Days 13-19: Seven States in Seven Days

Wigwam Village on Route 66 in Holbrook, AZ

When Tim mentioned this morning that we’d been to seven states in the past seven days I was sure his calculation was off.

Petrified Forest in Arizona

It wasn’t. In fact, today makes eight for me.

Day 13: Grand Canyon, AZ – Gallup, NM
Day 14: Gallup, NM – Pueblo, CO
Day 15: Pueblo, CO – Salina, KS
Day 16: Salina, KS – Kansas City, MO
Day 17: Kansas City, MO – THE ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA –  Minneapolis, MN
Day 18: Minneapolis, MN – Edgar, WI
Day 19: Edgar, WI – Minneapolis, MN – New Orleans, LA (flight)

I’m saving our Grand Canyon tale for a singular post, but here are some highlights from the past week.

Day 13: Grand Canyon, AZ – Gallup, NM
Read post.

Day 14: Gallup, NM – Pueblo, CO
Read post.

Day 15: Pueblo, CO – Salina, KS

Steadily becoming a better hand at Parking Lot Lunches. I can slap together turkey and cheese on wheat while squatting over a cooler like nobody’s business. Also, I have no shame. Kansas is a flat land that threatens to blow you away in a tornado. NOT COOL, KANSAS. Not cool. The Smoky Hills Wind Farm is a freaky thing to suddenly see at night – miles and miles of red lights surrounding you and all flashing eerily in unison.

Day 16: Salina, KS – Kansas City, MO

BARBEQUE. Go to Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City for their “Burnt Tips Platter.” It will make you cry and wonder why you’d ever leave Kansas City. Yes, it’s in a gas station. No, it doesn’t taste like gas station food. The line is long at dinner time (probably more so at lunch), but they’ve got that Disneyland magic that speeds you through, and somehow there is always a table available in their crowded seating area. Stay at the Hotel Phillips near the convention center for charming art deco surroundings and proximity to the hip new Power & Light District. We enjoyed an overpriced drink and bowling at Z-Strike Bowling.

Day 17: Kansas City, MO – THE ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA –  Minneapolis, MN

Clouds, clouds everywhere. Pizza Lucé  in Minneapolis has yummy food and exceptionally friendly bartenders.

Iowa. Much like Kansas.

Day 18: Minneapolis, MN – Edgar, WI
Crossed the Mississippi River. Minnesota and Wisconsin are so green! Suburban homeowners in California spend a fortune on futile efforts to keep their lawns green, but here it comes naturally and with such vibrance. Farms with their red barns and shiny silos in the middle of green fields are postcard images of pastoral America. Homes are made of brick and wood, not stucco. Edgar is a lovely small town in which you won’t find fences demarcating property lines. The openness that exists between houses is comforting. Here I had the great pleasure of meeting Tim’s Uncle Mike, Aunt Vicki and his cousins. I’ve never met anyone in Tim’s family I haven’t liked, and this was no exception. They are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and I appreciated the warmth with which they welcomed us into their home.

We had to be in Edgar by yesterday for Tim to meet up with his dad for their fishing trip, hence the speediness. For the next week they’ll be doing fishermanly things while I am down in New Orleans playing hooky with a dear friend of mine. WOOHOO!

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Day 14: There’s a Las Vegas in New Mexico?

Scene: Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s 9:00pm. Tim and Drea have just returned from dinner at the Rio Hotel & Casino. The outdoor temperature has cooled to a “comfortable” 90 degrees. Camera zooms in on Drea toying with her iPhone.
Drea: Whoa! It’s going to be in the seventies tomorrow.
Tim: Uh…are you sure about that?
Drea: Yeah, it’s what my weather app says.
Scene: Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s 8:00am the following morning. Drea has just completed her morning run, as evidenced by the fantastic amount of sweat beading on her forehead. She is convinced that the  outdoor temperature was most definitely NOT in the seventies. Tim observes Drea as she jabs a finger at her iPhone in protest.
Drea: What the hell?!
Tim: Drea, did you set your weather app to Las Vegas, New Mexico?
Drea: There’s a Las Vegas in New Mexico?
Fade out.
Yesterday we left Gallup behind to the thumping beats of daytime playa music (read: energizing electronic music well-suited to daytime Burning Man dance parties). It’s worth mentioning that Gallup lies on historic Route 66 and is the commercial center of the Navajo Nation, the largest Indian reservation in the continental U.S. Many a Western film was shot in this area, with famous stars of the silver screen staying in Gallup’s El Rancho Hotel. 
We crossed the continental divide in the morning, continuing northeast through the rugged land of flat-topped mesas and desert shrubs.  Albuquerque came and went, as did Santa Fe. Curious about this other Las Vegas, we saved our appetites for a late lunch there at Hillcrest Restaurant.
It was everything I ever wanted from a road trip diner. The place is a long-standing bastion of Americana culture. Jukeboxes leftover from its time as a teen-infested soda fountain in the 1950’s sit at every table. The walls are lined with a mishmash of southwestern decor and dusty books. Greeting cards, souvenirs and candy bars cluttered around the cash register greet you upon entry. Even the restrooms – labeled “Cowgirls Only” and “Cowboys Only” – are a hoot. Swinging saloon doors provide “privacy” for each stall, and the soap is a big friendly bottle of Dawn.
Tim and I both ordered off of the Mexican food menu from our charming waitress. Always too curious for my own good, I tried their supposedly-famous Burnt Chez (pronounced “cheese”) Tacos. Unremarkable and tough to boot. Tim made the right choice with a combination plate, which proved to be enough food for three people. If you ever find yourself at Hillcrest Restaurant, order the chile relleno. Hell, order five! They’re that delicious.

Now, no Great American Road Trip Diner Experience is complete without a slice of pie to top off the meal. The lemon meringue was perfect – a heavenly cloud of meringue atop smooth, bright, zesty filling. The coconut “cream” pie was also tasty but curiously topped with meringue in place of whipped cream.

A quick trip to the post office took us through downtown Las Vegas. Like most former frontier towns, it is characterized by of mix of charming old buildings and somewhat dilapidated property. You wouldn’t know by looking at it, but Las Vegas was one of the most lawless cities of the old west. Legends like Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and Jesse James all paid visit to its streets…or street. I have no idea how large the town was at that point.

What I do know is that yesterday’s average temperature in Las Vegas, New Mexico according to Wolfram Alpha was a balmy 71 degrees.

What Happened? The Lost Logues

“It feels like we just did all of the Southwest in one day.”
Dear readers, I sit now in room 133 of the Red Roof Inn in Gallup, New Mexico. We were in room 117 until a “drip” the size of a small flood starting pouring through our bathroom ceiling and into the bathtub. Now we have two queen beds, an overly-talkative A/C, but nary a leaky ceiling to be found!
All that aside, today was the crowning glory of the past ten days, which have gone by in such a whirlwind that I haven’t gotten a chance to post about any of it. Not to fear – I have notes on our happenings and will recap that time in the coming days.
This morning I woke up at 4:00am inside a dark tent at the Grand Canyon. My first though was, “Nope. I’m not getting back to sleep.” While that might seem terribly unpleasant, I was brightened by the fact that I was up well before the sun was set to rise. Seeing the sunrise was something I had thought would be awesome, but hadn’t promised myself I would do. I had watched a slow, beautiful sunset with Tim last night and had intended to get an exceptional night of sleep. Now that Plan A was shot, Plan B sounded pretty damn good.
Leaving Tim quietly snoozing in the tent I made my way to the Grand Canyon rim. The skies brightening each minute as I journeyed over, I worried I would miss the rising sun crest over the horizon. Jogging the last bit past a little herd of breakfasting mule deer, Japanese tourists and German photographers, I found that I’d made it with time to spare. Not only that – it was as though the canyon had saved the perfect seat for me on a little rocky ledge. Ok, maybe it was just an oversight by the other visitors. In truth, I believe that had I been sitting anywhere along the canyon rim, I would have witnessed the same serene beauty that came with this morning’s sunrise. As the sun broke over the eastern horizon, this jewel of the Southwest slid out of the dark purples and blue-blacks of the wee hours and into a fiery red-orange layer cake of incredible majesty.
Hard to top that, right?
Well after breaking camp this morning Tim and I embarked on a 300-mile, 10-hour tour of Arizona through landscapes that blew this California girl’s mind. The path south to Flagstaff traversed Arizona’s geographical spectrum, from rusty rocky plains straight out of an old Western to densely forested snow-capped mountains cloaked in swaths of bright purple. 
Down I-40 east of Flagstaff we checked out the famous Meteor Crater, another high impact  (ha!) natural feature of the Colorado Plateau. More of that in a future post. Continuing east, sometimes on I-40, sometimes on patches of old Route 66, we arrived at the Petrified Forest National Park. 
While the Petrified Forest was very cool for its exceptional display of the ancient natural world, it wasn’t as personal as the Grand Canyon. There was no interaction, no direct observation of the animal fossils about which we’d read so eagerly in the visitor’s center. So it paled in comparison to what came next. The entire day – hell, the entire road trip thus far, including the Grand Canyon – had been leading up to the one thing I had been dying to see: the Painted Desert.
This land…Artists struggle to recreate it. My photos can’t do it justice (maybe Tim’s can). After using words like “majesty” and “jewel of the Southwest” to describe the Grand Canyon I’m not sure how to impart upon you just how visually and emotionally magical the Painted Desert is. Imagine an enormous paintbrush and palette in the sky. Sky Brush dips itself into a giant glob of burnt umber and paints a line across hundreds of miles of the rolling, softly eroded plateau. Then it scoops up a blob of copper red and drags it across the top of the previous layer. Sky Brush continues to do the same with slate blues, violet purples other rich Sky Palette pigment to create beautiful stratified layers of color. The result is the unearthly spectacle aptly named the Painted Desert.
Driving all 28 miles of road through the Petrified Forest National Forest and the Painted Desert, we found ourselves stopping at more vistas and viewpoints than we intended.
“Let’s skip this one.”
(drives up to view point)
“Oh man, we have to stop.”
The visit even included ancient Puebloan ruins complete with amazingly preserved petroglyphs. I cannot recommend this park enough. By the end of the day I felt that my visit to Arizona, while brief, had encompassed the beauty of the Great American Southwest. We rolled into the Land of Enchantment completely bushed but grinning like a couple of idiots. Sitting in this two-bit hotel room in Gallup, beyond exhausted, my partner wondering how the hell I’m still writing this single post, my hair still a mess of tangles from the day’s high winds, I’m still grinning.