Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 3 – Scottsdale: Born to wander

Ever get too cute for your own good? Ever think some idea is beyond brilliant but in actual execution, it fell as flat as a cheap crepe?
I resemble all of the above when doing the solo vacation drive and today was no different. Despite the wise words of wisdom from my spouse, “You’re tired; go the safe route,” I wanted some adventure from Albuquerque to Phoenix.
So I convinced myself that taking the interstate route through Gallup to Flagstaff and south to Phoenix (a trip of almost 500 miles – the second in as many days) was too much and there was a much shorter route, as the crow flies.
Of course, crows don’t have to follow 18-wheelers or endless highway construction projects. They just fly straight to their destination. I wish I was as lucky.
No, I turned off I-40 just before Grants, N.M., and went to see El Malpais National Recreation Area as part of my ongoing quest to visit as many national parks as possible. It was beautiful is its starkness and tremendous sandstone formations.
An aside: I must say New Mexico is one of the most beautiful landscaped states in the union, ranking just behind Oregon in my estimation. Sorry, but too much of Texas can’t hold a candle to its western neighbor.
And it seems so damn clean everywhere; New Mexicans must care enough not to dirty their precious landscape. Wish Texans would follow that example.
Back on point: Instead of backtracking to the interstate, I pointed the Ford Escape southward and headed to Phoenix.
I had weaved through endless construction zones along I-40 (New Mexico seems to be working on every inch in the state … at the same time) so the prospect of avoiding that traffic was more than appealing; I was an easy sale.
With the CD player roaring out old 1960s psychedelic tunes (followed by solo best from Mark Knopfler), I was flying with the cool wind in my radiator.
I reached a tiny town (Quemado) and headed to Springerville, Ariz. where I was shocked to see a McDonald’s and plenty of other signs of civilization. Hell, after two hours of silence, it actually had full cell service.
Thirty minutes later, I hit the town of Show Low (which could be renamed High Up since it sits more than 8,000 feet above sea level). It was, to my surprise, a major population area in northeast Arizona, and looked like a place one could call home …provided you could handle the altitude (sorry, not me).
Show Low sits in a thick forest that makes one appreciative of Tennessee or parts of Michigan, except these trees were growing in a border state with tall mountains. Very beautiful, I imagine, in the wintertime.
Confident in my decision and after consulting my handy AAA map (old school GPS), I continued down U.S. Highway 60 to the Valley of the Sun.
Second aside: When mapmakers print their products, they should make them more informative. Just because you THINK a road looks to be a better choice, full disclosure is needed to the motorist. He or she needs to be told that certain roads, humorously called “scenic highways,” are squiggly ribbons of asphalt explored at one’s own peril. The 78-mile stretch from Show Low to Globe took almost two hours to cover and that was a little quick to me.
The road was as straight as a plate of cooked spaghetti and took you down an altitude of more than two miles, most of which were covered between 25-40 miles per hour.
Unless you were following a school bus, dump truck or a driver who insisted on staying a quarter-mile behind the closest vehicle. Since the opportunities to pass were infrequent, at best, it made for a frustrating time that no amount of great music could soothe.
This drive scared the living crap out of me as my eyes tried NOT to see the huge drop into places like the Salt River Canyon and when you speak the word “canyon” in Arizona, it DOES mean big and deep. It doesn’t take much for me to envision careening over the edge and flying helplessly into the bottom of who-knows-what.
I should have known but I should have been told by the map. It should clearly state that “scenic highway” means lots of twisted roads and dangerous hairpin turns overlooking miles of bottomless pits.
How BAD was it? My dashboard compass stopped pointing north-south-east-west. Like me, it had no clue as to what direction we were headed.
It just pointed up or down before exploding in the first known case of directional suicide.
Globe, Arizona (combined with Miami) is a copper and gold mining town and U.S. 60 is the main artery. When that artery is blocked by construction (a highway bypass???), no amount of traffic Plavix will help. You sit there and you wait to move and then only at a snail’s pace.
Eventually I made it to the Phoenix area, a few hours later than planned only to hear that a “cooling trend” had lowered the temperature to 97.
Thank the Lord for small favors and ask the Lord for better maps. Next time, I’ll listen to smarter people than I.
No driving Friday UNTIL Jodie arrives in Phoenix aboard American Airlines; I’ll have to find some place to kill five hours before the plane lands (a movie maybe?). Then it’s just 140 miles to Flagstaff in advance of the first anticipated great shared experiences – the Grand Canyon.
While we just have one day to see as much as we can, it won’t be like Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” when he was in a hurry to leave (had just ripped off a cash register when the front desk refused to cash a check without ID which had been stolen …). He gathered the family to see the wonderful scenery and, in three seconds, yelled “Time to go!”
We’ll savor each moment and enjoy saving the $50 park entrance fee, having exchanged out Golden Age Pass for the NPS Access Pass. It’s one of the best bargains imaginable if you’re of significant age or disabled (I resemble both remarks). I am guessing we will save in the neighborhood of $150 for all that we anticipate visiting. It is NO crime to do whatever you need to tamp down the vacation costs.
Oh yeah, having from cable service to Verizon two months ago, we will use the $168 VISA gift card for 4-5 of our meals. It’s like eating on house money.
Until then … waiting for my best travel companion to arrive … Shalom!

No comments: