Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween

Continued unpacking. Washed the riding and camping gear, then the bike, then my clothes.

Listened to “NPR” then “Democracy Now!” (my home routine.) I'm back in the world of traffic reports. How did we ever manage without them?

NPR reports the average CEO now makes 370 times the average worker. Excluding benefits, the average worker has not kept up with inflation. (And benefits are quickly being eroded.)

There is anxiety over elections being stolen once again. Apparently the new computer systems offer new opportunities!

America! Take back your lives. Stop buying useless and unnecessary CRAP!!! George W. Bush feels we can just "consume" our way out of any crisis. That's exactly what got us into the crisis! Our consumption encouraged borrowing and buying on credit, has driven the vast income disparity and has spurred the greed-driven corporate executives and shareholders (who top the something-for-nothing category!) Send a message to these jerks who seek to build power and wealth on the backs of consumers.

I noted a few things that have changed during my absence. "Flying Goat" no longer has a wireless connection (important news!) Landmark Vineyards has ripped out their Chardonnay vines – vines that were just maturing. (I could have told them many years ago that building a California winery devoted solely to Chardonnay was not a brilliant concept - especially at a time when the market was flooded with the stuff.)

Two months’ worth of mail at the post office. Found a CD of Deal's Gap photos that I ordered. There was also a box from "Aerostich". It contained a half-dozen copies of their holiday catalog – and I’m on the cover! (I thought they were joking.) Still, it's a nice acknowledgment. They also included a $50 gift certificate!

According to statements, my investments increased about $6k – so, in a way, this trip was paid for. (Of course, one is paper, one is real costs.) Part of me is pleased that the Republicans are doing such a good job looking after the rich. Some of that trickles down, at least to my level. (Okay, I take back what I said about greedy executives and shareholders.)

Oops. Once again, I forgot about Jessica’s insurance and let it lapse a couple weeks ago. That's a responsibility I need to hand over to her!

I ran into Mike Lee at the post office. He's the former winemaker and partner in Kenwood Vineyards. We exchanged a bit of small talk, but it was clear he didn't recognize me from the other locals one runs into at the post office. I never mentioned that I once worked for him.

Settling into the routine, I stopped at “Pepe’s” for a late lunch. I "scarfed up" their fresh salsa, as if contains something essential my body has been lacking. (I suspect that's not far from the truth.)

A stop at "A’Roma Roasters" to replenish my home coffee supply. Purchased a half-pound of Mexican coffee. I didn’t want to stick around though.

Next, I went crazy at the video store. There's so much to catch up on (since the movies I usually watch are not ones I'm likely to see when visiting family.) Rented six videos! The King, The Middle of the World, A Prairie Home Companion, The Proposition, The Fall of Fujimori and The Devil and Daniel Johnston.

More changes. The light is strikingly different, as the shadows have grown longer while I was away. Another traffic signal is going in on Bennett Valley Road. I swear, the engineers (and contractors) won’t be satisfied until every intersection in Santa Rosa has one.

It often strikes me that in Los Angeles, with it's incredible number of cars, traffic flow on surface streets is managed far better than in Santa Rosa.

Went to "Whole Foods" for a few groceries. Some changes: many of the aisles have been converted to roll-around shelving. (What’s that all about?)

By now, "trick-or-treaters" were out en masse. "What if some come to my door?" Reluctantly, I stopped at "Long’s" for a big bag of candy. "They don’t need this crap...but I must go along with the tradition."

None came by the house though – they just skipped over me! Sad!

Caught up on the "Kenwood Press": the October 15th issue announced that, after 40 years, the Kenwood Pillow Fights are coming to an end!

Tonight I watched The King. A very good film. William Hurt plays a fundamentalist pastor, and Gael Garcia Bernal, his estranged son from a long-hidden liaison. (Okay, perhaps not the likeliest scenario.) Some powerful acting, though the amazing Bernal is weaker in this one than in many past performances.

Well, speaking of "consumption", I'd say I've done my fair share for the day!

Mug shot



In the mail today was a box containing five copies of the Fall 2006 Aerostich catalog with my mug on the cover. And a $50 gift certificate to boot! Timtraveler makes the big time. I'll just bask in the glory for a few minutes, then get back to looking for a job.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Carrizo Plain to Santa Rosa, California




I was up at 7:00. (Okay, maybe not quite with the sun.) It had been a very cold night.

On the "home stretch" now. Clouds hugging the tops of the mountains to the west were probably an indication of fog in the coastal valleys, so I probably didn't want to ride the coast route. I also didn't want to follow U.S. 101, a highway I've driven a hundred times. So I looked at picking up a new route north out of San Miguel, either east or west of 101.

The morning air was cold, especially in the valleys. It was hazy out on the Plain, so I didn’t bother taking photos (I have pictures of better days.)

The road surface may be "washboard", but because the surface is still somewhat malleable, fewer rocks protrude, actually making it a less jarring ride than at some times during the year. Every negative has a positive.

The Plain shows grass fire damage from the Soda Lake Overlook northward, on the west side of the road. A huge bird was startled by the bike - an eagle? (It was brown, but I didn't have a chance to get a good look.)

By October, the California landscape looks like a worn, dirty carpet. But it will soon change. The first rains, typically in late October or early November will almost immediately begin to transform the hills.

I'm again thinking about “what’s next?” I must leave myself open to signs. After all, the future is written, isn't it?

Crossed over to Santa Margarita, always one of my favorite areas in California. Detoured over Cuesta Pass to San Luis Obispo for breakfast at the Apple Farm Restaurant. Strawberries are out of season (I learned) so I tried a waffle with boysenberry preserves. Wow, they are excellent! I bought two jars (and a couple cookies) to take with me.

Hopped on 101, back over Cuesta Pass, and up to San Miguel, where I turned west on Jolon Road, through the vineyard lands around Lockwood, and up through Fort Hunter-Liggett. This time I was prepared with proper documentation to present the sentries. They approved my crossing the reservation to the coast.



A target tank out on the range in California's Fort Hunter-Liggett. Fortunately, no bombs were falling the afternoon I passed this way.



California is not known for it's autumn foliage, however in hidden canyons the Big Leaf Maples put on a rich display. This is along Nacimiento-Ferguson Road.


Picked up the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road, across the final range of mountains separating me from the Pacific. Emerging from the Los Padres National Forest to the view of the Pacific Ocean spreading to the horizon is breathtaking. It's a long steep descent to California Highway 1 hugging the edge of ragged cliffs far below.

The ride today is pure pleasure. One awe inspiring vision after another. Despite abundant traffic on Highway 1, the scenery is too awesome to allow a few cars (or motor homes) to bother you.



Soon after the road emerges from the Los Padres forest, you're greeted with this view of the Pacific. Big Sur is up around the bend.


I followed 1 up through Carmel, Monterey, past the fields of Castroville and Watsonville, and on into Santa Cruz. There was still wonderful riding ahead, even as I approached San Francisco. Followed highway 9 from Santa Cruz, up through the redwoods, to Skyline Boulevard, which runs the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains. This highway is extremely popular with motorcyclists, but because of the hour and damp conditions, I had the road nearly to myself. Definitely cold on the ridge! In the 40s.



Celery harvest in Castroville. These guys are the real heroes. We'd starve were it not for them.



Within minutes of being cut from the soil, the celery is crated and ready for shipment


I stopped at Alice’s Restaurant, a touristy biker cafe on the summit, above Woodside. Today, there were only a few die-hards.

With some alarm, I noticed that near the city of Palo Alto there are some new homes being built up along Skyline Boulevard. I pray they don’t allow this to become another Mulholland Drive, with its amazing views being virtually walled off by the compounds of the wealthy.

Rolled on through San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge and home. About 425 miles traveled today, taking the long way home. 70,875 on the bike now. 11,575 traveled on this latest trip.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Las Vegas, Nevada to Carrizo Plain, California


The Las Vegas building frenzy continues unabated


My internal alarm went off at 6:30. I felt good, refreshed. The sun just about to rise. Packed up, then sat down to work on some notes.

Looking around Janie and Otto’s house, I’m amazed at the number of “things” they’ve accumulated. It has taken lots of money to do this. In contrast, I have so little to show. Not a single piece of furniture! Very interesting.

When Janie and Otto joined me, we sat around leisurely sipping coffee, talking about reunion/travel/wedding ceremony plans, sharing leftover cake from last night.

In the still morning air, a brown pall of smog hangs over the Las Vegas Valley. Air pollution seems so incongruous with the desert landscape.

Janie and Otto wanted to take me out for breakfast (and I certainly wasn't about to protest.) They have over $900 in "meal credits" with the Station Casinos! A result of considerable time spent at the video machines. So, we went out to the Green Valley Ranch's Grand Café. An excellent breakfast. I took my leave around 2:00. They were going to stay on at the casino to watch the Denver Broncos football game.



One of the sports gaming areas in Green Valley Ranch



Janie and Otto on the left. Moments after I took this photo, I was firmly told "no photographs in the casino." Apparently, it's part of the "privacy law". I didn't know there was such a thing in the U.S. anymore. I guess being caught in the casino is akin to be caught with a prostitute.



Denver Broncos fans!



Now isn't this an insult to even the dumbest person? An odd-looking "pine tree" in the Las Vegas desert landscape.


A crazy, rambling ride toward home. From Las Vegas to Pahrump, Death Valley Junction and up into Death Valley National Park, through Furnace Creek, the lowest point in the country.

A hazy afternoon discouraged me from taking the camera out. (Any photos would have an exaggerated bluish cast seen in many of my photos.) I just enjoyed the ride. What an awesome landscape!

Many BMW motorcycles here. This country "belongs" to them.

It became obvious that much of the smoke and haze over this land was blowing in from the Los Angeles megalopolis.

Crossed Panamint Valley and the Panamint Range after sunset, turning south toward Trona and Ridgecrest. Out in these parts, there are no lights to orient you, and the winding roads can at times be disorienting. It demands more energy of the rider.

Ridgecrest is now a moderate-sized city and provided a bit of relief with its broad, well-lighted boulevards. But I was soon off in the dark again, a solitary rider winding my way over the dark Sierra Nevada mountains to Lake Isabella, then down a narrow, twisty canyon to Bakersfield.

Bakersfield is trashy and ugly in its sprawling development. It's a city I avoid whenever possible. I'm afraid I can't think of any redeeming value it can offer.

Finally, I came to Taft, that transplanted Midwestern oil town. Beyond it, the stinking Elkhorn Hills oilfields. And beyond them (and thankfully, upwind) is the Carrizo Plain. Even in the dark, I can find my accustomed campsite out here. It's off the dirt road that runs up the plain, a few hundred yards up a power company access trail.

Camped around 9:30. It’s cold. The road is more washboard than last visit (by late summer the dirt road has taken a pounding from vehicle suspensions.) The wild grasses have dried and been knocked down by wind and animals, so there's not quite as much cover for my "hiding place". But I'm typically up and out before the rangers come on duty in the morning.

About 450 miles today.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Henderson, Nevada


In a personal effort to clean up Las Vegas, Janie and Otto pose with debris collected from the wash behind their house.


Awoke with a jolt at 7:30. Refreshed. Cool air. A change in the weather coming – high cloud sweeping in from the southwest. (It’s important to see the weather, even while staying in a house!)

Went upstairs to work on the computer a bit. Coffee and struesel for breakfast. Janie stepped out in back to feeds the "chipmunks" (ground squirrels?) in the desert below their retaining wall.

Janie, Otto and I undertook a clean-up project they've long been intending. The rocky desert wash behind their housing tract is littered with human debris. It is carried by flash floods, by the wind, or mindlessly tossed out there (as one neighbor has regularly done.) Working under a hot sun, we collected about six large yard-waste bags’ worth. And this from an area perhaps a quarter the size of a football field.

In the afternoon, we sat around watching movies, munching chips and salsa. Called Jess (leaving a message, as usual!) Then called Jeff. Kellie and her Aunt Janie chatted for awhile. The big news: Jeff took Kellie to Bed Bath & Beyond. She had a "field day".

Janie and Otto took me out to dinner at one of their local favorites, Carrabbas Italian Grill.

There was a noisy party down the street tonight. Yet it was not annoying. Janie said is was the first one they've seen (and heard) since moving here. Many of the homes in this subdivision (and indeed, in Las Vegas) have been purchased on speculation, and have never even been occupied. The effect has been to create sprawling neighborhoods that almost seem like ghost towns. It's actually quite a sad state of affairs. So, a party that brings a little life to the neighborhood is actually a welcome event.

Started to consider my path home from Las Vegas. I decided to avoid L.A. (I hope Mary and Robert are not offended!)

Time change tonight!



It's Rocky Cat!!!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Kanab, Utah to Henderson, Nevada


At Laid-Back Larry’s in Kanab, Utah, Lottie and Valerie, mother and daughter, serve up coffee and just the right amount of abuse to make you feel part of the family


Rustling outside woke me at 7:00, the sun already up and shining brightly. Looked at the motel clock. Oh, it’s 8:00 here. (A few miles south in Arizona, it’s 7:00.)

Such a glorious morning, it’s criminal to be inside (and from the swiftness with which others are leaving, the message seems clear.)

Kanab is known as “K-town” by the locals.

I checked out around 10:00 and went off to look at the three coffee shop options the motel manager told me about. Passed Laid-Back Larry’s. Pulled over at Willow Canyon Outdoor. Went in to see if Charlie was there (or more importantly, his attractive business partner.) A young lady was working the counter this morning, so I decided to try someplace new. Drove out to the east end of town, refueled, then returned to Laid-Back Larry’s, a new espresso stand that seemed to be operating on very limited capital.

But inside, I found a cast of jovial local characters. "Valerie", who is one of the owners, her sister, her brother-in-law, and another local fellow in a cowboy hat. Some of the customers driving up to the take-out window also seemed to be related. And a while later, Valerie's mother "Lottie" arrived to work behind the counter. The family came here from Reno.

The sister and brother-in-law ride Kawasaki motorcycles, so we talked briefly before they had to leave for St.George. Then I sat down next to the guy in the hat. Learned he had moved here from San Francisco four years ago.

Learned a bit about the local politics. It’s an LDS community, with the leadership entirely LDS members. (LDS, Latter Day Saints, Mormons, also known as a cult) The mayor ran unopposed and was elected with just over 300 votes (out of 5,000 registered voters.) In January, the city council adopted a “natural family resolution”

According to a June 24, 2006 Los Angeles Times article:

The resolution described the natural family as man and woman, duly married "as ordained of God," with hearts "open to a full quiver of children." The council decreed that such households are to be treasured as "the locus of the true common good," a bulwark against crime, delinquency, drug abuse and worse.

With rousing (if not always grammatical) rhetoric, the council promised to do all it could to promote the natural family: "We envision young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers; and we see young men growing into husbands, home-builders, and fathers…. We look to a landscape of family homes, lawns, and gardens busy with useful tasks and ringing with the laughter of many children."

"The Natural Family: A Vision For the City of Kanab" did not originate here. It was written in Salt Lake City by Paul Mero, president of a conservative think tank called the Sutherland Institute.


And I learned about local taxes: this resident’s appraisal went from $6,000 last year to $24,000 this year – for a section of unusable canyon. Grievances similar to those of Americans around the country.

A man walked in, probably in his early 40s, and it was immediately clear he was not from "these parts". “What does a person have to do to get some coffee around here?” he said with a strong New York City accent. But he was familiar to everyone and was told to help himself to coffee behind the counter. He turned to me. “If I said that in New York, they’d throw something at me.”

He’s an electrician who lives with his girlfriend “down a dirt road” half-way between Mount Carmel Junction and Zion. He “wired skyscrapers for twenty years”.

He suggested I should stop in Springdale for lunch, at the western entrance to Zion, and ask for the “local discount”.

For the first time in a while, I was able to go without the electric vest and fleece today. In the 60s still, but warming.



In the distance, a glimpse of an awesome land, Zion National Park


My first glimpse of Zion, probably thirty miles distant, the crowns of a few of its landmark domes rising out of and distinct from the surrounding terrain, hinted at a magical hidden landscape.



Near Zion National Park's eastern entrance



At the park entrance, I paid the $10 (motorcycle) entry fee, but the ranger said I wouldn't be able to drive into the main canyon. "You must take the shuttle. Come back Monday and we’ll let you drive into the canyon.” During the summer season, and other high traffic times, personal vehicles are not allowed.

So, just beyond the park entrance, for the $10 fee, we get to wait 20 minutes at a construction zone. The cars backed up. A diesel stopped behind me, idling and spewing its sickening fumes. I pulled out of the line and drove back up the road to a quieter place to wait. Found a spot from which I could still observe the line, so that I wouldn't miss the opening through the construction zone.

I turned the delay to my advantage. By purposely going to the rear of the line, and taking my time through the series of incredible tunnels that introduce you to Zion, I could wander leisurely, pull over at the tunnel "portholes" to look at the view through the canyon wall, knowing the next crowd of vehicles was 20 minutes behind.



Inside Zion National Park


Even without the construction delay, there are normally delays at the tunnel because it is not large enough to accommodate two-way truck and “land yacht” traffic. So when one of those huge motor homes comes along, the traffic pattern has to be altered to one-way. Just another example of Americans pursuing their own self-interest, oblivious to the impact on others. (Can you tell these "whales on wheels" are a sore point for me?)

Autumn has come to the valley. People are flocking to the pockets of color to take pictures, especially of the aspens with their brilliant yellow-gold foliage.

Springdale is a community that has sprung up around tourism. It hardly existed when I last passed this way. Just off the main street, I found Café Oscar. It looked interesting, if expensive. I overheard a server tell three Hispanic women to my right “I gave you the local discount.” I smiled knowingly.

When she came to take my order, I mentioned what the New Yorker had told me.

“Where do you live?”

“A long way from here.”

She laughed and walked away.

Two women took the vacated table next to me. Looking at the menu, one commented in shock “they’ve really raised their prices!”

I had ordered a bleu cheese and bacon hamburger. It was perhaps the worst-cooked burger in memory. Ate half of it – I really tried. Reluctantly, I told the server. "I’m not trying to get a discount…” Trying to hide her annoyance, she deducted 20% from the bill. (A more responsive server would have refused to charge me.) A disappointing experience, since I felt this place had such potential. The beer, a local “Springdale Amber” was actually the highlight of the meal.

Thought about the concept of treating tourists and locals differently. Not sure that I like the assumption that tourists can more readily afford higher prices, and should thus be screwed (essentially subsidizing the locals.)



Continuing the longest autumn of my life, the austere landscape outside Zion National Park is softened by the rich foliage. This scene is along the Virgin River near Springdale, Utah.


Down the canyon to the west, I found even St. George has a Cracker Barrel now! They're getting closer! Seeing all the development and congestion, my mood rapidly deteriorated. St. George was a small town the last time I passed this way. Now it is sprawling suburbia, a production-line, carbon-copy imitation of thousands like it around this country. It speaks to the dullness, the laziness, the ignorance and lack of creativity that so characterizes our society now. (I know, my enthusiasm about "Cracker Barrel" is just a symptom of this malaise.)

For a change of scenery, I decided to travel the "back way" to Janie and Otto's house in Henderson. I took the Logandale-Lake Mead exit off I-15. At first I thought it a mistake, as I passed by all the people towing boats, stocking up on beer at convenience stores, ready to "party on the lake." It's a manifestation of society I don’t care for. Ugly and wasteful. But it's a beautiful drive through the magnificent desert terrain of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The only unsightly thing is that large man-made reservoir out there!

The Las Vegas Bay and Lake Las Vegas developments at the western fringe of this recreation area are literally an obscenity. Man-made lakes, fountains, lawns, lush artificial landscapes, golf courses. The heedless waste of Colorado River water, in the middle of this desert is the absolute height of human ignorance. I emerge from the mountains and descend into this madness, and it feels like I have been spiritually bludgeoned. And within minutes, I'm in solid urban congestion.

Around 5:00 p.m., I reached Janie and Otto’s house, still on the relatively peaceful southern fringes of Henderson. Janie prepared a delicious fettuccine with meatballs.

In honor of my visit, she opened a ’96 Shafer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that had probably cost $30 seven or eight years ago, which they had "cellared" for years, and which should have been wonderful. Instead, it was "corked" (tainted by "TCA" from a bad cork.) "That sucks! They need to use screw caps for the best wines, dammit!" (In the final years at Mondavi, I was perpetually lobbying for the use of screwcaps. This after years of trying to help find solutions to various cork problems that impact wine quality.)

This evening, I was "spaced out". The past week was catching up with me, I think. The weather has taken its toll.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Holbrook, Arizona to Kanab, Utah

At 4:30 this morning, even though I was in a motel, I couldn’t sleep any longer. The novel idea occurred "why not start the day like so many other people - early!"

Went out into the dark and still morning, walking along the empty highway. (No accommodation for pedestrians out here. What conceivable reason is there for anyone to walk?) Without a trace of concern for traffic, casually crossed the broad expanse of asphalt to a nearby “Denny’s”. Around 30 degrees outside, with a brisk wind.

Inside the restaurant, two men were having breakfast together - Navajo speakers.

Other diners soon joined the three of us. Ordered a strawberry waffle, of course.

After breakfast, returned to the motel to work on the blog and address e-mails. A good wireless connection for a change. And Blogger finally took the word identification "security feature" off my site, making it much easier to work.

It should be nice today, if chilly. I'm thinking of the Grand Canyon. The South Rim at least, perhaps both. Highway 50 across Nevada ("the loneliest highway in America") will have to wait until some future ride. But I think a trip back to California's Carrizo Plain is in order. News of warmer weather in California is alluring.

***

LATER

Across the nation, elevation signs greet visitors on the outskirts of towns. Why is this considered the most significant piece of data next to the name and perhaps population?

It was such a clear day that from over 100 miles away, Humphreys Peak outside of Flagstaff was visible on the northwest horizon. Perfect weather for a visit to the Grand Canyon. "But is the North Rim open?"

Kept my eye on some high clouds swirling over the eastern horizon. I'm not quite ready for a repeat performance from Mother Nature.

There's a "Cracker Barrel" in Flagstaff! (They're slowly making their way to the West Coast.) Amazingly, I was content to pass it by. Followed U.S. 89 north out of Flagstaff.

At Cameron, where highway 64 turns off for the South Rim, I had expected to find information on the North Rim status, that would guide my decision on a path from here. But the information kiosk was closed. I inquired at a nearby gift shop if they have heard any news about the North Rim. They had not. I decided to take a chance on the North Rim anyway. (I quickly realized trying to visit both Rims in one day would be out of the question.)

Cold – especially in those areas around Flagstaff where the highway climbs to over 8,000 feet. A long day riding in the cold really saps the energy. Sometimes it’s so frigid you can’t even tell the heated grips and electric vest are operating. But without them, I would have stopped long ago.

Near the Vermilion Cliffs, I pulled off the road for a stop to soak up some warmth before heading to the high country again. I could see there's snow up on the Kaibab Plateau. (Passed an interesting little motel at Vermilion Cliffs, back up the road a ways.)

Watching the stream of motor homes, fifth wheels and four wheelers passing me by on U.S. 89, I began to feel there is no hope for us. We just "need" so much stuff! And little do we realize the consequences.

Few police seen in Arizona. Today I saw one patrol car. Funny how it varies so much from state to state. I imagine human behavior is pretty consistent across this country, yet the approach to law enforcement is not. Taxes seem high in Arizona. Is it to help pay for the large population in poverty?

In Jacob's Lake, I learned that the North Rim is still open to vehicles, though all services have been shut down for the winter. At the National Park entrance, the booth was unattended. There was no fee to enter the park at this time. Forests on the Kaibab Plateau have been devastated by fires, a largely natural phenomena arising from lightning strikes (though compounded by careless humans.)

I drove out to The Grand Canyon Lodge near Bright Angel Point. Only a few visitors to this normally teeming attraction. The Lodge was closed, but paths that trace the rim are open. I found it incredibly peaceful, and felt honored to be able to share the solitude with just a few fellow travelers, who spoke in hushed, almost solemn tones. It is a spiritual place. I took the short hike out to Bright Angel Point, a narrow promontory offering unparalleled views of the canyon.



What a difference a day makes! Looking east from Grand Canyon's North Rim, on a clear blue day.



Cabins at the "Grand Canyon Lodge", on the North Rim


At the sprawling, but completely vacant North Rim Campground, I found a pay phone and called Janie. I told her I would be camping on the North Rim. Rather than staying in the developed area around the Lodge, I wanted to camp at the more remote Cape Royale, where I had once camped long ago.

The North Rim is nothing like I remember. (I think my last visit was 35 years ago.) The forests are not nearly as dense as I recall. There is nowhere to hide amidst the trees, no brush to conceal a campsite. (Has all the brush been intentionally cleared?) I was quite confused when I reached Cape Royale. It is just a narrow spit of rock, rather than the edge of plateau as I had remembered. Had I actually camped out here on the edge last time? (I recall laying out my sleeping bag on the rim, with a panorama of the canyon from the campsite.) Everything is now carefully developed to control access and minimize the impact from the hordes of visitors.



Grand Canyon from the North Rim's Cape Royale lookout



Looking across to the South Rim, and in the far distance, the 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak, just outside of Flagstaff.


Despite the near-perfect day, looking south and west in the afternoon light, the canyon was hazy. Too hazy, and I didn't expect it to be much better in the morning. The ice encountered on the roads out to Cape Royale was a big concern. If I stayed overnight, it might be well into afternoon tomorrow before the ice thawed again, making it relatively safe to ride out. I decided to get off the plateau tonight, before the air temperature again dropped to freezing.

It turned into a race against the setting sun to reach the northern edge of the Kaibab, about 75 miles away. It was an exciting, anxious ride, as I was on guard for ice, gravel and deer.



Much of the forest on Arizona's Kaibab Plateau has burned in recent years. Lightning-caused fires are a natural occurrence up here.


I was relieved as, in twilight, the road began its descent toward Fredonia and Kanab. A gradual drop in elevation brought a welcome warming of the air.

My plan changed from camping to possibly finding a motel. In Kanab, there were a number of choices. On the east side of town, I thought I'd check the rates at a brand new "Holiday Inn Express". Several buses were lined up out front - not a good sign. “We have 165 7th graders staying here,” I was told at the registration desk. They’re from a “private school in San Jose, California”. Their study involves traveling around the country. (Apparently, there’s lots of money behind that school!) They were booked up. At $89 plus taxes though, I wasn't too disappointed. I didn’t want to spend quite that much tonight.

On the north side of town, I found the "Quail Park Lodge", a tiny motel that advertises “low rates, very clean." It looks like it was built in the 30s or 40s. And the parking lot appeared full – a good sign. The proprietor said he had one room left, and with a total price of $39.86, it was perfect for me. (Only after I checked into my room did it occur to me "how could you prefer a corporate chain motel to this? This place has character and personality!")

Often, until I stop riding, I don’t realize how chilled I had become. Then my body starts to shake. Such was the case this evening. But you let the body "do its thing," generate energy through muscle spasms, and slowly it has warmed again. Amazing.

"Amici’s Family Restaurant" across the street was recommended as a good spot for dinner. And having avoided the expense of a "Holiday Inn", I felt I could live it up a bit. Had a “Squatter’s American Wheat Hefeweizen” beer and their "Totto" pizza, which impressed me with its excellent crust. Remarked to a tall, slender woman server how good their food is. I met "Heike". She’s the co-owner (dressed the same as the waitresses.) She and her boyfriend, Doug came from Miami, where they waited tables and later managed restaurants. Originally she’s from Hamburg/Hanover, Germany. March 2008 update: Sadly, I see "Amici's" has closed. But Doug and Heike are spending more time with their films ("Rock Ledge Films") and photography.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Alamosa, New Mexico to Holbrook, Arizona with "Interesting Weather"




In Alamosa this morning, I was awake by 6:00, feeling fresh. It was 30 degrees outside, bright and sunny. Looking out my window to the west, a thick blanket of cloud lay over the San Juan Mountains, a storm coming in. Snow was expected in Alamosa later in the day. And my intended path would lead me directly into it. I had wanted to work my way back up to Gunnison, and then eventually over to U.S. 50 across Nevada ("America's Loneliest Highway"). But it didn't seem wise now. A more southerly path would be safer, I thought. I decided to follow U.S. 160 across Wolf Creek Pass to Durango.

It was just too cold to get out on the road early, especially since I'd be climbing to nearly 11,000 feet over the pass. But I could see the veils falling from the clouds, and the mountains already revealing a dusting of snow.

I set out for Wolf Creek, with the thought that should things get too dangerous, I could fall back to Alamosa. Drove as fast as I dared, hunkered down and constantly monitoring the mountain slopes still visible beneath the cloud cover. The tension mounted as I gained elevation, passing a few idle ski resorts en route to the pass. I kept constantly calculating how quickly I could withdraw should the sky start falling. The first snow flakes ratcheted up the anxiety. When I reached the tunnel through the summit, the snow was blowing and visibility was declining. On the west side of the tunnel is a broad expanse of pavement, but the lines were obscured by slush and snow.



Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado, with a winter storm bearing down. A half hour or so later, and I couldn't have crossed.


I could see that the highway descends rapidly from this point, and though the storm was intensifying, I thought I could quickly get down beneath the snow line. It was only about 20 miles to Pagosa Springs, and I knew that town is in a valley (with full services, if required.) So, I felt confident enough to stop and take a photo.

For the first few miles of descent, I was very tense, knowing that the BMW behaves very poorly in snow and ice. I could be on the ground in a flash. But the snow quickly turned to rain, and within half an hour I was relaxed again, dealing with weather which I was much more accustomed to. The rain was steady though, and it was clear to me that had I tried to cross the pass just a short time later, it would have been impossible.

Passed through the boom town of Pagosa Springs without stopping, and continued on to Durango (and lower elevations.) It was rainy, and cold. No let-up at Durango, I kept driving west, feeling confident that this weather would diminish as I reached the desert-like Four Corners region.

It appeared to be a correct assumption, as I reached Cortez and the skies began clearing. Feeling that I could now take a "breather", I stopped at Denny’s for something warm. I was still thinking of making my way northward, over to Monticello, then Moab, but the weather maps I had seen on the news, showing a system descending from the north, persuaded me to continue drifting southward. Moab would not be a good idea.

Carefree now, under sunny skies, I was headed to the Four Corners, when a sign drew me to a rural road that leads down McElmo Canyon, into Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument. Down a narrow canyon, I was surprised to find vineyards and the Guy Drew Winery. I had to stop. (With the weather no longer a concern, I felt I could stop.) I parked in a small, empty gravel lot. Ruth Drew greeted me and ushered me into her kitchen, where she hosts wine tastings. Very informal. She is very proud of the attractive straw-bale home they have built here. An open and airy Southwestern design. Very comfortable.



Southeast of Cortez, Colorado I ventured down a county road toward Hovenweep National Monument. In a narrow canyon, I found Guy Drew Vineyards and Winery and had to stop in to taste some wines.


Of course, I couldn't have more than a few sips, as I had no idea what road conditions awaited me down the canyon. But I savored samples of their 2003 Cabernet Franc, 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 Dry Riesling, 2005 Viognier, a "Meritage" and 2004 Syrah. All the wines are good. Feeling it was the best of the bunch, I purchased a bottle of Syrah to carry with me.

As I was about to leave, a couple from Seattle arrived. We got to talking and I learned their son owns restaurant on Whidbey Island. He's Mark Schuster and has the Beachfire Grill, and is developing a golf course and marina. I'm sure he’s a fellow Drew and Susan must know of, either positively or negatively (since development on Whidbey is often a source of resentment.)

I continued down McElmo Canyon, crossing into Utah. I was now thinking I'd visit the Valley of the Gods, since the last time I passed through there I was running from a storm.

As I emerged from the canyon, I was struck with a frightening vision. The entire sky from southwest to north was a wall of black cloud, bearing down with startling intensity. The darkness was made all the more shocking by the brilliant quality of light in the canyons I had just been exploring. In a near panic, I hurried westward toward the junction of U.S. 191, the first opportunity to turn south, and hopefully away from the front. I raced south on 191, disregarding speed limits, but winds were now whipping all around me, picking up large grains of sand.



Crossing into Utah, I had wanted to turn north (right) to visit Valley of the Gods, but was greeted with this ominous wall of clouds. To the south (left), I could still see some blue sky, so I made a dash.


Stopped at Bluff to top off my fuel. I didn't want gas to be a limiting factor as I tried to escape. At 80 or 85 mph, I was just barely staying out ahead, focused on the narrowing patch of blue sky to the south. I was continuing southwest on U.S. 163 toward Monument Valley when suddenly the road turned west, and then northwest, into some of the most ugly weather I've seen. Blowing sand, rain, whipping winds and lightning.

I pulled over and desperately searched for options on the map. I only had a minute or two to decide. Back-tracked a few miles to 191, which runs directly south. I now had to ride at 85 or 90 mph to outrun the front. This really seemed like the tornado weather I had seen in Texas long ago.



I was heading south on U.S. 163, running from the storm, then the highway turned northwest, directly into the front. The clouds had a sickening greenish cast. If this were the Plains, I'd call it tornado weather. "This is not good."



Looking southward, there's still a trace of blue sky out there. I was desperate to break through to the sun.


I was staying just ahead of the rain and lightning and when I stopped for a photograph, I was overtaken by blowing sand within a minute or two.



Racing south on U.S. 191, 85 mph with a 60 mph crosswind, red dust beginning to fill the air, the sky was fast closing in around me.



Within a few minutes of taking this photo, I was engulfed in blowing soil. I couldn't even see the pavement ahead and had to brake hard. In a panic, I turned around and ran at full throttle. Moments later, I looked back to see I had been in a huge "dust devil".


At the junction of U.S. 160, I made another attempt to turn west toward Kayenta and Tuba City, but within minutes I was engulfed in the blowing sands. Without warning, visibility went to zero, swirling sand everywhere. I couldn't even see the road. My instinct was to turn around on the two-lane road and retreat. I did so without any thought to possible on-coming traffic. Almost lost control of the bike as I took off, the front wheel rising off the pavement.

A few moments later, the air cleared and I looked back. I had been engulfed in a huge "dust devil". Returned to U.S. 191 and continued south. I broke out of the front at Rock Point, taking refuge in a service station. The locals were quite excited by this crazy weather. One indicated it was nothing unusual. Quickly refueled and was off again, trying to build a buffer between me and the storm.



At Rock Point, Arizona I started to put some distance between me and the blowing sand (on the left here). For the next three hours, I was battered by powerful thunderstorms as I made my way to Holbrook on Interstate 40.


I considered seeking accommodations at Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Stopped at a couple motels, but found the rates exorbitant. I returned to the highway, and focused on getting far south, to warmer, drier weather. I was continually "teased" by small patches of blue sky to the south, and each time they'd be choked out by storm clouds.

For the next couple of hours, thunderstorms crossed my path from west to east, while the highway rose up and over a series of ridges. I tried to pace myself so as not to reach a ridge top when a thunderhead was on top of it, but there were so many cells, it was virtually impossible to cross without lightning striking in the area.

After a dozen of more cells, I was not dead, and began to worry less, though the stress had been utterly draining. I reached I-40 and turned west. At least on the interstate I wouldn't have to worry as much about road conditions, and could just focus on avoiding the thunderheads.

For me, this had been some of the wildest weather - right up there with the monsoons in Panama and the storms ringing Hurricane Katrina. I had repeatedly found myself contending with bursts of panic. After the snow in Wolf Creek Pass, I thought the worst was behind me and I'd just be coasting the rest of the day, just looking for a bit of warmer weather.

I found a Day’s Inn in Holbrook, Arizona with a room to spare. I often recognize, "I’m lucky. I can afford to come in from the cold. For many it’s quite different." My expired AAA card has gotten me lots of discounts! No one ever looks at it when I show them. Almost everyone can get a discount. I suspect it's only complete fools who pay the full posted price.

Inside my room, I spread out clothing and gear to dry. Walked to Denny’s for a "Philly Sandwich".

Back in the room, while the Weather Channel droned in the background, I worked on some notes. I've never seen anything like this weather system over the U.S. – a tight low pressure system spiraling counterclockwise, rapidly dropping down over Utah and Colorado. A mini-hurricane over the continental land mass.

Of course, I could have avoided all this drama and just stayed put in Alamosa. I knew the system would pass in a couple days. But I wanted to move, and wanted some excitement. I got a bit more than I bargained for.

Traveled about 475 miles today, and my butt never even bothered me. Too distracted!

I'm losing track of time zones! Is Arizona on Pacific Time?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Oklahoma to Alamosa, Colorado


Driving across Oklahoma, I realized there had been no inclination to take photographs. "There's nothing out here."


"So take a picture."

Here's a picture of nothing in particular. U.S. 270/412 in the Oklahoma "Panhandle".

I saw a semi out here with a bumper sticker that read: "Oklahoma Panhandle Highways Suck." I kind of agree. It shouldn't surprise me that the winds across Western Oklahoma are just like those I encountered in Kansas, just north of here. Strong and out of the south. Tumbleweeds, oilfields, farms. And rather rough pavement.



Another typical view along Oklahoma's Panhandle


I had been tracing U.S. 270 across much of Oklahoma, then in Woodward, picked up U.S. 412 that would take me west through the Panhandle. I stopped for breakfast in Woodward, choosing the restaurant with the most vehicles out front: Westside Restaurant. It's clearly a local hangout, a "greasy spoon". All the cute girls are working here. I watched amused as a heavyset jovial businessman-type senior flirted with them all. It was harmless and even endearing.

I see small town America dying (at least in the center of this country) and it saddens me. (Yet something tells me it's just a temporary phenomena.) The modern interstate, with their monopolistic tendencies, versus the old U.S. highways. Homogenization and mediocrity versus the unique and original.



This scene is by no means unique to Oklahoma. If we were to recycle all the junk littering this great land, we probably wouldn't have to mine metals for decades!


Entering New Mexico, law enforcement is clearly in evidence with abundant posting of speed laws and penalty signs. I just cut across the northeast corner of the state, from Clayton to Raton (much of it a major highway construction project with a ridiculous, and intolerable 45 mph speed limit.) I was constantly on guard, not knowing what the state police cars looked like. Out on these open plains, they can spot me passing cars from many miles away!

Historic Trinidad, Colorado struck me as a border city that could be on any of a number of Southwestern borders. Backing up against rocky buttes, it guards the northern entrance to Raton Pass. "I'm sure there are some good Mexican restaurants down there!"

But today was all about putting miles behind me. No sightseeing stops.

Over the 9,413-foot North La Vita Pass. Beautiful highway, cold but not terribly uncomfortable. My destination, Alamosa in Colorado's San Luis Valley. I had heard a report about development in this valley, and wanted to see it before it becomes like so many other communities across this country.

Found a Holiday Inn Express (some kinds of development are acceptable) on the west end of town (with cookies!) Right next to Wal-Mart. The hotel is new and comfy, and my upper floor room looked out to the sunset and San Juan Mountains.

Went out to a restaurant that was recommended by the desk clerk: Calvillo’s downtown. Cowboy hats stay on in this restaurant. (Just like baseball caps in other parts of the country.) It would be easy enough to leave it outside in the truck, but it is a big part of one's identity in these parts.

Ah! REAL Mexican food again. I ordered chicken fajitas and a Mexican beer, despite the huge buffet being served in the kitchen that was drawing most diners. This place is "the real deal."

Back at the hotel, made calls to Jeff, Drew and Susan. Retired around midnight.

525 miles traveled today.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Roman Nose State Resort Park, Oklahoma


The "Field of Empty Chairs" at the Oklahoma City National Memorial


11:00 PM

This campground, just northwest of Oklahoma City, feels a bit rough around the edges, well-worn. I set up my tent, then, after the sun went down, a streetlight came on directly overhead. (It had been camouflaged by the trees earlier.) "Jeez! People come here to camp for god’s sake!" I picked up and moved about 50 yards to a new site. Across a little valley, the noise of exhaust fans at the country club clubhouse (and trains in the distance) carried all too well in the still night air.

But I enjoyed a warm shower, and this place is only $8, so I can’t complain too loudly. For dinner, heated up some Cajun rice with sausage.

Listened to "NPR" on my $100 pocket transistor radio. (From the "Aerostich" catalog, it was one of the more ridiculous purchases in memory.) The weather forecast is calling for rain tonight. I wonder if by following a Northwest tack tomorrow, I might keep ahead of it?


THIS MORNING

At the Arkansas campsite I got up to pee at 2:30 a.m. It was frigid outside, but I lingered long enough to look up at the sky and finally identify Orion through the branches overhead.

Acorns were falling like rain. Little thuds all around. The only sounds: birds, insects, water entering the rapids just downstream and the acorns.

Tossed throughout the night. Lying on my back (with more ground contact) was too cold. But on my side, I remained "toasty". Developed a sore throat. ("You're so sensitive!")

7:00 a.m. too cold to emerge, though the sun was up over the horizon. Mist rising from the river. Lots of dreams, all forgotten. A truck making the rounds forced me out at 8:45. "Gotta move!" Nothing can be accomplished in bed. (Well, on second thought...) On the road within the hour, returning to westbound U.S. 270.

Thoughts turned to the crazy corporate world of Mondavi, in which a lack of leadership gave rise to a kind of anarchy in which individual personalities who felt "their" project was the most important matter on the planet, could disrupt, undermine and re-allocate the work of so many others. A culture of vanity filled the void that absent management had left. I will never permit myself to endure such a business culture again.

Stopped at a Sonic Burger in Heavener, Oklahoma. Double burger, fries and a chocolate malt (made with ice milk). Forgettable food. "So-so Sonic." Shed the fleece, as the day was warming.

Out here in Eastern Oklahoma, it's clear that natural gas extraction is a huge industry. Across the landscape there's a vast network of wellheads, pipelines and compressor stations.

The slogan “Native America” appears on many Oklahoma license plates and on welcome signs upon entering the state.

I had not planned it, but a sign for the Oklahoma City National Memorial drew me off the highway and into downtown Oklahoma City. The city center was strangely quiet at 3:30 in the afternoon. Easily found my way to the memorial, at the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, destroyed by a terrorist bomb on April 19, 1995.

I parked across the street and wandered the grounds in the warm sunshine. It was almost too beautiful and tranquil an afternoon. Over ten years later, a chain link fence bordering the site is filled with fresh mementos and tributes to the victims and to their families and friends.



Oklahoma City National Memorial.

The reflecting pool occupies the site of N.W. Fifth Street, and to the right, the "Field of Empty Chairs" covers the footprint of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The building was destroyed by an act of domestic terrorism on April 19, 1995.



A bronze, stone and glass chair represents each of the 168 victims, including 19 children



A chain link fence stands as part of the memorial. Visitors leave tokens of remembrance and hope.


Returned to Interstate 40 for a brief stretch to the U.S. 270 turn-off. From the highway, I spotted a Starbucks just west of "OKC" and doubled back for a caffeine fix. It was surrounded by all the usual chain stores and outlets. Good coffee is hard to find on the country's backroads. (In fact, I find myself considering a return to Moab and Gunnison motivated primarily by coffee, I think!)

I'm back in the land of the grackle. Enjoyed sitting outside with my coffee, taking in a golden late afternoon and the lively chatter of the gregarious birds. I have fond memories of enjoying the sounds of these birds in Austin's urban landscape.

Among the landmarks out here, are the Dollar General, Family Dollar and Wal-Mart stores. And the churches! I'm surrounded by...Christianity!!!

A common billboard seen in the Midwest: “You may call it abortion, but God calls it murder.” (Who is it who speaks for God? I would like to meet them.)

I trust these same Christians must also be outspoken critics of the War in Iraq, which is a most un-Christian affair. None but a hypocrite would label abortion murder, and condone the War in Iraq, or any war, for that matter. A true Christian, by definition, must oppose war. And the same would be true for capital punishment. "Those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword."

The wind has shifted to the southwest, milder. An incredible day! Cloudless and even breaking into the low 70s in some areas. Broad horizons out here on the plains. Above the southwestern horizon, a wisp of cloud. A sign of change?

A billboard advertises: “Amarillo. Free 72 oz. steak dinner*. If eaten in 1 hour.” Great. Let’s celebrate gluttony.

The FREE 72oz. STEAK dinner is still flourishing at the "Big Texan". More than 40,000 people have attempted to consume the Free 72oz. Steak dinner since 1960. About 7,000 have succeeded. People from all over the world continue to visit us to take the challenge and claim the bragging rights.

Americans are not too smart. Nothing specific elicited the conclusion, just a growing verification as I travel this country. I also know that I'm not too smart, so again, I feel at one with the nation. With all nations, really.

I was thinking again of the differences in travel experiences on and off the interstates. On a busy interstate, such as I-40, I'm continually occupied monitoring traffic, especially the multitude of trucks. Once off the interstate, there seems much more time to think, maybe even have a few long thoughts!

375 miles today, 430 yesterday and over 300 the day before. My butt is getting achy. That’s now becoming the determining factor for how long I'll be on the road each day.