Excerpts from letter to Sister Laura:
We’d originally planned to head out Monday the 16th, early morn. As we got closer, I kept having the itch to head out Sunday night and just push it as far as we could. I took a two hour nap Sunday evening, loaded up on Starbucks, and we rolled on out. Seems that every time I’ve done that stretch out to Fort Stockton, I’ve done it late at night (the most notorious trip was the late-night Christmas Eve departure, on my way to Idaho): I like the long stretches, the darkness, the lunar landscape. This run, I kept waiting for that 5 hour tractor shift groove to kick in: it finally did, about 100 miles down the road: Tina and Walden sleeping, I slipped in some Pat Metheny and Diana Krall and finally, some Van. Van and I have fallen out over the past ten years (I no longer even pay attention to his new releases), but this was his ’94 Night in San Francisco live album, itself not that great an album, but it has an amazing stretch of interwoven “I’ll Take Care of You” and “Lonely Avenue” that just scorches. Of course, all this music is playing at barely above a whisper, but it was perfect. We shot across west Texas to Fort Stockton: I didn’t hit my wall until Carlsbad, NM at 5 in the morning. Napped for about an hour and a half, and we were off again.
Monday’s highlight was running out of gas between Roswell and Vaughn, on our way to Santa Fe. Just simple miscalculation and out of staters’ delusion that surely there were at least truck stops on that long stretch of 285. When the realization finally started breaking through (coming over yet another rise to miles and miles of high desert plains), I reluctantly pulled over (you know the typical male stupidity in this regard) to the only grove of trees for miles around, a grove of trees that shaded Ramon’s dead (as in defunct, as in shell standing, rest obliterated) adobe Bar. No surprise to you, I’m sure, that we are not cell phone users/owners: there is a, yes, stubborn Luddite resistance in this, and yes, many would say a stupidity in this, but I have never wanted to feel that accessible/plugged in at any given time: there is also a level of trust in this, that all will be well, and as we pulled up to the shade of Ramon’s, there was a white “cable guy” truck, with Ray the cable guy checking cable lines behind the defunct RB, who had the cell phone we needed. After some endless haggling with the road emergency folks, who kept insisting that our location was not on their maps, we were finally able to settle down to camp chairs in the shade, lizards in the gravel, a profusion of birds in the trees, and a jackrabbit frolicking in our midst. A 45 minute wait, but one that allowed me to slip fully into vacation freefall: up until then, I had been all set on our timetable to Santa Fe (we were still way ahead of schedule, what with the overnight haul). The breeze was wonderful, and as much a God’s gift as anything could be: it was literally the only grove of trees for 40 miles around. A little triptych of Rays, too: Ramon’s bar, Ray the cable guy, and the folks who came to gas us up were from Rael’s in Vaughn.
Letting go became a theme for the rest of the trip: letting go of a trip to the Grand Canyon, letting go of a trip to a cliff dwelling, letting go of doing anything at all on the Tuesday after our long haul.
Georgia’s museum was wonderful, quainter and smaller than I had imagined, much less work on the walls than I expected, but still a wonderful experience. My favorite piece was a pastel drawing I had never seen from very early on, one that had a gorgeous Mary blue at its center. I also made a small peace with Santa Fe itself: it was drizzly grey while there and for some reason it just struck me as very peaceful, like the Quarter on a Sunday morning. We spent that night just north of Albuquerque in the village of Bernalillo, at an old adobe B&B: breakfasted the next morning on incredible pumpkin pancakes with piñon nuts embedded in them.
Made good time to Flagstaff, skirting its edge, and then on down the Oak Creek Canyon way into Sedona: quieter, less dramatic, but to me the sweeter way in: through 20 miles of switchbacks, you drop 3000 feet in elevation. Pulled into the Orchards Inn, which is set right on a hillside overlooking the creek. And when they say every room has a magnificent view of the red rocks, they wasn’t kiddin’.
Good food to be had, albeit outrageously expensive. Excellent ice cream and coffee to be had, especially the former at Sabrina’s Homemade Ice Cream.
It occurs to me now that I’m not even sure of our daily itinerary, after our arrival in Sedona: a day’s memory seems to be missing. Thursday, we drove a few miles west of Sedona, into more of the “big” red rock country, out to the Boynton Canyon Trail: assorted metaphysicians of the rocks have mapped out a handful of energy “vortexes,” with their various unique qualities delineated. The Boynton vortex was identified as “balancing masculine/feminine energies,” so we opted for that one: drove to the trailhead and trekked on in. One of the wonderful things about the red rock is that it is so soothing to the eye, I never wear sunglasses around it, which just brings the world that much closer in. Climbed a rocky rise between two tall cairn-like natural rock formations and sat down overlooking a green valley of Ponderosa pines. Buddhist prayer flag about twenty feet below us in a juniper bush and wonderfully quiet. Meditated for a while, set our rings on the red rock, beautiful gentle breeze blowing. “Did ye get healed?” sez Van: well, I can’t speak for that. I walked over to the larger of the two “cairns” and had the distinct impression that she was definitely the mama energy, Yemaya to be sure.
Friday, no doubt, was the pièce de résistance: trip up canyon to Slide Rock, into the red rock, cold cold cold cold cold clear water, lots of natural water slides in the rock. There’s a big, long, bumpy ride at the beginning that Walden’s all hot to get into, but it makes me blanch. We beg off and hike farther up the canyon, tamer slides, good swimming holes. At one point, we heard this huge ominous thunder, but looked up at a perfectly blue sky. Half an hour or so later, Walden is not having any more of the tame slides, he jumps into the big one, bangsbounces his way down, and comes out ready for more. Each of us take a run down with him, while that blue sky turned black, with the thunder drums rolling. Big splats of rainfall: folks start rolling out: Tina and Walden head towards the car, while I trek back upcanyon for our stuff: it was magnificent: the rain, the rock, the water, everything. We then took the canyon road up to Flagstaff, which, save for its lovely NAU campus, is one gritty little nowhere town. Can’t believe it was on my short list (Bellingham, WA, Flagstaff, AZ, Ashland, OR, and Moscow, ID) of places to move to, after the exodus from New Orleans. Had to be thinking, that’s about as close to Sedona I’ll be able to afford.
Long drive Saturday all the way down to Artesia, NM: tipped our hats at Ramon’s Bar as we barreled by. Stayed in Artesia at the lovely Heritage Inn and had the best damn Italian food I have had in years at Piccolino’s, oh my God. Luckily they were closed Sundays, or we would have finagled a way to stay in Artesia for one more meal. Finding incredible Italian food in Artesia is like finding something comparable in Uvalde, Texas. Yes, miracles happen, but this...
Sunday was, in some ways, the most wonderful day of the trip. Saturday night, I had been lamenting how the drive back always seems somehow not part of the vacation: it’s just the chore of getting back. Well: we drove south out of Artesia, on our way to Fort Stockton, a fairly bland, boring drive: Tina’s driving, my nose is stuck in Patrick O’Brian’s The Surgeon’s Mate. I look up at one point and see a sign for mileage to Las Cruces and El Paso, pass some mental note through my head. A little later, Tina says, “You really need to look at these mountains.” I look up at these gorgeous green giants looming all around us in cloudy fog and mist: after a few minutes marvel, I think: no way I went through this on the overnight up from Fort Stockton. In the midst of all this splendor, the ridiculous curmudgeon pulls out Texas roadmap, finds that we are skirting down the wrong highway just east of the Guadalupe Mountains. Our detour, and its eventual correction will add three hours to our trip back. Apparently, there was a highway split around Carlsbad that we had missed.
But, oh what a detour: Tina said, “It looks like Ireland,” which at first struck me as utterly ludicrous, but the more I looked, the more she was right. It was incredible: down past the Guadalupes, then the Sierra Diablos, then the Beach Mountains, and then mesa after mesa strewn all along the way back down to I-10. No towns, maybe one or two other travelers along the way. I kept feeling it was like the church service we were missing back here in SA, it was so moving and silent and beautiful. I am already plotting a trip back out there for either Thanksgiving or Christmas (with a trip back to Artesia, too, of course).
High on a hill above the cinnamon town...
Labels: Chaucer, cranberry chauce, Vance Bourjaily