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Road trip photos: June 17

I crossed most of New Mexico and Arizona on Thursday, June 17, going from Tucumcari in the northeast all the way down to west of Phoenix.

Just west of the Arizona/New Mexico border. Click the photo to see the day's set.

I remember this as a day the road surprised me a few times.

First, despite the fact that I’d planned my route in advance and knew this was going to be a long haul – 630+ miles, give or take – I was unprepared for the vastness of the land and the idea that I could spend so much time and cover so much highway and still have only covered ground in two states. I mean, I’ve spent years doing the Ohio-to-Florida route, so time on the road wasn’t a new thing to me – but going 640 miles south from Canton, you cover territory in five states and get damn close to number six. Even earlier this year, I did roughly the same distance when I drove to Rhode Island for PAX East.

This just felt like a much longer drive through much more alien territory. Don’t get me wrong: I loved it, but man, the scale of everything and the distance between populated places was almost overwhelming at times.

I remember being somewhat startled by Interstate 40’s dramatic descent into Albuquerque, because from the east, you climb into the hills so gradually you hardly notice, and then BAM! things open up and the city is far below and the desert is just spread out to the horizon.

Near Flagstaff, several hours later, more mountains and another surprise juxtaposition: this one the sight of distant snow even as the sun baked my windshield three days shy of the first day of summer.

And then the drive south to Phoenix, which covered all three of Arizona’s geographical zones, starting on the Colorado Plateau, down through the Transition Zone, and finally into the Basin and Range. Pine forests and saguaro cactus and canyons and valleys and mountain range after mountain range. Despite being pretty well exhausted by this point in the day, I really enjoyed this stretch of highway.

Check out the day’s worth of photos here.

July 26, 2010 Posted by | photos, Travel | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Road trip photos: June 16

Wednesday, June 16 took me from western Arkansas all the way across Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle into New Mexico.

2010-06-16 Storm over Oklahoma

Click to see the entire June 16 set: OK, TX and NM

It was just a day of wonder all around, really, as the landscape slowly shifted with the miles and took on forms I had never seen outside photographs, and the pictures in this set from that day are some of my favorites from the road.

By pure chance, not far into Texas just off I-40, I found myself across the street from the real-life inspiration for the body shop in Disney/Pixar’s Cars

2010-06-16 Conoco Tower Station, Shamrock TX

– and later, I took probably an hour’s detour into Amarillo to visit what’s left of the Air Force Base where my dad did his basic training.

2010-06-16 Old Amarillo Air Force Base 4

When I got to Tucumcari, New Mexico late that afternoon, I really felt kind of surrounded by the spirit of the whole trip. I’m in a KOA campground some 1,400 miles from home, sitting on a picnic table alone and watching a storm roll away to the east, this warm wind gusting and pushing the clouds off while the setting sun turns everything gold –

2010-06-16 Clouds over Tucumcari Mountain 1

– and I’m looking at this utterly unfamiliar and gorgeous horizon, and I cannot believe I’m here, and I’m trying so hard to share this amazement and awe because I want everyone to have a moment or two like this.

Even now, almost a month later, I can smell that air and feel those gusts and, if I really let myself go, I can feel an echo of that thrill.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | Family history, geek, photos, Travel | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I DID make that left turn at Albuquerque.

I’m in Raton, New Mexico, and it’s a gorgeous, breezy evening, and though it may rain sometime in the next hour or two, it’s supposed to clear up overnight, so I’m hopeful for a night in the tent. I also have the shortest drive of the trip scheduled tomorrow – just over 4 hours – so even if the tent gets wet, I can sleep in a bit and stick around and let it dry out.

Today’s journey began with about 40 miles of Arizona Route 89 , and the northern half of it was as incredibly beautiful as the southern half (between yesterday and today I pretty much drove the whole thing except for the part through Prescott itself),  though without the 25 mile-per-hour mountain switchbacks into Yarnell that were fun to drive but made it all but impossible to really enjoy the views.

Then I did Flagstaff to Albuquerque on I-40, which I did on the way west, and I think having just traveled it made this stretch seem to go on forever. Easily the longest, toughest part of the drive.

I tried to break it up with a quick spur-of-the-moment detour to Meteor Crater, but the $15 admission price tag meant all you’re going to see from me is this view from its parking lot:

For all I know, Meteor Crater is a truly stunning experience and totally worth that fifteen bucks, but to get my money’s worth out of the climb to the rim and the museum and exhibits and bells and whistles would have taken more time than I wanted to spend on a day when I was already looking at almost 11 hours on the road.

I also considered breaking up the monotony by stopping to stand on a corner in Winslow, but then I found out on the radio that it’s already been a cheesy tourist thing for awhile. No kidding. According to the radio ads, you can even get your photo with the girl in the flatbed Ford.

I did see the Fight Obesity Ride guy heading east on I-40, and eventually I crossed into New Mexico and had to give back one of those hours I picked up on the way to California.

Fortunately, reaching Albuquerque meant traveling a new road – I-25 (so, yes, I turned left!) northbound, and I was surprised at how the landscape changed again. More green entered the picture, dotting and then covering the hills, although the mountains kept their distinctive western shapes.

At one point, I was treated to a storm off to the west of the highway, on a broad flat plain between me and a distant mountain range. What made it cool was seeing lightning strikes that were actually in front of those hills. Most times, back home the horizon is much closer, so even close-range lightning strikes are behind just about everything you can see. Seeing the bolts link the ground and the clouds in the middle distance rather than in the background was awfully neat.

I was listening to a Retroist podcast about The Dark Crystal during this stretch, and the wide grasslands that opened up to the east , coupled with the hills that still ran alongside to the west, somehow fit the moment.

I got into Raton about 5:30 p.m. during a light rain and bought myself a K-Bob’s steak sandwich for supper, since it had been a really long day of driving and I could feel a hunger headache coming on.

Now I’m going to post this and reward myself with some arcade time – the game room here actually has a working Side Arms – Hyper Dyne, which Aaron and my brothers and I used to LOVE playing at Aladdin’s Castle in the mall (sadly, the Pole Position game has sound but no picture) – and maybe even some ice cream after that. Here’s the view from my campsite:

June 26, 2010 Posted by | Games, geek, Travel, video games | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NM and AZ

Wednesday afternoon, after checking in at the campground, having dinner and then driving around Tucumcari and taking in some of the neat Old Route 66 hotel signs, I relaxed a bit in the campsite’s rec room and charged the laptop and phone while letting a windy patch of weather pass. Got the tent set up around 9:30, and though it was a breezy night, it was comfortable and rain-free

So, up at sunrise and on the road again yesterday morning for what I knew would be a longish driving day across New Mexico and into Arizona.

West of the city, things stretched back out again.

Never having been this far west, I found a lot to look at in the landscape, but the vast distances between signs of civilization did kind of wear on me after a bit, and I was glad to reach Arizona around lunchtime:

Arizona struck me with its change of scenery – after that dramatic introduction (those photos are from the Welcome Center area), it was a lot like New Mexico had been.

I did see my first dust devil, and though it was a weak one, you could still see it rising from miles and miles away:

Then I saw the distant mountains that I knew signaled Flagstaff and my swing southward, and damn if there wasn’t still snow visible up there, just a couple days from the onset of summer.

Flagstaff to Phoenix was as gorgeous and varied a stretch of highway as I’ve seen, from these pine-topped mountains (which, again, had snuck up on me with a gradual climb from the east) down into canyons and cactus-dotted hillsides and broad valleys and incredible views.

I reached the home of my friends Jim & Michelle in the afternoon, and we passed a great evening hanging out and swimming and talking and staying up late.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | geek, Travel | , , | 1 Comment

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 –

Crescent Hotel

Crescent view 2

– 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 –

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 –

Texas

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:

former Amarillo

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.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Family history, geek, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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