By Susan Spero
Wander through the western region with me in this second road trip post on destinations collected via contact suggestions and help from the web. Read he other half of the region, here. This part of the journey goes through Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California. It is a tiny slice of what is out there, of course, especially since our territory in the Western region is so geographically vast that it covers approximately 40 percent of the country. Know of something I missed? Please add it in the comments.
Last summer I took a really long road trip across most of the U.S, from Columbus, Ohio to northern California, visiting 17 museums and sites in 10 days with stops that took anywhere from an hour to a full day. This experience helped me recognize the varied character of the site options listed by my Idaho contact. Her suggestions range from small community focused centers like the Nez Pearce County Historical Society to museums that concentrate on a specific themes like the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, a site that seems designed especially for airship and WWII buffs. Also on the Idaho list was one of the more unusual sites I remember from WMA in Boise three years ago: The Old Idaho State Penitentiary a place that was creepy yet fascinating at the same time. Currently on view is Marked Men- Tattoo History which explores the history of prison tattooing.
Heading south from Idaho, The Nevada Historical Society is in the last few days (through July 31) of showing the Johnson-Jeffries Centennial Exhibition (scroll down to find it) that celebrates the historical fight of the century of Jack Johnson and Jeff Jeffries (the great white hope) in Reno, Nevada on July 4th, 1910. I’m told what makes this exhibit a must see is the ten original oil paintings representing moments leading up to and during the historic fight, all created by well-known Seattle sports artist, Thom Ross. The exhibit includes the Society’s original photographs, maps, ephemera and artwork to help tell the story about this important event in Reno, Nevada that impacted the whole country.
If you can’t make it to Reno by the end of this month, in mid-August you can see Chester Arnold: On Earth as It Is in Heaven presented as part of the Nevada Art Museum’s Art + Environment Series that focuses on ideas pertinent to the intersections of art and environments. Arnold crafts luscious large-scale oil paintings in the tradition of 19th-century European artists focused on subjects ranging from land use and environmental issues to the global impacts of human and industrial consumption, accumulation, and waste. You can get a sense of the work at the artist’s website, although I can only imagine that these are even more powerful seen in person.
Moving on to Utah where the huge range of content options within the west continues. How about seeing the largest open pit copper mine in the country? At the Kennecott Utah Cooper Mine you can go to the visitors center to learn about the processes and products, as well as get a great view of the working mine. If dinosaurs are your thing: in Salt Lake City, Thanksgiving Point has the distinction of being the world’s largest display of mounted dinosaurs. If you are truly a dinosaur maniac (or a child you know is) you can sign up for a Dinosnorzz where you can sleep “under the belly of a dinosaur.”
My Utah contact also offered two park and native culture focused options. The Fremont Indian State Park consists of the largest Fremont village uncovered in Utah. There is a museum showcasing the artifacts and a walking path takes visitors to the village ruins. There are 687 rock panels on site. The museum at Edge of the Cedars State Park has the largest collection of Anasazi Indian pottery in the Four Corners area. Visitors can walk along a path around the pre-Colombian Pueblo Indian ruins of the village and also get to climb down a ladder into a kiva. All of these Utah options feel very western to me having been raised as such a mid-western girl.
Janice Klein offered several options for Arizona travelers with this starting caveat:
Usually when my colleagues ask about museums to visit in the Phoenix area I send them to my two favorites: the Desert Botanical Garden and the Pueblo Grande Museum. Since we’re now dealing with temperatures over 100 degrees, probably for the rest of the summer and both of these museums are outside, here are three air-conditioned museums to consider if you find yourself Arizona’s Central Valley this summer.
The newly renovated Tempe History Museum has challenged the traditional chronological presentation of history and arranged its exhibits thematically, focusing on Surviving in the Desert, Building Our Community, College Town and Living Together. There are plenty of touch-screens (called Explore Stations) that provide visual and written materials, as well as oral histories. A huge interactive map has displays keyed to each thematic area. I really enjoyed the one of historic sites that provided photographs and descriptions of buildings that can still be seen around the city. The Tempe History Museum is also one of the few places that I’ve seen the Phoenix immigrant experience explicitly addressed. In addition to cases showing objects from Hispanic, Chinese, Japanese, Danish and Laotian and other immigrants, there are also kiosks with both written descriptions and oral histories provided by each group. There’s also a Kid’s Place and plenty of interactives that, although geared for children, are lots of fun for adults too, including a Tempe Police Kawasaki motorcycle that you can sit on. Vrroom!
At the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum you’ll find a wonderful mixture of old-fashioned wooden cabinets with shelves lined with brightly colored and odd-shaped minerals and fossils and brand new displays on mining and the earth’s history. Of particular interest to me were the micro-crystals brought to visible size by a rotating microscope and the huge pieces of historic mining equipment on display outside the museum. Somewhat outside the scope of the museum, but non-the-less fascinating is the Mofford Gallery which has about 1000 items of Arizona memorabilia acquired by former Secretary of State and Governor Rose Mofford (a champion of the museum) during her 51 years of government service. Finally, the gift shop is a real treat, with spectacular gems, minerals, and jewelry, much of which is extremely affordable. This is certainly the place to do your holiday shopping no matter what time of year. There are plans to turn the Mineral and Mining Museum into the Arizona Centennial Museum, so make sure you visit here soon.
Phoenix’s newest museum is the Musical Instrument Museum which truly brings “global music” to life. The museum is beautifully designed and provides a light and airy atmosphere for the display of all types of musical instruments from every country in the world. Almost every display has accompanying audio and video of the instruments being constructed and/or played. The sound is transmitted to visitors through wireless headsets (included in the admission cost) from “hot spots” around the museum giving an immersive experience without creating a cacophony of noise in the galleries. The main galleries are organized by continent, but there also thematic galleries, including the hands-on Experience Gallery, where visitors can try out a variety of instruments, ranging from the Indonesia gamelon orchestra to the Theramin, an early electronic instrument played by waving your hands around it, but not touching it. A changing Artist Gallery focuses on a broad range of musicians, composers and inventors. Right now Eric Clapton’s Brownie guitar and the piano on which John Lennon composed Imagine share space with Snoop Dog’s microphone and Dick Dale’s surfboard. There are also diorama-like displays of various instrument workshops, including Steinway pianos and Fender and Martin guitars. While the displays are not yet 100% complete there is so much to see and hear that the gaps are hardly noticeable.
Moving into Southern California, and sticking with the music theme for a minute, find yourself in San Diego at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park where you can see Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographs Selected by Graham Nash. The music will run through your mind as you see the energy, attitude, and essence of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest performers and performances through a collection of 100 photographs chosen by the legendary rocker.
Then, as you drive north through the state, Cheryl Hinton offered a great coastal California stop:
If you have a chance to visit Big Sur this summer, you will travel along the dramatic cliffs of the south coast on historic California State Highway 1. This amazing highway edges the cliffs and contains communities of artists and writers. Among the most famed can be seen at the Henry Miller Library. Henry Miller lived in Big Sur for 20 years and wrote about it. The library holds a very unique collection of books and photos about his life, and features several other artists and writers like Anais Nin a french author. It also includes a bookstore and a stage where we once saw John Doe of X perform one summer. This is a unique and eclectic place of history and controversy suited for a Summer’s Journey. It is truly breathtaking, we go there often to camp at Kirk Creek along the bluffs overlooking the ocean; a glass of red wine, a gourmet camp meal and the sunset watching breeching whales, circled by seabirds and dolphin… now that is California at its finest.
And as a final destination I propose a site near me: From now until May 2011, you can take a hike and see a site based art exhibition made for “animal clients”. Presidio Habitats was produced by the FOR-SITE Foundation, in partnership with the Presidio Trust. The experience features 25 proposals, and 11 installations placed on the trails and pathways of the Fort Scott District. You will encounter elegant blue-and-white glazed porcelain vessels, a small garden, a soaring metal sculpture, and a word-laden grove while trekking through this National Recreation Area near the Golden Gate Bridge. Visiting the temporary exhibition pavilion alone makes the trip worth it as the space is elegant and one I could see duplicated in multiple places.
I don’t know what your summer timetable is. Mine used to end the day after Labor Day, and now my son’s school starts mid-August. So I have a month to get on the road. Have you been somewhere in the region worth mentioning? Planning a trip? Please, do tell.