American Road Trip part 1 – 6 Weeks in the Life of the Artist

Alien Abduction, California Dreaming and an Ice Awakening – by Mandy.

Around 35 years ago between a pile of books and a brick wall Ian and I made a pact to sometime between then and the end of our days find and drive the longest straight road in the world. A few years later through a massive misunderstanding we went our separate ways. 20 years on we were back in each other lives examining what had been, what could have been, and what was, and when things kind of settled we started again to talk about that long straight road. Strangely at this point of massive highs together with equally traumatic lows we both thought it might be nicer to walk the road, just keep going. 20 years all of a sudden seemed more like 2 and things needed to just take on a slower pace. Then we woke up and smelt the burnout!!

Mid Summer 2014 we booked our flights to San Francisco leaving from London Heathrow the last week in September . Here’s a list of some of the reasons why we choose the USA.

In no particular order.

  1. With the exception of a stretch of Highway 10 in Saudi Arabia and Australia’s Eyre Highway the majority of long straight roads seem to be confined mainly to Canada and North America.
  2. A lot of the early inspiration behind some of Ian’s paintings came from his obsession with American TV shows and movies. The cars, and the long straight dusty roads, a means to an escape.
  3. We were told we “Needed to go” by customers, friends, an older lady flying a kite on a beach and a member of the 90’s band steps. Apparently it’s addictive and we would be doing a deal with the devil for the funds to make a return trip.
  4. When I was four or five years old I was a bus driver and started a regular route from the bottom of our stairs at home to ‘merica. Took my sisters doll along for the ride once, she got broken so I left her at a bus stop in LA.
  5. When I was 24 and pregnant with Lucie I ditched the bus driving and made a pact that when Lucie turned 16 we would travel the US on a Harley. Things didn’t quite pan out that way but when Lucie turned 24 she hired an RV and drove the east coast from New York to Key West. She dropped the RV in Miami after a month giving her two more months to explore the whole of the US. She had no real plans apart from telling us that she would see us somewhere on the West Coast mid to late October and “ You WILL be there!!”

Initially we were going for two weeks. This is what happened.

“So Ian give me a list of places you want to visit and I’ll see if I can fit them into some kind of roadtrip”

“Ahhhh, roadtrip”

“Ian”

“Sorry, can’t think of anywhere off the top of my head”

“Really !! here’s a piece of paper, when you think of somewhere just write it down”

“Trevor loves the Florida Keys”

“Ok” I explained“ He does but we’re flying into San Francisco”

“San Francisco, so we will be driving the Pacific Highway maybe down to LA and onto Route 66. We’ll have to do Monument Valley, and we’re going to be in the Country for Speed Week at Bonneville !! Ermmm New Orleans, Area 51, the Meteorite place, Nashville, Alabama, Georgia. Somewhere where we might be abducted by aliens ! Lets go storm chasing ! And we need to sit on a horse on that rock, wherever that is. Vegas ! We could get married” !!!

“Is that a proposal?”

“Yes, Welderup!! you know Sin City Motors, you can just drop in on those guys if they’re not filming. Hey what about where American Graffiti was filmed ? or Bullit ? Elvis?”

“Elvis?”

“Yeah would you want to see Elvis stuff?”

“Ian”

“Yeah?”

“We might need to add another week”

We sold our souls, some gold bullion and a large ornament that had been gathering dust on top of the wardrobe, rearranged our life and added another three weeks !

We broke the news to my parents, and after establishing that dad wouldn’t fit in the suitcase, he wanted the obligatory contact address and telephone number of where we would be staying. Something he asked of every family member when we are away for longer than a few days.

Conversation with him…………

Me “We’re not going to be in one place for longer than a couple of nights and we’ll be away for almost 6 weeks”

“Oh Bloody Hell”

“What about if we call you every couple of days and let you know where we are?”

“Oh no you don’t want to be doing that”
“Every Week ?”
“No you don’t want to be doing that cost a bloody fortune”
“ If you can get to a computer I could video call you?”

“No, bloody computers, it’ll be alright, you’re alright”

“What about facebook, we’ll put photo’s up of the places we are staying and you can check them out on people’s computers or phones at your leisure either with family or even down the pub?”
“Aye, that sounds your best bet, let’s do that”

So from there we religiously uploaded photos at the end of EVERY DAY of our trip! explaining where we were, and what we had been up to. Turns out dad couldn’t be doing with the “Bloody computers” so he didn’t see any of it!! What did happen though, strangely, we gained a kind of following through facebook. People here in the UK were waking up to our posts and pics and actually enjoying “Traveling” with us. The comments and likes increased as we moved from State to State, it was bizarre but amazing at the same time. People were suggesting we need to write some kind of blog when we got back, dad told me I should write a diary of our trip as a memory, I just laughed. This was almost three years ago, things have changed, dad is no longer with us, he sadly passed away in July of last year. He had his own hopes and dreams, a bucket list of places he wanted to visit. I’d like to think he’s on his own road trip now, without a care, able to travel freely without hindrance and in whichever way he chooses.

People still comment on old photos from then and ask when the blog will be ready, a magazine has asked for an article (Yeah I know weird) and Ian is constantly asking me to write something for the blog on his website to keep it “Alive”. I struggle to keep the coriander alive in a pot on the kitchen window sill!!
So after a lot of moaning, because that’s what I do , here it is almost three years too late

Alien abduction, California Dreaming and an Ice awakening.

We drove around 9000 miles in total in almost 6 weeks. Hundreds of miles of long straight roads.

The day before we flew out I became ill and slept through a lot of the Pacific Highway and Californian coast . What I did see wasn’t at all as I had imagined. Somehow I had visions of girls in hot pants, roller blades and beach volleyball but the few hundred miles from San Francisco to LA included some of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen, often deserted beaches with craggy rocks and beautifully rugged coast lines. Speed Week had been cancelled due to flooding which gave us some time to drive back up the Pacific highway at the end of our holiday, fully awake I was able to take in all of it’s glory then.

When I woke up properly for the first time we were heading inland toward the Nevada state line on the third or fourth day and had picked up a part of Route 66 heading for Barstow. The plan was at that time to head north to Wendover for The Salt Flats and Speed Week with a stop over in Beatty Death Valley for a couple of nights.  We pulled over at a gas station and I went into the store while Ian filled the tank , this was the first time I had noticed we were actually in a pretty cool car , gunmetal grey mustang with hardly any miles on the clock. Great guy at Avis had offered us an upgrade for an extra 2 dollars a day. We left the store with some sausage, potato salad, cold drinks, bread, wine, beer, cooked meats and a small fridge made of polystyrene!

This is what happened….. Beautiful older lady, possibly early seventies, long plaited hair , looked kind of native american.

“That’ll be $76.25cents, and ya’ll be needin some ice for ya cooler” She looked at Ian.

“Ice?”

“Ya’ll be findin it right out back there, ya got a 10 pound bag an’ a 15 pound bag”

Ian, whilst doing some weird hand signals similar to Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ asked
“How big is the 10 pound bag?”

Nice older lady, in a slow drawl.

“10 pounds”

Nice older lady then turned to me and held my gaze for a few seconds, no words were needed.

Back on the road and heading for Death Valley, night seemed to happen at the same time as the road signs gave up together with buildings, people, cars and street lights. It was 8.30pm and the outside temperature was 94 degrees, we pulled over and got out of the car. It was pitch black and the silence was like nothing I had experienced before, the air was hot and still. It was unbelievable and grounded is the best word I can think of to explain how I felt at that moment, grounded and wondering if the car would start up again and did we have any signal on the phone.

We set off again with the engine noise breaking the silence and a bright light appeared in the sky directly ahead of us, after a few minutes we noticed the outside temperature had dropped dramatically and the car seemed to be struggling, loosing power. Five minutes along and the light was getting brighter, It was still directly ahead, I turned to Ian
“You should be careful what you wish for”

He knew exactly what I was saying, we were going to be abducted by aliens!!

The temperature outside had dropped from 94 to 78 degrees and the light in the sky was getting brighter. Another five minutes and we were wondering if we should stop? and then what, just give ourselves up? The light shifted, the temperature dropped to 63 degrees and the car seemed to have picked up a noise, and it was getting louder, the light had dropped and was somehow casting shadows on the road, it was dazzling, in our faces and then it passed by the side of us and was gone. The light and noise now belonged only to the Mustang and the back lights of the other car disappeared into the distance in the opposite direction.

We had been on the longest straight road we had probably ever travelled, we had been climbing for some time and were completely clueless!! we had a fridge, a 10 pound bag of ice, were half way up a mountain and it was cold. The appearance of a road sign told us how many feet above sea level we were and to beware of falling rocks 4 times the size of your car! I also wondered if the appearance of a road sign meant the re appearance of buildings and people.

I had booked 2 nights at the Atomic Inn in Beatty and that’s where we met the owner Chris, a musician from Texas. We fell in love with Death Valley, Beatty and Chris. After the second night I asked him if we could possibly book one more night, he didn’t answer immediately just gazed at me like the nice older 10 pound bag of ice lady.
“You know if you book another night you’ll never go home”
Now even though I had become very fond of Chris in that short time, I wasn’t sure at this moment if this was some kind of a threat. He continued…..
“I came here from Texas to visit my sister in 2006, only supposed to stay a couple of nights an’ well here I am, it happens all the time, this place has something special”

The initial idea had just been to use the quirky inn as a stop over, I hadn’t done any research on the area, the word Death had distracted me from the next word so I was surprised to find Beatty is quite elevated the most populated area being 3,307 ft above sea level in comparison to Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park which is the second lowest point in the Western hemisphere at 282ft below sea level, and it’s hot down there!

Ian below sea level


Beatty has a population of 1010 people, it’s simple and unassuming and when you pull up in your car on one of the many areas of wasteland to check out a whole range of disused vehicles and farm machinery people appear from nowhere, are very accommodating, and everything is for sale.

 

It was late by the time we had checked in on the first night and we asked Chris if there was anywhere we could grab something to eat.
“Yeah, just there over the road at the Sourdough Saloon it’s my sister’s place”

“Great what time does she close?”

“Whenever you leave, if that’s 4 in the morning then so be it”

The Sourdough Saloon & The Jail House
I urge you click on this photo for a closer look at the Jail House

We found the whole of Beatty to be just as laid back as Chris, and right then I was ready to move in with either him or his sister but with Route 95 passing through the centre you couldn’t help but notice the almost continuous stream of RV’s heading in both directions, just passing through kicking up dust, and I needed to find out where they were heading.

On the first morning we sat at a window seat in Mel’s Diner eating Steak for Breakfast! together with pancakes, eggs, bacon and biscuits with gravy!! we were served by what looked very much like the sister of the 10 pound bag of ice lady , and we watched the trucks and the travel trailers just rolling on by.

I noticed a couple of real hardcore bikers eating at the other side of the diner. The type you see in American movies. I had to go and speak to them. Now we had been told that most Americans love an English accent, that it may be mistaken for Australian but they will hold a conversation just to listen to you speak. I was looking forward to this but from the outset, with a few exceptions, nobody had a clue what I was saying and the more I tried to be understood the more I started to sound like the posh English girl that dated Ross in the TV series Friends! These guys were no exception, but they were great and again very accommodating. They were from Vegas and regularly travel the 120 miles just to have breakfast at the diner, they gave us tips on places to visit locally and directions on how to get there using Whore houses as landmarks!

I’m not quite sure who looks the most scared

Death Valley is the largest U.S. National Park outside Alaska at 3.4 million acres and Straddles the border of California and Nevada. Drought and record summer heat, rare rainstorms and winter snow make it a land of extremes.

What struck me was the amazing formations of rock and the incredible rainbow of colour which spans through them apparently formed “when volcanic rocks deep underground interacted with hydrothermal systems to form concentrated mineral deposits” Don’t hold me to that though.

Ian at ‘Artist Drive’ Death Valley

 

Pull over and park anywhere in Death Valley and if you’re alone the silence will possibly be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. That together with the vast open spaces just blew my mind.

On the first day we drove a large loop, three roads if I remember that joined to take us back to where we had started. The first time we had driven a long straight road in daylight and we broke the silence after an hour or so in the form of Deep Purple blasting from the car stereo, the beginning of ‘Child in Time’ synchronized perfectly with the start of the straight and ended as we took a left hand bend pulling over onto a patch of wasteland. We realised we hadn’t spoken for about ten minutes, the sun was going down and the sky was a fantastic blend of purples, dark and light strangely similar to the ‘Deepest Purple’ album cover. An almost heavenly spotlight shed a suitably spooky light on quite an eerily majestic piece of Spanish looking architecture, it felt like the middle of nowhere . We discovered later that the building we were looking at was actually The Amargosa Opera House, because of the lack of cars and people we assumed it was a derelict building. It is actually a fully functioning motel with the most fantastic history. Ian turned off the engine of the car and we both breathed out and swore.

Amargosa Opera House

On our last day in Beatty and Death Valley we said goodbye to Chris and a few of the locals who we had met during our stay came to wave us off from his front porch. As we drove away I remember feeling as if I was saying goodbye to old friends and knowing I will definitely visit Beatty again probably book in for four nights and take it from there.

Me and Chris

It was around this time that we had discovered through facebook the extent of the flooding on the Salt Flats, the poor guys who were already parked up on the Salt in their RV’s, Trucks & Trailers etc slowly sinking, and the announcement that the event had been cancelled. Once we had processed, understood and accepted the enormity of what that meant, not just for us but for so many others, we checked the map and decided to head south-east and take the 95 to Vegas. We thought we would do a last tour of Beatty and stopped off at an antique store we had somehow missed previously. We met a girl named Christie.


Christie was really helpful and very chatty she asked where we were heading and we told her we were on our way to Vegas. We didn’t have any plans when we got there and hadn’t booked accommodation. She told us she had lived a couple of years in tunnels under the Strip. She said things had gotten out of hand “Folks used to look out for each other” . She had left 6 months earlier and was now living in a purpose built shelter 65 miles west of Vegas in Pahrump, she said she felt safe and she was happy. I don’t know if we looked a little bit worse for wear that day but she suggested we stay away from taking refuge for the night in the tunnels under the strip and offered us a safe place in the shelter in Pahrump. 
I could have listened to her stories for hours, we left Beatty 3 hours later taking the 95 to Vegas our next port of call but things didn’t quite go how we had expected ……….

 

You’ll find Part 2, ‘Death Valley to Vegas with Alien Seduction‘ here:

Part 2 – Alien Seduction

 

 

5 thoughts on “American Road Trip part 1 – 6 Weeks in the Life of the Artist”

  1. Loved this Mandy well done !!!!! Feel like we are there with you and some ideas when I manage to get Steve there (ONE DAY 🙂 I hope) xxxx

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