Monday, July 4 and Tuesday, July 5
Mile 3,390. Off to Santa Barbara—another 800 miles — where the next reunion will take place on Thursday, July 7, with two interim motel stops along the way. We drop Cousin Lynn off at the Albuquerque airport and then get back on I-40. The story line for these two days is the vastness, emptiness and extraordinary beauty of the American West. You drive mile after mile after mile seeing very few signs of any living creature. Hundreds of miles separate tiny settlements; and where there is an occasional gas station at an exit ramp, often a blue sign will be posted noting the distance to the “next exit with services.” Usually it is well over 50 miles, sometimes as much as 75 miles.
Several people told me that we would be really bored during this part of the trip since the scenery was described as being pretty much the same. Wrong on both counts. We were not bored, and the scenery varies a lot, though in subtle ways, determined largely by altitude. We descended from 7,000 feet at Santa Fe to around 5,000 feet in Albuquerque where it was much more arid with less sage brush. As we climbed up again, it became greener with larger, olive-colored bushes and then browner as we descended. This pattern repeated it self again and again. The mountains and the desert change colors from gray to olive to brown to purple depending on the angle of the sun. The vast sky is constantly in flux with tiny white puffs, towering thunderheads and high cobweb wisps. Temperatures range from the mid 70s in the higher elevations to 115 degrees in the valleys. In other words change is always happening, and at times I felt I was experiencing infinity. There is no way to do justice to what it feels like when crossing this magical land. It can only be experienced and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The evening of the Fourth of July we stayed in Flagstaff at a small motel which Embry booked through Hotline and spent the evening exploring the town. To get to Flagstaff, we climbed again to 7,000 feet where we found ourselves for the first time surrounded by towering pines (some dying) and occasional streams and ponds. The town itself has a vibrant, historic town center, reminding me of Ashville, NC. There are lots of coffee houses, cafes, boutiques, art galleries and stores selling mountain gear. Hip looking people are milling around, eating ice cream and casually watching guitarists playing ballads and folk music. A poster advertises a blue grass festival in August, and some middle-age guy in a cowboy hat is asking people to sign a petition supporting a local ordinance that would prevent the chief executive of the local hospital from earning more money than the President of the United States.
On July 5, we descend to lower grades and 115 degree temperatures as we enter California and the Mojave Desert. It is so dry here that it feels like we might just as well be on the surface of the moon, though there is beauty here too—just more barren and stark.
By late afternoon we are passing through Barstow where I-40 suddenly merges into I-15. We have been traveling on I-40, starting in Asheville almost three weeks ago, and have traveled on this road for over 3,500 miles. Suddenly we realize that this part of the journey is over. Goodbye, I-40, you have been a good friend. We will miss you!
We stop for the evening at another motel Embry booked on Hotline at a dusty, cluttered, shabby intersection in a town called Victorville, where every fast food establishment, gas station and motel known to humans is represented in all their ugly charm. We decide to eat in (Popeye’s Fried Chicken) after being warned by the guy at the liquor store (Episcopalians don’t miss happy hour.) that venturing outside after dark is very dangerous and we would be risking our life.
We retire to news accounts of Hillary’s email problems, reminding us that we are now back in the real world.