Archive for December, 2007

Skipping ahead from New Mexico to Australia

 | December 30, 2007 8:09 pm

We (mom, dad, brother and I) are nearly packed up and ready to head out to LAX. A three hour drive, a couple hours at the airport and then a fourteen hour flight to Sydney. Whew.

We “miss” New Years because of time zones, but maybe they’ll do something on the plane. Hopefully they’ll just let us sleep. This is the first new year I haven’t been working all by myself in a studio somewhere so I actually like the idea of skipping it all together. Next year I will do something interesting and count that as my first new year’s evening not working.

I’ve been so busy with traveling in a car that until now I hadn’t really thought much about this month in Australia. This last week though I’ve finally had a chance. It’s going to be very different from the traveling I’ve just finished doing and what I’ll be doing again when I get back.

Traveling with three other people will probably be a bit of an adjustment. I think for the first week or so I will enjoy not having to make the decisions about where to go or what to do next, but then I’m going to start wanting to do my own stuff even when that’s really a lack of anything. One of my favorite things to do when I was in Italy was walking around the cities. I loved sitting around on benches or church/museum steps and tatting. Tatting, as I’ve said before, is an excellent way to strike up a conversation since people want to know what you’re doing. Tricky in Italy since I speak very little Italian, but slowing down and showing them step by step is still works to connect.

Being on a more structured trip will take some adjusting too, we’ll have about the same amount of time in various cities as I’d been spending on my trip, but the very fact that I could have stayed longer than originally planned if I wanted (and as I did in Albuquerque), made it a different experience. In the van, the length of time I stayed in one place was based on what I wanted to do, in Australia and New Zealand what we do will be (somewhat) based on how long we have.

This is really just a small section of the much larger topic of various types of travel. When planning for taking my year off I was surprised with how many people wanted to know why I was traveling around the US and not going over seas. It’s a very different type of travel. I’ll write more about this later. Right now we’ve got to leave in about a hour and I still have to pick out some tatting to take along. I’m only taking a little (love traveling light) so need to decide what color of thread I want to look at for the next month.


 | December 24, 2007 8:14 pm

An excellent way to get a quick history of Albuquerque is to take the free tour of old town offered by the Albuquerque Museum of Art. I was lucky enough to be the only person on the tour on the day I went which made it even better.  Highly recommended.

Highway 60 in Arizona and New Mexico

 | December 20, 2007 3:05 pm

I’ve been sitting here at the Tucson library for the last two hours enjoying the wifi, but unable to login to post here until I was right about to leave and look for some lunch.So forgive me, but this will be quick. I’ll do a couple more complete posts when I get back to San Diego, (in less than a week!)

After leaving Flagstaff for second time I headed south. I passed though the little town of Pine which Pam recommended to me for the handmade ice cream and antique stores. Sadly, the ice cream shop was closed on Wednesdays and I’m not really interested in antiques. But I did get some blue cheese and tomatoes and that made for a nice lunch later.

Spent the afternoon at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, which was very pretty and a nice break from all the driving. I have no especially good pictures uploaded though, so you’ll just have to follow the link to see it. I’m finding I don’t know how to take decent (moving) water pictures with my little point and shoot.

Slept in a little town along the 60. There was much driving involved in these two days. My memory is a bit fuzzy. The next day’s big adventure was a stop in Pietown for an early lunch of peanut butter pie. Quite tasty. Pretty much the rest of the day was spent driving with a short stop to sit in the back on the van and wait for a break in the cars on the road so I could record the narration for my interview with Dr. Gillette.

VLA SearchingI’m pretty sure there were also stops along the way for reading and napping. It all meant that I got to the VLA right before sunset when they close. But, of course, that meant I got to take both sunset and sunrise pictures of the telescopes.

The telescopes are amazing. And it’s awesome to just be driving along and then suddenly be driving through them. The array (22 miles in diameter) is split by the road and there are cows and other animals wandering near them. I hung out at the visitor’s viewpoint and watched the sun set then headed out to find a place to stay for the night. The best place that didn’t involve a vast amount of driving was a pullout area with camping tables where I got VLA 1checked up on by a passing patrolman, but other than that no problems. Next morning I woke up early, sat at the view point again and wrote for a while until the VLA opened for visitors. It was a cold windy morning but the rain didn’t start until after I’d finished wandering around the campus.

The VLA is in the middle of nowhere, (of course, that’s part of why the spot was chosen), but I’d definitely recommend a stop there. It’s a reasonable side trip from Albuquerque, especially if you combine it with Bosque del Apache Natural Wildlife Refuge which I went to next.

The refuge was recommended by Dr. Gillette. It was GORGEOUS.

Bosque del Apache

Bosque del Apache

Bosque del Apache roadThere’s a 13.5 mile driving loop around a couple of the marshes that I biked around. Took a bit longer than I expected so I finished it in the dark. (The map up at the visitor’s center also claimed the road was paved, which it is very much not, so that slowed me down some too.) It was nice to finally be back on my bike since I think it’d been about 5/6 months since I’ve done any riding. Still I’m ashamed to admit my legs were sore for the rest of the night. 13.5 miles shouldn’t have done that, though I was working against a tough headwind for about half the ride.

After Bosque del Apache I drove on up to Albuquerque. Possibly my favorite day of the trip. Definitely my favorite day of solo-sightseeing.

I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for Albuquerque. It’s just after 3 and I haven’t had lunch yet I may not get around to it until I’m back in San Diego, but I promise flood of posting during the few days I’ll be there.

Flagstaff, AZ (or “Hanging Out With My Brother and His Friends”)

 | December 10, 2007 9:09 pm

Ahh Flagstaff… beautiful little Flagstaff.

I love Flagstaff. I love the downtown. I love the museums, the university, the train station, the urban trail system, and smell of the weather in town and view of the mountains. The fact that it’s home to the Lowell Observatory alone would make it a cool town. A few years back I even had a brief flirtation with the idea of moving there.

I only want to make this clear so you understand that when someone called it “big city” and I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to disagree I did not mean to imply anything bad about Flagstaff. It’s a lovely town, but 53,00 in “city” limits and 124,000 in the metro area, does not a “big city” make.

(It reminded me of being in a car going from Boston to Providence and the how driver kept complaining about the awful rush-hour traffic we were stuck in though we never dropped below 40 miles an hour. Silly east coasters, come drive the 405 at 6:00pm some day.)

However Flagstaff was the largest place I’d been to on my trip thus far. Also the coldest. The first night I spent there it dropped to the high teens. I stayed in the Walmart parking lot (first Walmart overnight of the trip! (will explain this to the non-RVers later)), woke up at 5:00am, and after about a half an hour gave up on sleeping anymore. So I climbed into the driver’s seat, apologized to the Waltons for not going in and buying anything after staying in their parking lot, (I usually patronize any store I stay at, even if it’s just to buy a can of soup or some gum), and drove off to the Northern Arizona Museum three and a half hours before it opened just to get the engine warmed up and the heater going.

So if my brother lives in Flagstaff what was I doing in the Walmart parking lot? Well, Elliot only lives in Flagstaff occasionally. He work 8 days straight in Southern Utah at a camp and then spends his 6 days off in Flagstaff, staying in friend’s garage. His rent is two cases of beer a month. (Yes, we’re both pseudo-homeless. Our parents are so proud). I got there on Tuesday, he wasn’t going to get out of the woods, (and turn on his cell phone), until Wednesday, and I had no idea where his friend’s house was. (Turns out it’s about a mile from the Walmart). So I had a chilly first night in Flag. It’s nice to know that I can handle those temperatures if need be, but I was quite happy to get a hold of him the next day and get directions.

Special thanks for the week in Flagstaff go out to Jared, Nick, Paige, Bobby, Pam and Alex for housing and/or entertainment. You’re always welcome to couch space, floor space, van space or whatever I have where ever I am. (Special thanks, btw, to Bobby for introducing me to Kava tea. First tea I’ve found I can drink straight. I bought a box yesterday and I’m loving it.)

Cronologically, my time in Flagstaff is confused since I spent 7 (!) nights there. Most of the time doing things that were lots of fun, but not very exciting to read about. Went to museums, art galleries and presentations at the university, learned how to play ma jiang, (though I found it easier to use what Japanese I remember from high school rather than learn the Chinese names for the pieces), did laundry, recorded Elliot, Pam and Bobby as they jammed on their guitars, and I learned that my brother can sing!

I only took two pictures that I especially like the whole week. Both were taken in Jerome, AZ when Bobby, Pam and I stopped for lunch on a day trip. The first shows Pam’s face clearly so until I get her permission to post it you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you how cool a shot it is.

Bobby and Pam in Jerome

It wasn’t actually as warm as it looks here. I was just having fun playing with my camera’s built in filters.

I had an excellent burger in Jerome. Absolutely fantastic. Ranked right up there with The Counter in Santa Monica. If you’re a carnivore and you happen to find yourself in Jerome (or more likely, nearby Sedona) then get a burger at the Mile High Grill. Very tasty with good bread, (the importance of which is often overlooked). Sadly, they don’t come smaller than half a pound, but you’ll eat the whole thing anyways.

I left Flag on Tuesday morning and headed south to Montezuma’s Castle National Monument, one of the most well preserved cliff dwellings in the southwest. Not as spectacular as Mesa Verde, but well worth the five bucks and the two hours I spent there. Don’t miss it if you’re nearby and have any interest in history.

When I got back out to my car I had a message from a researcher at the Museum of Northern Arizona who I’d been trying to get a hold of to interview for This Week in Science. So I drove the 50 miles back to Flagstaff, bought a six pack of beer for “rent,” showed up again at Jared’s house and crashed on the couch one more night.

I interviewed Dr. David Gillette the next morning about the Therizinosaur he’d excavated in 2000-2001 and spent most of the rest of the day at a coffee shop in town editing down the interview and writing a narration script to record later. I didn’t drive very far out of town that evening, just enough to lose some of the elevation so it wasn’t super cold that night.

From the Salton Sea up to, (but not including), Flagstaff, AZ

 | 11:20 am

Whew. Getting an internet connection is tricky in the middle of nowhere. But I decided to stay at a hostel in Albuquerque, for two nights to get some editing done for This Week in Science, a kick-ass science show from Davis, CA that everyone should check out because they’re awesome, (and no, I’m not just saying that because I occasionally contribute to them.) I was very happy to discover that I could record and edit a piece while on the road. This was the first piece I did outside of a studio and on my little laptop. I am glad to report that it did not break down on me. Apparently reinstalling windows a year ago also fixed whatever problem ProTools (my audio editing software) was having.

But I am getting ahead of myself again. And all you actually care about are the pictures.

After the Salton Sea I headed up north and east along the 10, stopping just south of Joshua Tree National Park at the George Patton Museum. This was the stop where I actually felt like I was getting settled into the idea of traveling.

As I look back on it the museum sort of symbolizes this trip, and the idea of just going to check out something because it’s there.

I knew it was out there and I’ve passed it a couple times on the way to Joshua Tree. It interested me to find out why it was out there in the middle of the California desert, and I always figured that I would stop at some point. Other than a general interest in history however it’s not something I ever cared particularly enough to bother driving all the way out there to visit. Until now. Now I have the time to spend on random stuff like this. I’m not traveling with anyone so there’s no one else to convince. So I went, and while not a destination it’s an excellent use of 4 bucks and a couple hours.

State Prison sign.And then comes the long stretch of I-10 where there’s nothing but desert. All you can do is put on your favorite cd, imagine you’re in the middle of the montage in the movie where the main character is doing some sort of cathartic travel. Imagine the camera paning from her face out the scenery as it rushes by. Be glad that you’re not traveling in a covered wagon where it would have taken you a week to go through what now takes an hour.

Then you’ll get to Blythe, CA. I have no pictures of Blythe. My guide book recommended the many old-timey donut shops in Blythe. It should have been my first hint that perhaps my guide book was old and out of date. I found only one donut shop and had a decent but not particularly special donut there. But they do have a cafe called Steaks and Cakes. Interestingly, it did not appear to serve either steak or cake, but did have some decent chicken strips. Just outside of Blythe was the best sign I’ve seen so far. (left)

Blythe, not a destination. But Quartzsite… ahh Quartzsite.Quartzsite Sunset

Most of the year Quartzsite, AZ is a town of about 3,000 but over the summer it swells to almost a million rv’ers from the colder parts of the country. I got there on the Wednesday before thanksgiving so it was still pretty empty but there were a number of people there for the winter that I met while wandering around. It’s definitely a place I want to go back to, especially when I get around to working on a couple audio projects I’ve got rumbling around in my mind. But sadly the timing wasn’t right for a long visit then. It was Thanksgiving weekend, everything was shut down, I didn’t have my bike fixed yet (still hadn’t found a bike shop for a new tire), and most importantly I was still only a week into my trip and was still feeling pretty stircrazy at the idea of staying in the same place for more than one night. But I will be back. (As you can see, we also continued the theme of awesome sunsets. This is was the view from the driver’s seat at spot where I boondocked that night.)

Lake HavasuNext day I headed north to Lake Havasu, a great little town in AZ whose main tourist attractions are the lake itself and the London bridge. I got there the day before their big festival of lights, with the official lighting of the bridge and the touristy area around it, (known as “Londontown Land,” I kid you not).

There’s a night-time swimming competition across the “channel” and the winner gets to flip the switch. The best though was the one-man band (called “The Redcoats”) who played Christmas and Beatles music as if they were sea shanties. I recorded some and I’ll try and get it up later.

Two nights in Lake Havasu! First time I stayed two nights in the same place. Largely this was because this is when my back was hurting the worst. It was easiest to just stay put, hang out in the touristy area, read a book and walk around as much as possible to loosen up my back. (Oh, I also finally found a bike shop and got a new tire.)

The next day was one of the best days of the trip. Headed north along the 95 and then old route 66 up to Oatman. Stopped randomly in the middle of the day on the side of the road and read for a while and did a bit of brainstorming on a large project idea that I’ll get around to explaining here eventually. I love traveling on my own and being able to just stop randomly and read or write or just sit and tat for a half an hour. Christmas bush outside of Oatman And it’s a good thing I did, because if I’d traveled further down the road earlier I might have missed the Browne family as they decorated a bush on the side of the road.

Oatman has a tradition of decorating the bushes on the stretch of Route 66 up to their town. For 20 bucks you can pick out your own shrubbery and join in. Take the decorations off after the holidays and you’ll get back 10 bucks of that.

I was driving along on the day after Thanksgiving so I didn’t get to see the road in its complete magistery, though apparently it does get pretty full of Christmas cheer. At the second bush I passed being decorated I had to stop and get the story. And that’s how I met the Browne’s… two daughters, parents, and grandparents who let me ask questions, (as long as I helped with the decorating) and join in on their family tradition. I got a couple suggestions on places to visit on my trip, and both daughters live in New York so hopefully I’ll get together again with them when I make it out there.

And that, Dear Reader, is really what this trip is all about, meeting cool, interesting people. (And eventually I’ll figure out the best way to ask someone if you can interview them after only knowing them for 10 minutes.) Oatman

And burros, this trip is also about burros. Perferrably baby burros surprising young children in cute and photogenic ways.

Oatman is a tourist trap. But it’s an entertaining tourist trap. Wild burros roam the streets and most of the shops sell carrots you can feed them. They have gunfight re-enactments on the streets in “period dress” (read that as “the modern hollywood-based version of generic westernwear of the 19th century”). And more cutesy shops and galleries than you can stuff a town of Saturday-afternoon-Route-66-tourists into.

Touristy, but not to be missed. A lot of the shops are full of your generic Route 66 “tourap” (tourist crap), but there’s also a couple galleries with some very nice artwork. One I would have passed by if not for the recommendation earlier from the Browne’s. It had beautiful oil on sandstone paintings.

From Oatman I continued on old Route 66 through the mountains, thinking of The Grapes of Wrath and imaging what it must have been like to travel that road after the dust bowl.

Well, I was only half thinking such deep, reflective thoughts. I was continuously distracted by the other half of my brain that kept shouting “Oh my god, this is GORGEOUS!” And it was. But I have no pictures for you because pictures, (especially from my little compact camera), wouldn’t be able to do it justice. This was big sky with layers of mountains spread out along the horizon.

If you’re anywhere near there and do not take this road between Oatman and Kingman I will refuse to associate with you ever again. You’re not even allowed to continue reading this blog. If you can’t appreciate scenery like that I have no time for you. (Exceptions given if you’re traveling in a largish RV or a car with doubtful brakes. The hairpin curves on the way back down the mountain are not for you.)

So Kingman… Can’t tell you a whole lot about Kingman. I got in after dark (not hard when the sun sets at 5:30), had a restless night next to a truckstop and in the morning was itching for movement so I drove on even though I’d planned to visit the museum there.

The day was spent on the next stretch of Route 66 between Kingman and Williams. This section you’re allowed to skip. In the winter at least. I want to go back sometime in the summer to check out Havasu Falls, which from all the pictures looks amazing, but in the winter the main draw of this section of Route 66 seems to be The Grand Canyon Caverns. It’s a neat tour, worth the $13 if you’re already there, but by itself not worth the extra time of taking Route 66 over the 40 for this section. Neither has much scenery so you might as well take the faster one. (Yeah, I know, this trip is not about going fast and seeing as much as possible, but it’s also not about getting bored.)

Williams was the last hold-out along old Route 66, so along the main street you find yet more endless 66 references. I spent way too much on a pancake breakfast at a cafe I only later learned is apparently famous for their pies. If only I had known earlier!

The highlight for me was going to the Railroad RV park the morning for a shower. Cost me 5 bucks, which hurt, but the place was run by an older gentleman who’d spent most of the last couple decades living on the land and trapping for a living. So I got to hear stories from a real mountain man and (of course) got a couple more suggestions of places to visit. (All of them cold weather places, so they’ve been added to the list for next year. Or rather, they will be once I find the paper I wrote them down on).

A drive up a nearby mountain turned into a hike about 3/4ths of the way once I decided I didn’t know if my van could make it up the steep dirt road*. The top turned out to be home to all the area’s TV and radio towers, and ironically I got a call from KJAZZ while up there, so apparently I can’t get away from radio even when I head out to the middle of nowhere.

Headed out then to Flagstaff, but I think that’s enough typing for now. I’ll describe Flagstaff and beyond a little later and leave you instead with a picture I forgot to post earlier. Here’s a sample of the dead fish that littered the Salton Sea beaches. Enjoy

*The best description of this road I can come up with is to compare it to the last section of road up Mt. Baldy, CA, with it’s insanely steep hairpin curves. Take that road, make it dirt and only slightly wider than one lane (for both directions). Chop off the sides of the mountain so it’s a sharp drop off the side of the road and add some fallen trees. I met one truck going in the other direction. Thankfully I was on the mountain side of the road then so as we inched past each other I didn’t fall off the mountain. No, they didn’t fall off the mountain either.

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