Let me preface this by saying the stress, nightmares, and lack of sleep building up to this day has been tremendous. We both woke up a little worried because our presence was so unwelcome at Roden Crater but we were going to make every attempt to get as close as we could without trespassing. We purchased donuts for the visual comparison (and breakfast at the crater), after loading the helium tank in the backseat of the SUV and were off by 10:15 AM (a record I might add).
We were both very grateful for yesterday’s fly-by otherwise we would have ended up even deeper in the Navajo Reservation than we already were. The car felt as if it was going to break, the helium tank explode, and our brains rattle around permanently while not being able to drive faster than 10 mph on the dirt road – clearly the worst washboard we had ever experienced. It was fascinating to note (in that “let’s get out of here” fast sort of way) how all the homes had no electricity and used outhouses on the reservation. It was one of the poorest places I had ever encountered and was quite relieved when we decided to turn around and retrace our steps. Between blog entries, GPS, and Mapquest we would never have been able to find Roden Crater without the overview of the landscape (Nancy adds: “or Jacinda’s ability to interpret landmarks in new territories. I myself would have spent the entire day trying to talk to everyone on the Navajo Reservation and petting their animals.”).
We found the road we recognized from the air and upon turning a sharp corner, narrowly escaped a white SUV barreling toward us at full speed. I was so startled at its presence (as was he ours) that I did not notice the James Turrell look alike in the driver’s seat with the white beard that Nancy swears she saw. Apparently he waved at us but I was too busy trying to veer away from his vehicle but Nancy waved back screaming, “That’s James Turrell!” as I skeptically kept driving (but I’ll let her believe it).
As soon as Roden Crater came into view, we noticed a slight blemish on the rim – a car positioned so the occupant could watch us throughout our 3.5 hour stay. We pulled up as far as we could to the “No Trespassing” sign and started working on our projects (that we had fully prepared the night before): eating chocolate glazed donuts (it still resembles one from the ground), filling a nesting box, photographing a burial, a bullwhip sound recording, and a binocular assessment of the happenings of the man whose name might be Jimbo on top of the rim. We trespassed a little bit for the burial, crossing the cattle guard just on the other side of the fence. We promptly returned to note Jimbo repositioning the car so that it faced directly toward us where we undoubtedly amused him for the next two hours (trying to open two beers on a rock because we did not have a bottle opener then toasting him with beer that was eventually opened with the helium tank handle, trying hard not to hit each other with the bullwhip, chasing runaway balloons on a hula hoop trying to dodge cow patties, and changing hats multiple times). Clearly he must have talked about this at dinner tonight.
Nancy is jumping in to describe what took place next: “Shortly after, the game of chess began. He moved his car, we moved ours, he faced directly forward, and we moved sideways. Our strategy was mainly not to scare anyone while pulling out what could easily be mistaken as a bomb but was only the helium tank.”
We proceeded to fill as many pink balloons as we could. Within minutes a large white vehicle with a water tank sped up the road and pulled into the other side of the fence. A cowboy decked out in white gear approached us and we were quick to reveal what we were doing (a photo shoot because we liked the pink balloons with the colors in the landscape in front of the crater). “You know you are being watched.” “Yes, he’s been watching us for two hours now.” “Well, Jim had to hire him because last week someone tried to steal that generator and someone else sneaked into one of the observation rooms and left graffiti all over the walls.” We managed to convince him that we were not those types of people and would be cleaning up after ourselves and leaving as soon as we were done. He asked us where we were from but never our names and eventually revealed that he was Jim Turrell’s son-in-law and was in year 6 ½ of being a cowboy on his father-in-law’s ranch that he and his wife took over. He ended with, “It looks like you two are clearly up to no good and I’ll have to call the sheriff.” Thankfully, he was kidding and nearly took us up on the offer of a beer on his way back to his truck (his obvious hesitation was up for analysis for the next 15 minutes – we were thrilled he was potentially willing to take a rain check upon his return).
It took about an hour to finish the balloon filling and documentation of the “grand opening of Roden Crater” that we cannot imagine ever taking place in three years (as Turrell has only finished 3 of the 12 observation areas and there will need to be a road with better access that does not go through the ranch made too). In the meantime the Englishman Cowboy had left and returned positioning his car so that he also watched us while we were cleaning up the remains of pink balloon parts spread in front of the watering hole. We waved on the way out but were very relieved that he did not kick us off his property earlier and that we were able to complete what we had wanted to do without trespassing.
Overall, the trip was a success but it felt deflating compared to the other earthworks. We were not alone out in the middle of the desert and the concept of being under live surveillance was unnerving. Nancy tried to “interpret his presence as a willing audience member but that never seemed to put her at ease.” Had Turrell’s son-in-law not showed up again, we would have made a banner for Jimbo but we just wanted to clear out as sunstroke and exhaustion were settling in. Also, we weren’t able to fully experience the earthwork on our own (the more I think about it, the more I realize that even if Roden Crater opens in my lifetime, it will never be a solitary viewing experience). It wasn’t until rehashing the day over dinner did we discover that it was indeed a good day considering all the anxiety that it had produced over the last few months.