Monthly Archives: September 2017

4 nights, 3 days in Albuquerque

My wonderful sister, Paula, in the backyard of her home.

I think of Santa Fe as being the most self-consciously unique city I have ever visited, but, really that fits all of northern New Mexico, especially Albuquerque. One could be blindfolded and set down anywhere in Albuquerque, even a restaurant, remove the blindfold, and the blindfolded one would know they were in Albuquerque or, at least New Mexico. That wouldn’t happen in most American cities. The Albuquerque Museum couldn’t be anywhere else unlike, say, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art or the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. They are both superb museums, but they generic and Albuquerque’s is site-specific (for lack of a better turn).

A courtyard in the Albuquerque Museum.
Paula showing Michele the location of her home on a map on the floor of the Albuquerque Museum

  What is the same, however, are movies, and the Mother! we saw in Albuquerque on a rainy Thursday afternoon is the same as the Mother! we would see anywhere. As an aside, I understand from looking at People Magazines in the supermarket checkout line that the director Darren Aronofsky and Jennifer Lawrence are in love, and the movie shows it. There are times when the camera is right in Lawrence’s face, following her around like an adolescent in love. The movie is a mess that is fun to watch in a WTF is going on way and while I wouldn’t exactly recommend it, I’m glad we saw it. End aside.

Now it is on to Amarillo.

Albuquerque mile 1,139.9

We entered New Mexico near the edge of a plateau on the Zuni Indian Reservation.

We started our day in Flagstaff with breakfast at Shift, a restaurant that Michele discovered when we were driving through Flagstaff a year or so ago. and ended it with dinner at my sister’s, 352 miles later, in Albuquerque. Between those two, it was mostly jammin’ down Interstate 40 in darkening skies and then rain. We had had a memorable dinner at Shift and wanted to give breakfast a try. The food was excellent but a surprise in that there was no menu, just a couple of items – an egg cooked on a muffin made with croissant dough, a Quiche, and several sweet items – laid out on the counter. We like to think of  Shift as a California type restaurant but, really, I think these kind of restaurants are a part of a newer collective. Cities are sort of like islands of civility but, in the new internet-connected world, restaurants like Shift are part of a new collective, getting and giving inspiration to other restaurants in small,  cities like Boise ID and Portland MA as well as well-known eateries in the Bay Area.
Flagstaff, itself, has a thriving urban core that reminded us of San Luis Obispo or Durango.  Part of that is that all three are college towns with lots of places to buy college staples like beer or a fleece vest, but they are also part of the bigger national movement of healthy food with Farmer’s Markets and large super-markets featuring organic food, they are also part of the new Urbanization with the appreciation of art and tolerance that living in a city infers

After spending the morning kicking around Flagstaff – and looking for a place to buy  polysporin; I have an open wound between my toes, a result of a biopsy for melanoma, a biopsy I passed with flying colors – we only had time to drive straight through to Albuquerque with a short stop for lunch overlooking the Painted Desert (under very flat light).   

Once we drop out of the mountains near Flagstaff, we drive across a flat plain with a distant view of the southern sandstone buttes of Monument Valley.
We pass a couple of power plants and, as we get closer to the Zuni and Ramah Navajo Reservations, innumerable signs advertising tchotchkes.
The light was flat but the view was still worth the stop, even without lunch.
Just below the black dot – about 1/3 up in the left side of the picture – are a couple of pieces of petrified wood in the Chinle Formation. Michele and I have run into this formation all over Utah.
Going east on Interstate 40.
As we get to the New Mexico border near the Zuni Reservation, the landscape changes dramatically.

The clouds had been darker all day and then we ran into the storm.

As we finally get near Albuquerque, we can see the distinctive Sandia Peak.
We got gas a couple of miles from my sisters and then ended the day with a tasty salmon dinner at her home.

Flagstaff, mile 781.7

Downtown Bakersfield.

We started in in Bakersfield CA and ended the day in Flagstaff AZ, 518.9 miles later. Much of it on back roads. The first part, out of Bakersfield and over Tehachapi pass into the high Mojave Desert at Mojave CA – strangely enough – then down to Barstow however, was mostly on freeways.      

Climbing up, out of the San Joaquin Valley up towards Tehachapi Pass on Highway 58.
Tehachapi Pass, covered in windmills with new, much bigger, windmills filling in the empty spaces.
Tehachapi Pass from the Mojave side.
Mojave Air and Space Port is the center of much of the burgeoning private work on getting into space without giant rockets. Both Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch are leading the charge. Mojave is a strange place in that it is both a dusty out-back desert town and one of the high tech centers of the Universe.
To the casual observer, the most noticeable part of Mojave Air and Space Port is the boneyard of parked planes. Some will be sold and refitted, some poor derelicts parted out.

On Highway 58, driving through Hinkley CA, made famous by Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich. To my way of thinking, this is the most desolate section of highway in California.
A view of Barstow CA, from the semi-official view spot.
We got gas in Barstow and quickly moved on.

Several miles past Barstow, near the famous Bagdad Cafe, we got on Route 66. The first thing we noticed about Route 66 is that almost all the non-locals were foreigners, “75% French”, we were told by Bagdad Cafe’s Bass Lady Andree Pruett.  Well, that was probably the second thing we noticed, the first was how dilapidated everything was; when the new I40 went in, bypassed most of the towns that had sprung up to service Route 66’s  travelers and the towns just dried up, people just got up and left, taking everything they could carry. The buildings are now old enough to be picturesque but there is still an air of lost dreams. The road was washed out before Needles, so we got back on Interstate 40 and stayed on it until we crossed the Colorado River at the border between California and Arizona, then got back on 66 and wandered through the hills/mountains under impossibly blue skies, through Oatman AZ and, eventually back to the freeway as it got dark. 

Bakersfield mile 262.8

I5 at 5:44 about three miles from home.

After a very late start, passing San Luis Reservoir just after sunset, – high but not full – getting gas during a superb sunset, and stopping for a utilitarian dinner at In and Out Burger,  we got to Bakersfield at about 10;45. We drove I5 in the dark. I5 is not much fun under any conditions and no fun in the dark but we are on our way. 

The Big Trip (Part 1, going east) with pictures from a little trip

Michele getting out of the sun at Bruneau Dunes State Park near Moutain Home in the Snake River valley.

Michele has a Cousin’s Reunion in Beaufort South Carolina starting on October 7th -weather permitting, it now seems – and we are going to drive there. We have taken up calling it the Big Trip – with apologies to Emily Gordon and Kumail NanjianiIt – and it will be the first time in years that I will be a tourist – in the best possible sense – seeing new places. It will also be the first time either one of us has ever driven across the country. The trip in the acompaning pictures is a drive from the Snake River Valley in southern Idaho to Interstate 80 near Winnemucca in northern Nevada and was part of our trip to see the eclipse. The eclipse trip also became a shakedown run for the Big Trip. Now that we are Googling routes and packing, the Big Trip is more real and I am getting very excited.  

We started our drive south to Winnemucca in the Snake River Valley which was scoured out by the sudden draining of the Lake Bonneville. It is estimated that about 1,200 cubic miles of water, drained out in a couple of weeks, lowering the Lake Bonneville level by exactly 351 feet. The small remaining remnants of Lake Bonneville are now The Great Salt Lake.
Heading south, towards Nevada, we pass Bruneau Dunes State Park near the hamlet of Bruneau and Jumbo’s store which advertises beer, bait, and bullets,
as we climb out of the Snake River Valley onto the Owyhee Plateau where the main industry seems to be growing hay.
As we travel south, into the Great Basin, the sky, which had been smoky from fires in Canada, clears.

My little sister, Paula, has just turned 75 and one of the most anticipated parts of the Big Trip will be spending four days at her place in Albuquerque NM, celebrating her Birthday. On the way to Paula’s, we’ll stop at a couple of our usual stopping towns, Barstow CA and Flagstaff AZ. Leaving Albuquerque, going east, however, we will enter what will be new territory for us so any suggestions, including change of stopping points, would be much appreciated.  

After leaving Paula’s, our thinking is to stay at Amarillo TX for our first night out. It is about a four-hour 15-minute drive or about six hours if we stay off of highways. We definitely want to see the Cadilac Ranch and we hope to go for a hike in Palo Duro Canyon which is billed as the second largest canyon in the U. S. (but, seems in pictures, similar to and smaller than the Snake River Valley). 

When we left the Snake River Valley, we were east of Boise so to get west to Reno, we have to keep cutting through mountain chains that are running north/south.
Going through the Independence Mountains, we ran into aspens at about seven thousand feet.I am reminded of a comment by John McPhee in “Basin and Range”, in which he talks about each high mountain chain being like an island with its own micro-environment seperated by desert..
Driving west, we go through a basin, then over a mountain, and then another basin.
We pass deserted homesteads, each one an abandoned dream.

From Amarillo TX to Tulsa OK is about five and a half hours on highways or about six and a half by backroads going through Gutherie, the first capital of Oklahoma, and now an outdoor museum and tourist destination   We are planning on spending two nights in Tulsa for no particular reason except that it looks interesting, is reported to have some great art deco architecture including a semi-deco 1929 Frank Lloyd Wright house, and a hot music and restaurant scene although, in reading about various cities on our route, everyone has a downtown revival which includes a hot restaurant scene. Our next stop is Bentingtonville AR, only two to three hours away, depending on how much highway driving we do. Bentingtonville is the home of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the depository of much of the Wallmart fortune so it should be fabulous. The building was designed by Moshe Safdie, the Israeli architect who we know of because of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore, which is the backdrop for the Singapore Grand Prix (although Safdie is a well-known architect, it does make one wonder why an Israeli architect would be used for a museum of American Art).

Michele shoots a self-portrait.
In northeastern Nevada, like southern Idaho, hay seems to be the biggest crop.
Only 91 miles from Golconda, we pass a sign that made us both chuckle. (BTW, I have no idea where Golconda is and only a vague idea of where we are except we are on Nevada highway 226.)

From Bentingtonville, the next jump is to Memphis TN and it is a long jump, a little over five hours on Highway 40 and six and half hours off the freeway. Since we left Albuquerque, Memphis is the only city we had already been to (we stayed there in 2008, on the way to Shiloh Military Park as part of a trip to meet a couple of Michele’s cousins that turned into a pilgrimage to a couple of General U.S. Grant’s Civil War battles). The upside is that Memphis has a great music scene and our favorite barbecue joint (so far) but, the downside is that we have already been there, done that. The next two nights we will stay in Chattanooga TN which I just found out is touted to be one of the “Top 45 Places to go in the World in 2012” by the New York Times. From there, it is only six to seven hours to The Cousin’s Reunion in Beaufort SC.

Cutting across a small basin in the Great Basin. People complain that driving across Nevada is boring and I can’t fathom why. As an aside, when I Googled “fathom’, the example they gave was “he could scarcely fathom the idea that people actually lived in Las Vegas”. End aside.

As we get close to Interstate 80, the landscape opens up, then it is only an hour and a half to a stellar Chines restaurant in Reno.

Two days before I wrote this, Trump gave a speech at the United Nations that was just nasty. He just seems to be a lout, to his very core. Now he is our President, both the Chief Executive and the Public  Face of The United States. But researching for this trip has left me feeling much better for our country. As the Roman Empire collapsed, the cities in it, like Florence or Arles in France, continued to prosper as islands of civilization, and, as much of our country seems to be convulsing towards Trumpian dystopia, all the small cities we Googled for the trip seemed to be growing islands of tolerant Secular Humanism (with interesting food).