Yesterday I wrote from Gallup, New Mexico after a snowy morning of driving. Well, to complete the drive yesterday, I managed to see more snow, beautiful sunny skies peaking through huge clouds, incredible dust storms limiting visibility to a hundred yards or so, and torrential rain. It was a long drive, to say the least. But I made it to Santa Fe before the sun set, which has been my goal for driving every day on my trip. I checked into a very lovely old inn (note: traveling in March has its benefits — offseason hotel rates!) a few blocks for the historic plaza. I walked down the block for dinner at tiny restaurant recommended by the hotel front desk clerk, where I had the most delicious enchiladas I’ve ever had….and more chips and salsa than really should be legal. Before heading to sleep I made another stop down the street to catch the end of the Kansas game at a bar that happened to have two of the most devoted Kansas fans in the world…which made for a fun, if stressful, end to the evening.
This morning I wandered around Santa Fe for a while before hopping in the car and heading towards Texas. I think I can sum up Santa Fe with two words: art galleries. So many art galleries. This is a town that was made for my mom; while lovely, it’s not necessarily catering to me. I enjoyed it well enough, but I’m pretty sure it’s a town designed for women 30 years older than me. No offense to the town or to those women I’m describing (you know who you are), or anything…it is definitely gorgeous and I’m pretty sure I could have eaten in any restaurant in the vicinity and been happy. I just know there are others who would get more out of it than I.
After my chilly walk around town and a fill-up on coffee and gas, it was time to head towards Texas. I took a bit of a less-than-direct route, wanting to see a few of the mountains near Taos before turning east. The mountains were indeed gorgeous and worth seeing, and it was nice to see some serious snow (not on the roads, thankfully) before eventually pointing my car towards the sultry southeast. Once I got east of the mountains, it was back to a scene I recalled from a few weeks ago — the high plains! Except these high plains were, somehow, far more vast than even those I’d seen in Wyoming and Montana. These were some serious plains.
There’s a scene at the end of “Castaway” where Tom Hanks’s character is standing at a crossroads in Texas looking at a map on the hood of his car. All around him are fields and nothing else. A local tells him that he has 4 options: south on 83, east towards I40, west to Amarillo and Flagstaff, or north through a whole lot of nothing towards Canada. Well, that’s pretty much where I was (perhaps a bit further west, as I wasn’t quite to Amarillo). Except instead of green all around, it was yellow. See it here: http://movieclips.com/WSTp2-cast-away-movie-stuck-at-a-crossroads/
So it turns out that writing up blog posts is not a priority when you are visiting people…as I found out in a few different places along the way thus far, I also discovered this while I was in Phoenix visiting family. Oh, and also it’s hard to write a post when you are hiking in incredible canyons and driving frantically east to avoid two feet of snow. So this will be a long “catch-up” post covering the past few days.
I’m writing this post from a sandwich shop in Gallup, New Mexico. As far as I can tell, Gallup is a pretty nondescript town not too far from the border with Arizona. However, my assessment may be skewed by the fact that I can’t see anything further than a block or two given it’s dumping snow outside. Who knows, maybe there are huge red rock formations surrounding me. For all I know there could be skyscrapers a quarter mile away. Thankfully, it’s just above freezing so this snow is little more than really big white rain when it comes to what the roads are seeing. Flagstaff, on the other hand, is a different story…but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Since I last wrote, I drove from LA to Phoenix to visit my cousin Randi, her husband Mike and their kids Noah and Lexi. They used to live in DC and Randi once lived at our house when I was young, so it’s been strange not seeing them so often since they moved to Phoenix a few years ago. Turns out kids grow really quickly — Noah, who I remember sleeping in a crib in our guest room every once in a while, is now 14 and constantly texting friends on his phone and could probably dribble circles around me on a basketball court. However, he is not yet taller than me. This is comforting. For now. Lexi is also getting tall and old — it was a lot of fun to have “real” conversations with her (and Noah too) and laughing at the same jokes and funny pictures.
The drive from LA to Phoenix is tedious (LA traffic is terrible), beautiful (the desert was a new landscape for me to get excited about!), and a bit boring (I’m pretty sure the expanse between Palm Springs and Phoenix could compete with Southeastern South Dakota for “middle of nowhere” rights). But it was quick enough and I arrived in Phoenix in time for a delicious home-cooked meal with Randi and fam. The next morning the kids went off to school and Randi and I hiked up a not-tiny mountain not too far from their house. We then treated ourselves to a post-hike breakfast at a very cool western-style country store and diner, where I may or may not have eaten an entire loaf’s worth of French toast. A lazy afternoon catching up on laundry (thanks for letting me use “your” laundry room, Mike!) and picking the kids up from school was followed by a pizza dinner in Scottsdale:
The next day was an early start for all of us — the Sussmans off to LA for a spring break vacation and I up towards the Canyonlands…and it’s a good thing I did get off to that early start.
My first stop on the drive north towards the Grand Canyon was Sedona. I had breakfast at the “place with 101 different kinds of omelettes” as recommended, and then set off on my first hike of the day. It was a gorgeous morning with relatively cool temperatures, perfect for a hike. I quickly made my way up a trail putting me right at the base of a couple huge red rock towers and panoramic views in every direction. It was a quick hike of about two hours, yet still possibly one of the more beautiful ones I’ve done in a while. This is scenery I’d only ever seen in pictures…and something that I’ve learned time and time again is, with apologies to my brilliantly talented photographer friends whom I admire, that pictures will never do justice to some of the scenes that I’ve taken in on this trip. The photo below won’t capture the feeling that comes from being surrounded by beautiful rocks and the smells of ponderosa pines.
As I foreshadowed in my photo post yesterday, today I start the long road back east. It sort of feels like the beginning of the end of this roadtrip, even though I’m sure to have some amazing new experiences, seeing landscapes I’ve never seen before, visiting family, stepping into new states and eating in random towns.
This week in California has been a special time. My days in San Francisco were full of laughter, friends, gorgeous scenery, great weather, and good food. Los Angeles has bee more of the same, but add a few celebrity sightings into the mix as well (I saw Josh Lyman and Hercules!!!).
California has also been full of hectic relaxation; somehow I felt like I was running from one activity to the next all the time, but at the same time enjoying every minute and never getting anywhere near being stressed. It’s been the way life should be.
As I make the left turn towards DC, I can’t help but be thankful for the times I’ve already been lucky enough to have on this trip. I’ve been thinking a lot about luck recently. It seems like every day I find myself looking out on an amazing scene and having “a moment” brought to me by some amount of luck.
Yesterday it was sitting on the Santa Monica Pier, listening to an old hippy play guitar, watching the guys fishing for mackeral below me and laughing as seals played in the waves. This weekend there were many: sitting in a sailboat on the bay with great friends watching the fog roll in, standing on a hill looking out over the Golden Gate Bridge, walking the steepest streets known to man.
There were the solitary moments in the Badlands standing mesmerized as the whipping wind attempted to freeze my hands off, the roads that were straighter and flatter than I thought possible, the walks on a gorgeous mountain-encircled lake with one of my best friends, late-night Peking Duck, floating turns in soft clouds of snow up to my thighs, the lazy nap in a perfect park, catching up with family, games of pool in bars in the Mission, coffees with friends, drinks with strangers who became friends, great music in dive bars, a living room and a historic venue.
Today marks the beginning of week four of this trip, and I can’t wait to see what luck will grace me with on this final chapter of being on the road.