While driving home from Taos during the Spring Break of 2015, our family stopped at Bandelier National Monument. We hiked up Frijoles Canyon to view the cavates, carved rooms, of the ancestral Pueblo people, cut into the sides of the volcanic tuff. But it wasn't the canyon nor the ancient dwellings that inspired me. It was the massive debris piles made up of wood. Gigantic piles of logs, branches and twigs, washed down the canyon and compacted together to form huge "sculptures" of debris. I inquired whether or not the Monument had an artist in residency program. They did, and I applied, submitting a proposal to document through drawing these beautiful and awesome forms.
While in Bandelier, I learned of the recent cultural history of the Jemez Mountains. Because of the development of the railroad in the late 1800's, Texas stockman pastured nearly five million sheep in the Jemez. What was once an area consisting of stands of ponderosa pine and slopes covered in succulent grasses and forbs soon became a barren desert, the soil and everything it held, ready to be washed away by spring runoffs and summer monsoon rains. This intensive sheep grazing also became the primary reason for the decline in frequent surface fires that helped keep the forests healthy. Ponderosa pine seeds germinated and the seedlings developed into dense thickets. No longer were there competing grasses for moisture and light and no longer were their grasses to carry fire from one tree to the other, cleaning the forest of litter and duff, and burning off the young tree seedlings. With the advent of fire suppression by land management agencies in the early twentieth century, the stage was being set for the Jemez and the Pajarito Plateau to burn catastrophically.
What I learned was that the massive debris piles that I was attracted to were the end result of Manifest Destiny in this region. My attraction to the formal soon embodied the conceptual.