Friday, February 15, 2008

Go West, Old Man

Red Rock Trip – Day 1

I am typing this at a picnic table in a KOA campground in Buffalo, Tennessee, 712 miles (by Ezzy’s odometer) from my house in Bethesda, MD. The trip so far has been smooth, Interstates all the way. I figure I have to make about 625 miles a day to get to Red Rock by Thursday evening, so I am a bit ahead of schedule.

The weather has been good: cold when I started (12 deg. F) but sun and blue skies most of the way here. I-81 took me southwest through the Shenandoah valley. Lots of fields and pastures covered with light brown grass and the occasional herd of cows. I think the black and white ones are the only truly bucolic ones; my wife disagrees.

Before I was really expecting it, one of those green highway signs announced the junction where I – 81 ends in I-40, the road I am now going to follow for all but the last 100 miles of the trip. It runs parallel to the path of the legendary Route 66. I was excited, both to be following the path of history and to be on my “road west.”

But, truth to tell, I didn’t see much of the country from the Interstate but a bunch of trucks (two hauling new Corvettes north to dealers), a couple of accidents, lots of cars and may road signs. Most of the signs just told me of places like the Davey Crocket Museum, Loretta Lynn’s family home and the Cumberland Gap, that I didn’t stop to visit. A few were intriguing. One advised that I was passing “Hungry Mother State Park.” Was it named for a voracious lady, or perhaps a mother bear with a big appetite for picnic hampers? I’d love to know. Another, on a stretch of road where the speed limit was 65, warned truckers that they must stay in the right lane unless they are going more than 65. Huh? Trucks are allowed to change lanes only when they break the speed limit? Go figure.

I don’t have internet access here, so I will have to wait at least a day to post this. Now, off to bed for my first night sleeping in Ezzy.

Photos from top: On the road at last, I-81 through Virginia; Sunset in Tennessee on the first day over a truck stop and the highway.

Red Rock Trip: Days 2 and 3.

Well, I made it! Wednesday night about 9 pm PDT, a day ahead of schedule. I drove about 850 miles on Tuesday and the same on Wednesday. The two days are a bit of a blur, so I’ll just relate some of the images that stuck.

Wednesday morning I drove for several hours through Eastern Oklahoma in hard, sometimes blinding rain surrounded by 18 wheelers. They get one's attention. There's a lot of freight moving west. By afternoon the rain stopped, the sky cleared and the horizon started getting farther and farther away. I saw a sign for Okemah, Oklahoma, Woody Guthrie’s sometime home; I had to stop. It’s a tiny, one street town on a cold, wind-blown hillside. There are a few newish buildings, including a large Ace hardware store. But many of the store fronts were probably there when Woody was. I drove through town on Main Street (it took about 4 minutes) and imagined a dust storm blowing in my face. I snapped a picture of an ancient Ford truck that could have come right out of Steinbekck’s Grapes of Wrath. I found a small park with a statue of Woody, a couple of murals and bricks with the names of many of his songs. More pictures; I’ll post some when I get home.

Well after dark Wednesday night I pulled into a campground in the Texas panhandle. When the sun woke me the next morning, I discovered just how flat the country there is and how huge are the Jackrabbits. I mistook one for a small deer until it started hopping away.

I have two things to say about NewMexico: the shapes and colors of the rocks are gorgeous, and there are too many signs along I-40 advertising casinos, trading posts, junk stores, etc. One proudly proclaimed that Joe’s (or whoever’s) trading post was “Not Just Another Hole In the Ground!” I didn’t stop. But even this advertising barrage could not obscure the beauty of the rock: bands of red, gold, brown, whate and gray.

Arizona provided much needed relief from the roadside adverts and some thrilling decents into valleys. As night fell, I was tired, but too close to Red Rock to want to stop for the night. With great anticipation but also a tinge of sadness, I left I-40 in western Arizona and turned on to US Route 93, the road that would take me about 100 miles to Las Vegas.

Signs warned that “all vehicles” must stop for a thorough security search at the Hoover Dam 90 miles ahead. Hoover Dam? I hadn’t even realized I needed to cross it. Of course I went into worry mode. This isn’t 1969, so I had no illegal substances on me or in Ezzy, but I could see all my carefully packed (well, packed anyway) gear blowing across a parking lot while a mean-looking officer with a gun watched me try to collect it. A guy like that ran me out of Reno while I was hitching across the county in 1972. But, when I stopped at the check point, a friendly young female police officer smiled, said “Hello,” shone her flashlight into Ezzy and toldmeto drive on. When am I going to stop assuming the worst?

Hoover Dam itself was surreal. Imagine: I am driving tired through the darkness, having reached that trance-like state that comes at the end of long trips. Bright flood lights appear ahead, the road dives down aseriesof 15 mph hairpin turns carved out of the rock and huge metal and concrete structures appear around me. I had driven down into a 1930’s, art deco vision of the future. I got to see everything except the dam itself (I drove across the top).

After navigating Route 215 through/around Las Vegas, I found the Red Rock campground, figured out how to check in and went to bed in Ezzy. I am here!

Note for Annie and Jean: Tori says hi. She says the cross county trip was not quite as bad as she thought it would be, but she is dubious about this trad climbing stuff we are going to do. She was a bit disappointed we did not stop to shop at the trading posts in New Mexico, but she was glad I took a shower at the climbing gym yesterday. She is hoping I relent and we go sport climbing. Problem is, I can't climb 5.11 and 5.12 like she can. Oh well. She'll have to suck it up on Johnny Vegas tomorrow.

Photos from top: First 3 - Okemah and the Woody Guthrie Memorial; Next 3 - Sunrise over the Texas Campground, House and buildings next to the campground; Texas Panhandle is flat; Bottom - Sunrise over the Red Rock Campground.

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