Standin’ on the Corner of so many Canyons

We left the Sedona area on Mar. 29th bound for a boondocking site in the Coconino National Forest near Williams AZ. which is a short 1.5-hour drive from the Grand Canyon. We set up our campsite and settled in for a chilly night. Snow was something we had hoped we would not have the displeasure of camping in for a while, but this winter had been as uncooperative in the southwest US as it was at home in BC. The weather gods must have had a laugh when they whitewashed our trailers with some end of March flakey mirth. We did not share their humour. Well, Flagstaff wasn’t too far away so we had some great snacks and a good craft beer and tried to forget the recent snowfall.

The Grand Canyon is beyond impressive. The brain struggles to make sense of the immensity. Your naivety to its impressiveness is spared when walking 10 feet from the rim but as the earth’s edge drops away to nothingness… vertigo closes in. Twenty feet from the edge feels like looking out the window of an airplane as the river winds like a thin thread in the distant abyss. You gasp (with jaw on chest) exclaiming “OMG!”, cell phone snapping feebly, impossibly trying to capture an image that doesn’t mock your brain and that goes on until you walk back from the rim 10 – 20 feet. We were especially lucky with our timing. The skies were clear as a result of the previous snowfall. With the refreshed air clarity, the whimsical clouds framed the view nicely. We hiked 10 km of the 20 km Rim Trail. With the waning light, we headed back to camp, a brain full of scenery hopelessly being reconciled into categories of experience that now have “Grand Canyon” to measure up to.

Homolovi State Park Campground was the next stop.  The park has two historic archeological Hopi villages with a visitor center that serves as the research hub for the Hopi migration studies. It also has a Mormon cemetery on the bank of the Little Colorado river. Popular area due to its proximity to our next destination. Plus, it is not far off the highway making it an easy, clean, hookup for the night. The campground is situated close to the town of Winslow, Arizona. If you find yourself “running down the road trying to loosen your load” then Winslow is just place. The flatbed Ford and a bronze sculpture of Glen Frey are there to make your visit worthwhile on this section of the historic Route 66. The micro brewery down the street from Glen was lined up out the door so we gave that a miss, but we did spend a buck or two on a souvenir from the trinket store situated opposite Glen. Back at the Homolovi campsite we BBQ’d our own burgers and drank a tin of IPA while Don and the rest of the Eagles serenaded us with Take it Easy from our music machine. Some memories are priceless!

Takin’ it Easy on the Highways and Byways of the American Motoring Experience

Just a little east along the I-40 is the Petrified Forest National Park. About 200 million years ago a lush subtropical forest grew in this area. Fast forward to present we can look at what remains of this remnant in the form of petrified wood but not just a stick or branch here and there… No, there are multi-coloured, broken off stumps and logs that provide testament to its ancient existence. Whole trees are exposed in places and the landscape is littered for a considerable distance where a series of trails meander around the monoliths of the past. If you go be sure to check out the Rainbow Forest Historic District Museum, its worth the geology lesson. We continued through the park and finished up with a visit to the Painted Desert Visitors Center and took a 1-mile hike along the scenic Painted Desert Rim trail to the historic and well-preserved Painted Desert Inn. This remote, well preserved adventure destination dates to the 1920’s. Another Route 66 icon. The vantage point from the guest rooms must have been the closest to visiting another planet that a tourist could have experienced back in the day. Even today the foreboding, desolate, landscape seen through the windows deserves your respect if you choose to hike in its unique beauty. A full day of sightseeing and our destination was still 2 hours away in Grants, New Mexico. But when the camping destination is a Micro Brewery in a junkyard off Route 66, welllllll, giddyap them ponies!

Great 20’s detailing inside the Inn

Junkyard on 66 Brewing is a great Harvest Host overnight that is not to be missed. They allow non-Harvest Host members too because their parking is enormous. Great southern BBQ cuisine from a very busy food truck (complete with elaborate smoke house) on the premises serves up rashers that appease the road weary appetite and pours great homegrown ales to slake one’s thirst. We pulled up and parked in the center of the junkyard with other like minded RV’ers for our one-night stay. It felt kinda weird walking away from our rig in a junkyard behind a 12-foot chain-link fence to go for beers and munchies. The pub area was equipped with the sort of décor you might expect at a junkyard pub, tables that in a previous life were the engine hoods for 1950 – 70’s circa automobiles, tractors, random stacked tires, bench seats from old pickup trucks and various other touches like door handles, hub caps, road maps and hood ornaments were nice mood enhancers to the Route 66 automotive theme. In the brewing area, a variety of restored antique trucks and autos didn’t seem out of place nor did a DJ stand, dance floor lighting, of course the obligatory stainless steel brewery tanks and bottling line. We finished our beers and food then trundled out to our trailer under a chilly, star speckled sky. We slept soundly away from the 70 MPH, 4 lane madness of the I-40, our route here. Randomly camped amongst the relics of broken and dilapidated hulks in a back water town that was just as abandoned and forgotten by an American Dream that watched the sun set on its alluring, hip lifestyle. All of it just generational graffiti idealized in an old song – “Get your Kicks on Route 66”.    

The front entrance of the Junkyard on 66 Brew Pub

What comes to mind when you think of Santa Fe, New Mexico? We had to see if it lived up to its reputation. That said we really didn’t know what that was. Sunsets, art galleries, the old west gunslingers and rustlers all set in some Hollywood conjured soft pastel coloured glossy Puebloan Architectural Digest page but that’s purely subjective of me. There was a lot of imagery to reconcile. Our campsite of choice, the BLM area in the general vicinity of a local landfill site. No, not right in it or even beside it but not that far away either. Fortunately, the camping area gave fantastic access to a network of trailways that led far away from mentioned eyesore. Deb and I set out on our bikes one fine day to explore the local scenery. The destination was Diablo Canyon along a very historic El Camino Real pathway. Once a main foot path for original indigenous peoples that populated the area more than 10,000 years ago it became a wagon road for the Spanish immigration from Mexico City to New Spain’s northern frontier at Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The Diablo Canyon site had such a dramatic connotation that we couldn’t resist going there. After some really fun cross country style trails, a massive obstacle to further progress became undeniably unavoidable. The canyon is sheer on all sides and makes an attractive outdoor recreation destination for hikers, rock climbers and cycle-sightseers. Our cycle trip was about 35 km. We were just getting started with an eyeful of Santa Fe. Next was a day trip out to Bandelier National Monument. The ancestral home for the Puebloan People who literally carved their lives into the walls of the Frijoles Canyon in the form of cave dwellings on a scale that boggles the mind. At one time there would have been more than 2000 people living in agricultural settings throughout the immediate area. Trails take you around and into some of the ancient caverns that served as shelter for the people that once made up this community. Not far from this fascinating gem of human existence is a whole different world of modern-day human culture called Los Alamos. If you are scratching your head saying, “why do I know that name?” think Atom Bomb, and I’m sure a bomb goes off in your mind in reference to the association of the two terms. This famous townsite is the center for American research during the 1940’s, successfully resulting in a nuclear device diabolically designed to end the 2nd World War. (We could argue the semantic merits of “diabolical” but I’ll stand behind the description). Fascinating place, nonetheless. We couldn’t visit the Information Center due to it being closed that day. Once through both sets of guarded gates at the town-size lab known as the Los Alamos National Laboratory (Google LANL and discover why it has a $2.92 billion annual budget), we went back to camp with our tails between our legs and our heads full in thought of the legacy of what is commonly known as The Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. Mike and I (Albert) did return a few days later both keen to see the official interpretation of historical events that had cataclysmic repercussions for Japan and perpetual ramifications for the foreseeable future of global warfare.  The LANL in Los Alamos continues to house research into national defense and a variety of other fission, fusion and fascinating scientific pursuits. The local brewery, Bathtub Row Brewing, had a lovely IPA called Hoppenheimer. Google Los Alamos and Oppenheimer and you will get the deliberate typographical humour. Bathtub Row Brewing hosts open mic nights with guest speakers giving a rousing presentation on designing and creating molecules as a recreational pastime. Fun for all. A bit like living on the show Big Bang Theory. Life imitates art. LOL!

Time to see the picturesque town of Santa Fe and celebrate Albert’s birthday. We played our role with other picture-snapping touristas on the Loretto Line Street Train/Bus tour. You may recall this is a common “go to” activity for us when we are in towns that deserve more than just a car window glimpse, drive by, been-there-done-that, gotta move on to the next, scenario. Sometimes you just have to be the ubiquitous cliché on the bus, revel in it. These tours cram your head full of fascinating trivia and local lore and so with a head full of this, somehow, your stomach slaps you back to reality and you head for the most authentic SW Tex Mex (oxymoron intended) you can Google. Our tasty choice was Los Magueyes (the Agaves I think) in Burro Alley. Delicious! Sunsetting with pink and orange hues, as if on cue, for a perfect tourist birthday in Santa Fe finds our group lost in silent awe strolling endless art galleries that display the most contemporary art produced by the most imaginative international artists minds anywhere in the world. The abundance of galleries here is remarkable. Third most galleried city in the US behind NY (first) and LA (second) and Santa Fe is not a mega city like the other two.

The following day the guys and gals divided and conquered. The gals pursued more Santa Fe museums and galleries the guys choose more National Park Preserves plus a Historical Science Museum. Read – guys want to know more about things that go BOOM! While Deb and Lori really wanted to see the local museum to get further info on the cultural history of the town. This was a good time for Mike and I to retrace our previous trip to Los Alamos for more background on The Bomb. We (Mike and I) were also interested in seeing something called the Valles Caldera National Preserve. An immense area created about a million years ago. The result of a volcanic eruption 500 times larger than Mt. St. Helens. It is situated north and west of Bandelier and Los Alamos. To get some perspective we hiked to the top of a trail called the Cerro Grande Trail. About 10 km in length, it didn’t look formidable on the map at the trailhead, but we hadn’t accounted for the fact that we were starting at an elevation of 10,000 ft. It quickly became clear, as the path climbed acutely vertical, that this innocent walk in the park was going to be an unscheduled huff and puff outing. “Innocence is bliss” as they say. Spectacular views were a Grande award from the 10,199 ft. peak and the left-over cinnamon buns baked for birthday breakfast were devoured with quiet alacrity. Having spent a bit more time than planned on the Caldera we only managed an hour of nuclear weapons history at the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos. Fascinating facts and atomic wonderment are not for the faint of heart. I came away with a greater appreciation of the nuanced dichotomy between nuclear war and nuclear war prevention. Consider being the first kid on the playground with the knowledge and capability to dictate the existence of all terrestrial live. Like it or not this scientific discovery will forever be humanity’s proverbial Pandora’s Box.  A harsh double-edged reality where too much information can truly be a very dangerous thing. So play nice in that sandbox kids!

Beautiful Panorama of the surrounding area

While Albert and Mike were contemplating nuclear sandbox history, Lori and I (Deb) went to a couple of museums and walked through some of the shops. We weren’t organized enough to book into the Georgia O’Keefe museum unfortunately, but we visited the International Folk Art museum, and one more on museum hill up by all the chichi Santa Fe homes. Brains on overload (I call it Museum Brain) the second museum escapes me. Time for lunch. Best of all a lingering, mid afternoon repast at a restaurant we looked for on Alberts birthday. Way better than that pseudo BBQ Mexi stuff that served us a mediocre margarita too. Café Pasqual’s is right across from a 90’s favourite, the iconic Coyote Café.  Mark Miller published his Coyote Café cookbook, which was a favourite of mine for years, teaching me about charring peppers and simmering beans before I met Dianna Kennedy and her printed knowledge. He retired and sold years ago and apparently it is expensive, good but not great for the price. So we went to Pasqual’s. A long table with a felt hat toting local seated beside us, gave us a full rendition of the local artists, chefs, good food and bad. She was a slice. She nagged the servers by name, complained about the new people n the kitchen, complained that the water was not cold enough or warm enough and complained that the tea had caffeine or didn’t. Complained that the place used to be cleaner. Pretty sure she grudgingly ate there every day. She recommended a few items yet made sure we knew she ate the same thing each visit. All that complaining and nagging. But she was a proud Santa Fe local who wouldn’t trade it for anything!! It was pretty clear she actually loved that restaurant!

Santa Fe was great, a birthday Albert won’t soon forget. The open road calls and more adventures await in Pegosa Springs Colorado, (misadventures at 10,640 ft in Coal Pass), many vast and scenic canyons of Moab, catching a performance by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, unknowingly racing in the Mormon 500 on the US I15 Utah. So don’t stray away too far. Stay tuned for more meanderings from the US Southwest.

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