Author Archive for Bishop

A Stunning Taste of Nature



By James Bishop, Jr


Daydreaming comes easy in the Southwest’s vastness of rivers, mountains, and canyons 16th century Spanish explorers called the Northern Mystery. Four hundred years later author Ed Abbey dubbed it “The Dreamland” where mysterious canyons are as deep as four Empire State buildings and as wide from rim to rim, as Manhattan is long—and where beauty strains credulity.  For today’s visitors to Sedona, and the Verde Valley, marvelous opportunities are still as numerous as stars in a summer sky. So very free are visitors to roam and to experience mysterious places that will take them beyond themselves. One such place is Sycamore Canyon—so near and so old.

For a truly spellbinding view of the vanished past of nature undisturbed, then seek out the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. As the crow flies, it is located 15 miles west of Oak Creek Canyon or 10 miles from Clarkdale on Forest Road 161 near the Tuzigoot National Monument. But do not look for it in your guidebook. It is probably not there. What is also not there are those 56,000 acres, are paved roads, developed campgrounds, vehicles, bikes, visitor centers. To visitors it might sound seriously uninviting. But wait! To all it is a twisting slash in the earth 21 miles long, and up to seven miles wide, but there is more. To renowned wilderness guide, Bennie Benedict, it truly is a backcountry paradise. Said he “While hiking down in this amazing place one is compelled to become more introspective. The farther one goes, drinking cool creek water and nibbling on watercress, other one is no longer a singular human being but part of the rock and the water itself.”

By any measure, it is an uncommon place. What few realize, except for some anthropologists, is that this mysterious canyon is one of the last time capsules remaining in North America. In many other places, the environment has been altered to such a degree that it is no longer possible to experience any powerful sense of engagement with the landscape. Truth be told, Sycamore Canyon has been spared. Countless birds and animals thrive, their wild, natural world is unchanged .This summer golden eagles, and red-tailed hawks soar, thanks to unpredictable wind currents in the canyons while black bear, mountain lions, elk, and deer reign as always.

At twilight, the silence can be almost deafening. Only the singing chilly green waters and the occasional shriek of a great blue heron interrupt the calm. Spirits of ancient peoples make no sound, yet hikers; locals like me have felt their presence. Archeologists tell of finding small animal figures constructed of split willow twigs, magical talismans utilized by the first hunter-gatherers to ensure successful hunts 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, asserts Flagstaff-based Peter Pilles, senior archaeologist for the Coconino National Forest, one of three national forests with jurisdiction at Sycamore Canyon.

Who were the first inhabitants?

What Pilles and other scientists postulate is that the canyon’s first inhabitants can be traced to the Dry Creek Phase, which lasted from 8,000 B.C. to the early years of the first century. Evidence suggests civilization enjoyed a golden age in this area between A.D. 700 and 1000 when sophisticated dwellings were built in shallow caves carved into the canyon’s steep cliffs. By then small bands of Hohokam came from hundreds of miles south, looking for salt, argillite and copper for trade. This new market, says Pilles, after years of study, stimulated development and sophistication of the resident Sinagua population. They accepted a new way of life, an agricultural and trade-based economy, to augment their hunting and gathering ways.

Now as then, Sycamore Canyon is an excellent place to gather wild plants and then to make stone tools. In the early days, they hunted elephants and camels. Hikers today will find many of the same plants—prickly poppies, sacred Datura, baby white aster, golden peavine and the golden columbine—but the elephants and camels now exist only in fable and fossil. As for birds then as now, reports Dena Greenwood manager of Jay’s Bird Barn in West Sedona, “the canyon is on a major migratory route from up on the rim down to the creek…I go down often to celebrate Summer Tanagers, Belted Kingfishers, Flycatchers, and Scott’s Orioles, so rich to be in there”.

Today as in yesteryear, citizens are intrigued by rumors of a ruin called Hidden House, a four-room cliff dwelling located in a shallow cave in the east-face of the canyon, near the junction of Sycamore Creek and the Verde River. Before it was plundered in the 1930’s mummified remains were found, along with an assortment of weapons, tools and functional art, such as woven baskets. The ruin, which people are still trying to find, overlooks a place where the canyon widens out to provide farmland upon which groups of women and children harvested agave in the spring when plants were sweetest and contained the most nutrients. New stalks, juicy with sap, were eaten on the spot. Using large stone flakes, they cut the spike plant away from its root until it resembled a large artichoke. Then the leaves were trimmed away and the plants were baked in a large fire pit, covered with a thick mound of grass and dirt until done.

For reasons that remain murky, the canyon and the Verde Valley appear to have been abandoned by A.D. 1425, despite the fact that there was abundant soil, animal life, water, that should have ensured survival under any condition. Nonetheless, they left, leaving a cultural system 600 years in the making—and one year before the Spanish explorers entered Arizona.

Why did they leave?

Did they become Hopi to the north?

What experts do know is that, because of massive vandalism in the 1930s ‘40s and ‘50s, ancient pots, and relics a vast amount of cultural wealth is lost forever. However, the canyon still welcomes newcomers. Should anyone wishes to camp, as this writer once did, at night, in the flicker of a dying fire, you may catch a glimpse of a surprise –the visit of a bandit-masked ring-tailed cat making off with the next day’s lunch, another experience beyond ourselves. To be sure, many have written about their experiences in Sycamore Canyon. Few have done so more memorably than young Mycah Crawford of Cottonwood in an interview with me in Sedona: “Climbing out I was overcome by a kind of exhilaration, a jubilation, euphoria never to be forgotten.” May newcomers feel the same!


Pausing for Beauty

PAUSE FOR Beauty                           

  Anyone who uses their ability to see beauty never grows old

—Franz Kafka

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

                                            —John Keats

Beauty is a rich word to toss around thanks to some spicy synonyms therein: loveliness, pleasure, acquisitiveness, splendor, and magnificence. Noticeably, each in their own way arouse the senses—taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing. In no time, these lead to kalescopic moments—a sip of California Pinot Noir, the aroma of Jasmine, or the stunning multicolored sunsets over Mingus, or the touch of fresh peach on the lips, the sound of birdsong or the loveliness of a radiant smile—not forgetting the sound of mountain water roaring down Oak Creek.

Leave it to the Greeks in ancient times for they believed that beauty was sacred because of its transforming qualities that pleasurably exalt the mind or spirit.

In modern times, many honored the Greek’s belief that when we experience the beautiful there is a sense of homecoming. Years ago, on the old family farm, when the pond ice melted and rushed over the hand-made dam into the swamp, scattering the lovely birds, I felt at home with the lions and wild horses that once were there.


Nowadays, by contrast, if one types the word “beauty” on Google, the first page shows photos of young and lovely women sampling new cosmetics, skin care products, and modelling sexy skimpy outfits. In many ways this adds ugliness, rudeness, mediocrity to the culture.   For many citizens increasing ugliness has caused them to lose their trust in the future and their innocence. More and more people live one minute to the next, fearing that anything can happen from one day to the next.


Cautions poet Mary Oliver, “We must never be afraid to use the word beautiful”. Good idea, more people should try it.


Meanwhile, is the word itself becoming obsolete?


For sure, the custom of our times is to mistake glamour for beauty, so fickle and slick and commercial that may be. On another front, scholars and researchers tell me that the topic of beauty is neglected in the cultural mainstream. Outside a museum or gallery people rarely talk about beauty, and along with art, such topics are seen as superfluous to daily life. Like the saying that beauty is only skin deep, any talk about it rarely goes deeper.

            With all the tragedies and scary developments erupting around the world, serious focusing on beauty might be a salve. Truth be told, however, too many people agree with the tourist man sipping drinks at Sedona’s Judi’s, one summer afternoon. Asked if he found the red rocks to be beautiful, he replied, “They are just rocks to me. I do not do that mushy stuff. It’s for the elites.”

        A dangerous change is in the wind due to the Internet. More and more people, young, and old have become fixated on their devices to the point of no longer having interest in the world around them. Observe people on hiking trails and near the creeks, butterflies all around, wild flowers thriving, in their hands are not bird books but devices—and little conversation ensues.

            Time was not so long ago, in the days of more humanist worldviews, that beauty was the proper goal of art and maybe civilization itself. So declares David Brooks, top New York author “beauty conquers the deadening aspects of routine, it educates the emotions and connects us to the eternal”. Agrees Professor Donohue, drawing on early Greek thinking, “without beauty the search for truth, the desire for goodness, and the love of order, and unity, would be sterile exploits. Beauty brings warmth, elegance, and grandeur.”   

Somehow, it says here on Wilson Street, in far too many places, the links between the true, the beautiful, and the good have been broken—leaving the world, beauty poor.

As more and more people have stopped looking for beauty, then they wonder why their lives are ugly.  All they have to do is look for beauty in everything and they will find it The Greeks did.

          Just ask Laurie Mather, from Rimrock who said, “The grace of the hummingbird reminds us that life is rich and beauty is everywhere”.                     







Truth or Myth

By Bishop, Summer Trainee

Why beauty? It breaks us free of the domination of economics; it is the path for living well.
— Dandy Randy

Huge snails were seized at LA Airport, a delicacy in Hollywood salons, also when not being eaten they are able to eat paint and stucco off the side of brick houses if veggies are not available.  Not far away, a famous movie star is building a nine-foot fence to protect her family from noise and neighbors (and no, she is not going to build near the Posse Grounds.) Meanwhile In a hotel nearby a peevish, angry rage has been unfolding in a massive ballroom. Men’s faults, failings, and foibles are the target of third-wave feminism. Brochure for the jamboree of women was headlined, “The Year Men Became Obsolete”. On another floor, another drama was unfolding, a book signing for the best-seller, Women and Other Aliens.

Myths? Some of it is true. Nevertheless, there is more to the story. Read More→

Nest For Ravens

Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.
—-Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)

Ravens take holiday vacations, too, leading the list according to King raven is Stoneman Lake, a spring-fed mountain lake on the Mogollon Plateau not far from Sedona’s madding crowds- and its waters are rising. Lures range from Arizona white oak to Utah juniper, occasional scrappy yellow perch, and battling northern pike when the waters not created by Man are higher. Indeed, ravens have flourished there for no one knows how long for the Hopi and for the first Europeans in 1583—or so the legendary Parson says.
“Truth is told here to this day,” croaks Raven historian, Lulu Jane. “We don’t allow what the two-legged visitors call politicians. Nature is in charge and she will bat last. There is no denying that.”
In a workshop during their most recent vacation, Lulu celebrated the visiting congregates resting on the lake bank for avoiding the flood of lies from “them” gradually flowing like lava. “We can’t be like them. Life is too short. We can’t afford denial as they do day in and day out.”
As snacks were served rescued from Harry’s in Cornville, King raven’s policy advisor, Jake, tossed out a list of myths perpetuated by some peculiar and ambitious politicians that are filling the air from Maine to Walla Walla with something called the Internet—and some claims go beyond to outright lies.
American manufacturing has disappeared; their economy is rigged; tax cuts will unleash tremendous growth; the rich do not pay much in taxes; bad trade trade deals are what ail their economy; all environmental laws are unnecessary and there is no such thing as climate change.
“You talk of myths”, questioned Bill, a visitor from the High Sierras, “What is a myth? Is it the same thing as a lie?”
“Yes and no my mountain relative; myth can mean invention, fiction, fantasy. It can mean delusion, tall story, and fable.”
“So what does that mean for us,” asked Maddy, visiting from California to check out local grape-and some relatives in Sycamore canyon.
Replied King raven “Fallacies being spread by the current crop of their candidates are particularly harmful even as waters are rising, weather becoming scarier, food less reliable and so on. What is not good for them, as sure as the devil will not be good for us…In time, we could end up in cook books.”

The Red Earth Theatre presents Pink Nectar Café

Bombarded by Junk

We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves
— Goethe

All sorts of records are being set these days in sports, in finance and for endless flatulent political bum fog. However, one record being set this year, as Christmas fades into memories’ is nothing to be amused at. Each of us will have received almost 560 pieces of junk mail out of 38 billion sent, and an average of 54 catalogues out of 14 billion mailed (an of 54 per American) and 38 billion pieces of junk mail, and I bet you even receive more! Altogether, that’s 4.5 million tons of junk mail produced last year!

Hold on to your hats, patient reader. Think of 100 million trees ground up each year to create these outputs, the equivalent of deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain Park every four months. Imagine nearly six million tons of paper waste which, in fact, end up in the U.S. municipal solid- waste stream, enough to fill 420,000 garbage trucks. If those trucks were to be parked bumper-to-bumper, they would extend from Santa Fe to Atlanta. Read More→

Heading for The Last Round-Up

This ain’t the same old range.
Everything seems to change
Where are the pals I used to ride with?
Gone to a land so strange
–Sons of the Pioneers

Remembering the Hopi prophesy, when we dig precious things from the earth, it we will invite disaster. Indeed, near the day of purification cobwebs will spun back and forth across while a container of ashes will one day be thrown from the sky that could burn the land and boil the oceans.

To the Ancient ones, that situation was dubbed Koyaanisqatsi, meaning life out of balance “life in turmoil, life disintegrating.” No sign of purification cobwebs yet in the skies above Phoenix, Sedona and across the Nation. Yet enough is out of balance to keep historians and archeologists busy for years—assuming there will be some still around by then, and have not become ghosts, or gone to Shady Grove, Stoneman Lake, or Mars, and assuming that the Yavapai have not retaken all the land in uptown Sedona that once was theirs. Read More→

Endtime for a Singular Arizona Author

“The future isn’t what it used to be”
–Charles Bowden (7/20/1945-8/30/2014)

He savored hikes deep into the Sycamore Wilderness. He treasured the Cottonwoods along the Verde and the elk antler he once spied under some leaves off the trail in West Beaver Creek. All the while, he wrote dozens of books- from Killing the Hidden Waters to Sicario The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassins. They are powerful tomes brimming with a fierce love for Arizona and the people who have left their mark on the land, the missions, developers, sacred rock art, as well as the wild borderlands and the drug lords he wrote to expose.

“For a hundred years,” he penned in 2001”, life in this state has been a steady, humming war with the land itself. The rivers and aquifers have been quietly murdered; the desert floor scrubbed by bovines and destroying Arizona has always required stronger sons and daughters, since the work here is harder.” Some his images stay with one forever. “We live with bones and this is not an easy way to live. Up on the Colorado Plateau, big cliff dwellings wink at us and say, with a smile, you’re next.'” He will be remembered especially for his writing about the drug wars and the culture of violence it created. He once told a friend that he was so very proud of the voices he gave to people “who didn’t have a voice”. Rumors persist that he had a price on his head and that he had to have a bodyguard and always faced back to the wall in the saloons he favored. Read More→

Artists of Sedona, 1930-1999

A culture is only as great as its dreams, and its dreams are dreamed by artists.
— Ron Hubbard (1911 – 1986)

Once upon a time not so long ago  Sedona was a dusty little community of folk encircled by awe-inspiring  expanses of national and state lands and blessed with sunsets that often dissolve the hardest of hearts. No wonder that artists beginning in the 1930’s arrived from far and wide to create their dreams whether in paint, bronze, wood, music or dance. By 1980 it was widely regarded as a cultural mecca.

Today, the land still thrills and while it is no longer a little town, and tourist buses crowd the streets many of those artists are here:  Joella Jean Mahoney, Susan Kliewer and many others remain to dream dreams that enrich the culture—now featuring its very own book festival set for Saturday October 4th  at the Sedona Elks Lodge. There, books of all sorts will be on display including Gene K. Garrison’s Artists of Sedona 1930-1999, a long-awaited comprehensive compendium of interesting artists, many still alive, others such as Bob and Mary Kittredge and Nassan Gobran, departed for good. Read More→

BEYOND BELIEF: Fact or Fiction

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth
— H.D. Thoreau

While they were drinking shots of primordial vodka, gorging on caviar and sharing philosophies, the then- jolly Soviet leader gave the then- President Nixon a slice of advice: Alleged Khrushchev: “The trick is tell the people there is a river over there. And if they say they don’t see it, if they say there is no river over there tells them to look harder, there is a river over there.”

Of course, the Soviet was nurturing Nixon’s imaginings, perhaps thinking such a tip would help Tricky Dick get some votes. However, that leads to another sage, this time an American named Will Rogers who wrote, “It isn’t what people don’t know that worries me, it is what they know that is wrong”. Read More→