Let’s all get in the car, and drive out toward the big skies in the west.
On Saturday, we left Austin for Amarillo. That’s a 7+ hour drive across the outer Hill Country and Panhandle of Texas. Lots of small towns with varied pasts, presents, and futures here: everything from a nearly gone Wingate, to the booming communities out in the Panhandle around the rush for both wind and oil. We got to Amarillo late, and found the hotel.
Once we were in Amarillo, it was off to the infamous Big Texan Steak Ranch for steak. We were glad we went over here, it’s very kitsch and after a long day of driving, nothing is more fun than looking at a shooting gallery and a giant Hereford cow statue, all while we waited for our table.
The next morning, we awoke to a fine sunrise, a good time to go visit some interesting spots around Amarillo. First up was Combine City, a neat exhibit out in a field south-east of town.
Combine City is a rural display of antiquated combines, stripped of all valuable parts and buried end first. The owner decided it was better to let them serve this purpose than cut them up for scrap.
Combine City has about 12 old worn out combines buried rear first in the ground. Instead of meeting the scrapper’s torch, they get to live out time stuck in the ground, for others to see. After this trip, we ran back into town, and got ready to head west. What’s west of Amarillo? One of the most famous roadside attractions anywhere, Cadillac Ranch. It’s everything you’ve already seen, a landscape covered with spray cans and 10 old Caddies covered in paint.
After leaving Cadillac Ranch, we headed west on IH-40, what was once Route 66 through some small towns. At Adrian, we came across the Midpoint Cafe. We were met here by very friendly folks in a cute, quaint diner. The food was very good as well, trust us: you want to eat the pie. This is a great bunch, if you’re ever out this direction stop in.
After Midpoint Cafe, we were on a pretty much non-stop trip towards Santa Fe. The drive across IH-40 into New Mexico was plains, plains, and more plains. It’s so empty, TxDOT didn’t bother building exits or frontage roads for a ranch, they just put a few normal crossings in. New Mexico offered more of the same, until we turned off IH-40 onto US-84 towards Las Vegas. Quickly, the road went into the mountains out of the flat desert plains. Soon enough, we were in Santa Fe for a couple of days…
Getting to Prague from Austin involves a 10 hour flight on the new 787 Dreamliner to London Heathrow, then a quick jump across the Channel to Prague. The 787 is a modern marvel, a great plane to fly on. It’s true, you feel pretty good getting off, as the pressure and humidity are nicer onboard than say, the McDonald Observatory in West Texas. Prague is a wonderful old city, just what you’d expect from Old Europe: stone streets, squares, and lots of walking. Oh, and a really nice metro (we’ll get to that). We will start with the Prague Castle (which really isn’t a castle in the technical sense).
Quick note: as usual, you can find a more full set of photos for your viewing (or purchasing) pleasure at http://www.teambartay.com/praha2014
The Castle complex was a short walk from my hotel, and Adam had this odd tendency to get up early and go take pictures of a morning the first few days. This let him see a bit of the Castle and other areas very empty and in very good light. Tourist tip number 1: if you don’t have kids and want to see the big sights, get up really early. It will probably just be you.
From the Castle, we’ll go to the next big sight in Prague: Old Town Square, a great place to see ancient clocks, monuments, and streets full of interesting people.
I really liked Old Town Square – every time it was something different. From wedding photos, to ripoff street food vendors, to early mornings of empty streets, and artists plying their trade, Old Town Square had a bit of it all.
There’s a lot else in Prague: Wenceslas Square, Charles Bridge, a funicular (more metro!), and more pretty sights than I care to try and count. Oh, and a metro. The people and places made for some very good street photography. Again, many of these pictures were taken of an early morning: as a cohort of Adam’s indicated, you really couldn’t see the Charles Bridge at 4pm when it is covered in people. At 6am when it’s just you? It’s a lovely experience.
Oh, and the metro. Adam is really into trains and metro systems, so he had a really good time riding around (and of course, taking pictures of the very nicely decorated stations).
This year’s SXSW was over-shadowed by the deaths of two participants – one local, one from the Netherlands, due to a stolen car running from a police stop down a very crowded (and very closed) street. A large number of people remain in the hospital. I was already home, but they remain my thoughts and prayers – no one should come to a town for a good time, and suffer due to the selfish and reckless actions of another. Update (March 17, 2014 11:00am) – a third person has passed away in hospital from this crash.
My first night (Tuesday) I went to see a friends sister (Alyssa Kelly) play at a coffee shop on South Congress Avenue, and then walked around quite a bit. Tuesday is probably the least busy night of SXSW – it’s the day where the Interactive portion is officially over, but the Music portion has yet to start. People are coming and going, sites are transforming from their Interactive (think dot-com) setups to Music (recording labels) setup. On Wednesday night, Music was getting started, and you could notice a definite vibe around downtown.
My final night at SXSW this year was on Friday for a photo walk with some photographer friends, mostly from here in Austin. Friday and Saturday are the biggest nights – college kids come back from spring break, people take a long weekend, so on – it gets pretty packed.
While a big part of “official” SXSW are big parties where you have to have a badge ($$$$s), a wristband ($$$s) or pay an inflated cover ($$s), my favorite parts are free – the acoustic musicians from all over on the streets, the rappers who show up and perform on the hood of their van until the code enforcement officers shut them down, the magical noises from all over. While some of us local types complain about it, it really is a magical time in our magical city.
The fun and wonder of SXSW can be seen in Erica’s smile here – it’s a very joyful time for many.
Mount Magazine is the state highpoint. Off in the Arkansas River Valley between the proper Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, the mountain serves almost as a beacon to those who call this part of the state home, on account of the near 2500 foot rise between the highest point of this mountain and the valley floor below.
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was founded by Alice Walton, Sam and Helen Walton’s youngest daughter, as a place to host a wide range of art from America, from colonial-era portraits to minimalist sculpture to assorted modern paintings. Home to some of the most famous art works in America, the museum (and the controversy around it’s creation from those on the coast, since Bentonville is prime fly-over territory) is drawing significant attention, and serves as both an artistic and architectural milestone in the northwest corner.
The Two Rivers Bridge is part of the Arkansas River Trail, and serves as a tool for both recreation and transportation – enabling bicycle and pedestrian access from various points in West Little Rock into downtown Little Rock/North Little Rock via a system of grade-separated trails, bicycle paths, sidewalks. While the system does have some missing components in Little Rock that are not likely to see remedy in the near future, the North Little Rock portion gives trail users a near complete path with limited motor vehicle interaction (the Little Rock side isn’t bad either, just one or two tricky spots). In a state plagued by high obesity and cardiovascular disease rates, these systems give locals a way to enjoy the natural beauty of the state (even in the most urban environment she has).
Finally a bit of home for us: the Prescott Water Tower in Prescott (Megan’s hometown), and the Wiederkehr Weinkeller Restaurant (the site of Adam’s first job). See, even if we are far away in Texas, our photographs serve as a reminder of what we love about our home state: her natural beauty and memories of growing up, dating, work, and all those things that make home, well, home.
backups to go watch The Austin Steamers play at The White Horse (a self described honky tonk here in Austin). The banjo player Joe Sundell and I went to the Fulbright School of Public Affairs together in 2000 (the camp even made it into the Christian Science Monitor that year). Anyway, they play a really enjoyable style of bluegrass. The guy next to Megan at the bar indicated he just walked in as he was walking home from work and was really pleased. It’s good tunes, and you should check them out. Anyway, we took a few pictures in our short time there. Here are a few of my favorites, and you can find the entire short set here.
Last Formula One driver to die during a race in 1994. His death struck a chord for safety improvements in Formula One. Also, he’s the namesake of our dog and mascot.
Senna is our dedicated companion. Our fur kid. We ‘rescued’ Senna from the Austin Animal Center. He only had to spend a day or two in the shelter before we saw his cool, calm demeanor and house trained behaviors awaiting a kind family. Needless to say, we didn’t have to think very hard, and took him home that very day.
Since then, Senna has not left our side (well, except for our trip to Marfa, but we had him well taken care of during our adventure out there, and plan on taking him eventually). We love our pup, and we hope he loves us. It also helps he can’t run away from the camera so we get lots of pictures of him. He’s a wonderful subject.
Go west, young man. – Horace Greeley
When Mr. Greeley made that statement in 1850 in Hints toward Reforms, I could not imagine he would expect a day when men and women would pile into a Japanese made sedan, drive 80 miles per hour along well maintained roads to a high mountain desert town to enjoy a nice weekend of photography, shopping at unique stores, and art viewing. No, I don’t think Horace was expecting that one, even with the bold expectations of the Manifest Destiny.
See, Marfa isn’t just a place, it is a unique view into both the death and rebirth of rural America. Marfa’s a place where cattle still roam the high grasslands and art is made (and found). Where all the grocery stores are still independent, and the only chains in town are the Dollar General and a couple Stripes fuel stations. In this corner of the most remote portions of Texas, one finds a small town thriving on beauty.
There is a beauty in desolation. A beauty in truly dark skies, where the stars are big and bright One finds this in a town like Marfa, or its sister high desert towns – Alpine, Fort Davis. These towns are beautiful jewels and markers of a time long gone to many of us, within reach of our cars from our urban existence. This high desert, where it gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter, leaves you ready to never quite ready to return to the world of traffic jams and ‘big’ living in the ‘big’ city. You never know, you might find that in a small town too.