Category Archives: United States

Seeing Tucson’s Murals

Some towns as disparate as Harlingen, TX and Vernon, BC have decided that the way to attract outsiders is to paint and promote a bunch of local murals. The 29 murals in Vernon are history based and about the town. They are interesting to see, oriented toward local happenings, and make Vernon unique. The largest city I know about that has decided to have a bunch of artists paint murals to promote itself is Tucson, AZ. Seeing murals was one reason for Ruth & me going there. Accessing them was neither easy or possible now.

Even though they are out-of-doors, the murals are scattered all over a city with many ongoing construction projects blocking access to them, and they have grown to more than one-thousand. Many of them fortunately exist in downtown Tucson. The ones that I saw were professionally sophisticated and reflective of this city’s culture. This project, however, has become very eclectic and diverse. I saw murals that basically had animal subjects, showed bikes in motion or other forms of transportation, or featured singing stars not normally associated with the local scene. In one hour downtown on a Sunday morning I walked several blocks and saw many murals, sometimes 3 or more in one circled block. This was possible only because Ruth drove and dropped me off to take the photos that accompany this essay. Because parking is difficult downtown (parking meters and garages don’t allow short-term use) this mural seeing would not be possible to do easily until social conditions improve. I saw one tour online that involved seeing 23 of them during a 3 mile walk. Ruth & I wanted to take a tour, but in our limited time with no easy access, we didn’t know which tour to take and had no one to ask. COVID and the border mess nearby has basically shut down this entire city when it comes to seeing any indoor attractions.

There are many sites online about these murals that lead to more questions than answers with no one to ask. Many murals are clearly by professional artists and are signed and perhaps copyrighted. Several tour websites remind visitors to bring cameras, but what are the consequences of taking pictures of the work of living artists? How do you keep folks with cell phones from taking pictures of murals and sharing the photos? How do the artists preserve and refresh their work? These very inventive depictions are vivid and everywhere in Tucson. We found a few of the ones we wanted to see behind walls, or access required entering what appeared to be private parking lots. If you want to sample this huge project, proceed with caution and plan to take and book a tour before even going to Tucson.

It’s also very hard to learn the history of this community endeavor. Apparently it started way back in 1964 when artist Ted DeGrazia completed a 96-square-foot mural. In 2018 an interested committee asked for and accepted mural proposals from artists. Most of the ones accepted are seen downtown, but murals are clearly now all over Tucson. We finally gave up on seeing our favorites and headed for Mount Lemmon.


A New National Park?

Only 7 states west of the Mississippi River don’t have National Parks–Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, and Iowa. The state most likely to join the list of states with National Parks is Idaho. Actually, it has one listed among its National Park Service sites because 1% of Yellowstone National Park is in Idaho. However, 96% of it is in Wyoming. This lack of a National Park within its boundaries can be easily fixed.

Idaho has several sites under the auspices of the National Park Service. These include 4 National Trails–The Oregon Trail passed through Idaho, a major settler’s trail to California did too, Lewis and Clark walked and floated through Idaho, and this state acknowledges the Ice Age Floods with a National Park Service designation. This hits close to home since Ruth’s Dad’s property in Oregon was impacted by these floods long before he lived there. The other states that share Ice Age Floods are Washington and Montana. There are 2 National Monuments already in Idaho–Hagerman Fossil Beds and Craters of the Moon. There is one National Historic Site called Minidoka in Jerome, where Japanese-Americans were held during World War II like they were in California’s more famous Manzanar. There is one National Reserve in Idaho called City of Rocks near the town of Almo. There is a National Historic Park devoted to the Nez Perce, a Native American tribal group. However, their story is shared with Montana, Oregon, and Washington.

Here is the solution to Idaho’s lack of its own National Park. The President can name Craters of the Moon, which is already a National Monument and totally within this state, as this country’s newest National Park. I have been there and this is an appropriate designation. There have already been 5 new National Parks created in this century. They are South Carolina’s excellent Congaree created in 2003, Colorado’s Sand Dunes, a National Park since 2004, California’s Pinnacles went from National Monument to National Park in 2013, The Gateway Arch in St. Louis became part of a new National Park in 2018, and The Indiana Dunes became a National Park in 2019. West Virginia’s New River Gorge is already listed as a National Park on Why can’t Craters of the Moon become our newest National Park in 2021?


More Than Five River Movie Villains


Rivers are often enemies in movies.  Below are 5 of the better ones.

  1.  Chinatown.  Rotten Tomatoes calls this film a “noir classic” and it is.  Its hateful villain is Noah Cross, the rich and powerful head of LA’s water department who justifies all human behavior including incest.  Noah, played by John Huston in a juicy, late career performance, uses his position to destroy water tanks and worse while bringing water from distant rivers to Los Angeles to get even wealthier.  He is one nasty villain!
  2. The Bridge on the River Kwai.  Brits in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II build a bridge over a strategic river that leads to the deaths of thousands.  Based on an actual incident, this movie won the Best Picture Academy Award in 1958.   The bridge was in Burma but the movie was shot in what is now Sir Lanka.  Wikipedia correctly calls Colonel Saito played by Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa “an honorable villain.”  An international star who made about 80 movies, Hayakawa was nominated for his performance in this film but did not win.
  3. Into the Wild.  Based on a true story written by Jon Krakauer in one of his first literary successes,  Into the Wild tells about Chris McCandless, a privileged young man who gives away all of his possessions and tries to survive an Alaskan winter in an old bus.  He is alone.   The villain is the Teklanika River.  Chris decided to return to society, but this river, now thawing and flowing dangerously, prevents this.
  4. Sully.  Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was a national hero in a film directed by Clint Eastwood.  He was the pilot who made an emergency landing in the Hudson River and was able to save the lives of all 155 passengers.  This tale has 3 villains–the US Government, winter, and a flock of birds.   The National Transportation Safety Board claimed pilot error and the crash caused by birds happened in January.
  5.  Against the Current.  This movie also starred the Hudson River.  Fewer people saw it because this fine film went direct to video when released in 2009.  Its hero loses his wife in a birthing tragedy, the villain, and 5 years later he decides to swim down the Hudson River from Upstate New York to New York City.  Its grim but excellent.  One of its genuine pleasures is a late career performance by Mary Tyler Moore.DSC02967


The Missouri Confluence

The 2,341 mile-long Missouri River begins with the confluence of 3 rivers–the Gallatin, the Jefferson, and the Madison.  A state park in Montana called Headwaters near the town of Three Forks honors this convergence but is kind of a disappointment.  The terrain is flat, the path to the joining of the Madison and Jefferson is unexciting, and the Gallatin doesn’t join them for another 1.6 miles further downstream and cannot be seen from this park.  I wrote about visiting this place on September 7, 2018, with the title  “Where The Missouri River Begins”.

The Missouri River was named for the Missouri Tribe, a division of the Sioux or Siouan nation, and honors their language.  Missouri to them meant “people with wooden canoes”.  Although they originated in the Great Lakes region, they lived along the Missouri River where it now borders Nebraska.  They were buffalo hunters.

Both the Madison and Jefferson Rivers were named by Meriwether Lewis.  Madison was Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State and destined to become the next President, and Jefferson was, of course, the President who conceived and sent forth the Corps of Discovery to learn about the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.  Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin was Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury.


The Gallatin River is said to be the most scenic of the 3.  Parts of the movie A River Runs Through It were filmed along it.  It’s a very popular fly fishing river and 120 miles long.  The Gallatin Valley was claimed by the Blackfeet tribe.  Now in Alberta, Canada, and Montana, where they have a reservation, the Blackfeet called the Gallatin Valley “the Valley of Flowers”.  Their reservation is accessed via US Route 2 near Cut Bank, and the Museum of the Plains Indian is in nearby Browning, MT not too far from Glacier National Park.  Both the Gallatin and the 183-mile-long Madison Rivers begin in Yellowstone National Park.  The 83-mile-long Jefferson River rises in the Gravelly Range in southwest Montana near Yellowstone and the town of Twin Bridges.  By coincidence, the Jefferson also begins at the confluence of 3 rivers.  It is known as a brown trout river.

Countries like Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, and cities like Mumbai (Bombay) have changed names.  Landmarks like Mount McKinley and Ayers Rock have been renamed by natives.  However, I see no movement to change the names of any of the 3 rivers named for important 18th century politicians.  Yet.


Towns Named Portland


IMG_3730One website says there are 12 cities named Portland in the US.  Another website says there are 30.  After doing research, I must conclude that most of them are very small.  There are really only 4 of any size, and they are in Oregon, Maine, Connecticut and New York. The one in Maine was the first Portland, and today it’s a city of about 70,000.  The largest Portland is the main city in Oregon.  I know it well because Ruth & I now live across the Columbia River from it.   It truly lives up to one of its nicknames, the City of Bridges.  Portland, CT has about 9,500 citizens.   It’s south of Hartford and across the Connecticut River from Middleton.  I didn’t know about Portland, NY, a city of 5000 people very close to Lake Erie, until I read River Horse.  Finding that there was such a place got me to thinking about how many cities of this name exist and resulted in this topic.


There are supposedly 2 Portlands in Colorado, but all I could find out about them is that the one in Ouray County, which I have been to, has a population of only 135; and the one in Fremont County was once a factory town.   Around the world there are streets, capes and ports, suburbs, and schools named Portland.  Website quora is convinced that just about every state has a place named Portland.

Despite the fact that they are across the country from each other, having 2 major cities named Portland can lead to problems.  The one in Maine is its largest town and Portland, OR is a beautifully situated city of more than 650,000.  I recently read an article that recommended seeing Portland’s Bug Light Lighthouse.  I am not a native here and it sounded interesting.  On the first day of the coronavirus scare, Ruth and I set out to see this lighthouse as a potential blog topic.  We could not find it.  When I got home, I looked it up and discovered that it was on Casco Bay in South Portland.  Portland, OR does not have a South Portland community.  Of course, Bug Light is in the OTHER Portland.  I wish the recommender had mentioned which Portland it was near.

Portland, OR is a beautiful city nestled among mountains.  The most dramatic one, Mount Hood, can be seen from several vantage points in the city.  I have several dramatic photos of this potential volcano, but none of them equals the one here from