The Painted Desert Redux

I guess all this history is just a mystery to me
One more worried whisper right in my ear

– Wilco, “Hotel Arizona”

Interstate 40 through New Mexico and Arizona is an odd combination of boring and beautiful.  Landscape that appears to be barren actually tells a pretty cool story.  Battles were fought here.  People traveling westward crested these hills, hoping to see forests of opportunity only to see more of the desert scrub ahead with no end in sight.  Whenever I’m in an environment like this, I always seem to ruminate on the fortitude of the first settlers.

I do not mean to discount Native Americans with that last line, but by the time the “white men” arrived, the Indians already knew the lay of the land, yet they chose to stay where they were.  And perhaps that is precisely why – because they knew where they were.  And they knew how to survive there.  That is, until guns made an entrance.

Wow.  I got way off subject there.  I’ll just sum up by saying that I admire the gumption of the early settlers.  They went west based on hearsay and dreams, rolling through lands of high wind, minimal water, and lots and lots of dirt while chasing a notion of a better life.

And that is pretty much what I did, albeit in a vehicle with bathroom breaks along the way.

On Tuesday morning, we got a semi-late start.  It was not too late for breakfast from McDonald’s, which Nate got while I checked us out of the hotel, but later than I would have liked.  We had a slight detour planned for the morning, as Nate and his lovely wife Ali collect Hard Rock Cafe merchandise and there was a Hard Rock casino on the southern edge of Albuquerque.  I waited in the car with Bodie while Nate got their swag, and then we were on the road.

To Vegas.

The scenery on this day was much better than Texas.  Hills, mesas, and roadside attractions.  We spent WAY too much time looking for cheap cigarettes – thinking we were on reservations – but the drive was otherwise uneventful and relaxing.  And soon we were in Arizona, a state I had only visited once in an airport bar.

The snowy hills of western New Mexico soon gave way to nothingness.  For a while.  For a long while.  While driving through the Navajo Reservation, I-40 got a little bumpy (prefaced by a sign warning of “Rough Road Ahead”), and the CD we were listening to started skipping.  I cannot for the life of me remember which song it was, but I do know that the artist was Pearl Jam.  And the road-induced skips, for whatever reason, amused the heck out of Nathan and I.  It was our first genuine laugh out loud moment of the trip.  Bodie, as usual, didn’t give a shit.

(Nate, can you remember the song?  I seem to recall that the skips made Eddie Vedder sound like he was performing a Native American chant.  And the fact that it happened while driving through the reservation is what made us crack up.  It was also at this time that I got a notification on my phone that I had a new Facebook friend request from someone I went to high school with.  Her new last name?  Raincrow.  True story.)

About an hour east of Flagstaff, the scenery started to change.  At least, in regards to what we were driving toward.  A large mountain loomed in the distance, capped with snow.  As we got closer, a ski lift became apparent on the mountain’s side and a road sign warned to watch for elk crossing – for the next 60 miles.  (Remember that this was in January, the time of the year when elk move to lower elevations and shed their antlers.  The thought of hitting one of those big SOBs scared the crap out of me.)

We stopped in Flagstaff – beautiful city that I’d love to go back to – for gas and food then got back on the road.  The sun was setting quickly now, because of the higher elevation, but we were on the home stretch.  Only about 5 hours (and one more time zone change) to go.

We can do this, I told myself.

Bodie just kept sleeping on the console of the USS Vegas.

Next stop?  Kingman.


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