Another long weekend, another visit to part of the United States I hadn't seen before.
Saturday - SEA to PHX
After waking up in rainy, chilly Seattle, landing in warm, sunny Phoenix Saturday afternoon was a welcome change. I put my coat away, hopped in my rental car, and drove to my hotel in Chandler. I came to see the Southwest, with no particular interest in Phoenix, so after heading out to the fancy foodie supermarket for road trip provisions, I had a quiet night and started to adjust to temperatures in the 20s (celsius). It never occurred to me that it would be the last I'd see of that weather for the weekend.
Sunday - Arizona
I had a full day of driving planned, so I woke up at a reasonable hour and pointed the car toward the Grand Canyon. Having always lived in very green, and very damp, locations, I've never had a lot of interest in the desert. Sure, despite fighting a cold when I arrived, my sinuses were mostly clear, and my hair didn't have even a hint of frizz, but it's so ugly. Right? Wrong. The Arizona scenery is gorgeous, an awe-inspiring demonstration of why they call it the painted desert.
Speeding along, singing to my road trip playlist, I never noticed that I was mostly going uphill. While planning my desert trip, I failed to remember the other feature of the landscape: mountains. When I saw a sign for a chain-up area, and then a warning for ice on the roadway, I looked at the car's external temperature readout, and scoffed mentally, Psh. It's sunny, and dry, and 59 degrees out. Ice on the road... ha! But as the number on the elevation signs got bigger, the temperature on the dashboard got smaller (it bottomed out at 34 as I pulled into my hotel Sunday night), and the snow piled by the roadside got higher. So I put more energy into watching for ice in the shady spots on the highway than looking at the scenery around me. I only came across a few thin ice patches over the course of the weekend, which were all nothing under the traction control of my Kia Soul. Despite the car being the spitting image of a bright yellow shoebox with wheels, I was happy the rental agency gave me something a bit bigger and heavier than the little tin rollerskates I usually end up driving.
After about 4 hours of watching for ice, I pulled up to the entrance to Grand Canyon South Rim, where I got the opportunity to pay $25 to look at a hole.
OK, look, I get that it's a national park and it needs upkeep, but isn't that the government's job? Doesn't the national part of national park mean we should be putting tax dollars toward that end? When your average American family is likely to struggle to afford going to see the amazing things nature put in their own country, the system is broken. Anyway. End socialist rant.
Walking up to the rim of the Grand Canyon, you immediately get the sense that a photo can't possibly do it justice. But then you take 10 pictures of different views anyway, because that's what people do. It's so big, just unimaginably huge. And beautiful. But me being me, I pretty much did a Clark Griswold yep, uh huh, seen it, let's go and got back in the car.
Two or three hours east, after watching a brilliant sunset in my rearview mirror, I pulled into my hotel in Kayenta, Arizona. It boasted that it was "in the heart of the Navajo nation." It was dark when I arrived, but my brief tour of this nation's heart showed me a few businesses in shabby buildings, a lot of impoverished people, and a stark reminder that those Founding Fathers who Americans love to worship were a bunch of entitled dicks.
Monday - Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico
I started the day turning north toward Utah, and Monument Valley. When I got there, I opted against stopping at the official tourist attraction, and stuck with driving through. After all, isn't that the spirit of the road trip? It had to be the prettiest scenery of the whole trip.
But it didn't last long. Very quickly southern Utah became... monochromatic. Remember how the Crayola 64 box always had that red-brown colour called burnt sienna? I could use up the entire crayon drawing the landscape for that portion of my drive. As I neared Colorado, it turned into the lumpy brown hills covered in scrub that I found so unattractive on childhood visits to family in Central Washington -- even when my dad pointed out that it looked like Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. It was boring, so I stopped at Four Corners Monument, where the imaginary lines of all four states meet.
It was a nice break from driving, and I took some photos for a nice family whose two small children had a similar desire for a pit stop, but there wasn't that much to it. After stretching my legs for a few minutes, I turned back south and into New Mexico, where I spent the better part of 4 hours on roads with nowhere to stop, and nothing but the same Snuffleupagus scenery. Sure, when I got back into the higher elevations, it looked much nicer covered in snow, but that's about the best I can say about it. At least that allowed me plenty of time to notice the road signs. There seemed to be a small number of informational signs, and a lot reminding me to wear my seatbelt, not to speed because airplanes were watching me, especially in the safety corridor where fines double and lights must always be on for safety, to never drink and drive, but if I see someone else doing it, to call this number. The few useful signs I did see all had at least one bullet hole. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it's completely true. It became a road game to see if I could count all of the bullet holes before the sign whizzed past at 70 mph.
I merged on to the major freeway into Albuquerque just in time for rush hour. After my directions sent me the wrong way and I accidentally, unsuspectingly, drove a ways down the historic Route 66 (so another bit of Americana checked off the list), I asked for Garmin Man's help and made it to the hotel. Given that it was dark and I was fed up with driving, I had some dinner and made plans to see Albuquerque in the light of my last afternoon before flying out.
Tuesday - ABQ to SEA
When I dropped off the cat on Friday night and told Steve where I was headed for the weekend, his only comment was, "Albuquerque's pretty." Coming from someone who grew up in Nevada, I wasn't quite sure what to make of that.
My check into things to do for my last afternoon didn't yield much, so I decided to have lunch at the Frontier, which was supposed to be some of the best eats in Albuquerque, and call it good. But having slept in much later than planned, hotel checkout was too soon after breakfast and I just wasn't hungry. So I ended up driving around town a while, and doing what people with no agenda and the sun in their eyes do: stopped at Target for sunglasses. I wouldn't say Albuquerque is pretty, really, it's more of a giant suburb, but it does have quite a backdrop.
I'm now sitting at the airport, having just eaten a delicious but overpriced burrito, waiting for my flight to board. All told, I drove just shy of 900 miles this weekend. And it was good. The road trip is in my blood, it's by far the most American thing about me.