevation playground.   Another attraction west of town with high mountains is Red Rock Canyon.  More than a million people visit these fossilized sand dunes each year.

Ruth and I have been to Red Rock Canyon twice.  The 2nd time was recent.  We drove through its southern end on our way to Front Sight and enjoyed seeing Potosi Mountain and many snowballed Joshua trees along the way.  Then we returned to it and spent most of the rest of a day in the canyon where a running event was in progress.  This canyon is far more than uplifted, red-banded rocks.  It’s home to federally protected golden eagles, the beloved desert turtle, and, oddly, wild burros.  I had never seen a road sign warning me of them crossing the highway until I returned to Red Rock Canyon.

Horseback riders and mountain bikers are frequently seen here as are rock climbers who appreciate its red sandstone cliffs, photographers, off roaders, and hikers.  This exercising humanity is a bit of a shock when I consider that I’m only 15 miles from The Las Vegas Strip in a canyon bigger than Bryce with many trails but few buildings.

The quickest way to get to know Red Rock Canyon is to start at its great visitor center and get a trial and road map and then take its 13 mile scenic drive.  Fossil Ridge and the center’s displays told me that these red rocks were once under a warm, tropical sea. During one period they became the place where Octopodichnuses roamed.  These 3 to 4 feet tall meat-eating dinosaurs lived here and left tracks.  Natives left petroglyphs.  Later, Spaniards imported burros from Africa to breed with their horses to get mules.  The signs suggested they were common, so I was surprised when a ranger told me there were only about 25 of them in the canyon.

Winter, fall, and spring are the best times to visit Red Rock Canyon, especially if you plan to hike.  I like the way its visitor guide divides hikes into easy, moderate, difficult, and beyond the scenic drive.  Only 6 of the many walking trails are easy, and the well-named Turtlehead Peak Trail was shown to be a five-mile loop that was scenic but difficult.

My brother Tim used to live in Las Vegas.  When he died there many years ago, we scattered some of his ashes in Red Rock Canyon because he so loved this area.  This was during Ruth and my first visit to this National Conservation Area that is visible from the Las Vegas Strip if you know where to look.


A Dying Phoenix Attraction

The 1st time Ruth and I drove the Desert Foothills Scenic Drive we were not impressed.  In fact, we wished we hadn’t bothered with it.  But something made me come back to re-evaluate it, and I had a slightly different impression the 2nd time.  I recommend it only for first time visitors to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area because it’s now barely a 3 Compass activity.  However, I can see that it was once a Five Compass, worth doing adventure, before urban sprawl mostly put it out of business.

When I first noticed the sign for the Desert Foothills Scenic Drive near the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Happy Valley Drive last year, I was determined to learn about and do it when Ruth and I returned to Phoenix a few months later.   It’s only an 11½ mile roundtrip on busy highway connecting the town of Carefree to the megalopolis that Phoenix has become.  About all that’s left of the original concept are some signs about desert flora and examples of them between shopping centers and some quiet, affluent communities that have developed since Desert Foothills Scenic Drive was conceived.  I did enjoy occasional glimpses of natural features like Pinnacle Peak and Lone Mountain.

When this scenic byway was first developed way back in 1963, this must have been a wild and natural Sonoran Desert landscape.  Many apparently still had faith in this project because trails along Scottsdale Road were not competed until after voter approved bonds were issued in the year 2000.  Locals still use the trails to walk their dogs and enjoy the disappearing desert landscape.

The Desert Foothills Scenic Drive has now become what one woman on yelp described as a “nice little outing”.  See it only for chain fruit and teddy bear chollas, wildflowers, a sort of desert stroll on a busy path, and a chance to shop at Penneys.




Eggemeyer’s General Store

On our way into San Angelo I made a list of 3 things to see–the international water-lily garden, Fort Concho, and Hattie’s Bordello Museum.  The water-lily garden was closed for dredging, and we ate at the recommended Miss Hattie’s Cathouse Bar and Restaurant, which was not very good.  The bordello itself was opened for decades, closed by the Texas Rangers in 1952, and seemed like a less-than-great-idea-to- tour once we were in town.  As a result, Ruth and I only saw one of the 3 attractions we planned to explore.  Our 1st stop was at the excellent San Angelo Convention & Visitors Bureau where I asked Wanda and Doris to tell us what to do that was offbeat. They recommended the Cactus Hotel, the Chicken Farm Art Center, and Eggemeyer’s.  We made it to 2 of these and liked both.

We were in San Angelo because it’s on my list of stand-alone U.S. cities containing more than 100,000 people that we haven’t visited.  San Angelo is not on an Interstate highway and is fairly remote.  You have to want to go there.  Ruth & I both found it an undiscovered gem of a destination that is not on anyone’s travel radar on purpose.  For a long time the people in power here did not want to turn their town into another go go Austin. Austin is the closest city to San Angelo.

Eggemeyer’s is said to be a traditional general store.  To my way of thinking, it’s more of an Amazon without a website.  People can get lost in this store as we did.  Most report that they spend an hour or two here, and that seems about right.  It’s stuffed with merchandise of interest.  I noted cosmetics, kid stuff, jewelry, knives, and greeting cards before getting hung up in the men’s department on an antique Model A Ford and some old-fashioned shaving equipment.  If I had to pick Eggemeyer’s strength, it would be its diverse kitchen equipment, but I heard a lot of talk about the quality of their hams too.  Some call Eggemeyer’s an old-school general store in a historic part of town containing lots of cool, novelty stuff, but I call it kind of overwhelming and an inventory nightmare.

I really enjoyed talking to co-owner Karen Eggemeyer and her daughter.  Karen’s husband Bobby was not there, but Karen told me that he was responsible for the salsa I was interested in.  The Eggemeyers opened their downtown emporium in 1988.  Karen told me that the historic building it’s in was once a car dealership, and she entertained me with the tale of buying and installing the Model A.

Ruth and I came home with salsa, blackberry jalapeno jam, and 2 dip mixes;  but most of the other customers were purchasing Eggemeyer’s delectable looking candy.  I recommended that they invite Joanna Gaines to San Angelo when I saw copies of her book Home Body for sale.  Waco is not all that far from San Angelo, and I think that Joanna would really enjoy a meet and greet in Eggemeyer’s general store.