Road Trip 109: The Angels & Death Valley

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I slept in the next morning, rolling out of bed with sore legs. I’m getting too old for this shit. I decided to take my time and do some writing before heading off to the Hoover Dam. I found a coffee shop and blogged. After overhearing an insufferable conversation between two guys about the lack of fulfillment felt by one of their girlfriends, I made fun of them to Mr. Canada who reminded me that I was in for more of the same when I moved to Portland. Turns out Flagstaff, is a mini-Portland, with more tourists, probably.

I had a long conversation with Lauren, found a Thai place for lunch and asked Google maps to take me to the Hoover Dam.

After the Grand Canyon kicked my ass, I decided to scrap Joshua Tree. It had been a week since I left Lafayette and I was beginning to feel the first strains of road weariness. But I wasn’t skipping Hoover Dam, solely because I wanted to see the big angels. There are two large, very art deco angels near the entrance of the the dam, just before the Visitor’s Center on the Nevada side.

I found my way to a parking place and walked to the dam. It was hot and windy. I loved seeing the subtle details of the art deco design. You could clearly see what parts had been added later, the design a sad attempt to copy the original elegance of the archdam1smitects and designers.

Like the Grand Canyon, the angels did not disappoint. I worshipped them in the only way I know how. I photographed the shit out of them. I sat before them, taking their presence in and watching the reaction of people as they passed by. Some people didn’t even give them a second look. Others timidly touched the gold toes. When I took my turn, I caressed both sets of feet with the hopes and wishes of my future channeling through my hands. A bit silly? Maybe so. I don’t care.

I loved those angels and I’m so happy I got to see them in person.

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I went to the Visitor’s Center and ordered a burger. The tables were packed so I asked a man if I could sit next to him. Turned out he owned a tourist bus business and drove tourists around from Vegas to the East end of the Grand Canyon and the dam. I asked him about the skywalk there. He informed me that photography was not allowed because apparently too many people were losing their cameras and cell phones, hanging over the edge. Why that happened more at the skywalk then at the rim trail….I don’t know. But that settled it for me. I would not be going to the East end skywalk.

Next: Death Valley

I feel like at this time I need to say a couple of things.

  1. The Earth is a fucking weird planet. The landscape of the southwest freaked me out. Rolling hills with dessert vegetation. Jutting edges with stripes of multi-colored rock. Evidence of millions of years of geological history. Mountains with large, round rocks that look like the toys of giants. I didn’t understand it all. Faults and tectonic plates and glaciers and ancient rivers and lakes. It freaked me out. I wanted to go back to school, major in geology, write papers and then maybe it would all make sense.
  1. The mountains are beautiful. Fuck the mountains. Coming from the prairie/swamp land of Louisiana, the rolling hills of the southwest took my breath away. I still stay the drive from Las Cruces to Eager in the Gila Mountains was one of the most endorphin-inducing experiences I’ve ever had. (Ok…yeah….maybe there are more endorphin-endorsing things…..but it was pretty damn awesome.) The mountains in their various settings have their own unique beauty, like they’re living giants looking down on us, born in ancient times. But they are a bitch to drive through. Oh my God, I hate driving in the mountains. The twists and turns are complicated by high winds and spectacular views. You come around a tight turn, feeling like you took it a little too fast, only to be greeted by a breathtaking view. But you can’t take in that view because now you’re free falling down the hill and you have to watch the road like a mother watches a hyperactive toddler. You take your eye off one second and disaster can strike.

 

That’s what I was thinking on the way to Death Valley. It would not be my last time to curse and fear the mountains.

Death Valley was weird and my Element didn’t like it. Some of the views were spectacular, something that was becoming routine on this trip. As I descended into the valley, the temperature rose and a strong, hot wind belted me through the open windows. The highway through the park seemed empty but when I arrived at the sand dunes, the usual crowd of tourist peppered the scene. Our national parks sure are popular.

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When I was driving out, again up and down I noticed the Element was dragging a little. It didn’t want to accelerate. I also thought I smelled something burning. I pulled over and opened the hood. It wasn’t hot. I checked the oil, it was a little low so I added a quart. (Yes, I actually had oil with me.) The radiator wasn’t hot either. I got back in the car, the wind nearly pushing me over. That’s what it is, I thought. This box is trying to go forward on an incline with the wind doing everything it can to make it fly off into the clouds. No wonder it’s struggling. I tried to take it easy on the old girl, taking my time up an incline, and not wearing out the brakes on the decline. I couldn’t wait to get out of those damn mountains. (I never did, really.)

I decided on how much more I wanted to drive and asked Google map to take me there: Ridgecrest, Arizona. As the sun lowered in the sky, it lit up the mountains following me on my left. So often during this trip I was torn between the goal of making good time and not missing an opportunity for good photos. I was in such a predicament when I gave in to my impulse and pulled over the side of the road. Not wanting to be rude to my fellow travelers, I pulled farther right of the road. I took out my camera and snapped a few pics, then got back in to pull away. The tires spun in the sand. Fuck. I tried again. I tried reverse and first gear. I was just making it worse. I got out and dug in the sand, hoping to remove it from behind and in front of the tire that was stuck. It didn’t work. A long line of black jeeps sped by, not bothering to stop to see if I needed help.

I got a couple of bulletin boards out from the back of my car and stuck them under the tire, as I had seen my ex-husband do with pieces of wood in the mud. It didn’t work. I wasn’t panicking yet. I was right on the edge of panic. I saw another jeep coming my way and put out my arms, waving. When the jeep passed me by, I put up my hands in a “Really? Nothing?” gesture. The jeep stopped and turned around. I clapped my hands as a display of gratitude. An older man got out and assessed the situation. He had a winch on his jeep. Thank God. Another man, pulled up and offered to help, advising the first man that he should probably pull the car out from the back. It worked beautifully. I pulled the element into a safe place and got out to thank both men and the older man’s wife. “We do this all the time,” the wife said. “That’s why we have the winch.”

I continued to weave through the hills and mountains as the sun set, hating the drive more and more as it got darker. I waited to see some sign of civilization as Google maps told me Ridgecrest was 28 minutes away, 19 minutes away…..the minutes going by in a time warp.

I passed through such weird places. The Searles Valley…..a mineral deposit that looked like a white sea of salt. I passed by industrial buildings, lit up and operating with broken windows and decay. Small, boarded up homes and rotting cars. Weird pipelines that jutted out into giant C-shapes. What the fuck am I looking at? I saw a sign that said Trona Pinnacles. I looked it up when I got into a motel room. It’s a site used as a movie set for westerns and space movies. Weird spikes made of minerals. Like I said, the Earth is weird.

Finally, I came over a hill and a valley of civilization opened up before me. I found a Greek restaurant, hoping for a salad, only to be told they were closed when I got there (at 7:30pm on a Saturday night!). Then I went around the corner to a tex mex place and got a surprisingly good plate dinner. I found a place to crash at a cute little, local-owned motel with a big bed and bathroom.

The next day, I vowed to make more progress.

Road Trip 105: Fixing the Element

 

I had resigned myself to paying the dealer to fix the Element but a conversation with Mr. Canada put doubt in my mind if I was doing the right thing. When I told about the problem I was having he had looked up an automotive locksmith and recommended it to me.

Back in Lafayette I had attempted to get a locksmith to fix the problem to no avail. Plus, I was worried about going to a non-Honda mechanic in a strange place where I didn’t know anybody.

Nonetheless when I woke up in the morning, I called his recommendation. He was willing to fix it for a lot less. A LOT less. He was aware of the common problem on Honda’s. He could do it in a couple of hours, he said.

Fuck it. I called the dealer and told them not to do anything. I called the nice tow truck guy and instructed him to rescue my Honda from the dealer and bring it to the locksmith.

I jumped in the shower, went to the gas station for some cash and called an Uber to take me to the locksmith, where I would meet the tow truck guy. I had my duffle-like bag, my backpack, my camera bag and a small purse.

On the way to the locksmith, the dealer called to tell me essentially that they were holding my car hostage until I paid for the part they had ordered. I protested and cajoled and played the pity card.

The Uber driver took me to the dealer where my tow truck guy was waiting with infinite patience.

I stood by the dealer-mechanic’s little desk until he told me how much money I would have to give him to get my car back. He claimed to be selling me the parts at cost and included a diagnosis fee.

What can I do? I said, You’ve got me over a barrel.

Even with his screwing me with my pants on, the tow fee and the quote by the locksmith, I was still coming out cheaper than the dealer’s original quote. Plus, at that point, I wanted to get far away from those fuckers.

While he was getting the final, at-cost price, I borrowed my own keys to put my bags, which were sitting on the sidewalk next to the service center, in my car.

I should’ve just taken the keys and told the tow truck guy to take it away. But I’m too afraid of authority to do that. I wasn’t sure what the consequences would be.

I bent down and started to cry a little. The stress finally hit me and I needed to release it somehow. I felt like an idiot for bringing the car to the dealer. I should’ve known better. I should’ve done more research.

The tow truck guy saw me and asked if I was ok. I was embarrassed. I stood up and told him they were making me pay for the parts.

“So, what do you want to do?” he asked, “What’s your plan?”

“I’m going to pay them their ransom then I want you to take me and the car to the locksmith,” I told him.

I went back inside and the dude sent me to the cashier with his invoice. I handed him my card with reluctance and disgust. He wanted me to sign the service order or invoice. I said no. “I’m not happy right now and I don’t want to sign anything.”

“You have to say you approve of the work,” he said.

“They didn’t do anything,” I said.

The tow guy and I drove slowly to the mechanic, passing pueblo-styled buildings and houses and interesting graffiti here and there.

Pulling up, the place looked a bit sketch. Very sketch, actually. And the guy wasn’t there. I called him. He said he would be back from another job in 30 minutes.

I went next door to a small food place. I spoke English and the person at the counter answered in Spanish. I ordered a smoothie and a shredded beef sandwich and worked on photos at a table while I waited.

The locksmith found me and I looked up to see a young man who looked like he was 14. I told him I had parts from the dealer, he said he didn’t need them and told me I should get my money back. Fat chance of that happening. I showed him the problem and he got to work, assuring me, “This is a common problem.”

God, I hope I made the right choice.

 

The Route

How to get to Portland, Oregon from Lafayette, Louisiana:

Well, the shortest way is up through north Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and into Oregon. But that’s not how I’m going. I want to go west. I want to drive up the California coast.

So, I bought an atlas, taped together the appropriate pages and had 2 large copies made of the compilation; one for the western portion and one for the California portion.

I started exploring and asking friends for recommendations of places to see.

Continue reading The Route