New friends, family ties and the edge of the desert.
After passing beneath a super-ominous and very cool storm front yesterday morning southwest of Eureka, Missouri – that cloud was so low and heavy-looking it felt like driving beneath one of the Independence Day invasion ships – the rest of the short 6-hour drive to Arkansas was easy and entertaining. It included a long stretch of winding two-lane through some very small towns in what was apparently once a river beach resort destination region, and I wish I had been able to stop and take some photos of a few incredible shots where the road actually undercuts these stone cliffs, so you’re driving with tons and tons of rock hanging overhead, with a river off to the opposite side. Unfortunately, I was being rudely tailgated because I refused to speed (I’ve grown up around enough small towns to know speed traps when I see them), so you’ll just have to trust me: If you ever have some time, check out Missouri Route 59.)
Got to Arkansas in the early afternoon and finally got to meet Kirk Demarais, who, it turns out, is as incredibly awesome and kind and fun and generous in person as he’s been online. And though he had no obligation to entertain me or anything, Kirk figured it would be fun to take a mini-road trip for the afternoon, so we zipped over to Eureka Springs – spotting, along the way, totally by chance and entirely fitting, the self-proclaimed World’s Largest Traveling Reptile Show in a parking lot. (Truth be told, things like that make me sad for the animals, so they never get my money, but the cheesy sideshow art on the trailers was too garish and bizarre and odd not to stop and gawk at.)
We wandered the three or four balconies of the supposedly haunted Crescent Hotel –
– and walked around Eureka Springs for a little while, then went to check out the view of the place from across the valley, from the vantage point of the Christ of the Ozarks –
The day passed in a non-stop conversation bouncing from nerdstuff to nostalgia to movies and science fiction and videogames and being dads and art and writing and books and road trips, and it was a total blast, and Kirk and his family are seriously great people for letting me crash at their place during my odyssey.
I got up and hit the road this morning about 6 a.m.
Today was quite the drive for changing scenery:
From an approaching storm over Oklahoma –
to the Texas panhandle –
to a blazing afternoon stopoff in Amarillo and a visit to the site of the former Air Force Base where my dad did his basic training back in 1968. It’s not a pretty place these days:
And even though I wasn’t yet in the world when Dad was here and when mom and grandma drove down to visit him, I still wanted to see it, and I tried to imagine Dad coming down here on his own and being in this strange and isolated and expansive region so different from the parts of Ohio where he grew up.
From Amarillo, it was just a couple quick hours to Tucumcari, New Mexico, where I’m staying tonight, and I’ve got a couple good hours of the evening to explore, which I’m going to go do now, since tomorrow’s another hit-the-road-early day.