Friday, May 05, 2006

Valley of the Moon

Ever wonder what you could accomplish if you really set your mind to it and devoted all your spare time to one endeavor? When I lived in Tucson, a friend encouraged me to visit The Valley of the Moon. By day, a flat, relatively non-descript, fenced-in lot dotted with a few handmade "buildings". But by night, it is completely transformed into an incredibly magical and unique environment.
George Phar Legler, the creator of the Valley, was a career mailman who spent all his spare time and money on his vision. The vision? Nothing short of a wonderland. Using crude materials such as concrete, glass bottles, coins, and stone, he single-handedly sculpted and dug his way through the property to create paths, grottos, huts, an ampitheater and underground passages.
I arrived, as instructed, at dusk. The guide coralled our small group to a waiting area as the stage was being set for the evening's performance. The surroundings were bleak and unimpressive. As night fell however, twinkling lights sprung up along vague shadowy paths. We were set to begin our journey. The guide carried a torch and led us to the first character in our Alicesque adventure; I believe it was the white rabbit. Here in the Valley, he had his own perch along a crude handmade wall which sparkled as the light hit on bits of colored glass and old coins. The rabbit told his bit of the story then dashed off and we proceeded along down more mysterious winding paths to encounter a cheshire cat, a hookah smoking worm and various other creatures. The details of the "play" have become fuzzy for me over the years, but what remains clear was the sense of magic that infused the whole experience. You don't find that often as an adult, but the Valley postively dripped with it. About midway through our tour, we were settled into a wondrous man-made hut. The building was round with a thatched roof. A large fishpond took up a third of the room, fed by a rocky waterfall. Small white christmas lights strung overhead bathed the room with an intimate warmth. There were about ten of us that sat inside, and I don't think any of us ever wanted to leave.
Another remarkable feature of the Valley are the underground rooms. Mr. Legler was known for his fascination with burrows and interconnected passageways. We entered a little stone house and were led down a stairwell of worn dirt steps. The guide told us that these passageways covered much of the property, but because George wasn't exactly an engineer, they were too unsafe for us to walk through. This particular one was reinforced and took us a short way where we emerged near the ampitheater for the farewell. At every point along this journey, regardless of the story being performed, there are countless details to hold your attention. A folk artist of the highest order, George Legler carved and decorated every surface with whatever bits and pieces he could scavenge.
For years George lived his dream, hosting magical performances for schoolchildren. His age and health took their toll though, and he quietly faded from public view. Sometime during the late 1980's, a few area students began to reminisce about the Valley and took it upon themselves to find out what had happened to George. They went back to the Valley, which was by now much neglected and overgrown. There, they discovered George living in his underground passages, malnourished from his diet of evaporated milk and vitamins. He was transferred to a nursing home and a group of concerned citizens took it upon themselves to restore the Valley for a new generation of children. And there you have it. I highly recommend a visit if you find yourself in Tucson. It's something you and your family will never ever forget.

Links to more info:
Valley of the Moon Homepage
Volunteer Page
News Article

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