The Last 800 Miles

From Flagstaff, Arizona we make a slight detour north to see “the strip” in Las Vegas, Nevada.

strip1I hope this stuff looks less goofy all lit up at night.


I couldn't resist!
I couldn’t resist!


The journey from Vegas to Reno is…eerie.  We pass miles of land littered with U.S. Government restricted access signs in varying degrees of unfriendliness.  Just as the sun starts to set, a heavy, solemn cloud starts smothering the mountains, diffusing light in patches.


Sm_SAM_4055The ethereal show adds to the Mystery of Nevada.

It’s getting quite late, and we’re dog tired.  Looking for a hotel is hard work – we stop in a tiny town and all of the motels are booked.  There’s a big job or something nearby, and seasonal workers have swarmed in.

Then, suddenly, we’re in Death Valley!

I'll bet there are some great stories in that bar.
I’ll bet there are some great stories in that bar.

The next day, a freak snowstorm makes the passage to Reno precarious, but lovely.

8am, snow on the desert road to Reno...there's a haiku in there somewhere
8am, snow on the desert road to Reno…there’s a haiku in there somewhere

We drop in on my cousins in Reno, who kindly show us the big city lights. Just a few hours later the next day, we are pulling into Palo Alto, California – our destination.

Horatio sighs as Sal switches off the ignition.  It’s time for a rest, for all three of us road warriors.


Grand Finale

I have written and erased many words trying to capture my first glance of the yawning mouth of infinite rock that is the Grand Canyon.  And several hours later, watching a slow and glorious ballet of color dancing over the canyon as the sun set.

I find the experiences I most want to capture in words evade me entirely.

Photo courtesy of Sal
Grand Canyon, South Rim. Photo courtesy of Sal

I can, however, offer some practical advice:

1. Bring a good pair of hiking boots.  You’ll walk for hours and not realize it.  I have discarded 85% of my wardrobe in the process of moving from the U.K. and lacked even tennis shoes to wear.  I shopped for hours in Flagstaff, AZ for a pair of women’s hiking boots with no luck.  I finally settled on a pair of men’s hunting boots that we found in Wal-Mart.   Not great, but they did the trick.  Better to bring your own.


2. Stay for sunset or come for sunrise.  Sunset at Lipan Point (South Rim)  was downright phenomenal.

Nearing the end of our transcontinental adventure, I can’t think of anything more grand than this finale.

Sunset at Lipan Point - the Indian Watchtower visible to the right
Sunset at Lipan Point – the Indian Watchtower visible to the right

Sunset at Tipan Point, Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Sal

The Badlands

Crossing the border into Arizona, we stop on a whim at the Petrified Forest National Park.  This is not your average Route 66 stop.  It’s a geological goldmine – a sliver of the famous badlands called the Painted Desert, with Triassic-era fossils just littering the ground.

The Painted Desert
The Painted Desert

Sal slows Horatio to a crawl and we stare in silence at the bizarre, twisted rocks and black piles of stones.  We stop at nearly every pullout – the panoramic views are terribly beautiful and otherworldly, like shots from the Mars rover.


There is a quiet to this land that settles into my chest.  My thoughts are snuffed out and I can only stare numbly at the alien land.  I feel like a space or time traveler, treading over logic boundaries.

This wood is also rock.  It’s incredible.  I can’t show you in this photograph; you have to touch it yourself.  It’s a freaking rock.  I’m touching a 200 million year old tree rock.  It glimmers quartz colors and sublime glory.

Hunks of petrified wood just laying around.
Hunks of petrified wood just laying around.

Deep down in this ravine, there is a stone where our ancestors carved shapes.  They mean things, mystic things.  One of the symbols is a triangle man with bendy arms – I used to doodle this man in my notebooks in geography class.  I am looking at my own triangle man, but it is thousands of years old and carved in a rock.

The triangle man is visible just under the shadow on this rock.
The triangle man is visible just under the shadow on this rock.

Hours elapse before we escape the Painted Desert.  Miles and miles later, the quiet strangeness lingers.

Our road trip across America is supposed to be a homecoming, but it is feeling more like an expedition.  Everything out here – the way people speak, the slope of the hills, the color of the land, even the smell of the wind is strange to me.  I curl up in the passenger seat of Horatio, and stare at the red earth and quiet, wind swept sky.  London feels very far away, and too, my sense of home.

Curious incident

My dear readers, I am terribly sorry for the belated post.  I have no idea what happened the last couple of days.  It’s a complete blank!

Let me think.  The last thing I remember…we stopped in Roswell, New Mexico for a bite to eat and met this lovely gentleman…a fellow roadtripper, I believe…

curious gentleman

Don’t recall a thing after that.  How curious!

Blue corn dreams

It’s hard not to glamorize New Mexico.  The scenery alone draws a sense of drama and romance from your soul like no other place.  Nature paints from a different palette out here – all pinks and ruddy browns, clear blues, and dark, troubled green.  We pass stone hills that resemble piles of black lava.  Just beyond them, layers of dusty pink and smoky black mountains rise and fall in clean-cut steps, as if shaved with a celestial scalpel.

Billboards advertise serapes, moccasins, Indian tacos, fireworks,  and casinos.  However, the adverts are blissfully sparse along Interstate 40.  Trains run alongside a stretch of track that parallels the highway for miles and miles.

Santa Fe shops
Santa Fe shops

At twilight we pull into Santa Fe and wander  in and out of art galleries and shops.

After breakfast, we make a beeline for the Sunday morning farmers market.

farmers market

I wander Santa Fe like a woman dreaming.  I buy atole blue corn mix, eat blue corn doughnuts, gaze at the gleaming turquoise and silver, flit from one stall to the next with wonder at everything.

A man gives me a sip of Hopi tea, some sort of Navajo herby elixir.  I sip it and think, we could park Horatio here forever, under this big sky, and live an adobe blue corn dream life.

I’m in love, maybe.

The Palace of the Governors in downtown Santa Fe hosts a number of different tribal vendors
The Palace of the Governors in downtown Santa Fe hosts Native American artists from many different tribal communities
Samples of hot atole drink hand ground for you as you watch! At the Santa Fe Farmers Market
Samples of hot atole drink hand ground for you as you watch! At the Santa Fe Farmers Market
The fanciest doughnuts I’ve ever had. And let me tell you, I’ve eaten some doughnuts, people! At the Santa Fe Farmers Market

Star-aligned cars of sublime mystery

It takes us a good 20 minutes and several wrong turns to find it.  There – just ahead – something shimmers against the cold, grey sky.

We made it.

Entrance to Cadillac Ranch
Entrance to Cadillac Ranch

“I wonder what the ancients were thinking,” I shout over the wind. “What divine purpose this was serving.”

Spray cans are littered all around.  Sal picks up one and gives it a curious shake.

“I don’t know,” he says.

There are a half dozen Americana pilgrims on this sacred ground today, at 10 am on a Saturday in late October.  Our guide book says the cars are aligned in the same configuration as the Great Pyramid of Giza.  I climb on one, rubbing spray paint onto the toe of my shoe.

Its mystery is exceeded only by its sublimity.
Its mystery is exceeded only by its sublimity.

A fellow Route 66 road tripper offers to take our photo for us.  She and her husband are in their fifties or so, bundled up in identical red windbreakers.  They also lived in England for a few years.

“I wasn’t that impressed with Stonehenge,” she says.  “Every time someone came to visit, they made us go back to those rocks.”

“Have you been to Foamhenge in Virginia?” Sal asks.

She laughs.  “No.  I hear there’s a carhenge too.”

We run back to Horatio, panting from the wind and cold and mystery.  Cadillac Ranch, in that unassuming field of yellow grass, leaves us with more questions than answers.

Sal makes his mark at Cadillac Ranch
Sal makes his mark at Cadillac Ranch

On the road again

The road beckons.  We bid family adios and turn Horatio’s nose north, picking up the Mother Road in Amarillo, Texas.  Dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch is ridiculous and absolutely necessary if you’re ever in Amarillo riding Route 66.

It's literally too big for my camera.
It’s literally too big for my camera.

Why?  Three reasons:

1. The vittles 

The food, though pricey, is downright delicious.

texas vittles

If you have a notion, you can step up to the 72-ounce steak challenge – if you can eat it in one sitting under an hour (plus side items), you get it free!

2. Practice your shootin’

While you wait for a table, you can shoot some stuff.


3. Show off your new boots

Nothing says “cowgirl” like a chair with horns on it.  Yee-haw!

chair with boots

Yippee Ki Yay, Texas

Our wanderings take a sharp detour from Route 66 deep into the heart of Texas, to the city of Austin, that magical, musical oasis.  We stay several days with family to catch up on lost time as I recuperate from my sinus infection.

Sal decides that, since I’m in Texas, I ought to have some proper cowgirl boots.  On recommendation from his aunt, he takes me to Cavender’s Boot City.



So many boots.  Brown, black, red-white-and-blue, hot pink boots.  Boots with tassels, skulls, bedazzled boots, snakeskin boots.


A saleswoman asks if I need help, sensing my disorientation, perhaps.  I smile and shake my head, pick up a pair and examine them.  Like I buy boots all the time.

Sal and I line up a few candidates.  I pick up a deep brown pair, shoving my feet into the stiff leather.

“These don’t feel right,” I frown in the mirror.  “I don’t think these are the boots for me.”

The saleswoman approaches, a wiry grey head of hair and cool, dry saunter.

“As a sales professional, it is my duty to inform you that you are wearing two right boots,” she says.

“Oh, right.  Well.”

She retrieves a left boot and kneels down with a patient air.  Helping me slip the boot on, she explains that the ball of my foot needs to line up with the widest part of the boot.

“There should be some shuffle room at the heel,” she advises.

After several attempts, we find a pair that line up nicely.  Sal gives an approving nod.

“Yep,” I grin, looking down at them.  “These are my boots.”

It’s not just how the boots look, I realize as I take them out to wear them to dinner that night.  It’s how they make you feel.

These boots want to saunter and stomp, and cause a ruckus.

And maybe they will.




On the Road

You learn things about yourself on the road.  I love driving in Texas.  As a mountain girl, the flatness intrigues me.  The way the road stretches  so far, so little to distract the eye.  We pass a windmill farm that stretches for miles – giant white arms spinning slowly over cotton, over burnt red earth, over houses and wire fences.  This gives way slowly to nubby stumps of hills dotted with low-lying trees or tall bushes, peppered with horses or black bulls.

That Texas sky is so big, the sun takes twice as long to sink down under the scrubby land.  I watch the blues ease into pink, the pinks into deep soft purple.  And in the great distance, something twinkles in the near-darkness.

A grey ribbon slides under our wheels, pulling those lights closer.

Things fall apart

Our road trip is spiraling into chaos.  My cold has morphed into a nasty sinus infection.  Sal’s orderly packing of Horatio – a Tetris-inspired masterpiece – has reshuffled itself into a trashy mess.

car mess
We ran out of room for the maps. They get piled on me most of the time.

We spend precious daylight hours in a fruitless search for the giant blue whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma.  On the way out of town on 44 West, I hear a gut-churning flapping sound on the passenger side.

Sal pulls Horatio to the side of the freeway.  There’s a huge nail in the tire.  Sal attempts a patch with Fix-A-Flat, which ends with more tire flapping and pulling over again.

Within five minutes, an Oklahoma state trooper pulls up behind us.  He helps Sal sort out the assembly of our hydraulic jack and stands to the side, talking Sal through the process.

“Where are you coming from?  All the way from Virginia, hmm?  Well, if you’re driving Route 66, I hope you saw the Totem Pole.”

Ed Galloway's Totem Pole park.  Also on site - his collection of fiddles - dozens of them, unstrung and unplayed, handmade by Mr Galloway from wood around the world.
Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole park. Also on site – his collection of fiddles – dozens of them, unstrung and unplayed, handmade by Mr Galloway from wood around the world.

I assure him we have.

“Did you stop at the KuKu Burger?”

Horatio contemplates this classic Route 66 diner.
Horatio contemplates this classic Route 66 diner.

I assure him we did.

“Now, when you let the car down, ease the pressure off the jack, don’t let it slam down on you.  That’s it.”  He watches Sal install the spare tire and waits until we’re safely on the freeway before going his own way.

“Well, there are worse things than a flat,” I say as  night falls.  “It’s all part of the journey.  What a nice state trooper!”

On the border between Oklahoma and Texas, I awake from a nap to find another state trooper behind us.

“What now?” I ask between sneezes.

Sal pulls over and looks sheepishly into the rear view mirror.

“I think it’s a speeding ticket,” he sighs.

A significantly less jolly state trooper appears at the window.  “License and registration, please.”

I shuffle maps and cups out of the way to get to the glove compartment.

What have we done to displease the road trip spirits?  How can we make it right again?

Perhaps an offering of Beef Jerky?
Perhaps an offering of Beef Jerky?