Gila Cliff Dwellings

The American Southwest

Or: An Englishman makes his pilgrimage

Or: Ellis Discovers HTML

Palm Springs PoolsideIt is a Saturday or Sunday in February or maybe it is already March and I am lying by the pool at a hotel in Palm Springs while on a rickety stage a woman with improbably large breasts sings a song called "The Best Fuck I Ever Had". Around me men with highly-developed muscles are either tanning seriously or passing out from the effects of too much alcohol. Yet again I say to myself that the USA is different from Europe.

That night, or maybe the next, I go to a bar where men dressed only in jockstraps get squirted with baby oil by paying customers and then wrestle each other. Among the audience are several elderly ladies who seem to enjoy it more than the men present, most of whom are scowling into their beer bottles.

After a day recovering in the calmer surroundings of Los Angeles, where the police have demolished half of a North Hollywood street trying to catch a couple of armed bank robbers, I set off for Tucson. In the Imperial Valley it is already stiflingly hot and I see a line halfway up a silo marked "Sea Level". In Yuma it is even hotter and I visit the old State Prison where dangerous people such as foreigners and socialists were kept away from the American Dream. Mount WrightsonEventually I get to Tucson where all the Interstate exits downtown are surrounded by road works but eventually I find a hotel, check in and collapse.

The next day I fight my way through the road works on Speedway Boulevard and drive over the Gates Pass to the Sonora Desert Museum where I look at a very large number of cacti, as I promised my sister I would. I buy her a couple of books on cacti. I feel fairly hot and dry and prickly myself. Then I go to the West part of the Saguaro Park, get a map and do a short hike to see a few hundred more cacti. When I get back to the car I notice that the motorcycle parked next to it carries a pink triangle sticker but the driver is nowhere to be seen. Weighing up the attractions and drawbacks of another couple of hours of cacti, I drive off and have an early beer in a Tucson bar.

The next day I get up early and climb Mount Wrightson (9453 feet). A friend of mine had promised a mystical experience on the summit but the main experience I am aware of is pain after an ascent of 4000 feet on snow-covered tracks. The next day I am so exhausted that I have a lazy morning visiting Biosphere 2. I go to the Internet café there to drink an espresso and send an e-mail to my friend in Los Angeles. The espresso machine is broken, the computers are Macintoshes and their e-mail function has been disabled "for security reasons". Biosphere 2In the afternoon I visit a former Titan missile base. The cheerful guide assures us that the sliding cover over the missile silo has been wedged half-shut "for security reasons". Perhaps they expect an influx of frustrated Internet hackers intent on starting World War Three.

The following day is Saturday again and I climb a hill called Mount Wasson accompanied by half the population of Tucson. The summit reminds me of Blackpool beach on a summer day except of course that there is no water. And Blackpool beach doesn't have cacti. I find a secondary summit which is deserted and install myself there and scowl furiously at anyone who even thinks of coming near me. In the evening I visit some Tucson bars and decide that Arizona gay life probably takes place in Phoenix.

I spend the next three or four days visiting Indian remains in New Mexico. One Thursday evening I spend half an hour trying to book a hotel room in Phoenix for the weekend. Apparently it is the time of "Spring Training". Wondering what this is, I set out on the Friday on the very long drive from Los Alamos NM to Phoenix AZ, during which I perfect the technique of holding a hamburger in one hand and a Coke in the other and steering with the third.Chaco Canyon Nonetheless I eventually reach my hotel in Phoenix and it turns out to be a gigantic health club with rooms attached. The bar is full of very large people watching baseball or American football or some other sport entirely beyond my understanding. Perhaps this is something to do with Spring Training. I flee the hotel and find a cafeteria where I have the finest meal of the entire trip: fish and chips and bread-and-butter pudding. The chips turn out to be fried okra but I still feel suddenly homesick for Britain, a country where I have not lived for ten years and which I usually regard with a mixture of loathing and contempt.

The next day I feel better and set out early for the Frank Lloyd Wright house at Taliesin West, which is just as well because it takes over an hour to drive there. Driving in Phoenix, one has the impression of moving but not advancing. At Taliesin our charming guide is a lady with an indefinable accent who gives the disquieting impression of being a defrocked psychoanalyst. I think of my sister and photograph some cacti. In the afternoon I go to the Heard museum.

The next day I realize I have not been to a shopping mall on this trip. I get in the car and after about an hour I get to the Metrocenter, a parking lot the size of an average British town with a building in the centre resembling a nuclear fallout shelter. Inside I discover several thousand shops, almost all of them deserted or closed, since it is 10am on a Sunday. Finally I discover a shop which is open. It is a health food store and I buy some selenium tablets. I think I read recently in the British Medical Journal that the entire Western world is deficient in selenium and that is why were are all dying of cancer. That evening I go to a bar and find wrestling going on again, this time the serious kind, without baby oil. Americans seem to like wrestling.

I wake up the next day to find that it is Monday and I drive back to Los Angeles. This time the police appear not to have demolished any more of North Hollywood. That evening everyone is celebrating St Patrick's Day. Two days later at the airport, the man who takes my rental car tells me it is 98 degrees in Hollywood. When I land in Zurich the entire airport building seems to be cut through with freezing cold draughts. I spend so long looking for a warm corner that I nearly miss my connection to Basel.