Preview: Palenque Falls

Palenque Falls Country Club was a routine job until the “Snakes” took control. The Snakes (as in “snakes in the grass”) were a small coterie at Smitty Associates who, radicalized by climate change, revolutionized our renovation of Palenque Falls. Their pals blistered it in social media and vandalized its water pipes. Within the firm, the Snakes had a second moniker, the Smitty “Dissociates,” which they adopted with glee. Us they dubbed the “Cowboys” and the “Meatheads.” Its life blood cut and its reason for being questioned, Palenque Falls was in the throes of desertification. Exposed rocks on the par-three 4th alias Niagara hole could have passed for a tomb for Lazarus. The fairways curving through the landscape, and the greens dotting it, turned brown. The clubhouse, the members’ home away from home, deteriorated ruinously.

One eyewitness reported:

A garden of cast-off bricks.

A kind of great mass of filigree just winding all around itself.

At first, the rebellion was shrugged off as dumb-kid pranks. We Cowboys went about our business-as-usual. We ignored the psychedelia of the rocking jukebox in the Grille alias Saloon which greeted us mornings with a Who’s Who of the usual suspects for the time (the place could have been anywhere, since recorded music was everywhere) and which otherwise would have eliminated, for as long as its spell lasted, every thought of a profitable day by normal standards.

David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home
Neil Young, After the Gold Rush

Once, a rattler slipped through the jukebox’s “stage door” and coiled around Alice Cooper’s Killer for a siesta. Once (it could not happen twice!), a disco ball (the Saloon was transformed into the Discotheque for weddings, quinceanarias and reunions) fell victim to its own excesses with a spectacular crash. Try dancing on glass shards!

Another eyewitness observed:

…(an abandoned chair) rather poignant suggesting the transitoriness of time and the universe and also you can get a better view of the scaffolding in the roof.

The chair’s occupant may have been reading Dante’s Divine Comedy and Eliot’s The Waste Land, which shared a shelf with golf books.

Eventually, instead of spiraling toward insolvency after our client, we Cowboys had a change of heart. The Snakes were basking in statistically significant, i.e. financially significant, support (feverish among the young), so, seeing a future in the entropic business, we accepted them into the fold. Our overtures were a partial success, for they had additional plans.

It’s done slowly with a certain degree of sensitivity and grace so that there is time for the foliage to grow through the broken concrete, and there is time for the various colors on the wall to mellow under the sun. So you get this kind of really sensuous sense of something extending both in and out of time, something that doesn’t belong to the earth and really something that is rooted very much into the earth.

One night, viewing the firm’s drone footage alone in the Saloon, I followed our progress in reverse from the perspective of “outer space.” Activity around an abandoned site attracted my attention. Over the course of days, August 3 to September 1 to be exact, a partial spiral formed in a small lakebed. Initially dry, the playa was filled with water; then heavy equipment made its appearance. Trucks dropped loads of red rubble, which bulldozers pushed into position. My aerial witnessing was visceral. I felt the imprint of tire tracks and mud cracks. Both types of behemoth caused red dust to plume in the wind.

Four “Ants” directed the operation, a counter-revolution of building rather dispersal. You could tell they were the leaders by their periodic huddles. One Ant spent a lot of time with a filmmaker or geologist’s tripod. One was boss of the construction crew. The other two shaped the structure – let’s call it a ramp. As the ground reabsorbed the water (evaporation sped by hot weather), I speculated that the H2O allowed the ramp to settle offshore. The pouring and spreading hulks churned up a precarious catwalk, guided by stakes placed in a curving pattern. When one white steel beast keeled over, it was rescued by a yellow one. A shaper would measure the ramp’s slopes with more stakes. From on high, the competed work resembled a teardrop on the land.

I had to see the ramp for myself–wearing cowboy boots, as befitted my title. Until the firm’s new direction could fill my pockets, the Salvation Army would have to shod me. That emporium was fresh out of vaquero foot ware, so I settled for preowned black boots with square tips and was gone before a surly biker or bass guitarist could return for them.

Graham, Kenneth, Wind in the Willows (1908)
Holt, Nancy, The Making of Amarillo Ramp (1973/2013)
Mojtabai, A.G., Blessèd Assurance: At Home with the Bomb in Amarillo, Texas (1986)
Smithson, Robert (1938-1973), Collected Works (quotations from Hotel Palenque (1969/72))
Tatransky, Valentin, Catalogue of Robert Smithson’s Library: Books, Magazines and Records (1973)

Robert Smithson’s Amarillo Ramp in 2016