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.

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Road Trip 107: Petrified Forest

I woke up in the mountains and went across the street for breakfast, which was rather bland. Everyone here seems so nice, so corny and so white. So many white people. I overheard the use of “eh” from a trio of bikers at a table behind me. Canadians.

I did some writing and updating and planned my day. I would go to the Petrified Forest then on to Flagstaff to spend the night.

At the beginning of the forest I was greeted with a large tourist shop offering slices of crystal wood, minerals and the requisite stock of regional arts and crafts; fare I would see many more times in the area. The forest itself was weird and beautiful. Like much of the landscape I was entering, it was like being on another planet. Geology is weird. If only Kristie Cornell were here to explain it all to me.

It reminded me of one of the quotes I came across when researching the Apollo program. When they were designing the LEM, they had to figure out what the lunar landscape would be like. “It’s just gotta be like Arizona,” someone supposedly said. Something like that anyway.

Continue reading Road Trip 107: Petrified Forest

Road Trip 106: Gila Mountains

grafittismI took the 14-year old to the car and he got to work. I went back to the little food place and worked for a while. After an hour I picked up my stuff and went to check on him. It was going well, he said but it was going to take a while longer.

“I’m going for a walk,” I said.

“Ok…….don’t go near……..I’m just kidding.”

Ha, nice one.

I walked down the street, taking pictures of graffiti here and there and getting some gas station coffee. I came across an actual café and went in to sit down and eat a muffin.  Just as I was sitting down, the locksmith called. He was almost finished.

I got there and took the key, starting the car with glee. We tried the power lock together and I clapped my hands together like a little girl. I gave him his cash and thanked him profusely. He gave me some water and tea for the road, pulled out of his little car, transformed into a mobile garage.

I found a gas station and a grocery store. I got some oranges and nuts and mapped out a path to St. John’s, on the way to Flagstaff.

Continue reading Road Trip 106: Gila Mountains

Road Trip Diary 103

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When I arrived at the hostel, there was a man with a, full head of hair and a beard sitting in the common area with a blanket around him. I thought about offering him some wine, then thought better of it.

A German couple came and went without much interaction.

The next morning, the man revealed himself to be rather creepy. While everyone else was getting dressed and planning a day….he seemed content to stay in what seemed like pajamas as he pulled out a tuperware container full of stuff and began to cook. Who was this guy? Was he a permanent resident? What was he doing there? I ended up going outside or sitting on the floor in my room to use the computer. He creeped me out.

I struck up a conversation with a young woman about the area and she asked me if I wanted company at White Sands. Oh hell no! I thought. I am not interrupting this freedom with some stranger. I attempted a polite decline. When she mentioned that she was disoriented by the curves of the mountain road and the altitude, I was glad I declined. I think she was looking for a stabilizing influence. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

The hostel host had a wonderful, huge map of the area on her wall. She began to show me all the attractions that were within a day trip of the hostel, offering a second night’s stay if I needed it. It was overwhelming. When I told her that I was headed to the Grand Canyon, she suggested a smaller one on the way, calling it magical.

I decided to go up to a sun observatory, then to White Sands and the Proving Grounds.

Continue reading Road Trip Diary 103

Road Trip Diary 102

After a hearty Waffle House breakfast, I headed for Roswell, New Mexico.

I’ve heard people say that they hate driving through Texas. It’s so big, they say. It takes too long. There’s one thing I love about the Texas landscape: the windmills. I’m completely in love with those giant, white, weird windmills.

As the flat landscape began to change, I saw them in the distance to my left. I was disappointed that they weren’t closer. I thought perhaps my route wouldn’t show them to me. Then all of sudden there they were in front of me. As I drove closer I realized I would be passing right next to some of them. I pulled over to photograph them.

Continue reading Road Trip Diary 102