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.



Let’s take a moment to talk about what this trip is. Back in California we started referring to it as The Walkabout. Some of you might be thinking, “Walkabout? That thing Locke did in LOST that got him on the damn plane in the first place?” Well, sort of, but not really…unless you’re J.J. Abrams.

A walkabout is the traditional rite of passage for Australian Aborigine males, a period during which one departs from modern society to wander the bush and temporarily return to traditional Aboriginal life. During this spiritual journey one leaves city and job behind to experience one’s own land first-hand.

I believe that our journey is much like a walkabout. This year I left my life as I knew it behind to trek across this vast country of mine, to experience the richness of the land, and to learn about its diverse peoples. In the end I hope to better understand myself and my relationship to the world around me.

Spending three months traveling around the United States is also just really, really fun.

If you’re on Instagram, you can view photos from our Walkabout under #timandreawalkabout2013.

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.

Day 3: Morro Bay Rocks!

Tim and I took our time winding down 101 through the central coast, stopping at the waterfront city of Morro Bay. Approaching Morro Bay, I had these exact thoughts in this exact order:
“This is so cute.”
“That rock is huge.”
“What the hell are those?”
Morro Bay is visually defined by its quaint seaside town architecture, a 581-foot high rock sitting offshore, and three obscenely tall, visually jarring smokestacks that tower over the harbor. The latter belong to a natural gas power plant, which I later learned about from an oddly friendly informational sign out front.

Morro Rock itself is one of nine volcanic plugs that formed along this part of the California coast 23 million years ago. An informational sign (oh, there will be a lot of these. I love ’em!) explained that the rock formed from lava that hardened inside of a long extinct volcano, which eventually eroded away to expose the plug. There are signs all over the rock cautioning one against any attempts to climb it. Apparently a friend of mine has a friend who climbed it once and had to be helicopter-lifted off.

Circumventing this natural behemoth against powerful gusts threatening to blow us away, I concluded,
“Yup. That’s a big damn rock.”
Lazily continuing down 101-S we stopped in the town of Summerland to have an early picnic dinner. I had wanted to find a beachside picnic area for a while, and we stopped here out of the rising need for a restroom (and, by the way, you should never go to the gas station just off the Summerland exit, as the last thing you’d want to see when crossing your legs together and holding them tightly out of need-to-pee agony, is a 25-cent lock on the restroom door).
Restroom crisis aside, the little dog-friendly park we found not only had a terrific view of the late afternoon surfers, but also came with a delightful surprise. Watching the surfers do their thing, I noticed some movement and a little flash of something out of the periphery of my left eye. “Is that…is that?…Yes! A dolphin!” Not just one dolphin, but a whole pod of them, leaping their way up the coastline. I was blissfully entranced by a trail of arching bottle noses and dorsal fins until they finally passed out of sight.
Later that evening we made it safely to Los Angeles, happily easing into a night of rooftop hangouts with our good friends Pat and Laura who live in Los Feliz. A sign in their living room playfully mocked us through the night.

Day 2: Paso Robles, Firestone Walker and Drinking the Galaxy

During my last visit to Atascadero, I took a tour of Firestone Walker Brewing Company. While it was fun just seeing the home of my favorite happy hour beer – the Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale –  I was disappointed by the conspicuous absence of any beer actually being brewed or even bottled, leaving much to be desired in the way of captivatingly detailed tour guide spiels. This time the tour was far from lackluster.
The brewery was in full swing, a-hum with boiling, fermenting, pouring, bottling and labeling. We traveled through the exciting life of their beers from raw hops to the delicious libation we all know and love. Firestone Walker uses only three different yeast strains to make a variety of ales, lagers, and barleywines. My beloved DBA is created using a double-barrel fermenting process. This means its fermentation time is split between the oak barrels of Firestone Walker’s union brewing system (one of only two in the world) and the towering stainless steel tanks behind them. The brewery’s packaging process is no joke either; these machines can bottle 300 bottles per minute and fill up to 60 kegs each hour. At the end I had the unique delight of enjoying a crisp pint of unfiltered DBA, which is only available in their tasting room.
Beer continued to be the theme well into the evening as we took in a showing of Star Trek: Into the Darkness at Galaxy Theatres in Atascadero. No, there was no brown-bagging involved. This was no ordinary movie theater. It had a separate 21+ VIP wing, complete with a bar and lounge area. I took the opportunity to try the Firestone Walker 805 here (pints were only $6.00!). Nachos, popcorn and glasses of beer firmly in hand, we settled into remarkably comfortable oversized seats for the much-anticipated J.J. Abrams sequel. I must say, I was quite impressed by the comfort and cleanliness of this theatre. The movie…well, you’ll have to see it for yourself to find out. Live long and prosper, readers. Live long and prosper.

Day 1: Atascadero (and Why Douglas Adams Would Be Proud)

“Your order number will be 42.”
After finishing a marathon cleaning of our house and packing a spectacular load of gear into the car, we made a quick stop on the way out of Davis at the good ol’ In-N-Out. That the cashier bestowed upon us such a significant number surely means exciting times lie on the road ahead. Douglas Adams would be proud of us starry-eyed travelers too – we didn’t forget to bring our towels.
A friend texted me as we left this afternoon. “Nervous?” he asked. I realized that for once I’m not nervous. I have zero anxiety or trepidation about turning in the keys to my house and hitting the open road for the summer without having it all planned out. Me – an often-times Grade A worrier. Instead, as we rolled out of Davis an incredible sense of relief washed over me. There’s no stress, no doubt – nothing but infinite possibility ahead of me now.
Leaving Davis at 5:18pm, we drove through the Bay Area and down 101-S through Steinbeck territory. (The pastoral beauty of the Salinas Valley’s fertile lands surrounded on both sides by majestic mountains cloaked in mist is uncanny. One day I’ll return to hike the Pinnacles.) Arriving in Atascsdero around 9:00pm, we were welcomed by Lindsay, Bob, and three crazy dogs to a relaxing night of homemade pizza and Game of Thrones.

And now it’s time to sleep for about a day and a half.