LA Bound – Tale #6

Continued from LA Bound – Tale#5

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~T. S. Eliot

It wasn’t long before we saw signs for Blythe, the California town just on the west side of the border. Erin was getting excited and wanted to make sure that I was prepared to take a picture of the state sign. She had a few very specific expectations on this trip and most of them involved a picture of something that she had anticipated as important – the California sign was at the top of the list – the granddaddy – the one worth turning around for. We entered Ehrenburg (notice the pronunciation is ‘Erin’ burg – weird coincidence?) and slowed down… it turns out that the state line is in the middle of the Colorado river which divides the states and we were on a bridge, on a highway… there was no where to stop.

California has border check points especially for livestock and produce… they are very protective of their produce, thankfully. We were waved through and immediately noticed a ‘Welcome to California’ sign on the right side of the highway. We pulled off on the side of the road while eighteen wheelers whizzed past us as they accelerated back up to speed, so that Erin could stand under the sign and have me snap a few photographs. We had arrived.

And yet, we were still several hours away from our next overnight stop. Since we gained another hour of time crossing the border we agreed that we would divert through Joshua Tree National Park. While I had heard about it, I didn’t know anything about the park or about the Joshua Tree. The park consists of almost 800,000 acres where the Mojave and the Colorado deserts converge. It is home of the Joshua Tree – a unique specimen that was named by the Mormons because they believed that the tree was welcoming them to the West and urging them onward.

We entered the park on the south side and drove north toward Twentynine Palms, a city infamous for its Marine training base. It was instantly apparent that we were entering a desolate desert landscape and once again, there was basically nothing… it was as if we were on Mars, I think. I’ve never actually been on Mars, but it’s exactly what I imagine Mars to be like… rocks and fine silty sand with little variation in color.

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Looking across the landscape it was as if we were in the bottom of an empty ocean. You could clearly see the drifts of sand up against the mountains as if there was a soft gradual rise exactly opposite what we see/experience when at the shore and walk into the water on the sandy bottom. The road seemed to disappear into the gray sand and we couldn’t tell which way it went unless we happened to catch a glimpse of the sun bouncing off a car coming toward us. Only then could we decipher the road as it wound its way through the martian’esque surface. We had no cell service and no GPS… we simply followed the road; trusting that it was leading us toward something worth seeing or experiencing.

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And it did… suddenly we were facing a field full of a type of cactus that is totally ‘unworldly’. In fact, it looks like it belongs under the water or specifically in a terrarium. I imagined it to be a natural habitat for tarantulas because they kind of look alike. It was the Cholla Cactus Garden and there is a quarter mile nature trail meandering through it but thankfully, we were short on time as I am not sure I could move away from that tarantula vision long enough to motivate myself onto the trail. And so, we kept driving.

Erin was reading the brochure about what ‘sights’ were in front of us and she started reading about Jumbo Rocks… explaining that they were created by magma pushing up through the earth’s crust til just under the surface and then over millions of years, the earth around them washed away leaving the magma remains. For you Geology lovers, I included the link so you can read about it but I assure you – there is no comparison until you actually SEE them. I have yet to see a photograph that captures the magnificence of those rocks… they are massive and they are strewn across the desert in random piles. It’s not an ‘ice age’ kind of thing – it’s not similar to ‘boulder fields’ that exist in the north but it is as unique and one of the most beautiful and interesting things I’ve seen in my life. My bucket list now includes another trip there – in a camper – with time to walk and walk and see the sunset. Around every turn thereafter we were both exclaiming “oh my goodness” and “look at that”.

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Eventually we arrived at the Joshua Tree forest and it isn’t a forest per se… not the one you imagine when you say the word but I suppose it is by definition – that is, a large grouping of trees. I totally understand why there are so many UFO sightings in this part of the world… those aliens probably think they are ‘home’ when they come upon this landscape. For all of my East Coast friends and family… it will be mind blowing for you; treat yourself with a trip to Southern California and make the drive!!

We came down out of the mountains into the north side of the Palm Springs desert and once again I was amazed at the number of wind turbines capturing the currents moving through the valley. I am impressed with the implementation of alternative energy and for some reason – enthralled with wind farms. When we were in Europe a couple of years ago I stood in amazement of them and the fancy of it has not tired yet.

I arranged to meet up with a longtime friend for dinner. I would say an ‘old friend’ but we are both of the age that ‘old’ has a different connotation. We met 35 years ago when she was my boss and after my brief stint with the company, we became friends. She is one of the only people in my life still that remembers me as a young woman madly in love with my blonde prince and it was really fun seeing her again. When we arrived at the restaurant she immediately commented on how much Erin looks like the young me. I’m never sure how Erin feels about that but she is always gracious. What is odd to me, just a little … is that I left California when I was 23 – almost from that very spot and here we were connecting with someone I knew back then as my 23-year-old daughter is entering California… how weird is it to think of that night as some kind of ‘portal’ for the continuation of some cosmic unfinished business??

Ummm… sounds like a sci-fi novel and I offer it up to anyone who has the energy to create it!

We had been on the road for six entire days and it was almost over. This roadtrip, a priceless adventure with my daughter was almost over. For the benefit of our budget we opted to stay out there in the East Valley overnight and drive into the city so that Erin could view LA in the daylight. This had been a dream for almost half of her life and I wanted it to be special for her.

To be continued…

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LA Bound – Tale #5

Continued from LA Bound – Tale #4

“The earth has music for those who listen.” —George Santayana.

It turns out that we entered Oak Creek Canyon, a fourteen-mile drive along the Oak Creek, nestled in a gorge that has been rated as one of the Top 5 Most Scenic Drives in America by Rand McNally. It’s another of those things on our trip that we only allowed ourselves a tease of as I was determined to make it into Sedona in time to see the sun set against all of the red cliffs.  There were a dozen or more ‘retreats’ and/or resorts in the canyon and I made a mental note to look it up and think about my next ‘vacation’! Additionally, we passed a number of signs announcing a trailhead enticing me to stop and hike for a bit… but this wasn’t that trip. It was a downright chore to keep my foot on the gas pedal.

As we rounded the corner into town the sight was more intense than I had remembered. I was in Sedona about twelve years ago for a really short visit and recalled that I thought the airport which is on top of a plateau, would be a great place from which to view the town and/or the sunset and so I made a beeline there. As it turns out, it is a good place – so good in fact that there is an observation point there and you have to pay $3 to park. I had to laugh a bit as I think I may have been the only one to conform and actually grab a ticket… I didn’t stop to check that other cars had done the same as the sun was setting and I wanted Erin to see it.

There is something magical about sunsets, at least in my mind and there is something electric about Sedona. It’s known as an ‘energy’ center and there are Aura Readers and Reiki Healing signs everywhere in addition to ‘spiritual’ teachers and spas. The people there would tell you that the red rock stimulates a variety of neurological centers in your brain and the green of the pine forests promotes hope and regeneration. I suspect that almost any kind of alternative medicine or treatment available can be found in the Sedona area.

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From the airport plateau, you can see for miles and walk around to view the city in its entirety. No matter your viewpoint, it is stunning in all variations of light. There are trails around the airport complex providing benches from which to sit and take it all in. Erin and I sat on one and FaceTime’d Harlan and Sara just to offer them a tiny glimpse of our amazement. It felt as if we had to share it… somehow enjoying the experience ourselves seemed almost too selfish. Every time we changed positions, the view was just as dramatic and we both felt peaceful and overjoyed simultaneously.

As with all of our other stops on this trip – we were only there long enough to snap a few pictures and eat. We picked a little spot that was good but unnoteworthy overall; it was just a nice restaurant and then headed south just a bit for the night. As we drove down the road it was apparent that we were missing some incredible scenery as it had become quite dark with little moonlight to highlight our drive. We stopped for the night just outside the city and I tucked away the idea that we might backtrack a bit in the morning just to have one last look at the majestic ‘red rock’ that we were both so drawn toward.

The morning found us itching to make more progress in our westward movement and we had to make a decision about the route; either go back north and head out I-40 or move further south and pick up I-10. The weather made the decision easy as massive amounts of rain were moving across California and into northern Arizona and so we routed ourselves to Phoenix. The drive was uneventful except for the fields of cactus that dot the landscape there. I was more excited for Erin to see cactus than she was and after I pointed out the third or fourth one she reminded me that my ‘repeating’ fostered annoyance. *sigh*.

The service engine light was still on and we were about a thousand miles over the ‘oil change’ recommendation and so we agreed that Phoenix would be a good place to get everything checked out. In the interest of time we opted for a Jiffy Lube and set the GPS for a western Phoenix suburb. The employee who ran diagnostics on the car provided us with a report and told us to get to a Nissan dealership ASAP and that he would was unable to offer any service on the car because the error code indicated that we had a critical problem.

It was Monday morning and we were just under 400 miles from LA… we still had our 24 hour window to address any issues that came up but we were so… so… close and it was disheartening to think that we might be stuck there for even a little while. Nothing is as frustrating as the unknown and so we directed ourselves to a dealership close by and drove ourselves right into the service bay.

I won’t say that I batted my eyes or pretended to be helpless but I might have used a wee bit of feminine wiles in so much as I let them know that we had driven all the way from the East Coast and needed to finish our trip as easily as possible. We gave them the code sheets that JL had provided. I can honestly say that the service guys who worked with us there were two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. They ‘listened’ to us – addressed our problem (agreeing that it had probably been the gas cap and reset the dash light), put air in the tires and told us we could wait on the oil change until we got to LA. They didn’t charge us a dime and offered to wash the car before we left.

If you ever get a chance to visit Coulter Nissan in Surprise, Arizona… I highly recommend them!

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We grabbed a quick bite to eat and made the turn West, crossing the southwest portion of Arizona where nothing lives except a few wiry green things. If it weren’t for the interesting sharpness of the mountains and the intensity with which they jutted up from the flat sandy desert, there would be absolutely nothing to look at. We turned on Shonda and listened intently. I thought I could hear Erin’s heart beat just a little faster as the California border loomed in front of us.

To be continued…

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LA Bound – Tale #4

Continued from LA Bound – Tale #3

“Nature has two powers: Her own physical power and the spiritual power of her beauty!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

Other than seeing the Grand Ole Opry, Erin’s only other request for this journey was to make the short detour to the Grand Canyon and so with our schedule in great shape and good weather in the forecast, we started day five with eager anticipation. I had been to the canyon several decades ago – when I was eighteen and I knew it was one of those landmarks that you had to literally experience to believe the magnificence. I was particularly excited to share it with her. We packed up the car, checked the oil, and filled the gas tank. As we drove up the ramp Erin noticed that the service engine light was on. Reading about it in the manual (teaching Erin to inform herself first) – it suggests that there was an issue with the gas tank cap. We pulled over and tightened the cap… no change. Google to the rescue for additional information… verifying that it could be a cap problem and if so… it may take a week to resolve. I discovered that if it wasn’t blinking we were OK.

The scenery between Gallop and Flagstaff quickly disintegrated into flat, dry, and dusty desert without much interest. We had four hours before we turned on our northern detour to the canyon and so we listened to Shonda for a while. There are a few ‘attractions’ in that area of the country and since we had made a little time up the night before, we opted to pick one… we agreed on the 50,000 year old Meteor Crater. What do you think of when you imagine a meteor falling from space? Even the one that supposedly killed all of the dinosaurs? I am sure that I imagined a hole in the ground but never did I consider that the hole would be nearly one MILE across and 550 feet deep – deep enough that the Statue of Liberty can sit inside without peeking out. The impact was 150 times the blast of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb and it decimated the forest that existed there at the time. Eventually, the hole filled with water and a lake existed there long enough for 200 feet of sediment to accumulate (the original depth was 750 feet – taller than the Times Square Tower). The vastness of it is staggering.

We didn’t take time to see the movie or move through the little museum for long as the Grand Canyon was waiting but it was a great little stop and only six miles off the interstate so if nothing else – it was a good opportunity to stretch and use the facilities. We were there barely an hour and then hit the road again. In Flagstaff, the scenery begins to change to a more mountainous and pine forest environment. There were remnants of a recent snow storm and signs that warned us of ice on the highway as we made our way to the state highway that would lead us to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I couldn’t tell if it was a really long fifty miles because of our anticipation or because we were back in the high desert with little variance in the landscape but the closer we got, the more red appeared in the rock and my memories were dancing with excitement to be reminded and refreshed.

It was cold. We were 7,000 ft. above sea level and the wind was whipping across the top of the canyon plateau – again, we were wishing for hats and gloves. All considering, there weren’t many people there and so it was a great time to visit; the visitor center was almost empty and after looking at a scaled relief for a few minutes, the suspense got to Erin and we made our way to the rim. “What….? Oh. My. Gosh.” – there really isn’t anything else to say and you find yourself saying it over and over, not matter the angle you turn to view. I had forgotten that the canyon is an entire mile DEEP… and the view across to the other side averages about ten miles – and we thought the Meteor Crater was impressive!

I wonder if it is the same for everyone who returns… how many times must one visit before your body adjusts and no longer skips a breath as you walk upon the incredible view? There really is no way to describe the grandeur of the landscape or the colors, which even on a cloudy day, when they are muted, are quite spectacular. Within moments of us standing there, the sun came out as if in answer to my silent calling to demonstrate to Erin the astounding vibrancy of sunshine against the canyon stone. She was in awe and motivated to move along the path, snapping photographs every third step, appropriately oohing and aahing.  I think between us, we easily snapped a hundred photos in under an hour. It looks unreal, as if you could reach out and touch a canvas, a backdrop that was perfectly painted to fit into the immediate surroundings. In every one of the photos we took with a person it it… they look like they could have been taken at any Olan Mills or Sears Portrait Studio.

I have a photo of my eighteen-year-old self, sitting on a ledge with my legs dangling over the edge of the canyon. I remember my step-mom crawling out there on her hands and knees to get me off that ledge and I could suddenly appreciate her hesitation. Why is it, that as young people, we are so fearless? There were people crawling over and under railings all along the path to reach standing spots that looked impossible but allowed for amazing photo ops. I am completely surprised that only a couple of people fall to their death each year as the people I saw appeared to be quite close and I felt myself getting anxiety as I waited for it to happen.

Sadly, we were all too aware of our time constraints and lack of proper clothing so we headed back to the warmth of our car to notice that if we wanted… we could back track a bit and make it to Sedona in time for the sunset. We were only ninety-seven miles away and heck – after 2,200 … what’s another 100?

Motivated to squeeze one more intense sight into our day, we headed south again, then east for a bit (it felt quite misguided to turn onto 40 eastbound) before we exited onto Arizona-89A, a two lane highway stretching through pine forests that put the Pocono Mountains to shame. There had been some recent lumbering along the highway and we passed dozens of piles of timbered pine allowing my mind to imagine them lumbered and waiting for shoppers at Lowes or Home Depot… yes, my mind really does work that way!

Suddenly, the road began to descend and immediately in front of me a canyon appeared leaving me to wonder where in the hell the road went… I quickly found out as we were led into a deep switchback with six hairpin turns that had me gripping the steering wheel so hard that the word Nissan was imprinted in my palm when it was over. All along, Erin was exclaiming “oh my God, Holy Shit! Oh wow!” and more expletives in that genre to announce her awe at the beauty of the panorama in front of us. I was tempted beyond belief to look and take it in but there was traffic coming at me and no guard rail on my side so our lives depended on me staying focused on the road as we descended 4500 feet.

To be continued…

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