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.
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.