Monday, October 23, 2006

Southwest 1998

Here is the third installment of our past vacations. This was our first major roadtrip as a married couple. The plan was a 12 day tour of the southwestern U.S. - Arizona, New Mexico, Las Vegas. We started on the road on 27 June and drove to Phoenix.

In Phoenix we had tickets for the Lilith Fair concert on the 28th. We spent most of the day there lounging by the pool since the concert didn't started until late afternoon. When we arrived at the Blockbuster Desert Sky Pavilion it was well over 100ºF. The venue was an open air amphitheater and the sun was beating down on the seats. I bought some water and some watermelon which really helped. The wife only had some water if I remember right. Around the concession area they had mist-ers set up but the mist evaporated in the heat before it reached the crowd below. The first band up was Liz Phair. I was already a big fan of hers and I really enjoyed her set. At the first break, the wife said she wasn't feeling very well. We headed to the restrooms and the concession area. On the way she almost passed out. I sat her down propped up against a wall and went and bought her a cold glass of fruit punch. She downed that and I bought her a second one. We then bought a couple of hamburgers and more water. The fruit punch seemed to heal her. This may have been her first experience with heat stroke - it sneaks up on you. We bought more water and returned to our seats and watched the rest of the concert without incident. The sun was going down and things cooled down. We listened to the Indigo Girls , Sarah McLachlan , and Erykah Badu. We enjoyed the performances. There were multiple stages so we missed several of the smaller, less known performers. Even with the heat and the whole passing out thing, this was an awesome start to our Southwest explorations.

The next day we drove to Tombstone, AZ . We did tour of the town on a horse drawn carriage. The guide would point at some souvenir shop and say that used to be the Saloon and then she pointed at another souvenir shop and said that was where Doc Holiday set up shop. It seemed that everywhere that was once important was now a souvenir shop and little, if anything, left of the original function. The tour ended at the O.K. Corral . The whole place was a big tourist trap. I was disappointed. We left town and headed East.

We arrived in El Paso just before dark. We passed hotel after hotel as we entered the city but I decided to drive through the town and find a hotel on the way out - BAD MOVE. There were no hotels on the East side and it got dark real fast. We ended up turning around and coming back into the city and found a hotel next to the airport. I'm glad we turned around since we found out the next day that there was nothing East of El Paso for 160 miles.

The next day was weird. We left El Paso and headed for Carlsbad, NM. We were on 180 which goes through desolate salt flats and scrubby ranches. At times it was like we were driving on the Moon. The wife needed a rest stop and after driving an hour we came upon a filling station literally out in the middle of nowhere. On an old bus seat sat the boy from Deliverance. All he was missing was the banjo. The dueling banjo song kept going through my head. We had pulled in after a minivan. The mother and her kids got out and headed to the bathroom first. She came out shortly after and told her kids and the wife: "You do not have to go that bad!" The kids and the wife got back in our respective vehicles and we moved on.

We arrived at Carlsbad, NM and went spelunking. Carlsbad Caverns were impressive. We rented the self-guided CD tour and made our way down into the cave. We both enjoyed the caves. Unfortunately I did not have a camera at the time so no pictures were taken. If you are in the area and are interested in Caves or just natural beauty, Carlsbad Caverns is worth a visit. Around the mouth of the cave there are bleachers set up for people to observe the bats that leave the mouth every evening at sundown. We sat is the heat waiting for the bats, which supposedly numbered in the hundreds of thousands. One, 1, uno, bat flew out of the cave. That was it. Turns out the bats are more intelligent then the humans. As we were out in the 100 degree heat sweating our keasters off, the bats were lounging in the cool cave and taking the night off. I would have liked to see the bats but the caves did not disappoint.

The next day we drove on the Roswell, NM site of a famous UFO incident. All the stores had UFO, Alien, some other space reference in their names. We visited the museum , ate lunch and moved on. By the way, no aliens were seen while we were in Roswell.

The real weirdness started after we left Roswell. We headed west on 380 planning to link up with the 25 and drive north into Albuquerque. Before we got to the 25 is got really dark, started raining like there was no tomorrow, and hailed. We were really freaked out at how severe it was. We finally drove out of it but then, to the North where we were heading, we saw the darkest, blackest, ugliest weather on Earth. We got on the 25 and the rain got harder and harder. People were parked under the overpasses to get out of the rain. You couldn't see ten feet in front of the car, it was raining so hard. We pulled off the road in Bellen, NM and found a hotel to wait out the weather. The whole town was flooded. We ate at a nice steak house not too far from our hotel and listened to the rain and thunder.

The next morning the weather had cleared and we made it to Albuquerque. We didn't spend too much time there. A little shopping and looking around. We rode a tram that overlooked the city.

The next day was Santa Fe, NM. We decided to do a walking tour which was interesting. On the tour we visited the Loretto Chapel famous for it's spiral staircase.

Next stop was Taos, NM. We took a horse drawn tour that I don't remember being very memorable. They did point out that part of Easy Rider was filmed there. We did some more shopping and found a store full of Mexican goods - reminded me of Pier 1 - where we bought Morty the table cat and the Sun (the one shown here as part of the ND shrine).

Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos were interesting but nothing there thrilled me. I supposed if you liked the Southwest style of art and architecture you would like it. I was under-whelmed.

We left Taos and drove to Chama, NM to ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. The train ride was fun for the first 30 minutes or so but then the seats became uncomfortable and the scenery became monotonous. At the half way point we got off and were served a Mexican buffet lunch - I do not like Mexican and didn't eat much so I was starving when we got back to Chama. The day was still young so we decided to drive on.

We ended up in a small town - I can't remember if it was Bloomfield, NM or Farmington, NM. There is a casino there and not much else. We looked for a laundromat to wash some clothes and found one getting ready to close. They kept it open for us and we got our laundry done. A very little girl approached the wife while we waited and started talking. The wife was surprised when the little girl asked "Have you ever had sexes?" The wife artfully dodged the question telling her that that was not an appropriate question for such a young lady.

We left New Mexico and set our sights on the Grand Canyon. We decided to use Williams, AZ as our base of operations. Williams is a nice little town that's on old route 66 and has gun fight shows on main street in the early evenings for the young'uns. It was a pleasant town a straight shot south from the Grand Canyon. We got some grub at Rod's Steakhouse and were going to watch the gunslingers when the sky got really dark and the thunder and lightning show of force drove the wife and I back to the safety of our hotel room.

The next day we drove to the South rim and saw the awesome sights. Then we made the mistake. I had been there back in 1995 and I had wanted to walk the rim, an 8 mile hike. The problem was that the shuttle van had been discontinued for the season which essentially doubled the hike. This time, the shuttle was still running so I suggested doing the 8 mile hike. We started off with full water bottles and enthusiasm. The trail started OK but the distance between the trail and the edge of oblivion grew shorter and shorter to the point that we were both a little nervous. We found a parallel trail further away from the edge and walked on. Soon, the water started running low and our enthusiasm turned into thoughts of hatred and slow torture. I expected that there would be water at the various view stops along the rim. I was wrong. No bathrooms, no water. Finally, at mile 7 we gave up and got on the shuttle. The shuttle took us to the end of the trail where we bought water, soda, and ice cream to hydrate us and cool us down. The rim hike is now fondly remembered as the Death March.

When we started this vacation, we intended to stop in Vegas on the way back but we soon discovered that 10 days in a car was our limit. To make it worse, the AC in the car was mediocre at best so we were hot and miserable while we were in the car. After the Grand Canyon death march we decided it was time to go home.

This vacation was a mix of the good (Lilith Fair, Carlsbad Caverns), the bad (heatstroke, the death march), and the weird (Deliverance boy and the freaky weather) but all in all we had a good time. We learned about our limits and have become better vacation planners. We enjoyed the desert views and had our fill of the southwest.

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