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The day started with a hot shower in the wigwam (thanks, Bri for taking the first lukewarm shower and allowing the pipes to heat up for me.)  We piled in the car and started out trek towards the Grand Canyon, stopping every few exits to hit an old Route 66 landmark.

jackrabbitIn Holbrook, AZ, we found a great family of dinosaurs.  Then we couldn’t find a gas pump that actually worked.  We finally located one at the Circle K — generic gas and lousy coffee. A great start!

We stopped along the highway to see the Geronimo — “largest petrified tree” (which was nice, but didn’t seem THAT big), a large Jackrabbit, and the famed Twin Arrows (which are decayed almost beyond recognition).  In Winslow, AZ, we saw a strange 9/11 Memorial, a statue of a “Guy Standing on the Corner” (a tribute to an old Eagle’s song), then purchased two pieces of the old Route 66 as a souvenir — oddly, the total price came to $9.11. Strange, but true — especially in a town with a weird 9-11 obsession (the statue of the Guy on a Corner was dedicated on 9/11/98.)

twinarrowsAn interesting stop was at the Barringer Meteor Crater — a very well preserved and intact example of a meteor impact site.  We arrived in time for a 10-minute film (well done with some decent effects and interviews), and then took the group tour on a hike around part of the crater rim.  Brian has little patience for the general public — and does not like crowds — so this was a HUGE stretch for him.  I give tours to groups from 2-40 at the Building Museum, so I am used to groups of tourists.  Granted, visitors to the NBM are a little better educated and have an interest in the building arts or the amazing Pension Building structure — as opposed to the masses who descend upon the meteor crater to gawk and snap photos at a roadside attraction.

winslowStopping at these little points along the map made me realize how important a single idea is to create a sense of community.  I know we wrote about Roswell as the town that UFOs built — and the same holds true for these old Rt. 66 pit stops. Not only did they dispense gasoline and snacks — but they helped to spread the American culture to those who passed through their doors.  Each exit introduced families to new cultures, art and ideas.  Unfortunately, today’s mega-rest areas and truck stops just dispense gas — and fattening junk and convenience foods.  Looking at the dilapidated Twin Arrows site, I imagined the stop in its heyday — a symbol of American fortitude and enterprise.  I wonder if it is available for sale — it could make am AMAZING destination diner for an innovative chef. Hmmmm.

By mid-afternoon, we arrived at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  I have never been, and based my expectations on what I learned from the Brady Bunch’s visit.  After we passed the traffic on the way into the park, and hunted for a parking space, we started our hike to the edge of the canyon.  Only problem was the throngs of people and the snow and ice covered trails made the hike less of a stroll and more of an obstacle course.  Still, we managed to walk about a mile or so, snapping plenty of pictures.

The canyon really is an awesome site — I can only imagine what the first person to discover the canyon thought — other than “damn, guess we’re not crossing here.”  I know that we only saw about 1% of this natural phenomenon, but I think I got a sense of its power.  Listening to the others on the path, it was rare to hear English spoken. Of course, plenty of Spanish — but also French, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Asian languages, African languages — tongues from all over the planet.  I think it is sad that others in the world appreciate our natural wonders — but Americans can’t seem to be bothered to enjoy what our country holds as its own — instead, vacationing in all-inclusive or theme resorts, devoid of any real connection to the land. Yes, I am speaking to you Dolly and Walt and Dan Snyder.

canyonWe ended our trek of the canyon with a nice rest at the edge during sunset.  Watching the fleeting light cast its last spell of the day on the edge of the canyon was a sight to behold — gorgeous pinks and yellows and oranges and reds glowed vibrant and faded over the course of our 20-minute sit down.  Brian, Pilot and I just watched — and took the scene in.

At the suggestion of a few of the blog readers, we made a special dinner reservation at the restaurant at El Torval — the elegant 100+ year-old hotel at the rim on the canyon — originally run by the famed Harvey Girls (yes, I like the Judy Garland movie.)  I am gad we had the experience, but I must tell the truth — the dinner was mediocrity at its average.  The bean soup and endive salad were fine.  You can’t really screw those up — tho the salad consisted of a few ingredients too many — endive and spinach and apple and gorgonzola and shallots and bacon and a salty dressing.   Pick any three of those and the salad would have been perfect. The frozen duck was cooked to the point of dehydration and smothered in a “sauce” of watered-down marmalade.  The crab-stuffed trout was might have been good if it was just crab and fresh trout — not mayonaisey crab (or was it krab) in an overcooked piece of fish that could have been cod for all its tastelessness.  We passed on dessert, as I was afraid it would have been defrosted Costco warmed over and slathered with Hershey’s syrup.  Did we complain to the manager? No — although I would never have accepted a meal like this at home, I felt that we were really there for the experience more than the food.  Of course, now it is about 2 hours after we got back, and I am experiencing pangs of hunger.

Tomorrow, we will breakfast in Bedrock (an RV park that is Flintstones themed — complete with round, rocky buildings and jumbo cartoon characters.)  Then off to an afternoon in Sedona and a relaxing New Year’s Eve in the small town of Gila Bend, AZ.

Happy New Year!

paintedYesterday, Jon and I drove the three and a half hour drive from Roswell to Santa Fe—we understand New Mexico’s nickname: “Land of Enchantment”. It is truly one of the most rugged and beautiful places. For most of our drive, the land ran uninterrupted to the horizon. At the horizon there were rugged mountains, some snow covered, others not—all in shades of lavender and mauve as they met the sky. The landscape was peppered with scrub brush, tumble weeds, flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, and the occasional windmill. All of this under the most incredibly open, blue and expansive sky.  I know this sounds uncharacteristically Pollyanna of me, but I am feeling really fortunate to be able to take this cross country trip and we’ve seen a full range of Americana, with more to come over the next few days. ☺

lisaAnyway, yesterday we arrived into Santa Fe around 1pm—and damn was it cold! I didn’t expect it to be so wintry (they had some serious snow fall around Christmas and it has not warmed up enough to melt it yet). It was beautifully sunny, but cold and covered in snow. I stayed with my friend Lisa and her husband Steve; Jon and Pilot spent an evening alone at a nearby hotel. During the day, however, we all hung out and Lisa showed us around beautiful Santa Fe. Both Jon and I had visited one time before, but both of us came during the summer, so it was interesting to see the town in winter—equally as beautiful, but really different than in the summer.

We started with a nice half hour walk along a nearby trail—Lisa and Steve live in an awesome place—their home has incredibly views of the mountains and valley below and we only had to go out their back gate and were on a great walking trail. After spending as much time as we have sitting in the car this past week, it was great to move around and get the blood flowing. After the hike we all went for a great lunch at a place downtown. When we finished, Steve went to play hockey and Lisa, Jon, Pilot and I went exploring Santa Fe in the cold. It was a great day, but we were all tired afterward! Lisa says that’s common when folks are not used to the elevation; (I say it’s also true when folks aren’t used to moving around much LOL).

We dropped Jon and Pilot off at their hotel and Lisa and I spent a couple of hours chatting and catching up. When Steve returned later on, the three of us went for Paella, Tapas, and live music at a great little place in Santa Fe—we ended our late dinner with figs and dates stuffed with Marscapone and drizzled with caramel. (oh my gawd! LOL).

This morning Lisa and Steve took us out for the most amazing breakfast burritos with green chili sauce—what a great send-off. (thank you Lisa and Steve for a great part of our trip).  So concluded our trip to Santa Fe—to me it was the antithesis to Dollywood. Both have been really great parts of our trip, but couldn’t be more different—and I am really glad to have experienced both.

Today was spent driving into Arizona. From Santa Fe we drove south on route 14 to Albuquerque. This route is known as the Turquoise Trail—there are a lot of small, rustic little “villages” along this route. Really village is too big a word—they are really little enclaves of artisans in the area.

“Although the modern Turquoise Trail route was only created about thirty years ago, the name comes from the fact that turquoise was mined in these mountains by Native Americans some 2000 years ago. The Spanish Conquistadores continued the mining, and turquoise was still being taken from the ground here into the 20th century. Later the quiet natural beauty of the area attracted artists and writers, and modern life still hasn’t intruded too much on what has been called the Turquoise Trail since the early 1970s.”

divideFrom Albuquerque, we tried to drive on historic Route 66, but as we discovered, there is not much of it left in New Mexico. Most of it has been replaced by Route 40, which we drove most of the way into Arizona, but did manage to drive a little on Route 66 when we could.  Early afternoon we crossed the Continental Divide. As the sign in the photo reads, water which falls on the East side flows into the Atlantic; water fall on the West side flows into the Pacific. Pilot “christened” the spot in typical dog fashion—Jon and I wonder to which ocean it will flow.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, until we drove to the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona—what an incredibly gorgeous place. The Painted Desert is so-named because of the “stripes” of color on the mountains, mesas, and buttes—different colors because of the differing composition of the different strata of rock formations. The Petrified Forest is part of this national park—as its name would imply, it features petrified wood strewn over a landscape of desert and badlands.

wigwamTonight we are staying at the famous Wigwam Motel off Route 66—yup, all the rooms are tee pees (made of concrete, not animal hides)—folks it doesn’t get more kitschy than this! And Jon and I are loving it! The room is fairly comfortable and we can’t wait to take more pictures tomorrow in the town of Holbrook—the next 48 hours are packed with kitschy stops to and from our drive to the Grand Canyon. Stay tuned and prepare to be enchanted.

The people of Roswell, NM are brilliant farmers. They have taken the seeds of a likely-fictitious incident and have cultivated it into a major industry and attraction. In only 60 years, the tall tales of a bored kid on a ranch have grown into modern legends and perceived realities.

ufoWe both wholeheartedly believe that there is life outside our solar system. The odds that there is some form of life form on a distant planet in other galaxies is too great to doubt. And come on, could we really be the only intelligent life forms?! However, neither one of us believes that it are little green men in silver suits flying around in pie-tin shaped saucers in the sky. What makes Roswell so fascinating is that it is a decent sized town with a thriving tourist industry as evident by the dozens of hotels and chain restaurants. There is nothing surrounding the town but scrub land and desert.

The alien theme has been woven into every aspect of the town’s life: the green-glowing street lights have almond-shaped black eyes, the vending machines feature ET drinking cold soda pop, most of the stores and restaurants near the International UFO Museum and Research Center have an alien or outer space theme. Even the chain restaurants are into the action: the McDonalds is shaped like a space saucer and the Arby’s sign proudly welcomes aliens. I assume they mean little green ones, and not necessarily the brown ones from across the Rio Grande. Granted, all of this is done in a clever and DIY way — no slickly-produced Madison Avenue glitz.

alienWe did not have a lot of interaction with the Roswell natives. Chances are that they are not all believers too — except in the sense that the believe that UFOs are good for business and the local economy. And why shouldn’t they be — people of DC gush over everything political when visitors come to town, yet few of us really believe in the sanctity of the system. Call it being jaded. Call it grasping reality.

Anyway, the UFO Museum was a bit of a disappointment — housed in an old movie theater (which was probably beautiful in its heyday). After paying $5 (which I guess will help finance the building of a new, Gehry-styled complex), we started perusing the bland exhibits — all which look as though they were created by a museum designer in the mid 1960s. Pegboard backdrops held paper-matteboard frames with second and third generation photocopies of old newspaper clippings, “newly released” Top Secret government files and letters, and grainy photos of “real” sightings. At the end of the large hall is a diorama of an alien autopsy — the only thing that looked like it was created in the last decade or two. Truth be told, the tacky alien-inspired window displays of the local knicknack shops were more interesting and gave us what I think we really wanted to see: kitsch.

autopsyNonetheless, I do not doubt that the “sightings” are real — as personal visions. In the renaissance and time of the first kings of England, visions of angels were common — some “verified” and are now held as religious “knowledge.” Throughout time, people have seen ghosts and visions of loved ones in distant places. So the modern phenomenon of seeing aliens is not so out-of-the-norm. It is the fervent need to validate these psychotic episodes that disturbs me. It is important for people to believe in something greater than themselves — that is one reason religions are so popular — it helps to keep us in line with our fellow human beings, and gives us a sense of place in the world.

We are both glad to have made the pilgrimage to Roswell. Its quirkiness is a refreshing change from the homogenized and over-produced offerings we have seen elsewhere.

I am sorry that many of the “oddities” — fun stops along the highway — are gone in New Mexico. We really wanted to see the Sacred Tortilla — the original “Jesus-in-your-food” sighting from the late 1970s. Evidently, after many years on display, the granddaughter of the woman who discovered the relic took it to school for show-and-tell, and broke the stale flour disc when she dropped it. I guess that little girl is in her own personal hell.

Can I just say how much I love the Sirius radio again? The 70s station and the New Wave station have kept Brian and my sanity on these long hauls. The Partridge Family is singing “I Think I Love You” as we race through the flat, straight desert highway. Again, thanks Kryn for the radio!

Brian is driving now — and is loving the desert landscape. As monotonous as it is, the scene is rather beautiful — and makes us feel like we are really doing the cross-country thing. Brian has remarked that he feels like he is in a scene from “Thelma and Louise.” I am just wondering which one I am? And does that make Pilot the Brad Pitt character?!

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