the road trip

The trip to Grand Canyon was as much about the journey as it was the destination.

The oft lamented looooong drive through far west Texas was welcome on this trip because it accomplished one important thing – it got me far, far away from people. You can go hundreds of miles and barely see a gas station. And the terrain at times looks like the moon or another planet. Or, like this:

I was amazed at the sheer enormity of space with nothing man-made sitting on it. No Starbucks, Office Max, CVS, Home Depot. Nada. I felt like I finally had some room.

Something funny I realized on this trip – the majority of knowledge I had about the Southwest came from cartoons. Mostly Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons. Until seeing some on this trip, I thought that chipmunks were much bigger than squirrels. It turns out that they are not. Nor do they wear sweaters and sing a cappella. I never had confidence in my ability to spell Albuquerque until planning this trip, but I always wanted to make sure I didn’t take a wrong turn when I got there.

At about mile 320 on I-10 in Arizona is an odd array of boulders called Texas Canyon. In order to accommodate the people who would probably just about run off the road looking at this weird geological display, there’s a rest stop. I took a few pictures, but none of them really captured the scope and sheer weirdness of the place.

As you can see from the amazing blue sky, we were lucky to have perfect weather on this trip. And I guess I’ve gotten so used to the white/gray/blue combo Houston sky, just seeing clean/clear air was a thrill.

One of the many fun parts of planning a trip is reading up on restaurant suggestions and trying out different places. A great website for this activity is Chowhound. The website has forums for different parts of the country (and points further away). Foodies and people who just can’t help but share their opinions agree and disagree about what’s good and what’s not worth your time. It’s up to you to try to figure out who to listen to. [side note: I read online reviews a lot – for books, hotels, etc. – and sometimes I wonder why it is that I believe the opinions of people who post their reviews online when I have never done so – it would suggest that I’m listening to people who are nothing like me – but what the hell]

A great Chowhound recommendation was Delux in Phoenix. They serve a fresh not frozen burger topped with good cheese, grilled onions and bacon. We had to check it out. What I didn’t know is that the restaurant was in the yuppie part of town. During the drive there and back to the highway, I kept saying that the city was “clean.” But clean didn’t really nail it. Then I figured out the word I was looking for – sterile. I now understand that Phoenix has recently undergone a large growth spurt, so I guess a lot of what we were seeing was pretty new.

And look at the cute little basket the order of sweet potato and potato potato fries comes in:

It was over 90 degrees when we had lunch. The place was packed and we didn’t want to lose too much time, so we took a table outside. I would never eat lunch in the middle of August in Houston on a patio. Too hot. But this is that dry heat. Plus, they had misters around the perimeter of the patio. I was amazed at how well they worked. It was like getting a cold burst of air off and on. Very refreshing, not at all wet and it made the difference for dealing with the heat. Oh, and the burger was very good. Unlike a similar burger you might find in Houston, the toppings were not too heavy. Just a hint of each ingredient.

We hit two different Mexican restaurants on our two nights in New Mexico. I was surprised that the Mexican food there was much, much hotter than what we eat in Houston. From the salsa to the meal itself, the fire was turned way up. Of the two restaurants (one in Las Cruces, one in Albuquerque), I liked Sadie’s in Alb. the best. I had carne adovada, a dish of roasted pork with a bunch of other stuff piled on top. Obviously the presentation isn’t high on the list for Sadie’s, as my dinner looked like a big pile of crap. But man it was tasty. And way too much food. Interesting – the sides were beans and cubed, fried potato rather than beans and rice.

Mid-way through the trip I purchased Blue, a handmade little flying pig.

Blue became the mascot for the trip and still hangs from my rearview mirror. It makes me happy.

A few miles outside of Grand Canyon National Park, we came upon one of those scenic turnoffs you see periodically on the side of the highway. I don’t know if I’ve ever pulled into one before. When you’re on a road trip, you have to take the time to hit a few of these things. At this particular turn off was a 1,000 foot sheer drop. We saw some fat lizards and kept an eye out for snakes. Didn’t see any of those, thankfully. To get to the most “scenic” part, you had to walk about half a mile down a rock-strewn path and around a curve and away from your vehicle. I started getting worried that this was some kind of trap (you can take the girl out of the city…), where they hit you over the head and then steal your car. Of course it was not. And I was embarrassed that I even thought that.

Have you slept in a wigwam lately? This place on historic Route 66 in Holbrook, AZ is still open, and I plan on staying there the next time I’m in that part of the country. It’s just such a slice of Americana and seems like a fun place to spend the night.

Each teepee features its own vintage vehicle.

The teepees are made of concrete.

A shot of the interior. Note the fantastic bedspreads. I want one. The teepees that were vacant had open doors so you could peek inside. I was happy to note how clean the interiors were.

Can’t wait for the next road trip. You really get the sense that you’ve been somewhere when you put more than 3,000 miles on your odometer. I highly recommend it. Just make sure you take the time to hit a few scenic turnoffs.


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