On the Road Again

It’s been a long long long long long long time since I took a real vacation. One of those go-somewhere-else jaunts that isn’t to see family (that’s called a visit, not a vacation), lasts more than three days, and you have to save up the money beforehand. Well, not have to, but it’s great if you can. And I did.

The trip was 12 days (I’m not allowed to say 13, because it was my travel buddy’s mom’s unlucky number, but we did drive home on the 13th day. So it was 12 nights, truthfully) and covered six Western states. I didn’t count how many miles we went because I’m anti-competition in my private as well as my public life. But in honor of math we took a lot of photos of low gas prices outside California.

It was even low in Denver! Nevada County prices when we left were $3.49/gallon, cash.

This trip is going to require several blog posts. One about the old mining town of Bodie, one about Manzanar, and one showcasing Boulder, UT (which I’ve posted about before but every time, it’s different). I’ll start with an overview in this one, and you’re welcome to ask questions in the comments if you want more deets.

Bodie is in such a high desert climate that the wood is preserved dark brown, as opposed to Cape Cod, for instance, where wooden shingles turn a pale gray.
The graveyard at Manzanar. East slope of the Sierra behind, and Mount Whitney is back there someplace.
Coming in to Boulder through Utah’s Rte. 24, behind Capitol Reef, is just a gorgeous drive.

I’m a native Californian and have seen many parts of the state, but somehow missed the east side of the Sierra. Sandy, my travel buddy, showed me Bodie, Mono Lake, and Death Valley for the first time. We spent the night in a great old motel in Bishop and worked out some driving kinks in their sweet pool, she freestyle with goggles, and me doing my signature lackadaisical breast stroke.

Most of the time we traveled between about 4,000 and 11,000+ feet, but Death Valley’s floor is 190 feet below sea level.

In Nevada there was a very large plexiglass cow, just past what was clearly a marijuana grow with big greenhouses that we forgot to photograph. A few miles later a sign announced it (facing the other way) as the biggest dispensary in the area. The world, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is changing.

The landscape began to look agreeably southwestern as we got closer to Flagstaff.

I have no photos of Las Vegas in twilight, nor of the very young Arizona highway patrolperson who pulled us over an hour later for, it turned out, a burned-out light bulb above the license plate on Sandy’s car. I knew I wasn’t speeding because we were deathly afraid of ramming into an elk, so Sandy was watching the sides of the roads like an eagle and I was going 65 instead of the stated limit of 70 mph. I believe this officer thought we might have been drinking, because she asked four questions so fast it was impossible to answer her in a civilized manner. After she’d left (no fine, not even an official warning) and Sandy and I got done giggling manaically and begun watching for elk again, Sandy told me this is standard practice to identify drinkers. You barrage them with questions: Where are you going? Where did you come from? California’s the other direction! What’s in Denver? I think our looks of amazement and concern, as well as our eventual answers, convinced this 23-year-old-looking person that we were legit. Possibly drunken people don’t worry as obviously about the sanity of the peace officer. (And yes, we did feel like lucky white people to not be treated badly or killed for this transgression.)

Sandy used to run my favorite coffee shop, and we drank many a latte on this road trip. Luckily, Flagstaff, AZ is not lacking in purveyors of the bean. This was the excellent Firecreek Coffee Company. We liked their attitude, also, and it’s a college town, so there is blue hair.

There is also, quite near “Flag” as the locals reputedly call it, a large hole in the ground that everyone but me has already been to more than once. It was not a good moment to visit the Grand Canyon’s south rim, alas, because they were repaving all the little roads in the park, which meant that both in our own car and on shuttle buses there were 20-30 minute waits before we could get anywhere. What Sandy had hoped would be a half-day adventure turned into a hot day of too many people and not enough views. So I’m going to pretend I’ve never been there and go back later for the first time. But here’s a picture.

After the Grand Canyon, we started driving through northern Arizona, heading for Chinle and Canyon de Chelly. This was Day 5 of the trip, and I think we were both a little bit tense because of the previous day’s crowds. Sandy had been wondering if she should get some chocolate the night before, and when we stopped for gas (again), I saw these labels from an old Snickers ad campaign. Because I am a poet and respond almost exclusively to language, I was seduced into buying them. She chose Delusional. I ate Annoying. We never argued on the whole trip, despite my dreadful and heretofore unrealized tendency to be a backseat driver at intersections, which I couldn’t stop doing even after I realized it. Future road trip partners, you are forewarned.

After that, the terrain went from red earth…

to gray earth…

and back again. Look at this wonderful gate!

I’m going to leave you here, just about in sight of Chinle around 4 p.m., because this is enough travelogue for anyone’s attention span, and clearly I will have to write the rest of the story tomorrow. Waving from Sandy’s 2007 maroon Toyota 4Runner!

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