As locations go, Tohono Chul Park is a small gem--at 49 acres the botanical version of an Arizona anthill garnet. It's perfect for commercial and fashion shoots, even if the side facing Ina Road gets a bit challenging for the sound mixer.
But when I walk the grounds I can't help but think back to a much more rough-and-ready figure that used to visit this same oasis. Ed Abbey, he of the gang that monkey-wrenched in an era that now seems light years past. They made one terrific movie of Abbey's novels--Lonely Are the Brave (1962)--with Kirk Douglas in perhaps the finest role of his career. It's also a great take on the changing face of the American Southwest, although I don't think Abbey thought much of it.
The Monkey Wrench Gang remains the author's most recognizable work, and as recently as a year or two ago it was rumored to be a "secret" project filming somewhere in the Arizona wilds with Leonardo DiCaprio. Well, that didn't happen, and even if it did, today they would film it in New Mexico because tax incentives trump authenticity and DiCaprio probably owns a house in Santa Fe anyway.
Back in the 1980s the eastern edge of Tohono Chul encompassed a bookstore, which many of you may remember. The Haunted Bookshop, after the novel by Christopher Morley. On two occasions I saw Abbey there, browsing the shelves of the Southwest section. He was tall, at six-foot three, and unmistakable. He always had his back turned, absorbed in a volume, neither seeking nor getting any attention from his fellow readers. I didn't bug him, didn't ask him to sign anything or tell him how much this or that writing meant to me. I tried that once with Elmore Leonard and he looked perplexed.
Today, Toho Chul looks quite different than it did, in a lovely way, but perhaps affecting too much the layered wine-and-craft cosmetics that Abbey might have scoffed at. Or not. He was a contradictory fellow. When I took the photo for this post, I thought that it would please me nothing more than to see him pass through that doored arch. To be able to say, "Thanks, and by way, we still need your help."