Photo Essays

Utopian Visions in the American Southwest

Vaults at Arcosanti, AZ (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

Due to the government shutdown earlier this month, a long awaited trip to the Southwest to see some of its most famous landmarks (Grand Canyon National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Lake Powell) turned into an improvised route through lesser known yet equally compelling landscapes and cultural heritage sites. The latter, which are either state parks, on Native American reservations, or under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management — hence independent of federal closures — are often harder to access and off the typical touristic circuits.

Visiting sites such as Canyon de Chelly in Arizona and Monarch Cave in Utah made me aware of how rich the archaeological history of the region is, the diversity of both sites and monumental landscapes. The isolation of these less frequented sites is what makes them really stand out, allowing visitors a more intimate interaction with both grand spaces and the architectural remains, petroglyphs, pictographs, and artifacts of civilizations past. This utopian experience would be fundamentally altered if they became highly-visited attractions as is the case of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and other nearby national parks.

Within that context, Arizona’s partially-realized experimental community of Arcosanti provided me an ideal point of contemplation. Paolo Soleri’s urban design for Arcosanti presents a plan philosophically grounded in societal self-sufficiency and sustainability; our contemporary dilemma being collective survival long term, rather than the more immediate concerns earlier civilizations were formed around.

View into Canyon de Chelly from an overlook near Spider Rock, Chinle, AZ
[Left] White House Ruins as seen from the rim of Canyon De Chelly [Right] Area maps
Hiking the White House Ruins Trail, Canyon De Chelly
Petroglyphs in Butler Wash
Pictographs at Monarch Cave
Monarch Cave
Interior of Anasazi Ruins at Monarch Cave and the view beyond
Interior of Anasazi Ruins at Monarch Cave
Overview of Anasazi Ruins at Monarch Cave
Bureau of Land Management sign-in book at Monarch Cave Ruin, located in Butler Wash, part of Comb Ridge in Southestern Utah
Goosenecks State Park, near Mexican Hat, Utah
Goosenecks State Park, Utah
Horsecollar Ruins Natural Bridges National Monument
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
The Crafts III building at Arcosanti
Interior cafe and view beyond, Crafts III building at Arcosanti


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