Tuesday, October 18, 2011

LPI, The Poor Man's Indiana Jones


When I was in graduate school, I took a class on cultural landscapes – the result of human interaction with the natural and designed environment. We studied the vernacular landscapes of New Mexico’s urban and rural areas, and our professor’s favorite teaching method was walking around observing and looking for clues and discussing theories about how and why a place developed. We studied things like boundaries, circulation systems, patterns of using space, and groupings of buildings. It was the most fun class I’ve ever taken.

For my final project, I studied a WPA park near my house. I diligently walked every foot of that park lifting up bushes, looking for old plaques and stamps on the concrete, documenting old walls, studying the curb cuts in the sidewalks, the materials, the vegetation, the surrounding neighborhood and architectural styles. I photographed everything and then started researching. It was definitely research suited for my personality – cast your net as wide as possible looking at everything you can possibly find – photographs, oral histories, Sanborn Insurance maps, newspaper clippings, business directories, paintings and artwork, novels and memoirs and academic literature – and then edit it down and weave it together to tell the story of a place. My professor liked my project so much that he said I am now officially a Landscape Private Investigator (or LPI as we like to call it at our house).

We spent last weekend at the ranch where we got married and it always provides for lots of opportunities for our LPI skills (Andrew is actually quite skilled as an LPI as well).


We explored old ruins, followed crumbling fence lines (rock walls), visited abandoned cemeteries and churches, and climbed one of the mesas to visit an old shrine. After studying an old map, we think we even found the old fence line marking the original property line from 1860.


At one point as we were scrambling atop the cap rock of one of the mesas looking for old, crumbling Stations of the Cross that lead to the shrine hidden in the side of the mesa, Andrew exclaimed that LPI-ing is like the poor man's Indiana Jones.

I wish being an LPI was my full time job!

2 comments:

  1. Haha, so cool! I LOVE doing that kind of investigating too. I did some of that during college and grad school when I was studying ecology. We learned to “read a landscape” and did some poking around, digging holes, looking for animal scat, etc to understand all the ecological processes that were going on. That’s so cool you used a historical map. I guess I get to *sort of* do this in my job but it’s not as exciting. When I prepare an environmental clearance we have to consider all the different way a transportation project will impact the land so we consider the people who live there, the plants, animals, noise increase, air quality, etc. So it’s considering a project from lots of different vantage points and sometimes I get to do a field visit. But it’s not NEARLY as fun as exploring a meadow or forest and just getting to see what leads to what. You should write a little short story about the history of your land and the area based on what you’ve found!

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  2. Oh good, I'm glad someone else likes investigating too! I've actually written tons about this ranch because I did my masters project on the ranch headquarters. The story of finding this shrine in the mesa is really interesting (I think at least) and it involves crypto jews and old diary entries from a USGS surveyor in the 1930s and mysterious visitors on the ranch road. It was inspiring enough that Andrew is writing a mystery novel about the shrine, the saint it is dedicated to, and the abandoned town along the river below the mesa. His story dates back to the Spanish Inquisition! It's going to be great! In the meantime, a short story about finding the shrine would be a good idea, and I can do that.

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Hey, thank you!

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