American Road Trip part 5 – Six Weeks in the Life of the Artist

Aircraft Beware! and a Lot of Hot Air – by Mandy.

Being our first trip to the USA we were curious about so many things, bombarding friends or friends of friends who had travelled there before with so many questions.

“So what’s the deal with the highways and all those lanes?” more often than not the reply was:

“Ahh just drive where ever you like, same as in the films really, you can just snake in and out, I think it’s out of boredom because of the length of the roads out there”

Nobody told us you can exit from both sides of a highway! In built up areas leaving from the left means keeping left on a two lane exit, same for the right. “Ahh so it all makes sense now.”

Ian did try swerving from lane to lane because in his mind one of the reasons we were in the US was to become part of a 70’s movie from beginning to end, and that involved car chases, picking up hitchhikers in tiny shorts, and running into trouble at every pit stop.

“Ian”

“Yeah”

“What do you think speed enforced by aircraft means?”

We were driving south on US 550 after leaving Arizona into New Mexico.

“Where did you see that?”

“On a sign, further back”

We looked at each other, leaned forward to check out the sky in front then opened the side windows just to make sure we hadn’t been allocated our very own aircraft which had taken its place directly above us.

“Enforced?  Wouldn’t that imply that you’re not actually in control of your speed somehow? Put your foot down I want to see what happens”

30mph over the speed limit and nothing happened, the road was empty of cars, and as far as we could see there were no airplanes brandishing state of the art laser beams of mass control. Ian slowed down.

I’m sure we wouldn’t have been having the conversation, but right then on that part of desert road there wasn’t much to see. The red hue of the Arizona desert had turned to grey and it looked like rain.

There had instantly been a different vibe on entering New Mexico, the Spanish feel was overwhelming evident. Not Spain by sea where you eat your under enthusiastic paella and watch Sky TV in the bar, but the bits you get lost in on dull days when you decide to make use of your hire car and just drive for miles eventually seeing nothing and going nowhere at all.

I was enjoying the reality of it though for the moment, from what I’d seen so far the area wasn’t a place frequented by tourists, maybe in the mountains there were hidden treasures, historic wonders but we weren’t going to see them this time we were on a mission. Albuquerque bound and Route 66, museums and such weren’t going to lend themselves to a possible Dirty Mary Crazy Larry ending.

I had booked two nights at the Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post on Route 66. It sits on a high desert Mesa overlooking Albuquerque. We would be staying in a 1959 Spartan Trailer named ‘Flossie’.

“Hey Ian”

“Yeah”

“What’s the date? I think we could possibly be a day or two too early to turn up at the RV park”

The cancellation of Speed Week was still throwing us out of sync.

After establishing that we were in fact two days early to check in and only 120 miles from our destination we decided to stop at the next town and stay over a couple of nights

“Hey there is a place around 80 miles north of Albuquerque called Cuba. Since heading east the days seemed to be getting cooler, especially travelling some of the mountain roads.

We headed for Cuba hoping for sunshine, cocktails, possibly a pool, Luis Ernesto would roll us a fine cigar and play music that would just make us want to Salsa.

It was getting dark when we pulled up outside the motel, and it was cold. Being British and of that mentality these type of conversations would run through my mind.

“Hello do you have a room available?”

“Have you booked?”

“No Sorry we ha…..”

“Do you have your passports?”

On showing passports “We don’t have a free room but can you work every other day until the end of your stay? Your only other option is the Ramsden’s, they’ll take you in but they’re a good three hour drive”

“Say we did work every other day, where would we stay if you have no rooms”

“With Jesse”

“Who’s Jesse?”

“He stopped here one night looking for a room too in 1974”

Of course nothing like that ever happened. With the exception of the large cities most Motels will have space and at a very reasonable price too. In privately owned rural places you may find yourself directed towards someone’s sitting room standing behind a barrier interrupting the latest repeat of T J Hooker.

In Arizona we had stood for a good ten minutes behind a sofa, the guy had acknowledged we were there and were wanting a room. He sat with his back to us, hand in the air pointing at the ceiling until the interval of his programme. We have never been checked into any one place so quickly!

This place turned out to be a lovely motel, really friendly folks and an actual reception area. Although it didn’t seem to be a major stopover for travellers it is the gateway to the Santa Fe National Forest and the Jemez mountain trail.

We walked just a few hundred yards to the nearest restaurant and on entering it became quite clear that some serious hunting shooting fishing went on there. Real men in real hunting gear, elk seemed to be the talk of the day. The place was dimly lit, dark wood decor and heads poked out of walls at every angle. We spoke to a guy named James who offered to take us horse camping, his passion and his business but he was no salesman. I did however hang on his every word. He lived and breathed the wild outdoors, rivers, meadows and mountains. This was a world away from where we were heading, it felt real, these were real people, generations of families living in the same area. Apparently Native Americans have occupied the area for centuries and you can kind of feel it. Spanish settlers arrived in the 1700’s.

It rained for most of our stay, the first day we decided to take one of those drives, the ones I spoke about earlier. We drove back up the 550 and decided to turn right when we thought it felt the right thing to do. The idea was to do a huge loop back to the motel, we drove over 150 miles through forests and sparsely occupied towns, tiny single story wooden houses scattered across areas of barren land. Wooden extensions that looked makeshift and had been added over time possibly coinciding with the birth of another child maybe. No visible boundaries, an array of vehicles that had served their time, parked up in order of when they made their final journey, and dogs, lots of dogs.

 

At one point we realised we were going way out of our way and decided to double back causing us to make a sharp turn to the right in quite a populated town. We were met immediately by a barrier crossing and a man in military clothing with a gun. He asked us where we were going, we explained we didn’t really know, but we knew where we wanted to be and were looking for the quickest way there. We were eventually let through with no explanation as to why we were told to stick to certain roads and not leave the car. We were back in the forest, most of which was behind thick high barbed wire, we saw deer still and staring, if only they could talk.

Another day and back on the road. The sun came out but there was still a chill in the air. Today’s CD the Eagles “One of these nights”.

80 miles from Albuquerque. “Hey look, Route 66 Pizza”

After a few more miles Route 66 Gas, Route 66 Coffee, Soda, Laundry, Beef Jerky.

Albuquerque has the longest stretch of Route 66 in an urban area but we weren’t going to get to travel it on this occasion. The Mustang had driven like a dream since picking it up in San Francisco but right now lost and confused we found ourselves stuck in congested traffic on a street that seemed to go on forever and a car that wouldn’t idle. It was really fast or stop, and the conditions on the road didn’t lend themselves to either. I don’t know who was looking after us that day, I closed my eyes through most of it as Ian sped from stationary as if he was hoping for a personal best on the quarter mile, a chirp from the tyres and a race up through the gears to the next set of lights. It was after quite a few miles we realized we were heading east, the plan was to go west. Turning around in a diner car park we went through the whole thing just one more time It didn’t cross our minds to contact the hire company, even with the Eagles “Take it to the limit” one more time blasting from the speakers. We decided to stay away from that part of Albuquerque for the rest of our stay.

Leaving the city behind we eventually arrived at Enchanted Trails RV park. Route 66, the land of reinvention. Some did it well, with others it was plain to see a kind of desperation. For me it was a place like nowhere else, the history was there, not always visible to see but again I could feel it in parts, how could you not feel it 2451 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, crossing 8 states and 3 time zones over 6 decades. Built in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985 all for a faster more convenient way of life. The length of Route 66 we would be driving that ‘convenience’ was in the form of the I 40 highway. We were heading west from Albuquerque to Barstow.

We didn’t arrive at this quirky stop-over in the best of moods, but this place just made me smile. We parked up next to a flat roofed adobe style building, constructed in the late 40’s apparently and altered many times as a means to attract passersby on Route 66

“Ian there’s a bear by the door”

“Yeah and is that a donkey over there?”

A real reception area within a shop packed with Route 66 memorabilia, books, crafts, Native American jewellery. A Laundry 1950’s style with a wringer, TV room, Games room, a swimming pool. We were greeted by Vicki Ashcroft, the owner, who instantly gave us a brief history of the place. Originally known as the Hilltop Trading Post but converted into a campground in the early 1970’s. The vast collections of memorabilia throughout the building honour a bygone time and it’s plain to see that Vicki is very proud of her heritage. The furniture is 1950’s vintage with its aim to take you right back to the Heyday of cross country travel. Flossie did just that, almost 50ft of gleaming aluminium she sat amongst a collection of around eight other vintage trailers, a 1947 Hudson super six and a fine collection of pink flamingos.

After checking out our home for the next few days and unpacking some essentials we decided to take a look around.

  

On our return….

“Ian the door’s open, I’m sure we closed it”

“We did”

“There’s someone wandering around inside the caravan”

“Ok you distract them and I’ll hit them good and hard across the back of the head with a flamingo”

“You go first”

“No you go, you’re distracting them I’m hitting them to the ground and putting them in a headlock”

“Ian, this is the 1950’s, you’re being too Starsky and Hutch”

Before we knew it we were inside, a middle age man was sat on our chair at our dining table reading a book with a map opened up next to it.

“Hey Honey it’s 163 miles to the Arizona border and around 90 miles of drivable 66”

Honey? Who, where was Honey? Why hadn’t this guy seen us? What was he doing in our caravan?

“Oh golly you should see these quaint little trinkets in here”

Ok we had located Honey she was in our bedroom.

“It say’s Route 66 in New Mexico is all about making choices , and following short loop drives, looks like we are going to be on the freeway for some miles”

“They have an old bath tub, oh this is just so fine”

Why hadn’t this guy seen us? Honey appeared from the bathroom with my hairbrush and makeup bag.

“Someone has left these behind”

Mr Honey looked up and all our eyes met at once, it was Mrs Honey who spoke first.

“Oh hi, isn’t this place just the best, Vicki has such a gift, such an eye for detail”

Ok let’s just forget gifts and detailed eyes for a minute, she had her hands wrapped around my roadtrip survival kit in a way that suggested she had claimed them for her own. Panic and paranoia had set in and on quickly checking out Ian I noticed he hadn’t brought the bloody flamingo.

“They’re mine, thank you” This was not spoken like a genuine thank but more like one you would say to a small child whilst trying to prise your new shoes out of his mouth. Why was I saying thank you. I held out my hands to retrieve my precious things.

Honey introduced herself as Gina, Mr Honey was Mike. Mike seemed polite initially but obviously massively distracted by the book and the map.

“You heading east or west?” he asked, not really looking up from the book.

“We’re heading west, just as far as Barstow though then up to Bakersfield for the Hot Rod Reunion”

“Ahh, I’d always recommend east to west, that’s the way it was back then” Still looking down, “You know there’s a misunderstanding that Route 66 is only drivable in small segments these days, but 85% of the original 2500 miles is still there for your driving pleasure, saying pleasure it depends what your driving, some parts can be almost impassable, you’d need something sturdy with good ground clearance, so what you driving Ian ?”

“A Mustang”

Mike looked Ian in the eyes, unimpressed.

“Haha, so you’ll be staying away from the unpaved roads then”

This wasn’t a question, and from that point on a challenge had been set.

I was going to be nice and kindly explain to Gina and the honey monster that they were in our accommodation, have a joke about the misunderstanding and leave it at that but he was becoming more and more obnoxious, and condescending. They were overstaying their visit he was working out his route from our caravan to the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. 805 miles via the I 40. So how many Route 66 miles? Exit where? Rejoin the I 40 after how many miles? We were hearing all about it. Head down.

So would you guys like to stay for dinner? I could cook a pot roast or maybe something typically Mexican, we’ll pop out I’ll buy some wine. You could have a bath, Gina you’ve seen the bath. I’ll run it for you. Stay the night, have our bed, what the hell stay for the rest of your holiday, was what I wanted to say. Instead I headed over to the fridge and took out some beer which hadn’t had the time to chill.

“Would you guys like to stay for a drink?”

I have never seen anyone go from nought to distraught so quickly in all my life. I immediately felt awful and wanted to back track. Gina was devastated and so overly apologetic. The honey monster was in Kingman heading for Oatman. Gina informed us that he likes to read and she spends a lot of time looking at the top of his head.

“This beer’s warm” Monster Mike exclaimed to the map on the table.

Ok Gina you can stay, this man is an idiot how do you live with him? Mike OUT! Of course I didn’t verbalize that either. They didn’t leave for another half an hour, Ian decided to get stuck in with Mike and his map, turns out a lot of the information he was sharing was really interesting and possibly very useful. The book was the EZ Guide to Route 66. Mike told us we needed one, hinting strongly that we would be near on useless without it. We bought the book the next day from the site shop and flicked through it. We could see in some ways it could be a god send but for us it had the capabilities of turning us into Neurotic Route 66 pathological maniacs, panicking at every wrong turn, or was it a wrong turn? “Is this Route 66? I haven’t seen a sign, or anything that would indicate we are on Route 66” Once we were in possession of the book, all of a sudden every inch of rubber had to touch down on every possible inch of drivable Route 66. Once in a lifetime, once in a lifetime, once in a lifetime…

Once we had calmed down and read on we concluded that Route 66, as it is now, partly because of all the realignments over the years, is your own personal journey of memories, possible wrong turns, detours and challenging alternative routes, word is if you tried to do the same route twice you probably wouldn’t be able to. I can’t think about that too much because it becomes too much of a challenge.

With so much Route 66 talk we were buzzing and ready to hit the road, but we still had a couple of days in Albuquerque and on checking out what was going on in the area we headed off to “The Biggest Hot Air Balloon Fiesta In The World” The whole feel around the enchanted trails park was warm, friendly and laid back. People chatted and we picked up a wealth of information about the local area, but I had a recurring question about the Balloon Fiesta which to me seemed fair and understandable.

“So what happens once the hundreds of balloons have ascended and disappeared off into the distance, is there entertainment on the ground, what do people get up to?”

Answers came in the way of changing the subject “Have you checked out old town?”

So we ventured off and paid $20 each, the venue was huge, the car parks were almost empty, and the balloons had flown off to return around 6pm. There were stalls on the ground selling Native American crafts, a lot of exceptional chain saw carving, Burritos, Tacos, Enchiladas. The Fiesta is on for 8 days and apparently we had picked a quiet day. We spoke to a young guy called Ethan he was with a group of friends and was something to do with the organising. Ian discussed art with him. Ethan told us to return later around 6 o’clock, he said he would meet us at the gate. There was going to be fireworks, music and a light show from the balloons on the ground. Sounded great.

“I gotta leave now” says Ethan “ You may as well leave now too and return later, see you around six, I’m off to court, see you later, haha or not depends how that goes!”

Needless to say we didn’t go back, instead we asked Vicki about the closest place to eat out of the city. She sent us up Route 66 to The Route 66 Casino. I considered how many Route 66 diners etc there must have been along its 2500 miles in its heyday. Was this the only Route 66 Casino? Neither of us had ever ventured into a Casino and what we imagined turned into something completely different…

to be continued …

If you missed the beginning here’s Part 1, ‘California Dreaming’ :

Part 1 – California Dreaming

 

 

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