I officially became a geezer in 2022. I'm not sure what milestones you mark in your life but 65, as Ron Burgundy would say, is "kinda a big deal" to me. Moreover, it also marks my 20th year of sobriety. Of course, turning 65 isn't really anything at all except what's in your head. And here's what's in my head... I'm in the autumn of my life and, as the song says, "the days are dwindling down to a precious few." I could make a list of all the people that I have loved and lost in this lifetime - including my parents and grandparents and best friends and cousins and schoolmates but the names would fill this page - I know my time is coming. I wish it wasn't but that's the way this all goes. I am relatively healthy and I need to do the things I've always wanted to do and see some of the things I've always wanted to see. I watched too many of my relatives waste their last days watching TV and sitting on the sofa waiting to die. I want to celebrate being alive while I can. And, by God, that's what I am going to do.
I am a "Travels with Charley" and "Blue Highways" fan and, as a result, originally planned a cross country car trip and while I still have many road trips in front of me it occurred to me that I could take the train and see lots of the country - get fed - and relax in ways that aren't possible when you're driving. Further, I didn't want to be on the road longer than a month. I spent several of the Covid lock down months planning the 10,000 mile trip and it worked out well.
So, let's go. I'll do a short narrative for each day so hold on tight and please remember this is an overview. Several events, by necessity, have been left out but these are most of the highlights. Also, please note that the photos in this post are not high quality - they were often taken through the dirty window of an Amtrak passenger car replete with smudges, reflections and lens flare - nevertheless, since this is a TRAVEL blog, I shall include them - I hope that's OK- the idea is a to provide a summary narrative...it ain't high art.
Oh, and guess what? Apple Music finally acknowledged their problem and fixed it! MY library is back...I listened to some SWEET tunes - maybe I'll share my playlist on another post.
April 11, 2022
It started early on an April morning in Fullerton - just a few miles from home. Lupe dropped me off at 5:45 and I waited - on the wrong platform until about 5 minutes before the Pacific Surfliner arrived. A kindly Amtrak employee inquired if I was headed to LA? Why yes, yes I am. Well, you need to get in to the elevator and cross the tracks the train is almost here. Yikes! So, off I went with my suitcase and Tortuga backpack in tow.
After arriving at LA Union Station I walked to the Amtrak booth to say hello and the agent said, "Hey, you want some coffee"? "Sure!" Well, head on up to the Metropolitan Lounge. This was the first of many lounges that I was to spend time in over the next 3 weeks. Free coffee and snacks are the mainstays of all the lounges but none of them compare to the New York Lounge. Here is the LA Union Station "Metropolitan Lounge":
I waited a few hours and then headed down to Track 12 where we boarded the Coast Starlight bound for Portland, OR. The photo on the lower right was my roomette view in the station.
Excited, I settled in and we headed up the coast. This was my 4th time on the Coast Starlight. The first was back in the early 2000's to celebrate earning my doctorate at USC. That was in December and it was rainy and we were stopped for hours because the tracks were covered in water. This time it was mid April so - I looked forward to the beautiful American spring weather. (This is what is known in the writing business as "foreshadowing".)
I do love the parts of the California Coast that one can only see on foot or by train. I have driven Highway 1 dozens and dozens of times in my life and missed so much of the coast that is only accessible by train. These photos were all taken from my window (as are 90% of the photos in this blog post). The lower photo here is of Gaviota - a place I have visited every year for 10 years.
By the afternoon the train turns inland and you roll through California's extraordinary Steinbeck Country.
The evening approached and I had a fine chicken dinner in the Dining Car. I went to bed early. After all, lots more to see and tomorrow night I'd be meeting the great Lilster, my amazing daughter, who is attending school at Oregon State University in Corvallis for dinner in Portland.
When I awoke in Northern California it was a darn winter wonderland. What the? So much for the mild spring weather. I looked at the weather app and it looked OK in Portland but the route of the Empire Builder - the train from Portland to Chicago which I was scheduled on for 4/13 - looked like it was going to get some real winter weather.
We were delayed for two hours in Klamath Falls due to an Amtrak personnel issue (yeah - I don't know - something about a crew change). I was hoping the snow would clear up but on the ride to Portland it got worse and worse.
As we got closer to Portland the conductor made an announcement that all passengers heading east on the Empire Builder would be terminated at Spokane as the tracks were closed beyond that station. Welp, there it was. As the conductor came by my room I stopped him and told him my situation - that I was headed east on the Empire Builder tomorrow. His response was, "It doesn't look too good". Oh great...I was just starting my journey and already there's was a potential major hiccup. I started looking at the airfares from Portland to Chicago. I had to be on the Lake Shore Limited in 3 days.
The beautiful Willamette River came into view as we rolled into the pretty Portland Station. My sleeping car attendant said goodbye and wished me luck. Lilly was waiting for me and drove us to the Mark Spencer Hotel in Portland. That night we prepared for a possible flight if my train was canceled. Lilly showed me her packing tips - I folded all my shirts into burritos based on her direction. I gave her a bag of some items that I could survive without and which would allow me to perhaps not check both my bags at the airport. Then we went and had a nice dinner at local Mexican joint.
I slept in a bit in Portland and checked in with Amtrak - the train was still running despite the various websites showing service disruptions and closures at stations like Minot, ND. Lilly met me at the Metropolitan Lounge and we waited - sure enough, the train was running after all. No one knew but we would be the last train through for nearly a week - a historic blizzard was bearing down on the Montana Hi-Line.
I sadly said goodbye to my sweet daughter and got on the Empire Builder bound for Chicago. In the over 10,000 miles I traveled on Amtrak I believe the most scenic part of the ride was from Portland to Spokane and through the Columbia River Gorge. It was simply stunning. A few times in my life I have been moved to tears by nature's splendor (OK OK - more than a few times - I am a sentimental old fool) but this was certainly another one of those times. I gazed out the window and relaxed. This then was the trip I'd been planning and dreaming about for over a year. It was happening. The good life...
After an excellent night's sleep I woke up to chilly weather outside. It was 9F but according to the weather app "felt like" -1F. There was snow on the ground but the sun was shining and I looked forward to another relaxing day staring out of the window.
Around 11:00 AM it started to snow. And then it really started snowing. Then the wind began to bend trees over sideways and drifts began piling up. The conductor made an announcement that the next few hours were going to be a challenge and that we should expect delays. He also named several train stations along our route that were not in service because they were snowed in. A hush fell over the train.
In the afternoon we were forced to a siding to wait out the storm. I talked to one of the sleeping car attendants and she told me they were a little nervous. All Amtrak and even the freight trains were now canceled on our track - we were the lone rangers and the only train running. We passengers mumbled worried words to each other and visions of "Train Stranded for Days" headlines ran through our heads.
After about an hour on the siding the conductor announced we were ready to move but there was a frozen switch ahead and that he and some other crew members would need to manually throw the switch. This required him to exit the train in the blizzard and would take him about 30 minutes to accomplish the task if, "it goes like it should". It was a rather nerve-wracking experience for all of us but at least we were warm and inside. Fortunately it went, "as it should" and we were on the move plowing through the snowdrifts.
I ambled down to the dining car and saw the conductor. I thanked him for braving the elements and getting us on our way but before I could finish my compliments we were interrupted by an extremely agitated woman who demanded that we stop at her station even though it was closed. I sat down and listened while the conductor explained that they were not going to drop someone off in a massive and historic blizzard at a closed station. "Cars are not able to get to the station. Amtrak would essentially be stranding someone by dropping them off. It is "CLOSED". I admired his patience but he grew progressively firmer as the conversation went on for maybe 10 minutes - finally the woman asked, "well, what stations are open"? The conductor told her and she exclaimed, "Oh! That works! I can get a ride from there". She got a major eye roll - not just from the conductor but from everyone within earshot. When things get dicey some people are calm and centered and, well, let's just say some others are not. It had been a helluva day. In fact it would be another FIVE days before passenger trains were back on this route.
Woke up - had my coffee and looked out the window at downtown Fargo, ND. Today, if the fates would allow, we would get to Chicago where the temperatures were supposed to be downright tropical - high 40s!
By the time we hit St. Cloud, MN the sun was shining. Oh how welcome it was...
It was a chilly but glorious afternoon in St. Paul as we rolled alongside the Mississippi River. I knew I'd see it again in a week or so but way down south near New Orleans.
Grateful to have made it through the blizzard (how do people live in Minot, North Dakota anyway?!) I spent a very enjoyable afternoon and evening rolling through the farms and fields of scenic Wisconsin. I also must mention two of the greatest employees that work for Amtrak -Lisa and Aiyana. They took amazing care of me when things got weird on the Empire Builder. I'll never forget their kindness and hope they are reading this!
We arrived in Chicago and I had this delivered to my room. Yes, I know Lou Malnati's is not on my diet but, come on, when in Rome...er.. Chicago! And yeah...it was as good as it looks - maybe better.
I went for a long walk in the neighborhood along the Chicago River after I stuffed myself full of pizza but it was too cold and windy - about 36F with 40 MPH gusts. I also saw so many people, all bundled up, enjoying time with one another and got a bit lonely. It doesn't happen often in my solo travels but it did that night. I headed back to my cozy hotel room where I slept for 10 hours - a rare thing indeed.
After spending a lazy day resting in my room and wandering around Chicago I hailed a taxi and went back to Chicago Union Station. Turned out to be the craziest taxi ride of my life. The driver was angry. I asked if he was alright. His answer, "NO- you are only going to train station everyone else is going to the airport! Airport is much bigger fare!". He was driving 65 mph through the streets and then screeching the brakes at every stop. In my experience the people of Chicago are generally quite polite but when this taxi driver cut them off I found that they do have a quite extensive vocabulary and aren't afraid of expressing their displeasure by use of an age old finger gesture. After 15 minutes of Hell I finally arrived at the station - not the entrance mind you - but close enough for me to get the hell out of that cab. Geez. The world seems so angry these days.
Chicago Union Station is HUGE - ten city blocks long and it feels a little intimidating at first but with the help of station personnel it's not too challenging to figure out where to go to eat and to relax. Like most things Chicago I like it. The train platforms are all underground and on my way to my roomette on the Lake Shore Limited I saw this private car and stopped to take this photo. The photo isn't much but in taking it my suitcase and backpack fell and and splattered on the platform. The passengers behind me were not amused so as I put my luggage back together I let them go ahead, muttering, "sorry".
As usual I had a marvelous sleeping car attendant and he assisted me with my luggage and directed me to my room. I was surprised at how different the eastern trains (Viewliners) were from the western trains (Double deck Superliners) - the biggest difference? A sink and toilet in the train compartment.
Again, I slept very well that night. I was on my way to Utica, NY to rent a car and drive to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown - a place I'd wanted to see since childhood. I was stoked. I can remember in High School telling people that I doubted I'd ever get married but, if I did, it would only to be to a woman who wanted to spend our honeymoon in Cooperstown. It was a joke, of course, but it had a sliver of truth to it.
The photo below is of the dining car on the Viewliner. On the train I am always up early, typically the first passenger to arrive in the dining car - there for my coffee and the view.
The Lake Shore Limited is a more scenic train than I had anticipated. It hugs Lake Erie and I enjoyed every minute.
Here is a photo of Buffalo, New York or, "Dirty Old Buffalo" as the great musician and my friend, Gurf Morlix, calls it in one of his terrific songs. It looks like I always thought Buffalo would look - frigid.
Yep! That's snow on the ground! And more was coming. I arrived around noon in Utica on Easter Sunday. No taxis around so I sent for an Uber to take me to my Motel. The driver arrived, it was sunny, and it was only a 5 minute drive to the Best Western. By the time we got there the ground was covered with hail. That was an omen.
I walked through the slush over to a nearby restaurant and had a fine dinner. I returned to my room and went to bed fairly early because I was renting a car at 8:00 AM the following day and meeting my buddy Tom Thrash at the Baseball Hall of Fame around 10:00 AM.
I awoke at 4:00 AM to a storm alert on my phone. A big red STORM WARNING. The next day 12-16 inches of flipping SNOW was supposed to fall. Road closures were predicted. I was supposed to be in Cooperstown for the next two nights. Yikes! (I didn't actually say yikes- just FYI - I used another word). After living in the snow for 30 years of my life the last thing I wanted was to have to deal with THAT - in a car rental - 3000 miles from home.
So, what to do?
I waited until 6 AM and, casting polite behavior to the wind, and because he's such a good dude, I texted Tom and asked him to give me a call when he awoke. Tom had also reserved a room in Cooperstown and I figured he would have an idea of what to do. Five minutes later I was on the phone with Tom and, yes, he knew exactly what to do. The first thing he made clear was that I was not overreacting. Indeed, a big storm was on the way. In fact, he was already planning on not staying in Cooperstown in order to avoid the mess that was surely coming. Thanks to his insight, savvy and kindness we came up with a plan. I would grab my luggage, check out of the Best Western, and get a ride to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Tom would drive the several hours to meet me. We would spend the day at the Hall and then Tom, out of the goodness of his heart, would get me the heck out of there, take me to Poughkeepsie where I could catch the train for my next stop - the Big Apple. It was kind of a genius plan. So, after a very enjoyable ride to Cooperstown through some quite beautiful upstate New York countryside, I met Tom and, after all these years of dreaming about it, we went to the HALL OF FAME!
Look, I know social media stinks and is responsible for much needless angst and stress and plain meanness in the world but my Twitter account allowed me to meet my friend Tom Thrash. Let's see...what is Tom interested in? Baseball (a fellow SABR guy), nature, National Parks, history and trains. Anyone you know who likes similar things? It's uncanny, isn't it? We really are, in many ways, two peas in a pod. And, let me tell ya, we had a damn fine time at the Hall of Fame. Here is the old man with the first group of inductees.
𝐁𝐀𝐂𝐊: Honus Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler, Walter Johnson 𝐅𝐑𝐎𝐍𝐓: Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Cy Young. Not pictured: Mathewson (sadly deceased), Cobb (tardy!).
Yes,. it does appear as if I am sitting in Connie Mack's lap - he was a gentleman and wouldn't say a word.
Speaking of gentlemen. Here's Tom's photo with the first class. Smarter than me he's sitting between Connie and the Bambino.
Pictures don't really do the Hall justice - it is a pilgrimage that all baseball lovers should make. I know, if I stay upright long enough, that I will return. Nevertheless, I will offer a few photos for those of you who might find it interesting. The Hall consists of 3 floors - the docents recommend exploring floors two and three before coming back down to number one to see the plaques. So let's start on the second floor.
The first floor highlight is the Plaque Gallery. I remember hearing the great Tom Seaver talk about how proud he was to have his plaque at the hall and that each time he visited he would run his hand over it - just to make sure it was real. The first photo is my childhood (and adulthood) hero.
Here are a few more plaques - it's just a taste. You should go and see them in person - it was an emotional experience for me. They are vertical photographs and, if you see someone you like, be sure and click to read the entire plaque.
Lastly, here is the statue of the great Buck O'Neil.
After spending several hours in the museum I went to the Gift Shop. As I was checking out the cashier asked, "You staying here in Cooperstown? We are gonna get two feet of snow! I can't believe this is April". She confirmed my worries. "No," I said, "my buddy is driving me to Poughkeepsie". "Your buddy is smart!" she replied. And so he was. My hero Tom drove me all the way to Poughkeepsie. I got a room a few blocks from the train station and avoided the storm - which was huge and did indeed end up closing roads and was, in general, a huge mess. I am including the following photo -it's not mine (thankfully) that I pulled off the internet from a resident of Cooperstown to give you an idea of what happened and how Tom saved my behind from dealing with that wintry drama.
The following photo was taken from my hotel room in Poughkeepsie and I never thought I'd be so happy to be in Poughkeepsie, NY - but, I was, I was. Whew! Now I would spend an extra night in New York City but, hey, I could handle that! What a relief it was to be out of that crazy weather. I am so grateful to Tom for helping me - and I knew in a few days I was headed south to The Big Easy on Amtrak's Crescent and warmer weather.
It was chilly and windy in Poughkeepsie and I went to the Station which was old and drafty and beautiful.
Here is a view from the platform.
The ride on Amtrak's Empire Service was uneventful to New York City and, of course, the minute I got off the train the New York experience hit me - full force. How I love and have loved that city. There was so much to do and see and it had been ten years. My hotel was adjacent to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. I know not everyone agrees but I think New York City is magnificent. Here are two views from my 33rd floor hotel room.
My first night I had a wonderful dinner at Uncle Jack's Steakhouse on 9th Avenue. It was a bit cold - no snow - and so I walked around for awhile just taking in the perfect madness and rush of the Big Apple. It took me awhile to get it together and get my bearings. It had been awhile and, to use a surfing metaphor, you have to ride NYC like a big wave - it takes a while to stand up on the board and be comfortable when you return. And then, unlike any other city I know, once you do catch your balance, you will go for the ride of your life. There is no place I have ever been that's like it.
I woke up and leisurely walked up to Times Square and the TKTS booth. I was hoping to see American Buffalo with Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell. I got to Times Square about an hour before the booth opened and already there was a long, serpentine line for tickets. That was OK - it was a nippy but sunny day and it felt so good to just feel New York. After some searching, I found the end of the ticket booth line. I heard someone yelling behind me, "SIR! SIR! HEY! HELLO! THAT IS NOT THE END OF THE LINE! - THE END IS OVER THERE". Hmmm, it seemed like someone was yelling at ME. I looked around and the people in front of me pointed to another spot. It was only a few feet away but I had clearly committed a major TKTS faux pas. I moved to the REAL end of the line and a young woman who had observed the entire episode turned around and with a twinkle in her eye said, "Well, I'll guess you'll never make that mistake again!" We both laughed and rolled our eyes. Oh, you fabulous New Yorkers. Embarrass me one moment and let me know that's it's all OK in the next - such is my favorite city.
I was able to score the tickets for American Buffalo and it was even better than I'd hoped. Sam Rockwell is probably my favorite actor these days. He was utterly brilliant. It had been awhile since I'd seen a show on Broadway and now I gotta hurry back.
The next day was devoted entirely to the New York Mets and baseball in the Big Apple.
I was up early to eat a hotel breakfast and then take the Number 7 train to Long Island. When I arrived at Hudson Yards station (the steepest incline in NYC) - the first stop on the line - I was the only passenger. An empty NYC train was an odd experience. It wouldn't stay empty for long. We rolled along and picked up Met fans all along the line until the train was FULL of folks in Mets gear.
It was, for me, another cold day but setting my eyes upon Citifield changed all that. It is magnificent. I am a Dodgers fan but I love the New York Mets and Tom Seaver has been a lifelong favorite and was a fellow USC Trojan. His statute is perfect- and captures his style, competitiveness and unique pitching motion - the drop and drive - extraordinarily well.
Mets fans are a serious and baseball savvy bunch and they follow the game intensely. No selfies or the wave or arriving in the third inning or leaving after the seventh inning. Some west coast fans could learn from them.
A trip highlight happened just before the game started as the players came out to warm up. I saw the Mets first baseman Pete Alonso - a fine player come trotting out and just then a young boy - maybe 8 years old - yanking his mother by the hand came flying down the stairs next to me and ran to the railing while shouting in a perfect New York accent, "OH MY GAWD! IT'S PETE ALAAAAAWNZO!". It absolutely cracked me up and reminded me of every child who has ever fallen in love with a baseball player and finally gets to see them for the first time in person. It always feels like a miracle. My GAWD, I loved that little boy and baseball and all the feelings it engenders.
One last night in New York.
I couldn't sleep so I walked around Hell's Kitchen already missing New York and not having left it yet. Got back to my room and made a melancholy photo while lying in bed. As I grow older each visit to a place I love makes me a bit sentimental and I always wonder...will I be back?
Up and at 'em. I walked across the street to Moynihan Train Hall. It was time to take the Crescent all the way to New Orleans. At last - some warm weather!
We rolled out of New York and my sleeping car attendant wasn't too helpful. Apparently her beau was also on the train so let's just say she was scarce. The spring weather was uplifting as we passed over the Delaware River near Trenton, NJ and Philadelphia and nearby environs.
We picked up speed nearing Baltimore and I clocked the train going 107 mph (there's an app for that called Speedbox).
We slowed down here to cross the Susquehanna River.
I was deeply interested in the next part of my journey. While I am a regular New Orleans visitor I had never seen much of what is considered the "Deep South" other than a visit to Atlanta. As a music nut, and a Delta Blues fan, I had always wanted to travel to Memphis and to see the Mississippi Delta. Moreover, the view from the train often captures a kind of hardscrabble point of view of America - after all, people of means don't usually live too close to the tracks or in a hobo jungle. I wasn't going to get a glossed over chamber of commerce version of the South. As a California man I had lots of stereotypes in my head...just what would my experience be like? One guy on social media said for me to "watch my back". Yeah. OK. I thought at the time that was a racist comment - and still do. The Delta is approximately 85% African American.
In the meantime...the view from my window on the Crescent was mesmerizing. Here are some photos near DC and Baltimore.
I fell asleep in Virginia.
And woke up in Georgia.
The next several hours I had my nose glued to the window taking in the sights. As a man of the West I have become somewhat snobbish about the great outdoors. However, I must say that there is some true scenic splendor in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi that I did not anticipate and brought on my favorite feeling while in nature - a feeling of awe. I hope you enjoy the photos. Here is Alabama:
And my first glimpses of Mississippi.
The photo just above struck me somehow. It is of Meridian, MS the hometown of the great Jimmie Rodgers or as he was affectionately known, the "Singing Brakeman." I envisioned old Jimmy working out there on that particular part of the railroad while dreaming of making music. Regardless, for me it is an evocative photo reminiscent of the past and, oddly, perhaps my favorite of the trip.
We arrived in New Orleans late due to freight train interference which is a ongoing and regular problem with passenger train travel in the United States. If you are an Amtrak traveler you know just what I'm talking about.
Finally, around 9:00 PM I was in the Crescent City. It was a heavenly 79F!
My day in the Big Easy. I woke up and walked to the French QuarterFest. It was hot and steamy and so very welcome. I went to the Chevron stage near Jax Brewery along the River to listen to Cajun Music. As usual in New Orleans it was a party. I often think about the notion that we should let go of the past and stop worrying about the future and focus on the NOW (and try to live accordingly). That viewpoint seems to be the philosophy of New Orleans which is a major reason why it is and will remain one of my favorite places on earth. It's a gas.
What a fine day I had!
After hours of listening to terrific music and chatting with some locals, I ate a delicious gumbo dinner and went back to my room. I got sick to my stomach afterwards and figured it was a passing thing. It was not and would plague me off and on for the rest of the trip and then for a few weeks after I got home - it was a particularly virulent stomach bug (good news -after many doctor visits and tests I am better now!).
The next day I was up early to find my brick at the WWII Museum and then make my way to the train station to ride the City of New Orleans train to Memphis.
Several years ago I made a donation to the WWII Memorial in DC in my relative's names for its construction and for the construction of the WWII Museum in New Orleans. One of the donation opportunities was to fund a brick to be placed outside the museum - and I visited the museum several times after I purchased it but never actually looked for it - until this trip. I didn't have time to explore the museum again but wanted to find that darn brick- the docent located it on the computer and gave me a map and, indeed, I found it. I am proud of ALL who served but in particular my 3 uncles - W.A. (Shorty) Hubbard, Bill Hubbard and Edward Poppe. Each of them served in the Army Air Force and my Uncle Shorty flew 35 missions over Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. He was severely injured as a tail-gunner on a B-17. I am a bit of a WWII historian as a result of my family's influence and service.
Speaking of inspirational people - there is a modest monument to Anne Frank at the Museum and she has been a personal hero to me for as long as I can remember. When I became a high school drama teacher I couldn't wait to direct my own production of "The Diary of Anne Frank"- it remains one of the poignant stories of my life and one of my proudest moments as an educator.
After that short visit I jumped on my next train which is only a few blocks from the museum. I was unprepared for how scenic the initial section of the City of New Orleans train was as it moved north through the bayou country and into Mississippi. The sleeping car attendant caught me staring, slightly agog, and said, "Oh yeah...I see you. I know I should be working but sometimes I just have to stop and look out the window too. Some days I count the alligators. Counted 50 once".
The clouds rolled in as we got closer to my destination of Memphis and the rain fell - very hard at times - and it was dark and beautiful and made my little roomette even cozier.
The train arrived in Memphis about 11:00 PM and I was excited to see that my hotel - the Central Station Memphis was adjacent to the tracks. How convenient. I had been receiving confirming emails from the hotel for a few weeks and it looked great.
Looks can be deceiving.
When I arrived the young lady at the front desk informed me that there was no record of my reservation. I showed her my confirmation number and emails. She said, "Sorry, sir, I have no record of a reservation and we have no rooms" and smiled. That awful smile. It was 11:00 PM and I explained I was tired and none of this made sense and she said, "Call booking.com" - and then, because I didn't leave, she called her supervisor. After several minutes trying to get the phone number for Booking.com I spoke to someone overseas who said, "Oh, they have to find you a room. We will ring them". Finally, the hotel front desk had another person arrive to help - a sympathetic and evidently more experienced employee. She winked and said, "don't worry...we will figure this out." Finally I started to relax a bit until the first employee hung up the phone with her supervisor and said, "DON'T EVER USE A THIRD PARTY. That's your problem."
She then sighed - a huge sigh - and started punching the keys of her computer and then gave me a key to a room - a suite because, "that's all we have".
Wow. What a mess. It was now midnight. I was supposed to get my car rental at 8:30. I got into the room - took a shower and tried to relax -nope - still too wound up by the reservation drama - couldn't sleep - all night. Still, I was thrilled about renting a car and driving through the Mississippi Delta and exploring the home of so many of my musical heroes. How curious and interested I was about my next adventure.
At 7:00 AM I went down to the hotel restaurant, ate a veggie omelette, and then called Enterprise car rental who said they would send someone to the hotel to pick me up at 8:30. I gathered all my luggage and walked outside. It was a nice morning. I waited and no one arrived. At 8:45 I called back and someone said, "we are on our way". At 9:15 I called again and was told, "Sir, we are having a challenge getting you a car". I can't remember precisely what I said but was later told that the guy expected me to yell and that I remained calm and told them I had no place to go and needed a car and that they were to come pick me up and I would wait in their office for a car and didn't give a damn how long it took. So far, Memphis had not been exactly a welcoming place. They sent someone for me.
My grumpy strategy evidently worked and I believe they got tired of my pouting geezer face because within two hours I had a car. It wasn't exactly pretty but it was a car.
Fired up, I jumped in and, of course it was on E, but I got 'er filled up and went directly to Stax Museum.
After spending about 10 minutes inside I thought, "Hey, did I get all my luggage from the Car Rental place?" As soon as I had that thought I received a call from "Enterprise - Memphis".
Hello, Dr. Hubbard? Yes, I know - I'll be right over...
I gathered the suitcase I left behind at the rental agency and decided to get out of Memphis. Soon, windows rolled down in the sticky springtime Mississippi heat, I was driving south on legendary Highway 61.
First Stop - Tunica, Mississippi.
I took my sweet time driving down to Clarksdale. My first stop was to visit Roger Stolle and his fabulous Blues store Cathead. He was as kind and friendly and knowledgeable as expected. If you are a Blues fan and make a pilgrimage to the Delta like me - I strongly encourage you to to make Cathead your first stop. Your mind will be full of ideas about what and who to see and where to go...and you'll walk out and feel like you're going back in time to an earlier era. Right next to Cathead is an old Rexall sign...how many years since I'd seen one of those? 30? 40?
From Cathead I drove to my spot to sleep the next few nights - the famed Shack Up Inn. It was my kind of place. Here was my bit of shangri-la. I was in the "Caddy-Shack".
I sat outside at the shack with a cold drink and meditated and read and relaxed and felt that cool Delta breeze on my forehead. I immersed myself in the feeling of the place. It did feel just as I supposed it would. The problem is that as I imagined it long ago there was too much pain to contemplate. Still, I was grateful to finally be in the place I'd dreamed of seeing my entire life.
Slept beautifully and was up early and off to the crossroads. Yep. Those crossroads.
I wandered around and ended up at the Delta Blues Museum.
I had dinner at Abe's back at the crossroads and tried one of their tamales. Sometimes we Westerners don't realize that tamales are eaten in the South - there is even a "tamale trail". It wasn't too bad although eating it with saltines seemed pretty darn weird.
I spent most of the day exploring the Delta with a visit to the Grammy Museum in Cleveland, MS which is right across the street from Delta State University and in the same town as the Martin & Sue King Railroad Museum. Everyone that day was extraordinarily kind and helpful and generous with their advice and time. Southern hospitality is a real thing.
On my way back to my room at the Shack Up Inn I stopped and made a few photos of the old Hopson Plantation which is adjacent to the Shack Up and the surrounding area.
The next day I made a leisurely drive to Memphis to spend the day at the National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated. I also wanted to see the Blues Hall of Fame Museum (of which I am a member). In my life - one leader towers above all the others in my estimation - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His philosophy of non-violence, patience and kindness and love have inspired me my entire life. Thus, it was a deeply emotional experience to see the very place where the world lost him. My breath left me and I had to walk away from other people and gather myself upon witnessing it. In my life I have never seen another site that brought so much sadness for our country and "what might have been". I have not been to Dealey Plaza - perhaps it will have the same impact.
Here are a few other photos I made. I took too many and didn't like any. In candor, I struggled with the fact that this was the place chosen for the Civil Rights Museum - until I saw that Coretta King had agreed to make it so. If she thought it was fine then who am I to doubt it? It is a place that every American should see.
Leaving the Museum was bittersweet but I know I'll be back - hopefully with my grandchildren.
I have been a member of the Blues Foundation for many years. Their museum is located in Memphis directly across the street from the Civil Rights Museum. When I arrived and shared my membership card one of the docents jumped up from her chair and said, "WELCOME We have been waiting for you!". It was too sweet and, of course, I loved it.
Here is - no kidding - Muddy Water's guitar. 😲
Soon it was back to the train station and the City of New Orleans on our return trip to Chicago.
The ride to Chicago and back to the cold weather was uneventful on the City of New Orleans although I had oddly stopped being hungry and, trust me, that it is highly unusual for me. Nevertheless, Arlo Guthrie's version of Steve Goodman's classic song, "City of New Orleans" song was stuck - as it should be - in my head and on repeat. And look! Here is Kankakee! Followed by a few other photos I enjoyed making and that made me hum... "Good Morning, America- how are ya?"
That night in Chicago, despite not having much of an appetite, I walked down the street to the Berghoff and had a Root Beer and a few bites of German food. When I got back to my room at the Central Loop Hotel I checked my Amtrak ticket on my phone and it said, "service disruption". That is trainspeak for, "you are screwed -the train isn't running". I called Amtrak and the agent said, "well, maybe you're getting that information before we are, which often happens, but it looks like your train is still running". That was encouraging - or not. I slept fitfully. I was ready to get on the Southwest Chief and come home - it had been almost 3 weeks.
"Service disruption" no longer was displayed across my iPhone Amtrak ticket. Thank goodness. I took a taxi to the splendid Chicago Union Station. It's really quite a place. Unlike airports (yuck) there is plenty of room to spread out and walk and sit and relax without other people around. There is also no TSA theater where they do things like take away your 6 oz sunscreen because you know... well, actually I don't know.
I got on the train for long trip home. It was beautiful ride - the Southwest Chief is a gem. I was also enthusiastic about going through my father's home town - La Junta, CO on the train where, in the early 1950's, he got on the "El Capitan" and came to Los Angeles and met my mom.
Unfortunately, my stomach issues really kicked in and I wasn't able to enjoy the trip as much I'd hoped. Still - I was able to make a few photos and I hope you enjoy them and they give you a sense of what riding on "the Chief" is like.
We were reaching Colorado and I was able to take a few photos of the place where my dad grew up. I will return this September, in my little Mazda, and visit the graves of my grandparents and Uncle and my last remaining Colorado family who live in Pueblo. The photo below is the "old" train station in La Junta - did my dad walk out those doors? Buy a ticket from that window? Wait outside for the train right here?
These photos are all in New Mexico - the next day I'd wake up in California.
My trip was originally supposed to include a stop in Kansas City - due to Amtrak staffing shortages that part of the trip had to be eliminated - I was bummed at the time but it actually worked out OK. By the time I hit California I was pretty sick from that nasty (and long lasting!) stomach bug. It felt good to be home. And, let's face it, I love California.
What a journey. Of course, a blog post and these photos don't do it justice -if I had the creativity and energy of a younger version of myself I might be tempted to write a short story or novel about it. As it is these words and photos will have to suffice. I can't imagine taking another trip similar to this length on the train - it might happen but I doubt I'd do it solo. Maybe if you came along?
The big Western train I didn't take was the famed California Zephyr - I'll make up for that this autumn. I'll also visit Kansas City when I visit Colorado late this summer while on my Bob Dylan Center and and family ancestry pilgrimage.
This was a long post because, well, it was a long trip. I truly appreciate you reading and allowing me to share. Connecting with people has always meant a lot to me and, after retiring several years ago, I lost my ability to do much of that. Except with you - and for that I'll be forever grateful - and when I say much love to my friends and readers I mean MUCH love to each of you.
May this summer be the best of your life. Thanks again.
Let me leave you with lyrics from a favorite Dylan song that has inspired me these many years and that I thought of often on my once in a lifetime cross country train trip.
"Let me Die in my Footsteps".
Let me drink from the waters where the mountain streams flood
Let the smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground
Go out in your country where the land meets the sun
See the craters and the canyons where the waterfalls run
Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
Let every state in this union seep down deep in your souls
And you’ll die in your footsteps
Before you go down under the ground.
In the last 18 months I have canceled over 60 nights of travel due to the pandemic and associated drama. Late in the summer, I was tired of canceled camp sites and reservations and decided, "THAT'S IT! I AM OUTTA HERE". I went on my favorite trip planning website and, since I've wanted to see it for awhile, planned a trip to Devil's Tower in Wyoming and Badlands National Park for October.
After a few years of deliberation I also decided to get a sports car. When I retired I sold my convertible and bought a truck but missed the sheer fun of the open air. This is especially true because, after too many close calls in the Southern California traffic, I sold my big Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle a few years back. In my life some of my finest moments have been on a lonely two road highway, top down in a convertible, banging the steering wheel to the beat of a great song and letting the wind blast through my hair. That, my friends, is living. I started researching sports cars a few years back and tentatively decided on a Mustang, Camaro, or even another BMW. I required a manual transmission which, today, is a little like finding a needle in a haystack on those models. I subscribed to Road and Track and Consumer Reports and my thoughts on my next car all changed. The little Mazda MX-5 ranked so far above the competition that I had to drive one and then, well, I fell in love with the little roadster. Talk about fun to drive!
Ok! Let's go! For grins and a bit more info I talked to a friend who is a regular visitor to Badlands and she said, "You want to take a convertible to South Dakota in October? Oh, silly boy, you do that when it's warmer - it could snow on you. You drive south in October in a convertible!". Well, alrighty then...let's drive south.
I stared at the map for awhile. I'd always wanted to see the Padre Island National Seashore along the Texas Gulf Coast. That is south. So, I got in the little MX-5 and drove 1508 miles...
But let's jump back a little bit. I actually did have a short 3 day trip to Morro Bay in August. It was quite lovely and I did manage to make a few photos. So before we head out to Texas allow me to show you a few images from an enjoyable short trip to sleepy (and foggy) old Morro Bay - love that place! Lupe and I will be returning this month.
Okay. Fast forward to early October 2021. One morning at 6:00 AM I threw my suitcase in the trunk. Put a backpack in the passenger seat. Hit my Apple Music playlist that included every single Texas song I could think of and backed out of the driveway. As soon as it warmed up I pulled off Interstate 40 - put the top down - and commenced the road trip bliss. My first night was at La Posada in Winslow. I met my pal, Liz, and we had a nice dinner at The Turquoise Room. With it's history, decor and proximity to my beloved trains, La Posada remains one of my favorite spots to stay in all of the Southwest.
After a restless night of sleeping, the thought of the road kept waking me up, I started the drive through some magnificent scenery and Billy the Kid country, to Artesia, New Mexico. Liz had recommended the drive through Quemado and Pie Town and avoiding the interstate and it was an inspired recommendation. I had what Mr. Maslow called a "peak experience" on the drive. No traffic, perfect 80 degree weather, scenery to bring tears to your eyes and cracking good tunes by my favorite Texas singers/songwriters. I lost all sense of time for a few hours and only felt that particular joy that only a road trip can provide. Here are a few photos from that day.
I arrived in Artesia, NM at about 5:00 PM after losing an hour heading east and driving about 550 miles. After trying, for several years, I finally met my social media pal Mike Nowak and we had a lovely dinner at the Adobe Rose - where I also happened to be staying. It was cool hanging out with Mike and I'm hopeful it can happen again soon. I slept well and woke up early the next morning to head to San Antonio. I had spent some time in Texas over the years, of course, but hadn't been on a road trip there other than when I picked up my little fiberglass trailer in Rice back in 2015. After driving through the oil country I stopped for some Texas BBQ in Ozona, TX at Wagon Wheel BBQ. After eating the most tender brisket I have ever had I spent about 45 minutes talking to the owner about how he became a barbecue master and the differences between Texas BBQ and Santa Maria BBQ after I told him about my grill and love of tri-tip. It was a hospitable welcome to the Lone Star State.
This was the first of many fine meals I had on my Texas sojourn.
After 3 days of solid driving I was becoming a tiny bit road weary. I decided to stop in one of the many "parking areas" on the Texas interstates and saw this old abandoned stagecoach stop. It was an interesting place and the view through the interior provided a fine photo opportunity.
I arrived to sunny and hot (95F) San Antonio at about 4 in the afternoon. I checked into the hotel and rested for a few minutes but had to, absolutely had to, go get some Tex-Mex. I walked down to the Riverwalk and had a lovely dinner.
The next morning was my obligatory Alamo tour. On the drive in I had listened to an audio-book called, "Forget the Alamo". It's a fairly new history of the context of the battle and it was eye opening and much different than the "official" history including the fact that Mexico's abolishment of slavery was a huge part of the story. I was looking forward to seeing if the tour guide would weave any of this information into his tour. I should have known better. The Alamo is still too sacred to mar with the truth.
I was very surprised when I arrived in Alamo Plaza. It was crazy. There were dozens of people everywhere and people participating in reenactments were wandering around aimlessly shooting their fake guns or selling souvenirs from booths and every 5 minutes cannons were being fired in the street and, man, it was all a bit much. The worst part? The tour itself is a snoozer. I'm still glad I did all this, I suppose, but I can't imagine ever "doing the Alamo" again.
I had Tex-Mex for lunch and visited the Briscoe Western Art Museum, took a river boat tour and that night went on a walking tour of the city - which I would highly recommend. The walking tour (free!) was a historically accurate and entertaining introduction to San Antonio. In fact, it'll make you fall in love with the city. I did. And I know I will be back - there is so much more to see and do and places to eat! Here are a few photos of my day.
As I left the next day for the gulf coast I thought that I would check out one of the San Antonio missions. After doing a little of my own research (scarier words seldom said) I decided to visit Mission Espada which is (allegedly) the best preserved. I arrived to a full parking lot on a gloomy but warm day and realized, since it was a Sunday morning, Mass was being observed. I quietly meandered around. It was an oddly satisfying hour or so. I kept wondering about who and how many people had walked in this same place for so many years.
I was 12 in 1969. Lots happening that year - even Glen Campbell sang an anti-war song called "Galveston". It captured me and inspired a lifelong desire to visit the Texas Gulf Coast. In particular, I had always wanted to stand on the coast and look at the waves and feel the gulf breeze on my face and in my hair. Finally, in October 2021, a mere 52 years after I first heard that song, I made that dream come true. It wasn't exactly in Galveston, I was at the Padre Island National Seashore which is a unit of the National Park Service. The place, as my Texas gulf cost dream evolved over the years, that I wanted to see the most. It did not disappoint.
This then was my first view of the Texas gulf coast at Malaquite Beach. And yes, the warm breezes were blowing in my face - it was just as I had pictured it in my mind's eye all these many years.
I spent two glorious afternoons at the National Seashore. I was astonished and delighted by the solitude I found there. Every summer, in my youth, I would spend days in the ocean swimming. It had been a few years but the water was so warm and inviting that I couldn't help myself. I spent half one afternoon being healed - physically and spiritually - by swimming in that temperate salt water.
I was delighted by the Coastal Prairie grasslands. How novel for me and how magnificent.
I spent a bit of time in Corpus Christi where the temperature barely changed while I was there - it seemed to be 85F all day and all night. That's not strictly true of course but let's not let facts get in the way of my feelings. It seemed to be hot - all the time. Of course, another song, Corpus Christi Bay by Robert Earl Keene, had boosted my interest in this area as well.
The following morning, unaware that a hurricane was building that would eventually alter my course, I drove to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park and spent time in the Lower Rio Grande Valley on my way to South Padre Island. I had a marvelous time other than running into the largest Mosquitoes I have ever seen and nearly being carried off and eaten alive. I talked to the Ranger at Palo Alto who lived there locally and he told me, "yeah, we're thinking about changing the state bird". Cracked me up. The following photos are from the battlefield and the surrounding area near Los Fresnos, TX. I need to go back and make that area near Brownsville my home base for 3-4 days and make photographs. It has it's own unique and, to me, spectacular beauty.
On my way to South Padre I stopped at the Port Isabel Lighthouse. Not too many folks around.
I got to South Padre - checked in to my motel room and rested. It had been a busy several days. I checked my twitter account and someone said, "Hey, look out for Pamela". Well, OK. Let's see here. Oh, Pamela is a hurricane but it's not coming from the gulf. It's coming from the Pacific - crossing over Mexico and is supposed to hit Del Rio first as it moves into Texas. Well, tomorrow night when it hits - I'm supposed to be staying in Del... wait, what? I went on the weather app and, sure enough, there was a huge red cone showing the hurricane track and yep it was headed directly for my next stop in Del Rio. They were predicting 6-8 inches of rain in a 24 hour period with flooded roads. I suppose if I'd been in my Tacoma I'd have been more relaxed and game to deal with crazy weather but being in a tiny roadster wasn't a brilliant choice for happiness while driving through flooded roads.
So much for my leisurely drive through Laredo along the Rio Grande to Del Rio. I had to dodge this weather front and kick in plan B. The next morning I got up at 2:00 AM and hit the road on the way to Fort Stockton which would put me north of the hurricane track. Of course, it should have been easy enough to do - just go back east toward Corpus Christi and then north to San Antonio. Google maps had me start taking 2 lane highways all over hell and gone and then directed me to a closed highway. At 4:00 AM, no less. I stopped the car. Got out and breathed deeply - this was an adventure now. After a few minutes breathing in that fine Texas air I jumped in - looked at a PAPER MAP and got going - what a novel idea. I headed north but kept checking the radar and watching the leading edge of Pamela every time I stopped - nope - no way to avoid it. By the afternoon the weariness kicked in and then , like clockwork, the storm hit me on the interstate. Now, I've been in some weather in my life but this - just the tip of the storm - was pretty darn wild. The speed limit is 80 MPH and I was driving 30 MPH and passing trucks. We all got hammered for about 45 minutes and then... it was gone. Sweet. I pulled into the Fort Stockton Best Western a relieved and tired California boy. The motel offered a free dinner - what a genius concept. I ate and crashed for 12 hours. Woke up to a beautiful dawn and headed to Las Cruces through Alpine and Marfa.
I was on the home stretch now. Hurricanes and gulf breezes behind me I thoroughly enjoyed two relaxing days in Las Cruces. I spent one morning at White Sands National Monument - er Park - and was rather horrified to find the Visitor Center Parking lot full and the center itself was so crowded one could barely move. Sigh. This is the price we pay these days for making anything a National Park. I took a trip to Zion with my oldest son a few years back and was deeply saddened by seeing the park overrun - I had the same feeling here. Regardless, I did manage to find a bit of solitude and made some photos.
I spent part of one afternoon at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. I do not know why. I did have a nice conversation with the blacksmith and walked across an interesting bridge.
After eating New Mexican cuisine and gaining another 5 pounds and stuffing myself with sopapillas I started the trek home. After a fantastic lunch in Tucson with my friends Holly and Chip I spent a night in Gila Bend at the famed Space Age Lodge.The next morning I took the long way home over Interstate 8. It was a fine trip. I was able to have the top down in the convertible almost every day. I finally felt those gulf breezes blow through my now thinning and graying hair.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, "I owe more than I can express to the West". Me too, Teddy, me too.
My favorite state in the USA is New Mexico.
It's true I haven't visited all 50. I've traveled a bit however. How can I tell you why I love New Mexico the best? The history and culture are, in my opinion, the most fascinating and diverse in America. It's the scenery, and the adobe. It's the fine people, the Spanish and Mexican and Indian and Anglo. It's the spicy and delectable cuisine. It's El Malpais and El Morro and Bisti and the "seven cities of gold". It's chile peppers. It's the Chihuahuan Desert and the Rocky Mountains. It's the politics. It's the "Red or Green"? It's the scarcity of humanity. It's the sunsets, and the rain and the hiking and camping. It's Santa Fe. It's high Taos and low Las Cruces. It's the clouds! It's the sparkling metallic 1963 Chevy Impalas - chopped and channeled. It's sopapillas and posole and fideo. It's the cowboys still out on the range. It's Chaco Canyon and the Acoma Pueblo. It's Route 66. It's Billy the Kid. It's Carlsbad Caverns and the White Sands near Alamogordo. It's Bandelier National Monument. It's the Navajo and the Zuni. It's the snow on houses of earth. It's weird alien stories from Roswell. It's Georgia O'Keefe and Robert Oppenheimer and Tony Hillerman and Dennis Hopper. It's the mariachis on the Plaza in Albuquerque. It's the fertile Mesilla Valley. It's the Pecos and the Rio Grande. It's farolitos at Christmas and Hatch green chiles. It's the Tent Rocks and the llano and Shiprock. It's Los Alamos and the Hubbard Museum of the West and, well, I'm just getting started. Did I mention the food?
For the third time in four years Lupe and I visited the "Land of Enchantment". The reason that this is "Part 1" is because I have a New Mexico trip (Part 2 - El Malpais, El Morro and Acoma Pueblo) planned for October too. That trip will be camping and hiking. This trip's primary purpose was to visit Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces and look at property in communities to consider once Lupe retires. It was also, evidently, shopping and eating.
We started by taking the north route through Prescott, Arizona. I had been to Prescott some years back, on the 4th of July, and liked it well enough. It is an attractive cowboy town that sits at 5400 feet in elevation and has a famous rodeo every year. We stayed at the historic Hassayampa Inn which I highly recommend.
We got up early and hit the road to Santa Fe. There was a large fire about 15 miles away from Prescott (Goodwin Fire - 28,500 acres...now fully contained thankfully) which we skirted on our way. We arrived at the supposedly great Inn of the Governors (not recommended...ahem) and immediately went to eat at one of my favorite Southwest restaurants, The Shed.
We spent the next couple of days wandering around town and relaxing. A highlight was the New Mexico History Museum exhibit called "Voices of the Counterculture in the Southwest". The exhibit was really put together by Ed Abbey's old amigo, Jack Loeffler and well known '60's photographer Lisa Law. I had known of Lisa's Rock musician photos but was deeply impressed by her images of life in the 1960's. Coincidentally, having dinner one night in Santa Fe, Lisa walked into the restaurant and I was able to meet and chat with her. Very, very cool. Her website for fellow '60's aficionados, historians and culture lovers, is here.
Here are some photos I took while we meandered around town. It's a delightful place. I don't believe I've ever had an unhappy moment there.
On the last day of our stay, before spending time in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, I drove Lupe over to Bandelier National Monument. The Monument is remarkable for the cavates that ancestral Puebloan people inhabited for thousands of years. The setting is in a pinyon-juniper woodland...perhaps the most appealing topography in all the Southwest. I did take a few photos including the one at the top of this post and the one below which, to me, captures the area well.
The following photos show an ancient Kiva, old walls, cavates, the pinyon-juniper woodland and Lupe along the main trail in Frijoles Canyon.
You may have noticed the photo of the two young Native men doing maintenance on a ladder. A lowlight of the trip was some guy asking them what kind of rock comprised the ancient homes. They answered. "It's volcanic tuff". This guy walks a few feet away and says to his wife, "That's NOT volcanic. Those damn Indians don't know what they're talking about". Yeah, I was livid. I've found that confronting such ignorance with my anger typically isn't helpful but I find myself still burning, now, a few weeks later. What a monumental idiot. It is, of course, volcanic tuff and understanding that is part of the Bandelier experience - that racist halfwit could have easily discovered this through a 60 second perusal of the Monument website. Some of the people I meet on the road...I could write a book.
Enough about that. I'll probably write a cathartic blog post one day just telling stories about the inanities of some folks I've run into but, for now, enjoy the following gallery of black and white photos I made of magnificent New Mexico. I hope you enjoy the photos and remember...I'll be back in October. Who wants to come along?
I've been home almost a week and, funny enough, I'm itching to get back on the road. I know that the good weather months are dwindling and that soon it will be cold- my traveling and camping nemesis. I have a trip planned to Utah in less than two weeks and then the wait for the twins begins in earnest and I'll probably stay pretty close to home.
One of the most enjoyable activities of the winter months is planning the next year's travel. So far, I plan on two trips to Organ Pipe NM this winter. After 11 long years the monument is now fully open again which is exciting to say the least. I can now explore some places I've been itching to see for awhile but were closed due to the US Border Patrol's activities.
Have you read, "The Devil's Highway" by Luis Urrea? The setting is Organ Pipe- it's a tragic story and my views on immigration were only solidified by reading it. I know it's a complex issue but we MUST find a more humane way of dealing with those desperately poor people from Mexico who simply want a better life in the USA (as did all our relatives- except the indigenous). I have lots of deeply passionate thoughts about these issues and, perhaps, in future, I'll devote an entire blog to what I believe the problems are (and there are many - starting with the government of Mexico and US policy) and how we might go about creating a better world for our brothers and sisters from the south. If you have an interest in these matters please read Urrea, or "Border Patrol Nation" by Todd Miller. Or read anything that Charles Bowden has written on the Border problems.
If you know me, at all, you know I love all things Southwest- by extension- I love Mexico and the Mexican culture. It's everywhere you go in the Southwest and it's one of the major reasons I love it here.
Back to my plans for next year- so Organ Pipe is on big time. I'm also going to spend some time at Anza Borrego near Little Blair Valley doing some boondocking near a dry lake bed. Last year when I was there I was mesmerized by the solitude and stark beauty of the place. The problem was that it's at 3000 feet elevation, it was during a cold snap, and when I awoke it was 21 degrees F. WAY too cold. This fall/winter I'm hoping to go when it's a bit warmer. Of course, I'll also figure out a time to go to my beloved Joshua Tree NP.
In March I'm heading to Big Bend National Park in Southern Texas along the mighty Rio Grande. This is a trip that I've been wanting to do since my 20's and I'm finally going to make it happen. That trip will include stops in Arizona and New Mexico and may include a stop at Palo Duro Canyon and Guadalupe NP. April is a wonderful month to explore the coastal mountains near Santa Barbara and Big Sur and I'll backpack then. I love to travel in May because the weather is warming and the crowds are at a minimum. I will probably be in Taos and Santa Fe then. In June I'll head to the Sierras again. July is "Lupe and Lilly time" and we are still in the process of deciding. I'm considering two options for August - either Flathead Lake and Glacier NP in Montana or a Northern Cascades trip in Washington.
This last trip was really spectacular and I'm strongly considering heading back to the Four Corners in Utah and Colorado in September. I'm still, as I sit here at home, staggered by the scenery I saw in Colorado on this last trip.
My next trip, leaving on October 6, includes a visit with my very best friend from high school, Kevin D. , and still one of the best people I've ever known (or ever will know). He went to college in Utah and then got a job there and so our visits have been sporadic (at best) over the years. I'm hoping that changes in the next few years as we both move into the retirement phase of our lives. As I told him recently- one of us is still working (him) and one of us is a hobo (me) so his schedule will dictate things for awhile. Luckily he's free on the weekend of Oct. 11 and I get to hang with him on this trip. Knowing Kev he's explored most of that beautiful country up there and I'll be the beneficiary of his knowledge.
Here's my Utah tentative itinerary:
10/6 Navajo National Monument
10/7 Arches NP
10/8 Arches NP
10/9 Arches NP
10/10 Canyonlands NP
10/11 Visiting with Kevin near Vernal, UT
10/12 Goblin SP
10/13 Goblin SP
10/14 Capitol Reef NP
10/15 Kodachrome SP
Looks amazing doesn't it? Arches NP remains my favorite. Before I read Ed Abbey I visited it and had an OBE (out of body experience)- after I read, "Desert Solitaire" I understood why. I probably feel more "at home" in Arches than any other place on earth. There is no place like the Red Rock Country of the Colorado Plateau. Being there fulfills my heart's desire. I'll look forward to sharing pictures on my return as always.
Thanks for reading this. I hope all is well in your life and that you too are planning your next adventure. I'll look forward to writing again soon and sharing about another one of my new passions- playing guitar.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.