Capture Time in a Bottle


Can you fry an egg on a rock in Arizona?  Well, you can melt a glass bottle, so!

Once contents are gone, the glass bottle has no value – toss the bottle. That is what people do!  That is why we find em’ out there.

This bottle was discarded, but not tossed, it was set down.  How do I know this? Because of how I found it.

I stumbled across this sun-melted and warped beauty in the high Arizona desert almost 55 years ago, in a canyon lying amongst ancient lava flows.  It was not far from the “Old Trail,” later the path of the famous Route 66.  I imagine it was “discarded by someone on a wagon train or mule or horse back rider, who stepped off the trail a hundred yards or so up that canyon for, well, for something.  Perhaps a campsite, perhaps just a pit stop.  Resting on some round rocks still protruding from washed sand, it sat in a natural heat oven amongst the rocks, in direct Arizona sunlight.  There was also a part of a tin can resting on the glass that left an impression in it.  Look closely and you can see the round impression in the glass (center image).  I wish I had saved it also, but there wasn’t much left of the can.  The bottle has started to turn blue as certain old bottles will do in Arizona.  If it were tossed it would have broken on the rocks, which is why I believe someone sat down and finished off its contents, put the lid back on with satisfaction I assume, and placed it there.

It slowly collapsed of its own weight as it softened under the Arizona sun.

There it rested for how many years I don’t know; perhaps it was lost 80+ years before I found it.  That was when I was a teenager of 15.  It has an alloy screw top which places it after the time of just corked bottles and before ubiquitous plastic screw tops.  The writing cast into the bottle is in English and warns against reuse of the bottle, so it was a controlled substance of some kind; rum or liquor of some sort.  It is 4/5 of a quart, which is an alcohol measure.

It has begun to turn violet from sun exposure and has since developed a crack that makes it very fragile.  Given that I have moved it over twenty times in five decades it is a surprise it is still intact at all.  I used to collect old bottles, going out into old settlements and ghost towns to dig for them.  Selling, trading, swapping them to collectors, keeping the pretty ones or unusual ones to use as painting props during a “still life” painting jag.

After many years an old tossed bottle has more value than any contents ever placed within it.  Now I have only a very few and not very valuable bottles; I consider this a favorite object find.  It is rare, even though others have found similar artifacts warped by the sun, but this one is unusual and I treasure it because I found it.

There are so many “things” of interest, too many to possibly ever paint or even consider to collect, and so we all must both curate and cull what we react to and carry with us on our life journey. This bottle is like several other “treasures” I have burdened myself with because, well, I don’t really know, I can’t seem to turn loose of it, just because.

Will I yet paint the impressions of ghost towns, or a lost soul in the desert sitting by his last bottle of rum, looking out at tomorrow’s promise and yesterday’s regrets?  I wondered at the bottle when I discovered it, looking all melted and wobbly; thinking it a rum bottle, had the bottle become an image, a sign somehow of the one who left it there?  I kinda doubt I will paint that, but the bottle already did tell a story.  The day I found it, images were conjured up, and carried for half a century.  Every time I handle this old bottle, I recall both the moment I discovered it and the moment my imagination saw stories emerge to explain it.  Wagon trains, cowboys and Indians, settlers on a new quest, right there within walking distance of my home.  Now with a blog I can try word painting it into your memory and you can help me carry it around for another 50 years.

The ghost towns of Oatman, Gold RoadChloride, White Hills, Jerome, are all worth exploring.  When I was a child they were fairly untouched; you could walk into stores that still had merchandise on the shelves, people just walked away from them.  After time they were striped of their treasures.  Wagon wheels and hitching posts went last.  Even today, you can find chandeliers made of wagon wheels, hitching posts still used in front of restaurants, and if you look close you will see lots of picture frames made of wood moldings captured from these ghost towns. Finally people had to be restrained by laws, or the very wood of the buildings would be taken too; but back then, no one cared much.  I used to gather a few boards to make old picture frames out of.  I still have just one such frame.  I sold many western art images framed in ghost town lumber. Mostly given to me by my uncle.


Hualapai-pallet-knife_web HUALAPAI PEAKS

Acrylic on Upson board 9″x12″

This frame was originally  the crown molding from an old hotel lobby in White Hills ghost town.  My uncle owned the town back then, and we went there to target practice.  My parents, brother and sister, shot old bottles for target practice (doesn’t that make you ill?),  and I collected framing material. (I was “the good one” – my daughter’s favorite saying). The painting in this frame is of the Hualapai Mountains as seen from Kingman, AZ.  The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe RR siding had some old crew cars stored there for several decades; the railroad runs right beside Route 66 and I just decided one day to go and paint them.  My wife and I pulled off Route 66 and had a picnic painting session there. The spot is now somewhat developed with a car wash and service garage, but if you walk around back it is still the same view as it was 45 years ago. The Hualapai Mountains, 14 miles distant, are an ancient volcano, and the town of Kingman is thought to set in a smaller caldera volcano.

All this because of a bottle!


The basic ingredient in glass is sand; sand has iron in it and has a tendency to turn green when exposed to light.  The thicker the glass is, the more the edge has a pronounced green color.  Throughout time, different additives were used to stabilize the color, having varying effects.  Up to about 1915, the element of choice was manganese. Manganese exposed to ultraviolet sun radiation oxidizes it, giving a purple tinge to the glass.  Older glass becomes collectible because of this, and Arizona is a favorite place for turning bottles purple-blue.

Did you know that glass is always a liquid?  Over time, it sags under its own weight and window panes get thicker at the bottom than they are at the top.  That is why my bottle is all warped, because it is a liquid, made soft in the Arizona sun!




15 thoughts on “Capture Time in a Bottle

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    This is crazy – I lost the post I wanted to comment on! You had gone to a new cafe and the waitress asked coffee to stay or go, & you were undecided. I don’t know where the post went, how I got there. But I wanted to say I loved it, imagining you there, plus your sketches in between paragraphs. Your work is fantastic. I really love it. Amazing.

      1. WordsFallFromMyEyes

        Unfortunately that link didn’t work. I’m not sure why. Actually, wordpress has been weird for people lately so I might try it again later. But for now, the message I got was:

        This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?
        It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.

        Search for:

      2. eightdecades Post author

        Hmm it should be on the main home page of my blog.
        Ill check out thelinks in the morning, thanks for stopping by and commenting it is always nice to hear from you .

  2. RebellRed

    What a wonderful story! I did not know “Glass was always a liquid, that sags under it’s own weight”. I could work that into to a poem I’m working on involving an enormous spider. Blessings! 😀

  3. Pingback: Bianca’s Weekly Wonder List 2.08.13 | B.G. Bowers

  4. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    It fascinates me about the abandoned bottles. And they do look interesting.

    Michael, ‘Words From the Heretic’ on my blogroll, he’s from Las Vegas, and from what I read of his long walks about the mountains and all the abandoned couches he finds (??!!) it’s just too hot to hold onto your junk there!


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