One Hell of An Eye
The Official Blog of Mike Salisbury
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“There?” I asked. “After dark? ”

Monument Valley, Utah  photo by Mike Salisbury

Monument Valley, Utah - photo by Mike Salisbury

Facing northbound on the backside of the mountains east of Phoenix, I could see on the clear horizon the indelible skyline made by the tall towers of Monument Valley…the road was a straight line from me to them.  A really long straight road.

a really long straight by Mike Salisbury

A really long straight by Mike Salisbury

“That is where we will be probably just after dark,” my friend Steve Taylor said.

It was barely morning daylight.  I had thought this little skip to Marlboro country was going to be like the short hop from my house in Venice to the phony canyons at Disneyland.  Now, my anxiety was waking up for work with an ambiguous smile.  I could see my future.  Lunch, gas stops, snacks, photo ops, dinner…my whole day was in front of my eyes.  I could see my life lying there in the heat of the desert before me. I couldn’t see my “Close Encounter” though.

I was riding the Honda VFR to Monument Valley from Phoenix and back.  Great bike.  Won’t ever buy a long distance motorcycle without ABS.  Saved my life on the crowded freeway east of Scottsdale coming in for a landing after riding close to eight hours straight outta Kayenta to Flagstaff, sneaking into Sedona along Oak Creek in the canyon when the Phoenix rush hour traffic just stopped in front of me.  Stopped.  So did the Honda.

Leaving Mesa this morning, a day before all that drama, Steve, on his way home to Park City, wanted to have his picture taken “standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” so we went this back way over the mountains behind Mesa east of Phoenix to Winslow and on and on into the valley.

Monument Valley butte - photo by Mike Salisbury

Monument Valley butte - photo by Mike Salisbury

Here on top of the mountain, parked at the top of a ski run to infinity he asked, “You a drinkin’ man?  Because if you want something with dinner tonight, this is the last chance to buy a bottle before the res.”

“Will power lasts about two weeks and is soluble in alcohol.” – Mark Twain

Honda VFR - photo by Mike Salisbury

Honda VFR - photo by Mike Salisbury

Seven butt wrenching hours of riding later, just before dark, after the after-effects of a Mexican combination plate lunch had worn off, a plate that was only a bloating combination of several kinds of deadly fats, I was gliding silently but deadly on the east side of Monument Valley coming to the road leading to Goulding’s Lodge.  Steve, not impressed with tall rocks seemingly the height of the Chrysler building, sped off leaving me motoring alone, wheels close to the white stripes that were reflecting the sun down the highway to infinity, the empty sand all around me blackening as the sun set.  The sky scraping rock spires become even redder as I got closer to them, heading into the setting sun.

And then, out there in the literal middle of nowhere, the sun just dropped.

The sky went black. The valley went lightless. I looked into the nothing above the end of the headlight hitting the asphalt. I felt vibes and heard muffled screeching voices and then got hit in the face!

Soaring and swirling phosphorescent specters erupted in my face like the abrupt opening of the lost ark in “Raiders.

My body shocked…my heart jumped out of my chest and my eyes bulged into space, like that horny Tex Avery cartoon wolf suddenly aroused by a flirty dame.  My helmet leapt off the top of my head stretching the straps and slapped back down over my eyes.  Screaming, I twisted the throttle until my knuckles hit my wrist.  Racing on tires now elliptically shaped by speed over the serpentine road, racing up and down, in and out of the gullies and washes barely in front of a cloud of desert sand, racing them all-demons and spirits, sand cold after sunset, racing to the warm safety of the lodge.

Gulping an emergency glass of wine at the hotel, I tried using my cell phone.  It wouldn’t make calls and couldn’t accept calls.

We stumbled in the half dark of a not full moon on foot from our rooms to dinner up at the hotel.  This was the first time I heard my friend swear.  He was bummed about the recently bad aesthetic the hand of commerce had dumped on this iconically sacred, unique American landscape.  I guess he had forgotten Dinah Shore singing about the Chevys perched up on the spire of rock that was claimed to be Monument Valley.

The ’64 Impala convertible sitting up there for real– long before computers could do it.  That live trick for commerce may have been the beginning of the end.

John Ford only took heroic pictures of the valley; he didn’t dress it like a sideshow freak.  But right now, I was staring at the black plastic thing in my hand, still lost in the mysteries of my now soulless phone.

Valley view - photo by Mike Salisbury

Valley view - photo by Mike Salisbury

After the ride, back in Mesa at the phone store, I found that my number had been “suspended” from the system the day I fought the demons (though my daughter Victoria’s number on the same account was always working) and the memory of any calls made or received with my phone in Monument Valley had been erased….

It all may have been symptoms of my reactions to a long and at times sad trip…800 miles in two days and we could not find much of the Southwest of the Santa Fe Railroad posters out there.  The place where I was born. A place with no name that no one recalls.

Young Elizabeth with Monument burro - photo by Mike Salisbury

Young Elizabeth with Monument burro - photo by Mike Salisbury

The white domes of Navajo hogans are gone replaced by many more trailers some rotting on the red sand.  The sheepdogs and log corrals are gone because the sheep are gone…the fry bread stands are gone because the new Burger Kings and KFCs and Subways are hiring and feeding.

What should be good news is that Goulding’s Lodge, where John Ford and John Wayne made westerns, is busy again – so busy, it is going to be torn down and relocated as a new “modern” hotel not rising up under the red bluffs but sprawling out down in the flats.

John Wayne's The Searchers poster

John Wayne's "The Searchers" poster

“Gambling?” I asked Steve.

“No people out here, no money.” He replied.

I am sure, I thought, somebody said that to Bugsy Siegel standing on the bare plot of ground the Flamingo Hotel in Vegas would be built on.


Young Victoria with Navaho pup - photo by Mike Salisbury

There are good new things there.  On the Hopi reservation is a new medical center. There are new schools on the reservations with billboards announcing national scholastic achievements of the schools. There are new Indian courthouses and tribal police stations and jails.

And there is one new hogan at Gouldings.  They will move the new replica hogan down there to the new hotel site along with the Porta Potty all set up recently for the tours.

All just in front of that national and natural monument that the Chevy sat on.


Perhaps all the spirits of the valley are sad too.  And a little angry.

Originally published – Thanks Ray, Oliver and Steve.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Cool stuff, Mike….Hope you’re doing well.  Matt B.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It’s the hippest blog in the world. The images have only one thing in common, you.  As a copywriter, the thing I appreciated the most is how you lay type, or lettering, down on the page and give it an authority like no other designer I ever worked with.  Type design: when Mike lays it down, it stays there.  Alan M.

Mike:  Thanks, Alan. Means a lot to me.  Lorraine, my assistant, is a big help.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mike, I am always amazed on finding your gift/talent/genius/scent/footprints around so many different projects, products, personalities and landscapes – you are living a rich life and will leave this earth with lasting impressions. I am fortunate to know you as a friend.
Hope all is well in Venice.

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38 Responses to “Spirits In the Sky”

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