Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Thursday, May 26, 2005


*Travel east on I10 from Tucson to Benson
*Get off on Ocotillo Road and turn left. Travel north for 2 ½ miles. If it feels like you are leaving town and traveling into nowhere, then you are on the right track.
*Just about the time you think you’ve got the directions all wrong, you will see a dirt road marked Singing Wind Road on your right. Turn onto it.
*Travel on this dirt road until you come to an unpretentious ranch home at the left fork in the road. If you look carefully you will see a small sign, Books on the Southwest. That is the only clue you are in the right place.
*When you get the ranch house ring the big iron bell at the entrance, and just to on inside.

Start browsing right away, because very shortly proprietress Win Bundy will come to greet you and give you a tour, shelf by shelf, from American history to desert zoology -- specializing but not limited to the Southwest.

Win is as interesting as the books she sells, though she would be dismayed to hear me say it. With masters degrees in library science and history, she says she would be good acquisitions librarian., and indeed she would.

She has lived on this ranch for 50 years and raises natural beef along with selling books. She is a matchmaker of sorts. Her life passion is to hook up the right book with the right reader. She pulled out an armful of books she though would be good for me. Of those I chose three about New Mexico:

The Milagro Beanfield war / John Nichols. (Henry Holt, 2000)
Los Alamos : a novel / Joseph Kanon. (Dell, 1997)
The Cloud-climbing railroad / Dorothy Jensen Neal (Texan Western Press, 2001)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Three women meet on a sizzling afternoon in a city park in Tucson. Related by blood but scattered by long-ago family migration, we come together to get acquainted, share stories, and dare I say, measure each other up. Separated by several-times removed kinship lines and three generations, today is the day to meet on our own terms.

First we look for connections: Kay and Molly grew up in Montana, Kay and Nancy spent adult lives in northern California, Kay and Molly now live in Tucson. Kay is the most distant relation, but has the greatest family resemblance. We all love exploring the outdoors.

With Molly as botanist and Kay as backroads maven, we get in the car and head for Sonoita, then south through Madera Canyon. Between botany and geology we catch up on family news and share family lore. We pry cautiously into each others lives. At dinnertime the wine loosens out tongues and we ask a little more. We tell a little more. We laugh and giggle shamelessly.

Molly leaves for Ecuador in a short time; Nancy to Taos. Who knows when, where or under what circumstances we will meet up again, but we are all grateful for these special family moments in our lives.
Posted by Hello


The saguaro is queen of the Sonora Desert, just like the Joshua tree is queen of the Mojave. These hardy cacti appear all over the Tucson area, growing wild and in people's yards. The Saguaro National Park, right outside Tucson is a great place to check them out. I am lucky to see them in bloom. Each of their arms has a cluster of white flowers at the top, like a topknot. Each plant is shaped differently, with a different set of arms, and it's easy to attach human personality traits to each plant.

Here are a few interesting facts.
  • Sagauros grow very slowly. It takes about a half century for a plant to reach six feet and can grow up to fifty feet throughout its life. The average life span is 150 years.
  • A mature saguaro weighs over ten tons.
  • A saguaro will produce up to 40 million seeds in its lifetime. Dispersal, rainfall and other factors usually result in only a single one of these seeds living to maturity to replace the parent plant.
  • Saguaros don't grow arms until they reach 55-85 years. Why grow them at all? A survival mechanism. More arms offer more places to produce flowers and seeds.
  • Saguaros produce sweet fruits for desert animals and homes for a variety of birds.
  • The local Native people, the Tohono O'odham, mark their New Year when the saguaro bear fruit. The fruit is used for jams, jellies, wine and candy.

.Posted by Hello

Monday, May 23, 2005


Poston, Arizona is an example of the US government's conflicted, complicated and shameful history regarding its non-European populations. Poston is one of the ten camps set up by the government during World War II to remove Americans of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast where they might "threaten the country's security" in a time of war.

Poston just happens to be on the Colorado River Indian Tribe (CRIT) reservation, set up by an act of Congress almost a hundred years earlier. CRIT is unusual for a reservation because two tribes -- the Mojave and the Chemehuevi -- were resettled to this single location.

The Poston Internment Camp came to pass when the War Relocation Agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs put their collective heads together and came up with this bit of wisdom: Japanese Americans are hard workers and good farmers. They were to be removed from the West Coast. Why not set them down on an Indian Reservation next to a big river, have them develop an agricultural infrastructure, and then turn the ready-to-go farmland back to the Indians when it is "safe to let" Japanese Americans to return back to their homes.

This is more or less what happened, if you throw in the Hopi and Navajo peoples who were invited to join the Mojaves and Chemehuevis after the Japanese Americans left. Now these four tribes make up the Colorado River Indian Tribes.

I visited Poston today because of my acquaintance with Ruth Okimoto, a Berkeley, California resident who was interned at Poston as a young child. Ruth remembers Hopi families moving into the camp barracks while her family was moving out. Fifty years later she spearheaded the Poston Restoration Project which includes a monument, a website and an annual festival. For more information read her book: Sharing a desert home : life on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, Poston, Arizona, 1942-1945 / Ruth Y. Okimoto. (Heyday Books, 2001)

Colorado Tribes Indian Reservation Library
Poston Relocation Camp
Densho Oral History Project
Posted by Hello


Poston actually comprised three separate camps: Poston I, II, and III, which were about three miles apart along what is now Mohave Road. The Colorado River Indian Reservation Tribal Council originally opposed the use of their land for a relocation camp because they did not want to inflict the same type of injustice that they had suffered. But the tribe was overruled by the Army and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The War Relocation Authority (WRA) turned over administration of the center to the BIA, but the WRA regained control in late 1943 when tensions developed between the two agencies. The BIA wanted to establish long-term farming ventures with the Japanese Americans, but the WRA's plan was to encourage residents to leave for resettlement at the end of the war.
Called Roasten, Toasten, and Dustin by the internees, the camps were built by contractor Del Webb using 5,000 workers on a double work shift. Poston I was completed in less than three weeks and Poston II and III within 120 days. Guard towers were not needed at Poston because its location was so isolated and remote.
Poston I, the largest of the three camps, was the farthest north. It included administration offices, staff housing areas, warehouses, 36 evacuee residential blocks, a hospital and a military police compound that served the entire camp. Each block contained fourteen barracks, a mess hall, a recreation building, a men's latrine, a women's latrine, laundry facilities, and a fuel oil shed. Recreation halls were used for various purposes, including churches, service organizations, and beauty and barber shops.
Families were assigned space in the wood and tarpaper barracks according to the number of people in their household, usually four families to a building. Housing was primitive and especially hard on the elderly and the ill. Many internees had to carry several buckets of water to their living quarters each day. The lack of privacy was particularly difficult for Japanese women, who were required to sleep, eat, bathe and use the toilet in the company of others. Although the rooms were bare and bleak, the residents did what they could to make themselves comfortable. They bought toiletries and clothes from the "Community Enterprises" store or ordered material from the Sears-Roebuck catalog to make curtains. The men collected lumber from wherever they could to make furniture and filled mattresses with hay. A honeymoon cottage was set aside for newlyweds; 662 babies were born and 221 adults passed away in the camp.
Unlike most other camps, Poston's agricultural fields were contained within the fenced security area. Internees grew vegetables and fruit for camp and commercial consumption, and they also raised chickens and hogs, which greatly improved the quality of meals. The government only allotted about 40 cents per meal, and the food was inedible to most people and made from whatever was cheapest and easiest to get. Internees reportedly went on strike after they were served liver for several weeks. By the end of the second year of operation, the internees produced 85 percent of the vegetables they consumed. Over 1,400 acres of vegetables and 800 acres of field crops were under cultivation.
Internees could also work both inside and outside the camp. Inside, they did a variety of jobs and were paid from $12 to $19 a month. They could work as farm laborers outside the camp and college students were allowed to leave to finish their education. At Poston I, a factory that produced camouflage nets and ship models used as training aids for the Navy was operated from fall 1942 to May 1943.
Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Joshua tree at sunset,moon rising Posted by Hello


I’ve found the perfect schedule for my stay here in the Mojave Desert: Get up early and take a walk to watch the critters - cottontail rabbits, lizards and quail. Go to the Internet cafe for an espresso and internet stuff. Write in my hotel room during the heat of the day. Go exploring in the car when the air cools down and the shadows lengthen. Eat dinner on the balcony of my hotel room, under the moonlight. Finish up writing, read and go to sleep.

This afternoon I went back to Joshua Tree NP to photograph the landscape with the sun low in the sky. Since the round trip from my hotel in Yucca Valley, through the Park and back is about three hours, it took some guesswork to be right at the spot where the shadows were best for each rock formation or tree. I’m pretty pleased with the result, though. Here are some samples.
Posted by Hello

Friday, May 20, 2005


The Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, is related to the yucca plant, and a member of the agave family. The tree is found only here in the Mojave Desert, and more specifically in Joshua Tree National Park. It grows so slowly -- ½ inch a year -- that a ten foot tree is probably 240 years old.
Joshua trees were named by the Mormons who passed through these parts in the 19th century. The outstretched limbs of the tree reminded them of their prophet Joshua, extending his arms in supplication. Before that Native Americans used the leaves and branches for weaving baskets, and the seeds for eating.
Joshua Tree NP is on the border between the Mojave and the Colorado deserts (where I'm headed next) and includes both ecosystems within its borders. The Mojave is considered high desert and gets more rain (it's all relative!), and can support more life. The Colorado desert is lower, drier and hotter.
Desert ecology is spare and harsh. It's not hard to notice how the flora and fauna adapt the landscape to conserve every drop of water, every millimeter of shade. Many plants go dormant during dry spells and animals, too, have found ways to adapt.
Not so with the human landscape. This strip along Hwy 62 (Yucca Valley/Joshua Tree /29 Palms) is actively encouraging development. (I counted fifty real estate agencies in the local phonebook, serving a community of about 50,000). Down below, in the Palm Springs area, 400 golf courses are kept green by the Colorado River. I have not seen a single solar panel in this region, even though it boast of 3?? days of sunshine annually.
Only time will tell who wins in this fight for survival in the desert. Here is a photo from the Park.
Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Mojave is a DUMP. I picked it for my first overnight because I liked the name on the map, but would have done better in Tehachapi, which is still in the mountains and beautiful, or Lancaster, a is a city of sorts, with hotels, restaurants and places to explore.

Glad to be off, of course, finally on my way to fulfilling my dream. I am always ready to GO ... anywhere, anytime, but this time it wasn’t that just can’t wait to get on the road again kind of feeling. And it’s not because I’m getting old ...

It’s because I left someone behind, someone who pulls at my heartstrings more than I realize when we are side by side. We've been together almost ten years, and I’ve left him lots of times to go off traveling, and will do so many times again. But we spent the past few daystogether in such happy companionship – reading, writing, walking, talking, cooking, eating (him cooking, me eating). This feeling counters my wanderlust. Next time I see him will be in my casita in Taos, NM.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Tomorrow I set out in my car, by myself, to fulfill a longtime dream of a lengthy stay in northern New Mexico. As I write this I’m looking out on the San Francisco Bay from the Berkeley Hills. The bay is calm and the sky is gray, more or less the same gray as the water, with only the Marin Headlands -- a ribbon of darker gray—to define the horizon.

Bay Area skies are governed by oceanic climate patterns, which most of the time means fog, clouds, haze and generally subtle light. New Mexico skies, on the other hand, are governed by the thin dry air of the high desert, which means a well defined horizon, dramatic contrasts in color and light, and quick and dramatic changes in light. I know this because I’ve been checking the Taos webcam several times a day since I fell in love with northern New Mexico two years ago.

This journey is a treat to myself for my 60th birthday, to mark not only the chronological event, but also certain rites of passage. My youngest child graduated from law school this week-end, and my days of re-living carefree college days with my children are over. My father entered a skilled nursing facility, and my responsibilities and my relationship to him will change in ways I’m not entirely sure of. I got my first paid consulting job as an oral historian, and I’m writing a book about oral history. Two more steps toward fulfilling my hopes to end my career as an oral historian.

One of the very few benefits of age is perspective. I’m finally old enough to look at personal and public events and see patterns and cycles within it all:

  • I was born the day World War II ended in Europe. World War II is to current college freshman what the Victorian Era was to me.

  • I was a freshman in college when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. For college freshmen in 2005, the Beatles are as much history as Al Capone or Marlene Dietrich was for me.

  • I entered UC Berkeley in 1964, the year of the Free Speech Movement. I watched from the balcony of Eshelman Hall as Mario Savio and others “went limp[1]” and I came through the social revolution of next three years with an actual college degree. Next fall, college freshman will study the FSM in their courses on social movements.

But I digress. Tomorrow I take off and here is my itinerary:

Cal State Fullerton – appointment with oral history program

Joshua Tree National Park – two days to rest, refresh, photograph, hike and write

Poston, former Japanese Internment camp, Poston Restoration

Tucson – three days to reconnect with relatives

Cloudcroft, NM – a name on the map that looks interesting.

Lubbock, TX – visit my son who is graduating from law school, visit Vietnam Archive, one of the case studies for my book

Taos, NM – my home for the next three months

[1] Young readers, this isn’t what you think. Going limp in those days was a form of passive resistance.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Is Afghanistan the country so fascinating or does the stark landscape inspire great writing? I've been "reading Afghanistan" recently, and can't seem to get my fill.

It all started over thirty years ago when I was pregnant with my first child and in a dreamy mood. I picked up James Michener's Caravans and couldn't put it down until I finished. It was definitely a product of the 60s, as was I. Nothing coud be more enticing to me, or more exotic, than falling for some nomad [now called a warlord] on a camel caravan in Afghanistan. I identified completely with the main character, Ellen Jasper, and was right there with her traveling through the Hindu Kush.

The fascination with Afghanistan has stayed with me all these years, and world events, hideous as they are, have blessed me with the fruit of excellent writing on this region.

My recent Afghanistan reading started with The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It is one of the most moving stories I've ever read at any level -- the characters, the setting (Kabul, Afghanistan and Fremont, California), the story, and the times. The story is so filled with compassion it would have worked in any setting, but the protagonist's nonconventional Kabul family makes it all the more enticing. A young, motherless boy comes of age in a world of men, and a country that is crumbling at his feet. Within this context is his troubled relationship with (the reader is led to believe) the son of his father's servant, who is also his best boyhood friend. He witnesses an event regarding this friend, that marks his character for life.

Khaled Hosseini works days as a physician at Kaiser in the South San Francisco Bay Area. He writes from five to seven every morning. When I heard him speak, he seemed like any ordinary American guy -- clean cut, fair skinned, no accent. Yet he has lived through incredible times.

More recently I read West of Kabul, east of New York : an Afghan American story, a memoir by Mir Tamim Ansary. Mr. Ansary is also a Bay Area based writer who came to the United States from Afghanistan as a teen-ager. His mother was American and the first American woman living in Kabul in the 1940s. On September 12, 2001 he sent an impassioned email to about sixty friends describing is feelings about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the subsequent finger pointing. The email was forwarded ... and forwarded ... and forwarded until it reached millions around the world. Inspired by the interest in his email Mr. Ansary’s wrote this memoir of growing up in Afghanistan, and of being caught between two worlds. It is revealing in many ways, but it is unfortunate that he devoted so much time to his life as a hippie when he could have told us so much more about his life in Afghanistan.

Tamim Ansary is a writer of childrens books currently living in San Francisco.

The Bookseller in Kabul is Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad’s account of the six months she spent with the bookseller Sultan Khan and his extended family. Though biased toward women’s plight, it is nevertheless an insightful account of social interactions in a culture so foreign to Westerner’s. See reviews for the story behind the story.

Each of these authors uses a different literary format to put a human face on a culture Westerners hear so much about, and understand so little. Three families living in Kabul with backgrounds, passions and sensibilities as diverse as any three families living here in Oakland. Now I'm looking forward to The swallows of Kabul, by Yasmina Khadra.