Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Once Upon A Time In The West - Part I

First off I suppose an explanation is in order as to why I’m not in Ireland like I said I would be. It was too expensive. That’s pretty much it. It’ll happen sooner or later. As a last minute backup plan I decided to pick up where I left off on my Truth or Consequences roadtrip from a few years ago and fly out to Albuquerque, rent a car, and continue heading west and then take PCH as far north as I can get in a little over 2 weeks.

Things started out a little shaky when we sat on the runway in Charlotte for an hour because of storms in DFW and missed my connecting flight, got bumped from my first standby flight (though it seems my luggage caught the flight), and finally got to Albuquerque 6 hours late and exhausted after being up for 30 hours. Unfortunately I only managed about 3 hours of sleep, but I had plenty of highway ahead so I sucked it up and hit the road. Well first I hit the pharmacy for some food, Duran Central Pharmacy to be exact. It’s a full service pharmacy that also happens to have a small cafĂ© in it with some excellent food. My meal was a New Mexican special called Carne Adovada, which is a thick stew-like dish seasoned and thickened with lots of red chili and big chunks of tender pork.

After filling up at the pharmacy the first stop on my tour was Petrified Forest National Park. The park contains fossilized trees from the late Triassic period. They’re basically log-shaped rocks, but most of the details like the bark and the rings in the wood are preserved. The park also includes a section of the Painted Desert. The scale of the dunes and rock formations is rather deceiving. Large sections of it are down in a valley and when viewed from above they look enormous, until you see someone walking along a path and the scale is suddenly put into perspective. It’s a relatively short drive through the park, taking maybe an hour all told, but it’s beautiful and worth the visit. I stopped for the night at a cool little motel in Holbrook, AZ about 20 minutes outside of the park. Although the bed wasn’t the most comfortable, this little motel was full of handmade wooden furniture, a hand painted sink (each room has a unique sink), and unlike most motel rooms this one was bright and clean.

Much better rested and feeling close to normal, I got on the road again and headed towards the Grand Canyon. Although the South Rim of the Grand Canyon was much closer, I opted for the North Rim because it’s much less frequented and much more wildernessy. The route to the North Rim was via a couple of back country highways through long stretches of desert plains, mountains, and then closer to the canyon it becomes full of spruce forests and short grass meadows. The drive alone is breath taking and would have been worth the trip even if the Grand Canyon hadn’t been at the other end of it. The canyon itself is staggering in scale and beauty. It’s one of those things that pictures and descriptions just can’t possibly get the point across. The time and force to create such an enormous and awe inspiring vista is hard to come to terms with. Catching it at sunset or sunrise, or both in my case, only intensified the beauty of it all. The North Rim is rather remote, so there isn’t a lot in the way of lodging outside of the national park-run North Rim Lodge. The lodge consists of a small two-story hotel and a lot of cabins. I wasn’t aware of it when I made the reservation, but the cabins aren’t air conditioned, which was a bit disconcerting considering how hot it had been that day. But at about 9000 feet and with a nice breeze it was actually very comfortable. The lodge has a full restaurant, a small deli, and a saloon that all offer extremely overpriced food. The restaurant was full and requires reservations at dinner and I wasn’t really in the mood to wait or the crowd so I opted for an expensive hotdog with elk chili on top and an expensive local beer from the saloon. I then hung out on the large back porch of the lodge that overlooks the canyon where a group of amateur astronomers will big telescopes were having a get together to do some star gazing and get a really good view of Saturn. They were generous with their telescopes, letting anyone take a look. I turned in early so I could catch the sunrise, which came at a bleary 5am (it actually starts getting light around 4:30!). The porch was empty at that hour so I sat on the edge of the rim and watched the sunrise in peace. It was quite an experience. Once it started getting crowded I went back and hid in my cabin to try and get a little more sleep (unsuccessfully). I wasn’t keen on another overpriced meal at the lodge so I packed up and got a really tasty breakfast burrito at the Jacob Lake Inn outside the lodge and then set off for my next destination of Las Vegas.

It’s about 5 hours from the Grand Canyon to Vegas and even though a majority of it was on the Interstate I was surprised that I-15 runs through very startling scenery, especially as it tightly snakes between and through a small mountain range somewhere near the Nevada/Arizona border (I don’t really remember where and on which side). I had gotten a really good deal on a room at the Cosmopolitan right on Las Vegas Blvd. It was a stark contrast to the simple, quaint motel rooms I’m used to staying in. The hotel room was ultra-modern, impeccably decorated with expensive European furniture, a massive bed, and larger than the last apartment I lived in. It was push 110 degrees outside and I wasn’t keen on walking out in the heat but I also wasn’t too keen on yet another overpriced meal (the Cosmo is one of the newest and swankiest casinos on the Strip and has the expensive menus to prove it). Instead I opted for a meal at a pub, the Todd English P.U.B (which stands for public urban bar, which I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean) at the mall in the Aria across the street. I have no idea who the hell Todd English is, I’m told he’s a celebrity chef of sorts, but he plastered his name on a pretty decent place. Lots of beer that is only reasonably priced during the half-off happy hour and cheap bar food specials (they have a full menu that’s probably fine, but again pricey). It was at this pub where I met a group of older Brits celebrating something, I forget, and had all of my Las Vegas plans derailed when I ended up being absorbed by their group and getting to hang out in the VIP sections of clubs I no longer remember. I’m assuming I had a good time. I know I drank enough for several good times and woke up the next morning feeling like had maybe too much of a good time. Maybe one day I’ll make it back to Vegas when I can be bothered with remembering if I enjoyed it.

Which brings us to current. I didn’t have the energy or inclination to try and make up for my lost day in Vegas so I slept in and then slipped out of town without much fanfare. Today was a round about travel day, taking a less than direct route to San Diego through the Mohave Desert and stopping for the day at the town of 29 Palms just outside of Joshua Tree National Park. I plan on checking out Joshua Tree tomorrow and then on to San Diego to visit a friend I haven’t seen in a really long time. But now it’s time for bed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Son, your attempts to get from here to anywhere are always interesting to say the least. Funny how all your trips involve snafus with the airlines. I can only imagine your comments if they sent you a satisfaction survey. Waiting for pix so I can share with my friends.