The Long Haul - Part One
Have you ever been a victim of your own stupidity? Well, on Monday morning, I was, when I discovered that I had a dead battery . . . because I had left the van headlights on all night! I had pulled into a brightly-lit place to stay at dusk on Sunday evening, not remembering that my headlights were on. Thank heaven for AAA Plus! One phone call to their emergency roadside service 800 number and voila! An incredibly helpful guy named Jeff came to my rescue. After giving me a jump start, he also checked my tires. We discovered that the folks who had rotated and balanced the tires a couple of weeks ago hadn’t adjusted the tire pressures (rear tires on the RoadTrek have to be inflated at a much higher rate than the front tires to account for the added weight in the “camper” part of the van). Jeff adjusted all of the tire pressures, double-checked the performance of my battery and alternator, and pronounced the van “good to go.” THANKS, JEFF!
With battery recharged and tires properly inflated, I pulled out of Peoria, Arizona two hours later than I had planned. I hoped to get well east of Albuquerque (“ABQ” as the locals call it) by nightfall, but would have to see how the rest of the day went.
The drive north along I-17 toward Flagstaff yielded an ever-changing landscape. The saguaros, lupines, desert anemone, brittlebrush, chicory and blowing sand of the early-blooming Sonoran desert (thanks to unusually high amounts of rain in January and February) gave way to a high plateau (over 7000 feet above sea level) of Ponderosa pines in the Coconino National Forest. In the distance, I saw the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks, ancient volcanic mountains. I drove past high meadows still blanketed in snow, and rushing streams of snow-melt, and along the boundary of the Red Rock/ Secret Mountain Wilderness, a nearly 44,000 acre wonderland of slot canyons, deep gorges and high cliffs, with redrock walls sculpted by wind and water over the millenia. How I wished for an extra couple of days to explore it!
Just south of Flagstaff, I picked up I-40 and felt a little thrill to finally be headed EAST! (Honey – I’m on my way home!).
I couldn’t resist stopping in Winslow, Arizona, just for the chance to be seen “standin’ on the corner” (c’mon, you know you want to sing along with me . . . )
The entire downtown was torn up with construction, but I needed some lunch. (it was 1:30PM and I’d been driving since 8AM!) So, on the recommendation of a local shop owner, I went to La Posada (“the Resting Place”), one of the most elegant of the original Fred Harvey hotels built by the Santa Fe railroad. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1930, La Posada was designed by Mary Colter (YES! A WOMAN! b. 1869, d. 1958), who was named chief designer and architect for the Fred Harvey Company back in 1910, before women were even allowed to vote. Fred Harvey (1835-1901), through his empire of elegant hotels along the Santa Fe rail line, was credited with “civilizing the west” and the story of the Harvey hotel empire is told in the 1946 movie “The Harvey Girls,” starring Judy Garland. I had a Basil Pesto & Green Chile Chicken Sandwich (YUM!) in the “Turquoise Room”, exquisitely decorated with fine Southwest artwork, woven Indian rugs, and wrought iron fixtures. After lunch, I wandered around the Spanish hacienda-style hotel and grounds, and felt the spirits of the legendary people who have stayed here over the decades, including Groucho Marx, Amelia Earhart, Gary Cooper, Dorothy Lamour, Spencer Tracy, Albert Einstein, Mary Pickford, John Wayne, Clark Gable, Shirley Temple, Gene Autrey, Roy Rogers, Betty Grable, Lionel Barrymore, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh (on their honeymoon!) and many others.
After wiping the great big “T” (for TOURIST!) off of my forehead, I got back into the car and settled in for the long haul across the rest of Arizona and into New Mexico.
My CD collection of road-tunes kept me going for over 400 miles . . .
through the pink, lavender and gray landscape of the Painted Desert . . .
past signs of unspeakable poverty on the Navajo and Zuni Indian reservations . . .
and signs of outrageous excess at the casinos that were supposed to bring numerous economic and other benefits to the tribes that run them . . .
(Time magazine did an investigative report on these casinos a while back) . . .
past massive mountaintop mining operations and power plants . . .
through the middle of the Petrified Forest National Park (didn’t stop – alas!) . . .
across the Continental Divide . . .
past dozens (hundreds?) of billboards advertising souvenir shops and trading posts that promised “authentic” Indian blankets, gems and jewelry, meteorites at 50% off, Kachina dolls, dreamcatchers, frybread, Indian tacos, and other delights (didn’t stop at any of them either!) . . .
along vast fields of black volcanic rock near the Bandera Volcano . . .
and beside long chains of boxcars and stacked shipping containers on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail lines. There’s something about trains that always makes me feel a kind of yearning nostalgia, wondering where they’re going and where they’ve been.
As the sky in my rearview mirror lit up in pastel sunset shades of pink and purple, I reached the twinkling lights of Albuquerque and decided it call it a day.
On Tuesday, it’s on through the rest of New Mexico, across the northwestern-most corners of Texas and Oklahoma and on into Kansas . . .
Next: The Long Haul - Part Two
Previous: Midway Oasis