I never set out to be an artist, I’d never taken myself seriously enough to know really what I was doing or why and to be honest the art world and art galleries kind of scared me. I was just compelled to draw, an impression in my own mind of the finished piece wasn’t what drove me forward it was more a feeling or an emotion that I needed to express, confidence was something that evaded me.
Moving on quite a few decades and wondering how I had got to
this point without real plans or direction I’m realising more and more that it’s
the love and appreciation of my work that is the very catalyst of everything
that I am and for that I will be eternally grateful. There is a certain
vulnerability to this too which feeds my adrenalin, you guys have the power to
make or break me, the decision is in your hands and you are always surprising
A couple of years ago whilst we were trading at one of the
more arty shows I was approached and asked if I would be interested in selling
my used palette! My disposable palette? After some confusion on my part I signed
and exchanged my used castoff for cash and wondered what the hell had just
A year later and in the lead up to the same show, I realised because of my commission work load that I didn’t have any original paintings to display and then remembered the palette. So I began to play with the idea of rendering a vehicle in oils onto a used palette knowing that I would have to loosen my style and colour combinations to compliment this abstract background squelch of tones and hues that lay before me.
For me this was a huge ask. I am obsessively a stickler for detail, often far beyond need or want, never happy with a finished piece and I was now challenging myself to be, for want of a better word, messy. The clock was ticking as I sent myself down a road to which the consequences could not only have been messy but there was the distinct possibility of an explosion of emotions leading to self destruction. I console myself sometimes about my strange behaviour by thinking back to the day a very wise older lady turned to me and said “You’re allowed to, you’re an artist”. This was the excuse I was using now for my change of style and possible reaction to comments such as “What the hell were you thinking”…
This Palette Painting sold on its first showing along with such comments as :
“I think I prefer these to your normal paintings”
“These are much more arty”
“I love the idea of owning an actual physical piece of the artist’s creative process”
The question that I have tried to push to the back of my
mind now however is, has my obsessive attention to detail previously been
influencing my customers’ choices with regards commissioned work? I’ll leave
that there for now. The art lover who took it upon himself to ask to purchase
that first palette I’m sure doesn’t realise how that action and his kind words
activated a shift in my thinking, helping to change my perception of how I work
and within reason how I deal with my life/work balance. I really enjoy the
looseness of these paintings, the freedom to experiment and explore.
A year on and I have a growing list of new commissions for these strange paintings that manifest from ready and waiting incidental background splashes of oil paint that hold within them the mystery of previous creations. And the attitude of the customer has changed too.
“We’ll just leave it to you” and “You’re the artist, you just go with the flow”
I will always love creating a ‘story’ with my more detailed paintings but the freedom of movement I have with these new sporadic palette paintings is strangely empowering, encouraging me to take risks and venture to places that have previously been my own private guilty artistic pleasure. The best thing of all is that it’s ok, you said, and anyway, I’m allowed, I’m an artist! …
And here’s my latest, they both sold quickly after writing this. I’d be interested in what you think but I’m not fully liberated yet, so be gentle …
Our last morning in Holbrook and we decided to hold back on the free breakfast thrown our way by the mute waitress. We were back on the road heading for Winslow Arizona, the morning sun had already warmed the inside of the car and awoken the now wonderfully familiar aroma of polystyrene and shoes.
Ian’s fascination with Route 66 goes right back to when he was a kid. The old roadside stops would become part of a self-made fantasy, a place where he would escape in his mind from what was far from a happy childhood. He was, I believe, born with a gift, that gift was to create, and his life panned out in such a way that he could incorporate this gift into his sadness and it became a kind of therapy for him, a means to an escape. He could later lift all the stored images from his mind and recreate onto paper or canvas, all the while disappearing into the fantasy. Images of his regular “Haunts” along Route 66 were stored, fantastically detailed in the archives and chasms of Ian’s wonderfully complicated brain. Buried deep, where suppressed emotions lurk. He neither wanted nor needed to know exactly where on Route 66 these places were.
“Too much information and it can steal the fantasy” he would say. Possibly undoing a whole mountain of self-help sessions and disturbing feelings he thought he had put to rest years before, I would think.
We were about to find out. Continuing west on this part of the journey we had to resort to the I- 40 for some of the way. Between Holbrook and Winslow there is one accessible segment of Route 66 between exits 277 and 269 Certain exits however allowed you to stop off and see The Geronimo, Jack Rabbit and Twin Arrows Trading Posts at 7,18 and 68 miles respectively. I was so happy to be back on the road, not that I hadn’t enjoyed Holbrook, quite the opposite, but over the last few weeks it had become more and more obvious that, for us, it was more about the journey and not the destination.
Geronimo Trading Post lies just outside Holbrook and has its own exit. To lure you in from the freeway Teepees and Billboards advertise it as having the “World’s Largest Petrified Log” . Established in 1967 surviving into the modern era, I knew it was one of Ian’s ‘Special Places’, and I was interested to see if he would pull off the Interstate at junction 288 to just soak up some of its story. He drove on by.
“I wonder how big the log is?”
“I wonder how long it’s been there?”
Another 12 miles further down the road was the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. Established in 1949 the simplistic roadside promotion of yellow signs still exists. “Here it is” in large red letters to the right of a black silhouette of a long-eared rabbit. Here what is ? Of course those in the know, including Ian, knew that the sign referred to a large fibreglass rabbit which can be mounted for photos. With the addition of a little artistic license the Jack Rabbit trading post had been the backdrop for so many of Ian’s paintings.
“Is that it?” Ian exclaimed as we pulled up to the side of the large rabbit.
“What did you expect?”
“Something much bigger”
“You can sit on it for photos, how would you get up there if it was huge” I enquired
“A ladder? Purpose built platform, trampoline, kangaroo?”
“Kangaroos aren’t easy to mount”
“Ahh it depends”
“Whether you are a qualified and confident Kangaroo whisperer”
Parking up, Ian took photos regardless of his disappointment.
“Do you want to look around ?” I asked
“No not really, what about you?”
“No I don’t think so”
Without really discussing it it became clear that we were both itching to get onto that long continuous stretch of Route 66 after Seligman Arizona, apparently 158 miles ending in Topock . From Seligman Route 66 moves well away from the interstate, with the exception of Kingman where it offers a kiss and a diss to the highway before teasing its way up the mountain road to Oatman. Checking out our map though it was still around 150 broken miles to Seligman.
Winslow Arizona was our next distraction and we were able to re join Route 66 a few miles east of the town. Up until the 1960’s Winslow had been the largest town in northern Arizona enjoying a prominent location on Route 66. The I-40 bypassed the community in the late seventies eventually forcing tourist based businesses to close their doors, and the main streets fell silent for almost 20 years
Some years later in a strange twist of fate Winslow embraced a rebirth, just one line from the Eagles song ‘Take it Easy’ written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey provided an opening to transform disaster into opportunity and resurrect the once thriving town and put it back on the map for tourists
♫ ♪ “Standin’ on the corner in Winslow Arizona,
Such a fine sight to see,
It’s a girl, my lord in a flat bed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me…………” ♪ ♫
Now on the main crossroads of Kinsley and Second Streets in Winslow the scene in set, an actual Ford flat bed truck is parked up on the street alongside a two storey mural, a complete mock up of the side of a building with a couple of large ‘Windows’ on the ground floor.. With this the truck on the street can be ‘Reflected’ in the ‘Glass’ on the mural and include the girl. Ingenious creative thinking!
I’m guessing that they didn’t get any takers when advertising for:
“ Pretty girl, preferably in her twenties, needed for photo opportunities. You must not only be confident in your capabilities to stare seductively from the driving seat of a stationary vehicle but more importantly you have to be an Eagles superfan , keeping up the same level of seduction whilst listening to continual repeats of the song ‘Take it Easy’ blasting from the nearby gift shop for the duration of your working day” .
Actually situated on the old mother road the crossroads has the biggest painted Route 66 shield on the road I had seen so far. The music helped set the mood for time enough to browse through 100s of commemorative donor bricks and eat ice cream whilst sitting on a bench on the opposite corner.
Cars were just rolling on by slowing down to check out the sounds and sights, as our eyes met there was always a wave or happy smile. Could this be the happiest crossroads in the country ? Most probably, just keep an eye on your watch, the continual loop of music could possibly have you questioning your sanity.
From insanity to beyond, a few miles west of Winslow is a Meteor Crater, the result of a collision 50,000 years ago between an asteroid travelling at 26,000 miles per hour and the earth, it’s almost a mile in radius and 550 ft deep. Could we drive past? Winslow had placed us back on the road in a kind of contented stupor, not needing or wanting anything, brain functioning at around 45% . The Meteor Crater would be asking for us to get all sciency and alert, were we ready ?
“Dream Catcher !” and at that Ian left the interstate into a cloud of dust and intrigue. The Meteor City Trading Post. Its ransacked remains an indication that trading probably ceased some time ago, as for ‘City’ ? A gimmick maybe to tease people off the interstate ? We were alone, the landscape flat and parched, outside temperature of 86 degrees.
The main building a, geodesic mo-hawked dome, was grabbing our attention, the graffiti, teepees and rubble were telling the story. Inside a ‘Marie Celeste’ of curiosity sent me straight for my phone and Google. The Trading Post opened for business in 1938 as a Service station, in 1941 it was given its present name by new owners, the signature dome being added in 1979, unfortunately burning to the ground in 1990 . The present , more fireproof, structure still stands today. During our visit certain observations were suggesting that the abandonment of this once thriving business was maybe more recent than we had originally assumed, investigation through Wikipedia confirmed it ended its life in December 2012. Nature had started work in all of its rawness claiming back the land, desert and fauna combined with broken glass, beads and jewellery creating a new kind of art. To the rear of the dome stood derelict mobile homes, undamaged colour family photographs were amongst the debris, evidence of happier times maybe? Or maybe not ? And then of course the dream catcher, once claimed to be the largest in the world. That together with supposedly the longest painted map of Route 66 displayed on an exterior wall must have been reason enough to pull off the highway. The wall no longer stands and the dreamcatcher has lost its title, however the reason behind why this place now stood as it did is a mystery to me.
The Ballinger Meteor Crater, museum and gift shop are around 6 miles south of the highway on a single road, I’m guessing purposely built for ease of access. On entry to the building I felt like a kid teleported from Disney straight back into school and at 18 dollars each for entry, maybe we were actually going to be transported back in time ? Over the last half hour high winds had picked up and the observation platforms were still open but venturing outside was at your own risk. All tour guides had decided to play it safe. A TV crew had found a sheltered area but were struggling with equipment whilst I clung to a telescope trying to make sense of the vastness of the hole, silent and desolate with the wisdom of age, the wisdom to stay calm whilst everything around you is going ape shit ! Apparently in 1968 NASA used it’s surface for the training of astronauts for walks on the moon, my telescope focused on the crater surface to reveal an Astronaut and what Ian was convinced to be a London Taxi , both excellent markers, helping provide a more realistic insight into the vastness of its space.
“Ian how many astronauts can you fit into a crater ?”
“Seventeen and then I’d get bored”
We headed back to the car and highway. Just a few miles took us to our last Trading post of the day ‘Twin Arrows’. The desert heat had been kicking out its best and we were rolling onwards and very soon upwards where the temperatures and landscape offered up a whole new feel.
Twin Arrows is just that, a couple of giant arrows penetrating the ground as if fired by ‘Chief Too Tall’ and his sidekick ‘Abnormally Large Hands’. What was once the Valentine Diner, Gas Station and Gift Shop are now boarded up, falling into decline, another victim of the interstate, finally being abandoned in 1995. The land is Navajo owned.
After discussing the size and relevance of the arrows we decided to move on. So what had I concluded after a morning spent with Ian visiting places which to that day had been his creative escape, a therapeutic canvas to bury his emotional pain. Well, he had questioned the size of the petrified log at the Geronimo Trading Post, been disappointed at how small the rabbit was at Jack Rabbits, and wondered how the points of the arrows have stayed in the ground for so long considering their size and angle to the ground. He was not traumatized or particularly happy. My conclusion, artists have special brains, I will never be an artist.
Ian stepped out to take a couple of photos and I reached for the map.
“ Shall we go south and visit Sedona” I asked as he got back into the car.
“ What and leave Route 66 ?” There was panic in his voice.
“ Yes, it’s 25 miles to Flagstaff and then we would leave on the 89a south to Sedona, it’s 50 miles in total so we would come back up to Route 66 and just carry on ?” spoken with what I thought was just the right balance of reassurance, persuasion and menacing seduction.
“ Yeah ?”
“Yeah” By the look on Ian’s face I needed to be more reassuring and my style of persuasion needed to move away from seductive.
“ It’ll be fine, it’s supposed to be beautiful, we don’t have to stay long”
Leaving the interstate at exit 204 we continued into Flagstaff leaving the heat of the desert behind with its wide open spaces and entered Canada, or so it seemed. Route 66 winds it way through a Ponderosa forest, roughly paved in places. The curve of the tarmac within the confines of the trees somehow allowed for a better understanding of the road, it was clear we were climbing in altitude. In the short time it had taken for us to reach Flagstaff I felt not only had I travelled through the seasons but day time had become night time in a matter of minutes making it not only dark and cold but we were also stuck in rush hour traffic. We didn’t see much of Flagstaff, in addition to the premature darkness, the rain clouds had burst their load transforming the thick covering of desert sand on the Mustang to mud. With wipers on, we followed the fuzzy red tail lights of the car in front out of town.
“What time is it” I asked
“ Half past five”
“ It shouldn’t be this dark”
Taking the road south to Sedona, visibility was at a minimum and we had strangely adapted to our new surroundings”
“ The sky looks brighter where we’re heading”
“ Maybe we should stop pull over until the rain clears, get some food or something?”
“ We could get the car washed maybe ?”
“No!! remember who you are, rebels of the road, you are neither hungry or needing to be clean!” The voice came from nowhere but we both heard it.
Can you remember that part of the Wizard of Oz , Dorothy’s little wooden house hurtles through the sky, crash landing, perfectly intact and timed to squash the life out of the wicked witch of the west? The scene unfolds, Dorothy questions her whereabouts and pallid surroundings then welcome Glinda the good witch of the north all calm and beautiful. Glinda switches on the colour and the mood lifts, dancing and hilarity ensue. An adaption of this unfolded over the next few minutes, with the exception of everything but the transformation from dull to a dazzling full Ozlandic rainbow of colour.
The sky had cleared, night time returned to daytime and we were descending through Ponderosa Pines on one of the most beautiful stretches of road I have travelled in my life! Flagstaff has an elevation of around 7000 ft, Sedona 4000. The 89a takes you down through Oak Creek Canyon so over 20 miles we would be making a descent of 3000 feet with some breathtaking hairpins bends and views over the canyon. I’m not sure if words can describe the extent of what your eyes are being offered. The rich reds of the canyon walls, dark greens of the pines, Aspens and Oaks giving it their best for Autumn.
Ian had pulled over and parked, we had no words. Walking to a point where we had a bird’s eye view of the road yet to be travelled we stood and stared, it could have been 5 minutes or 15.
Walking through pathways amongst wooden cabins we came across native Indian craftsmen set up and selling their art. In complete comparison to some of the kitsch we had encountered on Route 66 this area breathed a spiritual calm.
Descending further down into the Canyon we saw a sign for Slide Rock National Park, a natural water slide formed by the slippery bed of Oak Creek. Beautiful, brightly coloured houses lined the road at generously acceptable intervals. According to the Mustang the outside temperature had increased almost 20 degrees since Flagstaff and was now settled at a very pleasing 78 degrees. Those last few miles before Sedona were like a descension into therapy and luckily Ian was feeling it too.
“Shall we find somewhere to stay ?” He didn’t need to ask twice, we stayed three nights in total.
The 89a leads you directly into Sedona town, a desert town surrounded by deep red sandstone buttes that change shade at sunrise and sunset lending a warming glow. Pine forests also dominate the landscape amongst the steep canyon walls. Sedona offers convenience and culture spread out in a way that doesn’t interfere with the beauty of its surrounding, a sensory overload in parts. New age types believe Sedona is the centre of vortexes, powerful and transformational energy centres, intersections of electromagnetic earth energy attracting spiritual types, healers and artists…
On reflection and knowing what I know now I would replay those 3 days in Sedona and make a few changes because somehow those sandstone buttes practiced some kind of witchery on our burnt out Route 66 shoulders, they muttered “Relax” and we slept. We slept on the terrace, by the pool, in the jacuzzi and under the stars. Our motel was an old single storey bleached terracotta building with a low roof, friendly service offering just 15 rooms, and a simple breakfast. It was a complete surprise to us the next morning when we ventured around the back to find a beautiful kidney shaped pool area, sunken jacuzzi and a huge built in barbecue and fire pit with the same bleached terracotta finish as the main building. The temperature that morning was 82 degrees the sky was empty and so was the pool.
“Can you float without sinking? I asked Ian
“ Do you mean, is it possible to float without sinking or do you mean me in particular?”
“ No you”
“ Don’t know I’ve never tried”
“ I can teach you if you want”
We both knew what this really meant
“ Let’s stay here all day drink beer and eat snacks, I’ll pretend to teach you how to float, you’ll drown a couple of times, then get the hang of it and stay there for the rest of the day. I’ll practice sunbathing, overheating then cooling off in the pool until I get the hang of that and we’ll end the day watching repeats of TJ hooker and eating pizza” Which was exactly what we did with the exception of the pizza. We ate sushi from Safeways instead.
Day two in the terracotta house.
“Diamond tours, or something. I think they’re pink. Supposed to be the best or that’s what Pete said” I was remembering conversations with friends prior to our trip.
“The Jeeps, yeah I remember him saying something about Pink Jeep tours in Sedona”
“He called it a white knuckle ride, why are they pink then do you think?”
So later we headed into town to find Mad Max in his flamingo coloured jeep. Sedona town is a wonderful combination of culture, art and cultural artistic tat for those who can’t get to grips with the former. From a street view however it manages to retain its grace and charm throughout.
Finding Mad Max however was proving to be more difficult than we thought. Most shop windows were offering a “Tour special” each more exhilarating, challenging, stunningly beautiful than the next. The deciding factor for us was price, and just as we had settled on the tour of all tours like no tour you have been on before or will again, I spotted it across the street, a flash of pink in a window. We were there, Pink Mad Max was ours and they were offering him for free ? Diamond back, white knuckle style. So what was the catch ?
“Hi, I can see in the window you’re offering a two hour pink jeep tour at no cost, is there a catch to this ?”
What came next was a long drawn out sales pitch, happy smiley style.
“ A beautiful resort, blah blah blah, holiday, no obligation, friendly, no obligation, breakfast, confidential, no obligation, just an hour of your time”
I think we may have walked through a cloud of special dust as we entered the shop because the next day at 8am we pulled up and parked outside a Holiday resort, our designated representative for our time there was “Craig”. Craig was going to try and sell us timeshare for a free ride in a jeep! Craig had the exterior of an over excited kitten, the concerned demeanor of the pope, and a darkness underneath his outer layers that suggested false motives, deception, game playing and greed. You could see it in his eyes when he realised you weren’t falling for his feline type charm.
The Timeshares we were shown were nice, there was no breakfast as promised and we were part of a group of around 20 people. All just wanting a ride in a jeep? I wasn’t sure right then.
The lengths that these guys were going to to get us to sign on the dotted line were incredible. We had been taken to a pleasant but dimly lit room on the first floor, each couple, family etc were allocated their own table and work began to disconnect the logic from any part of our brain that deals with decision making. It was a finely tuned practice, fast paced and so very “Sincere”. My eyes scanned the room, so many people were already signing away, page upon page of unread literature and small print. It had only been 15 minutes. I couldn’t look at Craig, who had placed himself directly opposite the both of us. If the situation hadn’t been as it was I would have identified his look as seduction in its wildest most desperate form.
I found myself laughing out loud, the sound travelled like a lightning bolt across the room, bouncing off the walls and hitting Craig in the back of the head.
“Oh my we’re having some fun over here aren’t we. My name is Michael, am I right in thinking you are from way over the water in the UK ?”
“Yes we are”
“ Where do you call home?”
“A small village in Herefordshire”
“ Oh my gaaaad ! I have friends in Chel- Tan- Ham, I just got back from there. What a beautiful place, lovely to meet you, what a coincidence! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaa !!”
Craig left the table, to go to the toilet? Get a glass of water? No, Craig had just written us off, he didn’t come back.
Michael continued by steering his way through a monotony of ludicrously constructed anecdotes relating to his superbly hilarious visit to Chel-Tan-Ham just a few weeks before.
“Did you stay with your friends in their house in Cheltenham ?” I asked
“ Yes wonderful place ………….”
“We have timeshare too in the UK”
Michael turned our attention back to the paperwork, he was asking $11,000 from us right then without giving us the hard facts or any thinking time.
“Say I reduced the payment to say, $10,000, including free flights?”…….
“Ok what about $9000, free flights and a free holiday?” He was desperate
“We just need time to check out the paperwork” Meaning just let us out, this is getting extremely creepy and uncomfortable.
“$8000 my final offer?”
“ Sorry no, we’re really only here so we can get a free jeep tour”
“I can offer you a small private room to discuss things”
“$8000 final offer, I’ll throw in the free flights”
“We’d like to leave please it’s been almost three hours”
“$8000, the flights the holiday and we can go down to the restaurant, a larger room and you can sign down there”
“ Next time you’re in Cheltenham at your friend’s place look us up, we’ll talk about it then”
“Come on come on down to the restaurant”
“I’m going to throw up”
Michael shuffled his workload and left the table, we were escorted out of the building down an industrial looking back staircase by a man in a grey shorts and shiny shoes. There were no words.
Later on that day at our allotted time we made our way back to the jeep tour office. Checked in at the desk, their computer confirmed that yes we had indeed been down to time share towers, subjected to a masquerade of scrumptiously misleading persuasion tactics and now in some kind of Derren Brown witchery we were separated from the small crowd of people waiting for their tour and ushered up between two buildings into a large car park.
Our tour guides were waiting.
At the top end of the car park ,
Line 1. These were I’m sure the people who had paid a good price for their ticket, and hadn’t haggled for a discount . They probably smelt nice, wore good shoes, and were devilishly undevilish.
Line 2. These scoundrels had probably haggled for a discount and been offered a pre tour party at Persuasion Manor then signed away their dignity, sanity, and retirement plan.
Line 3. Was us. Just curious and always liking a bargain but signing up for nothing.
We all got what we ‘Paid’ for, and as the guides shouted out names for the tours and each group made their way to their jeep I started to notice the conflicting styles of our tour leaders.
Line 1. Genuinely sincere and courteous, informative and respectful.
Line 2. Don’t mention the money, keep talking about any old crap as a distraction.
Line 3. “ Anyone seen Jessie, been missing since the last tour, I’ve got her hearing aid and medication. Hey don’t sit on my last toke!”
Our guide was “Mett” or Matt, he was Australian or South African I couldn’t tell. I had wondered what sin the family of three, mum and dad and young boy had committed to be assigned to Matt.
They were Canadian and soon it became quite clear why little Damian was riding on the wild side, the plan was to tip him over the edge to wherever Jessie was hanging out.
He had the manners and appetite of Augustus Gloop and he knew just about everything.
Matt turned out to be pretty cool, but no tour guide. Full of interesting facts, nothing in the slightest way connected to Sedona or surrounding areas. He insisted I travel up front with him and we became a part of the Crazy Hen Tour. The ride is extremely bumpy, the terrain is rough, the conversation was unconnected but you cannot distract from the impact of the visuals on your senses, mind, body and soul. It just grabs you no matter what you are being forced to listen to “This is where a Chinese guy lost his camera, I saw a dog eating a coyote, I snook around the back of that rock with an aging French hippy”. Maybe this explains why Jessie ripped her hearing aids out and didn’t hear the call to get back in the jeep.
The Crazy Hen tour was in fact a weekend frenzy of overly excited ladies in their twenties in Sedona with the bride to be celebrating her last remaining days of singledom . Crazy Hens, their drivers challenging us at speed from all directions. “How you doing?” spoken famously by Joey from the TV show ‘Friends’ seemed to be the question of the day. Matt swiftly ground to a halt when ‘Challenged’ by a hen and on questioning his reply was of course “No, how you doing?” and so the flirting ensued until we were challenged by Hen Party code name Jane, “ Chief bridesmaid batch”
“How you doing?” asked Jane
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” enquired Matt.
Ian and I decided to dismount to take photos leaving Matt to cluck.
Damian Gloop was getting more and more contemptuous, when Matt offered to take him backwards at speed down very steep and rocky terrain, Gloop, having already lost a selection of his snacks, didn’t take him up on it and remained particularly silent there in.
Tour over and what did I conclude? Sedona is stunningly beautiful but given a second chance I would definitely do things differently. Reason enough for a return visit, most definitely.
What did I conclude from having Matt as our guide? I’m not sure, maybe they could change the tour name to the “ Have you got everything you set out with tour ?” considering….
Matt lost Jessie,
Chao lost his Camera.
The dog lost its senses and became as wild as the coyote it had feasted upon.
Juliette Marie lost her virginity for the 79th time.
Jane lost her dignity,
Gloop lost his fizzy blue drink, snacks and I’m sure I must have lost a few pounds in weight.
“What did you make of that?” I asked Ian as I climbed out of the passenger seat of the jeep.
“Have you seen my sunglasses?” He replied.
The next morning we sadly left Sedona, travelling back up the 89a in the early hours, a light purple haze evidence of the unfolding of yet another beautiful day. The ride up was equally as stunning but from a different perspective. On the road down, from the passenger seat, I had had the best of the views, now it was Ian’s turn. We climbed back up through an invisible portal taking the gentle back to mental, in the best possible way of course. We were getting hip, taking that California trip, getting our kicks again on Route 66.
We were just over a day away from starting our Route 66 road trip, east to west ending in Barstow California and that night we were to visit the Route 66 Casino and Hotel for dinner on a recommendation. It was going to be first time for either of us in any kind of Casino and without instruction my brain had opened up a memory file from 1971 TV, visions of glamour, sophistication, seduction and signing your life over to Michelle Du Mont. We were clueless!
“Ian do you think there is a dress code?”
“Wouldn’t have thought so”
“I don’t suppose it matters because by the end of the evening we will probably have failed, be completely naked and wandering around the car park looking for a car that will be by then hanging from a helicopter over the Pacific Ocean”
For the short journey along Route 66 that evening there wasn’t much to see, night-time had given us the ultimate in dark in that there were no street lights or buildings. The 1-40 hung close and parallel all of the way and I remember thinking how a lot of the original alignments of Route 66 no longer exist and have been replaced by the highway and I wondered if this interstate shadowing was going to continue for the rest of our Route 66 journey.
I can only compare the outside of the Casino to one of our smaller UK airports with neons!
Inside is where we got knocked sideways, defragged and rebooted! This was the Wild West an American version of either end of a well established British Pier! 85% of the Gambling being gaming machines. I had never seen so many desperate love affairs with people over a certain age strewn in one way or another over flashing neon waiting for their lucky fall. Some showing signs that indicated they could have been there for days, others were sleeping, arms and legs splayed in a way to clearly announce possession. I don’t know the rules, or maybe it’s just etiquette, an understanding not to in any way or form attempt to place anything in any slot of any machine within 6” of somebody’s ear whether asleep or awake. With that kind of commitment I wished the very best of luck to those who were awake and could multitask.
The choice of food outlets was extensive. For your aid and entertainment you are guided in a kind of “Wizard of Oz” way through the venue on a mini route 66 walk way. Thunder Road Bar and Steakhouse is where we choose to eat, a restaurant and live music venue. A great vibe, fantastic energy and the best steak I have eaten in my life ! The place was buzzing with people, and whilst we were waiting we were given a Pager to notify when a table would become available. This allowed us to wander and this is where I lost Ian, not the physical kind of losing but the kind of loosing where you are all of a sudden completely alone with whatever has caught your eye and stolen your heart. He had found his first Route 66 souvenir shop. There was no doubt a fantastic collection of memorabilia but I think at the time if he had known that similar shops with similar temptations would be seducing him along the whole of Route 66 he wouldn’t have cried so hard when our Pager called us for dinner!
I have waited on tables through my life and know how easy it is to get stuck into a routine of standard questions, and…… don’t judge me, not really listen to the answer. If you’re in a tourist area you know that the majority of people are on the same mission so the questions are easy. On Route 66 the questions are pretty much standard, “You headed east or west?” and that’s exactly what we got, followed by “So what’s your planned itinerary?” It took me a while… “Erm well we don’t really have plans or an itinerary” A voice from table 86 “You don’t have a planned itinerary! They don’t have a planned itinerary!” Considering the situation I wouldn’t have been surprised if Dick Van Dyke himself hadn’t appeared out of the middle of our table and the whole restaurant hadn’t become one huge musical performance……
♪♫ They don’t have a planned itinerary, haha,
♪♫ What will they do when the sky’s not blue and there’s no gas in their car?
♪♫ They don’t have a planned itinerary haha,
♪♫ They’ve sold their souls for 6 weeks on the road, and they don’t know where they are,
♪♫ They don’t have a planned itinerary haha,
♪♫ It’s plain to see, what will be and they won’t get very far.
♪♫ For all your costs, you will be lost”… Dick van Dyke disappears back under the table and people carry on eating and planning.
“Ian, we don’t do plans”
It seemed even with our EZ guide to 66, recommended by the honey monster, that if we wanted a full and interesting experience we should have done some kind of research. We were on holiday and starting to feel that if we didn’t do our homework we would suffer the consequences of our lethargy. The following night, we revisited the Casino, still extremely full from the night before, I ordered French onion soup and helped myself to salad from the bar. Greg served us, he was really polite, questioned us as to which way we were headed and that was that. My soup however didn’t come in liquid form, it was a strange thick unidentifiable crust that seemed to have soaked up where soup could have possibly been. On Greg’s return, and completely out of character for me, I decided to announce very politely my dissatisfaction when he enquired about our eating experience.
“Well it isn’t like any kind of French Onion Soup I’ve had before, in fact there was no soup in the bowl”
“Oh great, wonderful, I’ll have to try some, you’ve talked me into it”!!
Wow! His standard reply, Greg hadn’t been listening and it made me smile, years before in the mundane and endless trips back and forth waiting and clearing I had been guilty of exactly that.
I wondered if Greg had an itinerary?
The next morning ,still not being able to bring our heads completely out of the cloud blown our way by the hoards of planners and researchers, we set off EZ 66 guide in hand heading west on Route 66 . The book was suggesting we keep a look out for a large rock in the shape of an owl. So as the landscape started to change we prepared ourselves. We thought we saw the owl more than a couple of times over a matter of minutes,
“Wow, they’re all almost identical” I said
Truth was they were very identical, we had driven in a complete loop through a small Hispanic looking village, I’m not sure how many times. It had been like a bygone age where children played happily in the street. We commented how you just don’t see that anymore in the UK, we waved like the happy tourists we were and they pointed and laughed.
After only being on the road for a short time, we came to realise that we needed to change our relationship with the book, there now seemed to be three of us on this road trip and the new guy was somewhat controlling, his constant demand for attention together with seducing us with choices would consume time we just didn’t have, and with my head almost always down I was already missing out the very reason why we were there in the first place.
I had already learnt that many sections of Route 66 have undergone major realignments and the introduction of the highway system meant at various points the old road lays underneath the development, often to the side of it, or in some cases it disappears all together, and apparently things are changing all the time. We decided to ditch the book and use it mainly for information on exits to and from the Interstate, for us that worked brilliantly. Between New Mexico and California we managed to cruise some of the best uninterrupted sections of Route 66 that there are, and to be completely honest at the end we actually felt like we’d had a weirdly spiritual experience and as if we should have taken a minute to say a prayer, to thank the ambassadors and the campaigners and those who provide a service so we, as travellers, can continue to get our kicks on Route 66.
With a full tank of fuel and the freedom of our own decisions we headed west and in Ian’s eyes we became Burt Reynolds and Sally Field, Susan George and Peter Fonda, John Schneider and Catherine Bach, Lightning McQueen and Sally Carrera . I was just happy in the understanding that we will most possibly pass by some major Route 66 landmarks, hotels, museums, but it was ok. What was meant to be would be.
The landscape had changed from that of northern, central New Mexico. We were seeing the return of the bright orange sandstone Mesas, towering roadside sandstone walls all together messing with the light, turning our world into a 1970’s photograph.
It was around midday when we spotted a guy jogging along a deserted stretch of road, as we got closer we could see he was pushing a child’s buggy, full of his belongings I’m guessing, more to the point he was naked apart from a pair of lycra hot pants and a long full beard.
“Bucket list” I asked Ian
“Maybe doing it for a good cause?”
“But there is nobody else around, he could catch a bus, or hitch a ride”
“Would you pick him up?”
“I would, I’d like to stroke his beard”
“I will make a conscious decision never to sponsor you with anything”
“Sponsored beard stroking?”
We were stopped in our tracks by some amazing roadside art, not those fabulous advertising signs from a bygone age but auto salvage! Cars, pickups and buses from the 40’s through to the nineties, arranged in a way usually seen in Cartoons. They know what us Europeans want and those babies were up front pushed against a wire fence, seducing us with their eye sockets and sexy patina. 50’s Chevy pickups, 60’s Cadillacs, 50’s Buicks, Chevy Impalas, a 63 Chevy C10. Unfortunately the place was closed, locked, secured and guarded by the cliché junkyard dog, big collar with studs, doing the menacing sideways strut. The place was deadly quiet, we hadn’t seen another vehicle for quite a while, and with heads fixed behind camera lenses we hadn’t noticed the reappearance of naked beard man. Stopping to park up his buggy he ventured over to the fence to stare at the dog, said something that sounded like “Kershnitzen” wiped his nose and carried on. I wondered what his itinerary was?..
We got in the car, thinking we had seen the icing on the cake, it would’ve been enough, but on that day between Albuquerque and Grants our minds were blown over and over with more junk yard delights, old farm machinery dating back quite a few decades, abandoned gas stations and diners. A small town named Budsville named after Bud Rice who in 1928 together with his wife Flossie built and ran the gas station, grocery store, post office and garage for many years. Their story is however a very sad one, stand by the now abandoned one story concrete building and you can somehow feel its history. It’s apparently one of the most photographed buildings on route 66 in New Mexico.
As we were getting closer to the Arizona border the weather was improving almost by the hour. Our time in Albuquerque had been wet, sometimes very heavy showers. Our waitress on the first night at the Casino had told us that that was it as far as fine weather for them, winter was on its way and she wasn’t expecting any more warm sunny days. It was a strange thing to hear when you still have a few weeks of your holiday to go. Today, however, further west, we were feeling fantastically warm, soaking up and loving that route 66 vibe.
“Ian, I could just drink an ice-cold beer” immediately feeling guilty for all the benefits of not being the designated driver. Would’ve loved to take the wheel for a while and give Ian a break, a chance to chill and just watch the scenery roll on by but because of my health the DVLA have decided that I am no longer safe to be behind the wheel of a car. Devastated is the word to describe how that feels, your independence etc. There are others worse off and I couldn’t wish for a better designated driver in Ian.
Right then more magic happened, as if the day couldn’t get any better we pulled into the town of Grants. Population of around 9200 people some quirky old motels, and a wonderful selection of advertising signs from a bygone time. However, this wasn’t what was grabbing our attention on this day, we had, without planning, arrived on the right day and at the right time to be part of their annual Fall Fiesta. All Wheel Show and Shine Car Show, Beer Garden, Green Chile Stew eating competition, Live Bands, and Food Vendors.
The Beer was awesome, a selection of specialty brews all served ice cold. Ian went into the open sided beer tent to get the drinks whilst I wandered the cars. During the time I was drinking from the bar the rules were I had to be actually under its roof. I was still able to find a seat where the sun threw me a spotlight of my very own. We ate hot dogs from the BBQ and spoke to so many great local people, who, with the drink inside them were offering interesting tips on where to go and what to see. Not available in any of the Rt 66 travel guides I’m sure!!
“Over there in the beer tent, next to the fence”
“Naked beard man!”
“No, there is no way he could have walked here in that time, and he’s got clothes on”
“Like I said, he’s probably hitching rides and if you’re not allowed to take your beer out of the beer tent I’m sure they would turn away a man in lycra shorts”
“Maybe he comes here every year?, Oh No !”
“Naked Beard Man, the free spirit that is, has got a bloody itinerary!”
“It’s not him!”
“It is, look there’s his buggy on the other side of the fence, he has his hand on the handle”
Sad or not, we both became a bit obsessed with Naked Beard man.
“What’s he talking to those people about?”
“Move over that way”
“They are talking about their dogs”
“Oh my god, he’s the bloody Route 66 dog whisperer”!
“Does he actually exist?”
“Yeah he’s sat over there naked from the waist down”
“He’s not going to be naked”
We waited a good 15 minutes for him to finish his specialty sausage stand up and leave the table, he was suitably dressed. With the buggy evidence though we were now both agreed it definitely was the same man we had seen some miles up the road earlier on in the day. We then, believe it or not, waited for him to leave, I was desperate for him to go into a telephone call box and come out Super Naked Bearded Lycra, Dog Whispering Man! He checked into a hotel and we carried on with our journey.
The red sandstone rocks that had lined the road just west of Albuquerque had given way to vast open spaces and long straight stretches of road. I had thought the changes in temperature were mainly due to us heading west, but the inclines on these stretches are so gradual they are hardly noticeable. The small towns and villages to this point had had a definite Hispanic feel, but heading towards the Arizona state line we were seeing more Native Indian trading posts, some beautiful craftwork, and a collision of culture and tackiness that just seemed to work.
Santana was still number one on our most listened to CD chart, and as we approached the Continental Divide it was Black Magic Woman that was casting her spell.
Before leaving for the US we had been given information, hints and tips for our trip from friends on places to see and things to do, many had travelled Route 66, but no one had mentioned The Continental Divide! Mainly mountainous and running through all of North America it separates the water that runs toward the Pacific Ocean from the water running toward the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico! It is also the highest point on route 66 at 7263 ft.
“Didn’t expect this today”
We parked beside a marker, explaining where we were and silence fell for a good minute.
“I wasn’t ready for this, within reason you know what to expect, wow!”
“Ian you’re not saying very much”
At that point I realised the artistic side of his brain had engaged and the look in his eyes revealed that non-artist was probably functioning at about 10%.
I got out of the car, it was freezing, got back in again. Looking around I spotted a Trading post selling souvenirs, and a scattering of other buildings. Apparently the area around Continental divide has been inhabited for 11,000 years. Navajo Indians settling in the mountains to the north and south.
I checked Ian out, he was on about 15%, and his eyes had fixed on the Trading post.
‘Noooooooo !!! not another gift shop!’ I said to myself. Don’t get me wrong I can really appreciate the beautiful hand-made crafts, jewellery and leather work, all at a reasonable price but I was recognizing a recurrent theme of on the road, stop, eat, gift shops. I secretly cast a spell on the barely conscious Ian …… Stay away from the gift shop …… Stay away from the gift shop. Spoken like the janitor zombie in Scooby Doo.
“What colour do you see the sky in the distance?” Ian asked, he was now on about 30%, this allowed speech.
He had caught me out like this before, when we first met. It had been a miserable day and he had asked the same question. I had answered that in my eyes the sky was grey. He had told me there were peaches, purples and blues etc. It took quite a few years of practice but eventually I was able to look deeper into things, open up my mind and see colour where previously there was no colour at all. Put a paintbrush in my hand though and there is absolutely no way I can transfer this onto canvas.
“I can see pale pink on the horizon”? I replied
“Lovely isn’t it”
After a quick photo, evidence that we had actually been there, we got back in the car and headed towards Gallup about 25 miles then another 25 to the Arizona border.
Looking back on our trip I have wondered if we would have done things differently had we arrived in certain places at different times of the day. As we headed for Gallup we had already started to talk about somewhere to stay the night. We knew from friends about the history of the El Rancho hotel in Gallup how it had been established since the 1930’s. How, because it was popular as a filming location, the hotel can boast playing host to some of the most prolific movie stars of our time. Worth a stop? Maybe?
Gallup city is well established and caters mainly to the traveller, driving through we were spoilt for choice for places to stay, it was early evening and each motel was competing for our attention, luring us in with its brightly coloured Neon’s. Route 66 as I had seen it in so many photos, we drove in one end and out the other.
“That was nice”
“Ian shall we wild camp, sleep in the car, maybe drive into Arizona and pull over when you start to get tired, no check in, no messing with luggage ?”
Ian gave a look of approval, pulled over and we both reclined our seats …
We spent the next ten minutes rearranging luggage, trying to find a place for the fridge and slot ourselves into any available space.
“I don’t think these Mustangs were designed with the intention of helping you have a good night’s sleep”
For most of our route 66 journey so far, the old road had mostly been paralleled by the I 40 and the Santa Fe railroad. 800 miles of track running through California, Arizona and Mexico, both have suffered decline but now thrive, the railroad becoming one of the nation’s busiest with up to 100 trains per day, paralleling the old highway through mountains, deserts and dusty towns. On quiet stretches of road it really was a sight to see these huge freight trains cutting through the desert, a friend to keep you company. I counted over 100 carriages at one time and then I gave up and just enjoyed it for what it was, like a gentle rumble of thunder in the distance whilst you waft in and out of sleep. On one beautifully straight and deserted stretch of asphalt the train ran close through wide open terrain, Ian parked up the car to take a photo and the driver sounded his horn.
As we reached the Arizona border red sandstone towers made a reappearance and just before the state line we came across the wackiest line up of ramshackle wooden buildings we had seen so far. Set back from the road at the foot of a sandstone mesa was Chief Yellow Horse’s Trading Post. It just stood out as different. Large brightly coloured plastic animals perched high on the ledges of the cliff way above the roof of the trading post. This one had us both intrigued.
We were met at the door by an old Navajo Indian guy in a wheelchair, he looked us directly in the eye, deep and meaningful and took a breath inwards. I was expecting “Old Indian proverb”
“When your bladder rules your life you have no life at all” he wheeled himself past us not looking up.
The place was owned and run by Navajos, the Yellow Horse family. Chief Juan Yellow Horse had owned and operated the Trading post from 1960 until his death in 1999. A wide choice of what seemed to be handmade crafts and jewellery and at the best prices we had seen so far. We left with two rugs and some cow dung.
The welcome centres on all state lines are a must, they have an information pack thoughtfully put together to inform and entertain you. They also have books of vouchers that you can use at motels and in restaurants along the way. Each time I opened a new one I was like a kid with a lucky bag, on this occasion however things weren’t looking too favourable, as we approached the empty car park we could see and all the lights were out in the nearby building. The young girl locking up had spotted us and headed our way handing us our welcome pack together with a small box of sweets and a hand fan.
“Where you heading?”
“West, probably staying overnight in Holbrook”
“The Teepee Village?”
I had forgotten all about the Teepee village.
“Drive safe and enjoy your stay in Arizona”
Arizona – Heading into the Great South West
Route 66 on the east side of Arizona can only be driven in short segments, further west however you get to drive some of the longest uninterrupted sections of road that route 66 has to offer, and travel through some of the most diverse and spectacular landscapes in America.
We were finding that a lot of the old towns along route 66 were sign posted off the highway, usually taking us to a frontage road. For the majority of our drive into Holbrook we remained on the highway or parallel to it.
“What’s in the bag?”
“Some maps, more sweets, loads of info on places to visit, vouchers, and an eye mask.
“Have you noticed the dinosaurs?”
We were around 60 miles from the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. The dinosaurs seemed to be an indication we were getting close, I guess in the same way the old road signs along route 66 would tease you with something spectacular every 20 minutes for the next 150 miles!
The Petrified Forest is apparently a place where dinosaurs roamed 225million years ago amongst 200 foot tall conifers. Volcanic mountains erupted, toppled the trees which were swept away by water, covered in ash and sediment entombing them over millions of years, then through gradual erosion exposing themselves, colours and shapes of the organic material fossilizing and turning to stone. Signs in and around the visitor centre warn you that you will be prosecuted if you attempt to remove any of the petrified wood from its place, and I’m sure the guy with the hat, the horse and the gun was ready to do just that. Strange thing was polished petrified wood in all shapes and forms was being advertised for sale all along the Interstate and around the park itself. We pulled over because I was intrigued at a huge sign inviting me to “Come and feed the ostrich’s”, more tacky dinosaurs and “Get your petrified wood here”
Automatically I went off to find an Ostrich, Ian made his way into the gift shop. As I glanced around I imagined the whole place would have made a great backdrop for the film “The Hills Have Eyes”
I made my way back to the car, Ian arrived 5 minutes later.
“Couldn’t find any Ostriches”
“She gave me some wood”
“What for nothing?”
“Yeah she said she liked the look of me”
“It’s pretty though look”
It was very pretty but I am still to this day confused with the very mixed messages behind these 250 million year old treasures.
I had learnt about the Wigwam Village in Holbrook through friends, it grabbed my interest enough to find out it was built in 1960 from concrete, there are 15 Wigwams each with room enough for a large bed, small kitchen and bathroom. At $55 for a night’s stay it was definitely worth a look.
In the same way my mind had automatically opened a file from seventies TV with the Casino, it had done the same with the Teepee Village. It gave me Holbrook a small dusty town with a saloon bar, right there on Route 66, old cowboy types sat outside on wooden rockers chewing tobacco and drinking moonshine, and of course tumbleweed. I hadn’t at all challenged the reality of this.
Entering Holbrook that evening was a slap in the face, car dealerships to the left, fast food outlets to the right, motels and hotels some decent looking some abandoned, others in various stages of repair all leading down to a main cross roads and as seems to be the theme through most of these towns, this is where the main tourist traps are. In Holbrook’s case this is where the dinosaurs were.
Holbrook is the county seat of Navajo county, during the 1890’s cowboys and railroad workers kept the saloons. The heavy drinking, gun-toting men gave the town a violent reputation, a town too tough for women and churches, it seemed our visit was around 130 years too late. Over the next few days I couldn’t help but wonder if this reputation has been carried through to the present day. I was intrigued.
I can’t remember why we took a right at the main crossroads but some way down on the left of the busy two lane highway we found the Wigwam village, a mirage almost in that it was completely out of place. This seemed to be the business side of town. To the left of the Wigwams a collection of Skips, opposite was a large welding unit. From the road if you looked directly at the 15 concrete Wigwams placed in a horse shoe shape around a central reception area you could really appreciate and start to feel a sense of nostalgia. Each Wigwam had its own Classic car, possibly a permanent fixture from day one way back in 1960. Together with the bright neon signs the whole place offered an illuminated oasis amongst it surroundings. Ian grabbed the chance for photo opportunities and I pondered if right then this was the kind of place where I wanted to spend the night. If we had arrived early afternoon, full of energy, enjoying the heat and the cloudless sky it might have been a different story but we were both tired, cranky and needed feeding.
“What do you think?” We were both back in the car and hadn’t noticed that the railroad passed by the back of the building and for the next 10 minutes or so we listened as 200 plus freight carriages rattled over steel. Full of empty bottles I presumed, and of course sounding its horn to announce arrival. We have since learnt that a train passes through every 20 to 30 minutes. Earlier in the day we would’ve probably laughed it off it and it wouldn’t have affected our decision, but Ian simply turned the car around without saying a word and we headed back the way we came.
Driving back up towards the crossroads I started to wonder if we were both becoming a little bit delirious.
“Safeway’s, like Safeway’s in the UK. It’s now Morrisons! Ahhh beautiful, look.” “Wow, it might have things we recognise”
We stood in the entrance of Safeway’s in a way that could have resembled that part of the film Close Encounters when all missing people are returned to earth in the Mother Ship.
“Look at all those beautiful shiny brightly coloured vegetables”. An ocean of them as far as the eye could see, so clean, so perfectly stacked.
That night we checked into a motel in town using vouchers from our Welcome pack.
“I wonder if they are going to work, or whether there is some kind of catch?” Something we are used to in the UK.
I imagined a possible scenario
“Hi do you have a room available for the night?”
“Of course, would you like King, Super King or four Queens?”
“I think just King, can we use these here?” Presentation of vouchers onto desk.
“Yes, how many are there of you?”
“Heavy or light sleepers? What is your mothers maiden name and does she sleep well? Are you wearing socks? How many fingers am I holding up? Now with your eyes closed? Can you sing your national anthem with this gag over your mouth?”
In reality we checked in quickly using the vouchers, at $23 per night with a free breakfast in the Diner at the opposite end of the car park, what could go wrong?
The room was a very basic ground floor room with a shower and toilet off it, the front door opening up onto the car park. A TV, Fridge and Microwave seemed to be standard, and that night I managed to put together a full English roast, eaten in bed off cardboard plates with plastic knives and forks, all washed down with a beautifully rich and full bodied Chilean Merlot.
It was getting late and things had started to become loud out in the car park, a huge long wheel base Ford Superduty F550 crew cab pick up had pulled in next to the Mustang, transforming it from Muscle car to something the truck had its eye on for a light breakfast. Two urban cowboy types were chatting and smoking close to our door. Tall and scrawny, dressed all in black, cowboy style. Wasn’t long before we realised other people seemed to be lurking in the shadows. From the conversation they all seemed to be waiting for Shelly. Shelly arrived by foot around half an hour later, Shelley was a man. I watched as 16 people, 14 men 2 women and a dog emptied into the room next door, this was around 11.30pm. I can’t remember seeing anyone carrying bongos into the room, but it certainly seemed to be the background noise to all of the singing. Silence fell on that room at about 7.30am and when we managed to make our way across the car park to the Diner later that morning there was no one to be seen, although the truck was still parked up.
Ok so $23 a night gets you entertainment throughout the night and no conversation from the waitress at breakfast, she seemed to know what we wanted and slid it sideways across the table to where we were sitting, no sunny side up or over easy choices for us today. We seemed to be the only tourists in the Diner that morning, the conversation at the bar was local and the word seemed to be that Shelly was in town. I had an overwhelming need to stalk these people all day and get an insight into who they were and what they were up to, I was feeling that I needed to step off the tourist treadmill for a while and get in there with the locals. I grew up in an area of outstanding natural beauty where 80% of local businesses cater towards the tourist. Throughout the summer months it can be crazy busy, but with just one road in and out there is no passing trade and most of the businesses close for the winter. Working long shifts in hospitality through the busy times can eventually transform you into a creature of repetition with absolutely no thought for the customer other than to be polite and do your job. With the very best will in the world you stop caring. All this has had a long-term effect on me in that whenever I am on holiday and find myself in a popular destination amongst hundreds of people doing the same thing, eating at the same restaurant, standing looking the same view from the same viewpoint, waiting in a long queue to pay over the odds for something I have been told is “Worth a visit” I get the need to step off the conveyor belt and experience a little bit of real. Today I really wanted to meet the local characters in and around Holbrook and Ian was up for anything.
However, on this day more than any other we were feeling torn . Prior to our trip friends had told us that we had to visit the Painted Desert if were in the area,. Apparently it’s a place where “Art comes to life”. It stretches from the Grand Canyon National Park to the Petrified Forest, home to the nation’s most memorable formations and features. Over time volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and sunlight have combined to create deposits of clay and sandstone stacked in elegant layers, an altering display of lavenders, greys, reds, oranges and pinks depending on the time of day.
The weather seemed to be changing as we approached the park, we did manage to see and appreciate the vastness of the landscape and wonderful kaleidoscope of colours for about 10 minutes, then the wind started to pick up and I spotted a small Tornado over the flat plain to my right. It changed course a couple of times but within minutes it had seemed to increase in size and pick up speed. It was headed straight for us. Both myself and Ian have always been particularly obsessed with the idea of storm chasing and here we were about to experience it for ourselves, although very much smaller in scale than any of the movies we had seen. Where’s Dorothy when you need her ? Ian in all his excitement had managed to change CD’s and very quickly Deep Purples ‘Child in Time’ was blasting from the speakers. A very memorable moment from the movie ‘Twister’.
“How old are we?” I questioned
“Just don’t tell anyone”
“I think we’re going in!!”
“We got cows!!”
Cut to music, dum da da da dum da da da dum da da da dum, electric guitar slices the air whaa, whaa whaa ……….
We came out the other side unscathed of course, the cows were actually food wrappers in this case. It had been an experience. I don’t really understand how the weather works in these areas but from that point we were driving through a continuing sandstorm, visibility was at a minimum, and considering the Painted Desert is a wonderfully visual experience the whole reason for being there was becoming pointless. Ian pulled up and we checked out the map, for some reason he then decided to open the door. Anything small that wasn’t attached to the car on the inside tried to leave. I dived in to save the snacks, the book of vouchers however was never seen again. Further on we stopped at the Painted Desert Inn, I held onto the contents of the car whilst Ian got out and then had the idea of placing any possible escapee under the fridge and making a run for it. The beautiful adobe building was packed full, the world and his wife were sheltering within its walls and it was difficult to appreciate what it had to offer. There was an artist in residence so it was of particular interest to Ian but there wasn’t any way we were going to get a look in without being rude, and if things kicked off there was absolutely nowhere to run.
Back in Holbrook we took advantage of the daylight hours with a tour around the town but my mind was elsewhere.
That evening I would be on a mission to find Shelley and hear his story, returning to the Motel however the truck had gone and room 32 sat in silence.
We definitely know how to dine, whilst Ian was transfixed to the TV watching Lindsey Wagner as the Bionic woman listen to villains saying bad stuff downtown we ate takeaway pizza from the box. My distraction was the “Goodie Bag” we picked up as we entered Arizona to which I had become particularly attached.
“Did you know Holbrook has a Bucket of Blood Street, named after the Bucket of Blood Saloon?”
“Bucket of Blood Saloon?” Not taking his eye’s off Lindsey in her tight fitting jumpsuit.
“Yeah, in the 1880’s a group of cowboys known for rustling cattle, stealing and shooting moved into the area. They called themselves the Hashknife Cowboys. In 1886, 250 people lived in Holbrook and there were 26 shooting deaths all connected to the Hashknife outfit. In 1886 a brutal gunfight broke out in the Saloon between members of the Hashknife and a group of cowboys who accused them of stealing”
Ian glanced away from the TV
“Oh you’re reading, I was wondering what was happening to you”
“In the 1920’s the Saloon had the appearance of a respectable establishment captivating travellers who stopped by to see the bullet holes in the walls and the Blood Stains on the floor. The residents of Holbrook now claim to have a past wilder than Tombstone. The Saloon was on Central Avenue, later renamed, Bucket of Blood Street”
“Shall we go?” I had grabbed his interest.
“It’s not open any more, still standing after 120 years but all boarded up”
We decided to go and take a look anyway our map leading us away from the Triassic side of town, the bars and restaurants to a quieter, darker side. Sadly we didn’t find what we were looking for and I’m not sure if some of the locals really know the location of the Saloon because when we enquired of its whereabouts we were being sent in all directions. We headed back towards the lights and decided to stop off at the first bar we saw, walking straight off the street and into a full blown conversation about Miranda Lambert, Monkey bars and the best way to polish chrome. It was clearly a biker friendly establishment and it weirdly felt like home. Turns out the people of Holbrook are some of the most straight talking, hospitable people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. We became part of a group of guys buying rounds of drinks, although by the amount of drinks on the table it seemed we might have been getting more than our fair share. I did question the build up of drinks on our table only to be told that it was some good shit. I looked towards the barmaid with questioning eyes.
“It’s fine” she mouthed
Later at the bar after I had collected all the empty glasses from the tables, (It’s now etched into my DNA) She just mentioned that they were a good group of guys and placed another full glass of red mix in front of me “Means of payment” she said and smiled “More good shit”.
That night nobody questioned which direction we were headed, our accents or where we were staying. In fact at one point I thought we were being mistaken for someone else. Challenged to quite a few games of pool we somehow came out winners. Not sure how because it seems like a completely different game and everything is huge.
“I love it here, can I stay?” I moaned at Ian
“What right here in this bar?”
“Yeah it’s specific”
“Specific to what?”
“The right thing, and it has all the numbers lined up in the right order, except the ones on the end by the bar”
“What wrong with them?”
“Did you drink that last shot?”
“No I shot it”
“The last drink, I am humble now”
“We should go back and find Shelley”
Ian reminded me that Shelley and the cowboys were no longer there.
“Noooooo, you didn’t say”
“We need to go and find him”
I don’t remember much about walking back to our motel that night just it was warm and everyone was just amazing, I loved them all. Then to top off a great night the giant truck had returned and room 32 was buzzing and I was ready to party.
“Come on let’s go introduce ourselves!”
“Eew barking dogs, they have barking dogs”
“It’s only one, they had it last night” Ian reminded me
“Barking dogs, no no no, no barking”
“Let’s creep into our room very quietly” It made sense to me at the time.
“Then the dog will stop barking”
We climbed into bed and waited. The walk home and fresh air had definitely taken the edge off the level of drunk I was.
“It’s not going to stop is it?”
“Are they all oblivious?”
“Yep, that could be what you call it”
It seemed to go on for hours until I remembered the ear plugs. An offering from our Virgin flight and now in my hand luggage in the bathroom.
“Can you hear me?” I asked Ian.
“I can see your mouth moving, no seriously I can hear you a bit, and the dog but it’s definitely helped”
We turned off the light and eventually fell asleep with the muffled sound of barking dog and the odd scream from the next room. It was the banging of doors shaking the building that yanked us back out of our slumber, although I definitely slept through it better than Ian.
“Where are you going?” I asked as Ian made his sitting down to standing noise. “To the loo”
I immediately fell back to sleep but was woken again by a massive crash. This was serious.
Turning to switch on the bedside lamp I could feel that Ian wasn’t beside me, he mustn’t have returned from the bathroom. In those few seconds between pitch black and reaching over to turn on the light my imagination was on overload. The seriousness of the situation was revealed.
Ian was sat on the floor looking at me with huge sorrowful eyes, he was stark naked and with the ear plugs he looked like a deflated Shrek.
“Why are you on the floor?”
Then I just couldn’t stop laughing, he was clearly OK but still didn’t think to take the ear plugs out, and stayed put on the floor a bit shell shocked I think. I took out my ear plugs as a gesture for him to follow.
“I missed the bed”
“You looked like Shrek”
“Naked with ear plugs, it’s a good look”
“It throws my senses out”
“Are you saying you missed the bed because you had earplugs in?”
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.
“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 the 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’.
“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”
“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 showed our passports and 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”
“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-aged 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 ?”
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…
The story so far. I was ill and slept through almost all of California whilst Ian got happy, manic, paranoid and sad on vast amounts of thick black coffee!
I kind of came out of my slumber around the Nevada, Arizona state line to find Ian having a little chat to himself about friendship rings and Twinkies.
Death Valley blew our minds, no coffee involved. We became part of a 1970’s cop drama in Vegas and were chased out of town. Zion National Park became unavailable, Speed Week at Bonneville had been canceled due to flooding, and after my breakfast blew away in the town of Hurricane we decided to head east towards Monument Valley where I had booked a cabin for a few days later in the week …
Around 60 miles east of Hurricane is the town of Kanab just north of the Arizona border. We arrived at a crossroads around 6 miles south of Kanab in the town of Fredonia Arizona and I noticed a sign on the opposite side of the road.
“Hey Ian look at that”
“I know all those trees after miles of desert weird isn’t it ”
“No the sign, $39 to rent a cabin for one night, with free wifi”
We parked up and firstly met Gill who woke up Bill. Bill wasn’t particularly happy, but reassured us not to worry “The place is clean an’ all, always clean, so clean” There was a lot of unruly growth around, not just on Bill but out of the ground to the point that we were unable to see any sign of a cabin.
“Could we have a look at a cabin please? ”
“Not until 4pm” replied Bill
“Are they around here somewhere, maybe possibly ?”
“Just over there, come back at 4pm”
I noticed Ian had gone very quiet and was staring at the ground, I caught his gaze and we watched as a group of flies carried off a couple of dead cockroaches into the wilderness. Maybe they had been told to come back at 4pm too.
It was midday and we were back in the car.
“I think we have to go back at 4pm, I’m actually quite curious. It could be like staying with your favourite aunty and uncle, and all the cockroaches seem to be dead”
We headed north on the 89a and reached the Utah state line within minutes. A different time zone, and a road like an airport landing strip. It was so quiet and so hot. A couple of minutes later and we were in Kanab, officially a city but with a population of just 4500 people.
This place was a strange oasis in the middle of a vast dry desert. Noticeably, greener and cleaner.
I immediately sensed some serious farming went on here, ladies baked, children played and there was an abundance of churches. Whilst we were there we saw ladies in what I believed to be traditional Mormon dress. If it hadn’t been for the fine array of modern farm machinery and vehicles, you could have squinted looked left and imagined that crossing the state line out of Arizona had taken you back over 100 years. Looking left of course to avoid the likes of Mcdonalds, and chain motels.
Mcdonald’s did however draw us in like flies to a cockroach and whilst eating our triple cheeseburger and fries we realised we were surrounded by English accents. You kind of think when you take a roadtrip across the USA that your journey is going to be unique, but right now we were in a strange little town in the middle of nowhere with a group of people who had also been heading up to Bonneville and were in a traveling limbo. Some hyped up to bursting point for possibly months at the thought of experiencing an opportunity of a lifetime on the Salt Flats. They had all had a travel plan and now we were gathered here collectively, sorrowfully grabbing a hold of what we understood and trusted in the form of a Big Mac and a shake.
“Hey Ian look at that over there”
“Oh yeah more trees and hedges”
“No that sign, $39 for a cabin for the night with free Wifi”
This place was super clean and each cabin had a small verandah, quaint with a huge bed and handmade quilted throw. There was a tiny television but no bathroom or kitchen. For the three nights we were there we watched repeated episodes of the bionic woman and acquired a special toilet that would have started it’s life as something else.
We discovered that Kanab is a centre point for tourists visiting Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and the Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon, which apparently is around 220 miles (5 hours) by road from the Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon !
The people in the cabin next to us were a really friendly couple from Israel. Each cabin had a fire pit for cooking and they invited us to a bbq on the first night, we insisted on contributing and headed out on a search for meat and beer.
Honey’s marketplace is like no other I have seen, it lures you in with quaintness, seduces you with the smell of home cook food, amazes you with their use of technology in certain sections, then in my case confuses you completely by not being able to find any alcohol.
Ian was wandering up the breakfast cereal isle taking in the vast spectrum of colour.
“Ian I can’t find any alcohol, they don’t seem to have wine, no wine!”
“ Nooo, it’ll be in a separate section or something”
“I’ve looked, there is definitely no wine”
We bought some lovely steaks, ribs etc but kind of out of respect didn’t question the alcohol situation.
“Do you think it’s a dry state” I asked Ian
“No idea, although I wouldn’t be surprised”
We discovered Utah isn’t a dry state. I did get very confused with a variety of explanations as to what the rules actually are concluding with the possibility that nobody really knows, or maybe they do but they’re not going to tell you. I think, long story short, you can drink a limited amount of alcohol at a very low percentage if you are in a restaurant having a meal and this allowance only applies between certain hours of the day. There are government run liquor stores, don’t really understand what goes on there. If all else fails get back on the 89 runway into Fredonia, Arizona, around 6 miles, speak to the nice tattooed lady and she may sell you a 3 litre bottle of California Red for just $5 ! You can’t miss the store it’s sign reads in large letters…..
Lotto * Guns * Ammo * Beer
There could be a long queue of people from across the border. The day we were there a machine by the till was firing out lotto tickets like the receipt machine in the supermarket after you have done your 6 months worth of shopping before Christmas.
None of the items of alcohol were priced which did concern me. The decision I am almost sure is in the hands of the nice tattooed lady at point of sale and I imagine there are many determining factors. I have never felt so English and so uncool in all of my life.
“Excuse me, but I can’t seem to be able to find a price on this bottle of wine”
She removed the cigarette from her mouth only to slur “That’s because there ain’t none”
A gap that seemed like forever.
“Could you tell me the price”
She smiled, possibly knowing that she had intimidated me, and proceeded to put my wine in a brown paper bag to sneak back into the neighbouring state.
Well we felt like villains buying plastic cups so we could sit on the verandah of our cabin in a drunken disguise.
Had a great night in the open air sitting around the fire and listening to the life stories and travels of two very inspiring people. The next day we decided to take the road south 80 miles to the Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon …
How on earth do you write about the Grand Canyon ? Something that has never been written before. Write something else other than what you can find out via the internet at the push of a button.
The Grand Canyon lodge and visitor centre on the Northern Rim are only open from May to October. Snow and bad weather conditions can often make the roads inaccessible. It’s visited by only 10% of Grand Canyon visitors.
Driving down through the stunning Kaibab National Forest we couldn’t ignore that large sections had been devastated by wild forest fires apparently started by lightning from spring and summer thunderstorms. It was extremely sad to see and almost apocalyptic.
It wasn’t obvious we were so close to the Canyon edge when we drove into the visitors car park. We were amongst large fir trees with the Grand Canyon Lodge to the Southern end.
I heard a helicopter, loud but not visible above us, as my gaze dropped lower the helicopter disappeared low into the canyon and the place fell silent. We followed a trickle of people through the lodge and onto the Patio. Nothing, as far as I am concerned can ever prepare you for the sensory overload as your eye’s try to adjust and focus to make sense of the vastness of space, length, width , and depth of the Canyon. The surreal spectrum of colour running through the layers of rock that change with light, season and shadow. A kind of sunken mountain range carved out by the Colorado river. That day it was so quiet, people sat on purpose built wooden rockers whispering, mesmerized by the views. I was overcome with a strange mixture of feelings.
It became almost spiritual until Ian picked up a map and decided we should take a walk along a paved pathway just under a mile long around three ft wide and over a mile drop either side. It was right then that I definitely concluded that heights were not for me, I have a super hero side to me that says “ Come on just jump, you know you want to” and another side saying “Yeah but you know you haven’t got wings or a web and it will end badly”
Children ran in front of us as we walked the path “ Mummy can I climb the tree” “No” I wanted to reply “Come straight back here and get in my bag !”
We were heading along the spine of a ridge to Bright Angel point, a view point. Teenagers were leaving the pathway where possible and sitting high on ledges their legs swinging out over the canyon floor a mile and a half below them. I didn’t make it to Angel point, I sat clutching a rock the size of a football hoping it would save me from the wanna be super hero lurking inside.
We made our way back to the lodge and sat on the wooden rockers,
people were still whispering I turned to Ian and asked very quietly “Could you go to the bar and get me a double shot of rum please or failing that a large beer”
Next stop meant getting back in the car and taking a scenic drive to Point Imperial the highest point on the Rim, this time I was ready, brave, I took the walk to take in the view but an older lady named Dorian from Tennessee had clocked that view about the same time as me, we screamed and clung to each other like kittens in a sand storm.
“Hi I’m Dorian from Tennessee” We took a few steps back and adjusted ourselves to fit around the safety of a large rock.
“You’re from England, wow ! So how did you hear about the Grand Canyon?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. It seems like the first day of school we were given a pencil and some milk, we learnt that Janet and John were leaders of the Modern World, Moses did some pretty amazing stuff and there was this place in America, a huge hole and it was awesome.
“My dad told me, he read a lot of books” I replied
Ian was chatting to her husband on a pinnacle almost two miles high, they were pointing and making all the appropriate sounds.
“It’s weird” says Dorian “But if I get too close to the edge I get the urge to jump”
At that point me and Dorian became forever friends, arms and legs entwined sprawled over that rock like a wet spider.
We made our way back to the Lodge to watch the sun set over the Canyon, a life experience I will never forget, if I could have bottled and brought home some of how I felt at that moment I think I could possibly live forever …
We got up early on our last morning to set off on our 200 mile journey to Monument Valley, with a possible stopover.
“Ian can we go to Honey’s before we leave?”
“Yeah what do you need”
“Some of whatever they have been cooking every time we have been in”
“What for breakfast ?”
“It’s smells like Sunday Roast”
“I know, what do you think?”
“I’m up for roast for breakfast”
Anyway it was a kind of stew, we ate it out on our little Verandah, the sun coming up on yet another beautiful day …
I had researched Monument Valley to some extent, not the kind of thing I normally do but the place has always fascinated me and about 10 years ago a new neighbour asked if he could accompany me on my morning walk with the dog.
“So” he said “Have you lived here long”
“About 3 years”
“Where you from originally?”
“Manchester” I said
“Not from the Navajo regions?”
“Navajo as in Native American Indian Navajo?”
“Yes I have spent time with them, I can see and feel you are Navajo, you move like a Navajo. Look into your ancestry you will see I’m right, go to them they will accept you, they will know”
“Ok thanks, as far as I know my ancestors are from Wigan or Ireland” The guy didn’t stay our neighbour for too long and I didn’t really take much notice of what he said but it still made me just the tiniest bit curious as to what a Navajo looks and moves like up close !
Ian has the same fascination for the Navajo regions and monument valley, if you know his work you may have seen that it is one of his favourite places to paint, over the years it has been backdrop to many fantasy road trips. He says it is his mecca, so here we were on the way to my apparent ancestral home and the answer to life for Ian !
This part of our journey took on a whole different feel, even though we could appreciate the stunning scenery, we drove past many other popular tourist destinations with the exception of Lake Powell, although standing on its banks with the car park on the left of us and visitor centre on the right we quickly realised that to see this place in all of its beauty you need to be on the water and give yourself a fair few days. Lake Powell has 2000 miles of shoreline!
We were on the 89 heading south, taking the 160 and 163 east .
“Ian we’re getting close and we’re a day early, I booked the cabin from tomorrow”
So we stopped and booked in to a privately run motel around 20 miles outside of Monument Valley. The place was Navajo run with a 24 hour cafe/restaurant serving up traditional Navajo food. It was late afternoon and we were already getting a feel of what was to come, it was hot and the red sandstone buttes were casting shadows and throwing off a warm orange glow at the same time.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is accessed via the 163 if you are heading eastwards, there is a charge to enter the park and a 17 mile rough unpaved drive through the valley. Ideally you need a 4×4 vehicle if you decide to go it alone but this way you put yourself at a disadvantage because along the trail there are restricted area’s accessible only through invitation or if you have a Navajo guide.
Some companies have purpose built vehicles taking out tours on a daily basis, from what I saw some have Navajo guides and some don’t.
A couple of things were for certain, firstly we would need a tour vehicle, the Mustang just wouldn’t cut it and part of the insurance agreement on the hire clearly states to NOT take any hire vehicle on this particular drive, and secondly we would love a Navajo guide.
It was 4.30pm and we decided to take the 20 mile trip to the Park and see if we could take a late tour and watch the sun go down over Monument Valley.
“I think we are going to be too late” said Ian
As we got nearer we saw a couple of tour vehicles heading back to the main car park away from the park. Each had about six to eight people in. The rest of the place was desolate and we weren’t feeling particularly optimistic. Some of the gift shops were closed but we saw plenty of signs offering different types of tours, the last tour of the day being the 3 hour sunset tour leaving at 4pm. It was now just gone 5. We got talking to a lovely Navajo lady about her wonderful handmade jewelry, how lucky we felt to be there, the sense of calm and the stunning orange of the light that was being cast by the sun across the sandstone buttes. I mentioned that we had hoped to take the sunset tour but we were there for three days so we had time, we said our goodbyes and turned to leave.
“I can take you out, I can do really fast tour, three hours in two . We see everywhere the same, just quicker!” She had appeared from nowhere, apparently the sister of the lady we had been talking to. She introduced herself as Sandria. Over the next few hours she made us laugh hysterically and cry like babies she was perfect.
“We will have to go now, you ready?”
We climbed onto a small bench seat in the back of her Chevy Silverado pick up , just the two of us, and foot to the floor she was off. We didn’t have time to comment on anything, the scenery, the speed of the truck, the sand in our eyes, the hot wind blowing in our faces, our mouths were clamped shut. After a few miles of paved road we reached the View Hotel, Navajo owned and run, it’s the only Hotel inside the park and the entrance to the 17 mile drive.
You’ve got to imagine that Sandria was inside the truck at the front and we were outside at the back, once inside the park we were overtaking people who had risked bringing in their own cars and were obviously struggling.
“Were you wanna change pronto?” was what we thought she screamed from the inside of the truck
“Sorry, we can’t hear you”
“Floato, you wanna change?”
She stuck her head out of the window
“Photo, you wanna take? I can stop in a minute at nice place”
2 minutes later she slid the truck in sideways amongst a group of Japanese students and their German looking guide, they were learning about the history of the area, geology etc.
“Ok now, out, take photo!”
30 seconds later
“Ok back in quick”
By this time we were laughing hysterically, normally tears would have run down my cheeks but the wind and sand in my face weren’t allowing for any of that rubbish.
“Snoopy” She shouted pointing out of the window to one of the sandstone buttes.
“Tom and Jerry, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha ha!”
Then foot hard on the brake she stopped the pick up and got out for the first time.
“Awww, this very famous. Bon Jovi, yeah you know?”
“He did video, was here for a lot of days. Slept in tent on top of that one, (pointing) Helicopters and everything, I like this, I like rock music, do you like rock music?”
“It’s mostly what I listen to” although I wasn’t ready right then to admit I had never really been a fan of Bon Jovi.
After going through a list of Rock Bands that I loved and the ones we had seen live I felt at that point like we had passed some kind of initiation. We turned up late and had expected everything and we were getting it all rough Navajo style.
“Ok I will take you where everybody loves to go, you know you must’ve seen it on tv, John Ford place with the horse, you can sit on horse if you want to or you can have fry bread, my friend she makes good fry bread”
Fry bread as I understand it is a bread dough, left to rise then shaped into pizza size rounds and fried. It’s specifically a Navajo Indian thing.
We did go to John Ford point, at a slower pace, Sandria ate fry bread , Ian looked at gifts and for the first time this is where I felt Monument Valley, sort of calm and knowing. Although this is quite a commercialized area for inside the park, at that point in the tour I weirdly felt at one with it.
“You ok to leave now, we go visit my aunt, I will telephone her”
“You’re going to telephone your aunt, there is no phone signal here?”
“Ha, ha , ha , ha , ha I know, ha , ha, ha”
We disappeared up a very narrow restricted road around the side of a sandstone mesa and back down again into a Hogan village. I was so excited at that point to have my Navajo guide and to be in a restricted area although we got the impression that if we hadn’t admitted to loving AC/DC , amongst others, we would be somewhere completely different.
What went on next has to remain confidential. I will only tell you if you bring me specialty cheese and admit to liking thrash metal.
I’m not sure whether our next stop was in a restricted or unrestricted area. It was a cave type natural sandstone arch “Eye Of The Sun”. The eye, a hole in the top of the archway, was where we were told to look.
Sandria found us a place to lie comfortably on our backs, she told us to relax and just to take in and feel what was around us. She stepped a few paces back and told us that because there was just the three of us alone she would sing. She sang to us the most beautiful Navajo song. Of course I had no idea what she was singing, but her voice was wonderfully hypnotic, enchanting.
She stopped and as if in a state of temporary paralysis we lay there, it was so quiet. I looked at Ian and tears were pouring down his face as were mine.
“Beautiful thank you”
She explained it was a welcome song. Still sitting she told us to look around. The walls were covered in ancient animal drawings. Wow !
We had already gone past our two hour deadline, but were quietly taken to a place with no introduction.
“You’ll see the best sunset from here” She explained. It was just us so quiet and stunningly beautiful.
The change of light, colour and shadow can only be seen and felt, I wouldn’t know where to start with words. Right then there was nothing else and it wasn’t until the next day that we realised we hadn’t taken any photos …
We wandered back at a slower pace, slowly losing sunlight and passing the occasional marooned tourist in their town car balanced on a boulder or half in half out of a ditch. I wondered what was the protocol. Lock them in at closing, with a sign for the car written in Navajo saying “Serve you right for not listening” or maybe they tow them out at a cost still using the same sign.
We said our goodbyes to Sandria and later jointly counted our blessing for having a guide that suited us, our personalities, our impatience, our not being too fond of standing around listening to tour guides going through the motions.
We didn’t learn history, geology or very much in the way of Navajo traditions from Sandria but we got to spend an afternoon with her in her life, amongst her family and in her place. We felt honoured.
We had to do it, we drove the Mustang back to the park and parked up to watch the very last of the sunlight disappear.
Heading back to the motel and knowing there was a 24 hour cafe was a good feeling. It must have been around 10.30pm when we eventually ate. The place was empty with the exception of two truck drivers, just passing through I guessed. I ordered a beautiful liver and onions with mash and Ian had Navajo burger. Huge fry bread with burger and all the trimmings. The girl who served Ian smiled in a kind of ‘I dare you to eat it all’ way. He did eat it all of course.
Excited to get to our cabin just a few miles outside the park we left early the next morning. It was awesome, six cabins I think in total a good amount of space between each with a picnic table and bbq. Inside was similar to the cabin in Kanab but with the luxury of a small bathroom and kitchen.
Being an RV park and camp site I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we couldn’t have wished for better. Firstly we were surrounded by sandstone buttes, right there on our doorstep, we were amongst them. They were red, the sand was red as were you by the end of each day. Our cabin was the highest so the view was phenomenal nothing was on flat ground and the RV’s and tents were tucked into their own private areas.
That day had to be one of the hottest we had experienced since we had arrived in the US, with the exception of the lowest points in Death Valley. We bought supplies from the local shops, got back stripped off to the bare minimum and sat on our little Verandah just looking until eventually the sun went down on one more day. The sand and sun combined had sent us different shades of red.
Monument Valley is in the four corners region. The four corners monument marks the point in the Southwestern USA where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. So during our stay of course it was necessary to visit that point and stick a leg and an arm into each state at the same time and get a photo. It was very commercialized but well thought out, with a kind of sweet sophistication.
We visited the Mexican Hat as did everyone else, but the heat was getting so we couldn’t move around too much in the day, unless we were in the car with the air conditioning on and that suited me just fine.
Taking drives into Colorado we were surprised how it was almost instantly greener and meandering. We were heading into New Mexico after Monument Valley so decided to leave any traveling that way until then.
Most of the day we watched the view of the Buttes from our cabin, in HD, 3D, and as if we were on LSD they changed with the light from the proud heads of Native Indians to John Cleese, Oliver Hardy and Kermit the Frog.
One of the first things I noticed about Monument Valley, apart from the obvious, was the abundance of homeless dogs which was hard for me to deal with because a few weeks before we left on our flight out to the US I had to make the awful decision to put my beautiful 18 year Collie to rest after a short illness. On the first night in our cabin we were visited by Betty the dog, she came in two forms, rough haired and orange, or black and sleek depending on what she had been up to. Personally I think she dressed for dinner, she would turn up at the same time every night and lay curled at the bottom of our cabin steps as if to say “Been a rough day, but I’ve freshened up and I’ll just chill here for a bit and check out the view, not asking for anything, not like I’m checking out your steaks on the barbeque or anything”
There were signs asking you not to feed the dogs but it was obvious that people rarely took notice, Betty looked a healthy weight and was exceptionally clever she played a good game and I was more than willing to play the part of feeder, she was unassuming always allowing us to eat first and waiting to be called for leftovers. That was Betty that was the way she was until we left, unassuming, calm, gentle, elegant and exceptionally clever. The ranger would pay impromptu visits to the park, she could hear his car a good minute before it arrived and go and hide behind the cabin. It was really hard leaving Monument Valley, and Betty the dog, but I am confident in thinking that like the Charming guy who seduces Shirley Valentine , Betty just washes herself down and moves onto the next person and the next left over steak.
“So Ian what do you think, am I Navajo?” I asked jokingly
“Well you’re mostly miserable, assuming and not very likeable when you first meet someone, you’ve got the weirdest sense of humour, love speed, heavy rock and food so yes possibly”
“And what about you, is Monument Valley still your Mecca?”
So Welderup, what did I expect? An elaborate film set with a dirty workshop out back where real men in ripped jeans work long hours to tight deadlines whilst the cast and crew members drink beer and throw them the occasional cheese sandwich? Or maybe a museum display of every build that has graced our screens and some cheeky ones that they ‘Snuck in’ to induce panic into those who thought they had seen every episode? Dirty sweaty men out back, tour guide up front?
Did we have to pay, did we need an appointment?
We were still sitting in the car and the place seemed really quiet, nobody around that we could see. What broke the silence was a guy reversing a fork lift truck at speed towards us, tanned and toned in cut off jeans. He spun around and picked up a 57 Chevy with the same ease as a Granny putting cake on a cake slice. After acknowledging us with a wave he headed back inside.
“That was Steve” Ian said (Mastermind creator and artistic genius with the beautiful eyes)
“Ok so what do we do now?”
“He waved at us”
We followed the forklift inside and the place was everything I had anticipated with the exception of the dirty workshop outback. The real men were the cast members, hard working guys with years of experience, expertise and a great passion for what they do. It became obvious quite quickly why the business had become such a success. They have the perfect work/play balance and still remain incredibly humble. Each one of them that day took time out from what they were doing to speak to us
We learnt from Travis Deeter, (Welder/Fabricator and artist) that the deadlines you see on screen run true to how we see them. Ian seemed to bond with him on an artistic level. He explained that one problem he has with the filming is continuity, stopping and starting breaking the flow of progression and being in the zone artistically.
I wandered around some of the cars from the show but I’m going to leave the photos to speak for themselves with the exception of ‘Quit Your Bitchin” A 1930 Ford Model A Rat Rod Gasser, it’s a crazy kind of steampunky, vintagey, I’ve been down the scrapyardy and turned old metal into pure gold type of thing. Initially commissioned by Steve’s brother, who was on limited funds, it seems his brief and budget messed with Steve’s flow and progression and the frustration of having restrictions led to Steve, who just doesn’t seem to do anything by halves, sinking a whole load of his own cash and a Hemi V8 he had been saving for that special something into the build. Differences of opinion led to words being spoken that sometimes are saved only for family in business situations. I believe that’s where the idea for the name came from. At that time ‘Quit Your Bitchin” was rightly taking centre stage.
Whilst Ian spent some time looking around the cars I got some alone time talking to Steve but not only was I distracted by his eyes I had a massive hangover from the night before.
“How did you get into all of this?” I asked, immediately ashamed at my lack of imagination and knowing that he must have been asked the same question a million times before.
And then, bow my head in shame, I stopped listening! We had stepped off the street, wandered into an average working day for them and they had given up their time to speak to us, and I stopped listening!! I am still waiting for my punishment.
This is what I remember …..
“Junkyards ………. farmers fields, ………….Rodeo………….Five finger death Punch”
Ian had arrived completely star-struck but chilled out pretty quickly when it became clear that these incredibly talented men are just your down to earth types. Steve putting his work ethic down to his father and grandfather, his two heroes apparently. Whilst we were sitting in the car park deciding where to head next Travis left in his truck, sounded his horn and waved, Justin did the same. Ian lifted his hand and headed back into fairyland …
Tryin’ to get a Lie-in in Zion
The map told us we were at the bottom left side of Vegas, our heads told us to step away from the lights, not because we were scared of re-entering the city and becoming part of a 1970’s cop drama but because they actually hurt. Extreme heat and an excess of alcohol the night before was calling for one thing, a tower of meat, cheese and what ever else can be crammed in between two loaves of bread, eaten maybe in a field with a donkey rather than in Egypt, Paris, or at The Circus.
We had a vague plan for the next week, starting with “We are here” and ending up with “We need to be there” The place we needed to be was Monument Valley in a few days time but up until then the road was ours. A few things needed to be sorted, firstly “Ok where next?” and our bag of ice was now fit only for a goldfish.
Interstate 15 runs North to South through the West Side of the USA from the Mexican border to Alberta in Canada, cutting through Vegas. We studied the map for 5 seconds and decided to head north to Zion National Park and Canyon around 200 miles away. The 15 would get us there quicker, but there was a more scenic route that took us to the left of Lake Mead through the Valley Of Fire state park later joining up with the 15 just south of the Arizona border. Scenic routes on our American Road Atlas were marked with a dotted line and looking at the map you could see that there were countless options to have your mind blown, we took routes 167 and 169 and they did just that. Meandering and undulating through a deep sided valley, dark red sandstone towers either side of you, kind of more craggy than what we had experienced already on our trip, they were formed apparently from great shifting sand dunes around 150 million years ago! With the sunlight on them they glowed and cast the most amazing light. I am a sucker for terracotta against blue and it was offering it to me on repeat.
Back on the 15 the road leaves Nevada and cuts through the top left corner of Arizona for around 30 miles before entering Utah. I Googled Zion National Park and this is what I got, “229 square miles with Zion Canyon, a prominent feature, 15 miles long and half a mile deep. A scenic drive cuts through the main section leading to forest trails along the Virgin River. The river flows to the Emerald pools which have Waterfalls and a hanging garden”! What an offering! How is it possible to be given such vast extremes of ‘Wow’ over just a few hundred miles?
Closer to Zion and you definitely do start to notice the change in landscape together with the increase in hotels, motels, places to shop and stop and eat. We had already had our burger tower, eaten a small corner and put the rest in the newly stocked fridge to keep us going for the rest of the week! We had decided to get as close as we could to the park entrance before we stopped to try and find a room. The first place was fully booked and I did feel a need to take my shoes off at the door, over the road also booked and was also very clean and shiny. Attempt number three put us back on the road in the car heading back in the direction we had come.
“Lets drive about 5 miles out” says Ian “ and we’ll try again”
Long story short we didn’t end up visiting Zion National Park and were starting to wonder if after falling in love with Beatty and Death Valley nothing could compare and we were now happier on the road, enjoying the journey and the scenery rather than the destination, car park, gift shop and visitor centre.
On our last attempt at finding a bed anywhere near we were told that if we actually wanted to enter the park we would have to take a guided bus tour. Apparently cars aren’t allowed inside between certain dates and we were between those dates. That kind of did it for us.
We arrived a couple of hours later in the city of Hurricane stopping at the first hotel that advertised vacancies. It was dark but the city lights made for an artificial day time with weird shadows. Whilst Ian was checking us in I noticed the place was alive with young people lurking in the dark places. On the balconies, car park and in the high fenced swimming pool, they were exceptionally happy. The motel had three storeys and apart from the ground floor each room opened up onto a long shared balcony. We had to squeeze past the happy people to get our door open. On the other side of the door a sign “Do not, under any circumstances, open the door to anyone EVER!” The huge gap around the door meant that they were partly in with us anyway!
Another sign read that we will find everything we need in room 24! That night we ate Chinese food in bed and listened to Jayden talk about Zen through the gap in the door.
Next morning I picked up a cardboard bowl from room 24 for my inclusive breakfast and because there was no space to sit I tried to eat brightly coloured hoops with a plastic spoon on the side of a busy road but it all blew away when a truck passed!
We decided to continue heading east towards Monument Valley, I had booked a cabin at Gouldings Lodge but we still had a few days until our arrival date.
“Let’s just carry on East and see what happens”
We had to admit we were feeling a bit lost in more ways than one, being kept awake by Zen hadn’t helped, and the over indulgence over the last few days was taking its toll. Choice of CD for today’s journey Guns N’ Roses, track playing ‘Garden Of Eden’
“Lost in the Garden of Eden
And there’s no one who’s gonna believe this
The fire is burnin’ and it’s out of control
It’s not a problem you can stop it’s rock n roll
Suck on that” !!
“Hey Ian that’s it”
“We’re living the Rock and Roll lifestyle”
“I think I need the toilet”
“I think I need a gentle head massage, a cucumber sandwich and a sleep”
We switched CD’s to Santana, they seemed to have more sympathy for what we were going through. The road took us east for 70 miles out of Utah into Arizona and back into Utah again until we settled in the town of Kanab for a whole three days and a completely different experience …
Beatty, Death Valley was still holding on to us, this time in the form of a man with a bucket of Coke, a straw and what seemed to be a comic wrapped car. The man was artist David Ohlerking and the car a Ford Crown Victoria, his mobile studio, the paintwork however is a forever evolving masterpiece, the creations of curious small children who have gathered over the years to watch David paint and have asked if they could have a go too, they get free rein on the car.
David has travelled the world extensively through his life. A professional musician and later an artist, he has happily scoured the streets of the US with his mobile studio parking up whenever the mood takes him. He recreates street scenes with oils on canvas that you just want to step into. Turns out Beatty and it’s people have stolen a piece of his heart too, on meeting him he was the new artist in residence at Goldwells Museum in Rhyolite a ghost town just outside Beatty, He was living in an RV behind the main building and was looking to move there on a more permanent basis.
One of the things that I loved about the USA was that if you take the time out to talk to a stranger they are very accommodating and always seem to have an interesting story to tell.
After buying my very own bucket of Coke we tried to say our goodbyes to David.
“You can’t leave yet, you need to go and check out Rhyolite and the museum” We learnt that Goldwells is an outdoor museum, the wonderfully bizarre collection is the work of a group of Belgian artists.
He suggested Ian could be their next resident artist, and we too could live in an RV behind the museum! He was insistent we head down there to check the place out and to speak to his friend about the residency. He gave us his contact and told us to stay in touch. What an inspirational guy and after checking out his website, life story etc he is somewhat of a celebrity. What an honour!
We headed out of Beatty but not on the 95 to Vegas, back into Death Valley to the Ghost Town that is Rhyolite and Goldwells Museum. 5 miles of mostly long, empty straight road. Today’s choice of CD was Santana and right now it was giving us some “Soul Sacrifice”.
“Our new address could be Ian Guy, RV, Ghost Town, Death Valley”
“Do you think he was serious?”
“He seemed genuine, nice guy I thought”
The sun was so hot and it’s rays so bright on the car that they were casting strong reflections. The sandy track to Rhyolite was difficult to see, it could almost have been part of a mirage, we took the turning right and drove blind through an almost heavenly spotlight, a suitable entrance to a spectacularly spooky showcase. We pulled up to park and switching off the engine and music was like turning off the soundtrack to the world .The silence that is Death Valley hit us again, that together with the far reaching views of the desert we both strangely shed a silent tear. We were alone, or at least we thought so.
“Is that a reinterpretation of the last supper over there?” I asked
“I think it is” Ian replied
We both swore.
The forms were life size and set on a wooden plinth, beautifully eerie against the back drop of the desert. Ghostly, in that each seemed to be a shroud cast around a human form.
Some way over to the right was a separate piece, he was alone, same shroud cast, he had a bike, but I think the bike had a problem, whatever his story he wasn’t happy. I’m no art critic so I will let the photos do the talking and you can make up your own minds
David’s friend had put a ‘Back soon‘ sign on the door of his cabin, so we put our business card in a belt loop of a pair of Daisy Duke shorts that had been nailed to a post, and we turned to leave.
“Blows your mind dun’t it!” a younger couple, obviously English and most certainly northern were stood some way behind us checking out a giant mosaic sofa. Turns out he was from the same town I grew up in. Once we had established our joint love of pie and gravy, paused for a while in a Northern Chip Shop stupor we moved onto stories of our separate road trips. The pie and gravy seed however had been planted and it affected all rational thinking over the next few days!
These guys had been in the U.S for a couple of months already and I can only explain their way of getting around and enjoying themselves as binge travelling in that they will hire/buy bikes (the pedal type) camp in the desert for a week or so or until they run out of resources then hire a top of the range vehicle and stay somewhere exceptionally exclusive for a few days. There was no vehicle that I could see right then in that car park but they too were heading for Vegas, they had booked a suite in the Palazzo and were offering us a room for our stay. They tried to convince us that they would be in Vegas by the end of the day , it was all said in jest but they did indeed arrive in Vegas a day ahead of us, but right then at that moment we were on a mission to see who could get there first and I was on a much more important mission to find real English Northern gravy! We swapped contacts and finally left Beatty and Death Valley on US Route 95 to Vegas, 117 miles of desert road.
Santana was still in the player, and it just worked with the road like it was meant to be. We were silent for almost 40 miles of long straight dusty bliss, eventually pulling over at the Area 51 Alien centre, Rocket Diner and Brothel. One building incorporating all three! a door leading from the back of the everything that you could possibly imagine alien themed store into a traditional American Diner and if you have the time, energy or the inclination you can head on through to Sci Fi themed fun out the back !
Although brothels are legal in some parts of Nevada, they are strictly regulated and apparently only operate in isolated rural areas.
We hadn’t seen any signs to say that it was there but I had been chatting to the very nice man on the front desk who was filling me in on the story behind the idea for the place and its founder.
The conversation between Ian and myself in the store afterwards.
Ian said “I gotta buy this 2ft rubber Alien”
“And what about this T shirt? I like the bunnies.”
“It’s advertising a Brothel, The Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Carson City.”
“Yes, there’s one back there too, through the diner”
“It’s got a Sci Fi theme”
“No way, sexy aliens??!!”
“More of your Star Wars characters I think with a bit of Avatar thrown in”
At this point we see a very cute older couple walking hand in hand out of the diner with the biggest of smiles. They had picked up on our English accent and asked where we were heading and suggested that we could go out back and build our own English breakfast muffin!
We bought an ice cream and sat on the front veranda wondering if we might get a glimpse of Darth Vader maybe heading in for the night shift!
Planting a Gravy Tree and getting a Mountain.
Back on the road, and around 80 miles from Vegas, choice of CD was our own compilation. First song “Holiday Road” 1983 single written and recorded by Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, such a feel good song. After 30 miles I noticed the landscape was changing, nothing dramatic at first but more prominent mountains were starting to appear on the horizon to the right of us. After a while I wasn’t sure if I was looking at a huge mountain some distance away or something smaller and closer.
“Hey Ian, that mountain over there has got snow on its peak”
“Really? I think it’s just reflection, it’s 95 degrees out there”
“It’s really high, and what would it be reflecting?”
“How far away do you think it is?”
“20, maybe 25 miles? Shall I take the next right turn?”
“Yeah take it, they might have gravy?”
“Whoever is at the top where it’s snowing, gravy or casserole”
We turned right a few miles down and I got out the map.
I turned to Ian.
“Ok Mount Charleston standing at 11,916ft, I don’t think there is any chance of us getting lost, this road takes us up to the peak and we can either come back this way or it joins up to another road in a kind of loop and works it way back down to join the 95 not far out of Vegas. Hey Ian”.
“I can see people skiing! Oh and reindeer, elves, Santa, I can see Christmas!”
There are some tight bends on the road to the peak and yes it was about 25miles, the temperature dropped from 95 degrees to 57 and the scenery was spectacular. A view point some way up let us see the expanse of the desert below us. I had wondered if it would have been possible to see Vegas from the peak seeing as we were so close but it didn’t happen, from the opposite end though it is apparently possible to see the mountain from some points on the strip. It was reminding me of parts of Austria I had been to but on a much larger scale. Impressive log houses, beautifully designed and perched high on mountain ledges.
It was getting later in the day and Ian pulled into the car park of The Mount Charleston Lodge and Cabins. We could see just a few rental cabins from the road and were expecting them to be fully booked.
Ian said “Shall we stay the night?”
“It looks a bit exclusive, bet it’s expensive”
$120 dollars for the night, taking into consideration the exchange rate at the time and the price of a room in a standard B+B in the UK it was more than worth it.
We were given a map and our key and as we stood on the edge of the car park we looked down onto the roofs of the other cabins and we made our descent.
I’ve seen that this place has been left some bad reviews by American tourists but I have stayed in so called log cabins in Disneyland Paris, and some in the UK. They are mostly wooden clad static caravans at twice the price! This place was perfect, one large main room with a huge central log burner, gas, on a timer so it was lit for our arrival, a large window and door opposite the entrance, a balcony with fantastic views and a double swinging seat. The bed was huge and of course the large bubbling jacuzzi by its side. Unfortunately there hadn’t been any snowfall, but it was forecast over the coming week.
That night we ate too much, drank too much, and stayed in that jacuzzi until we actually squeaked! I thought it was just a saying but I was still squeaky I’m sure when we arrived in Monument Valley a few days later!!
We made our descent from the mountain the next morning after breakfast in the restaurant next door, and were back on the 95 around thirty minutes later, further down the road and very close to Vegas and it was hot!!
“By the look of the map, you just carry on along the 95 and it takes you straight into Vegas” I said
“Ok” Ian said.
We waited for that sign, you know the one, but nothing was “Welcoming us to Vegas” and Vegas wasn’t particularly welcoming.
“We’ve gone wrong somewhere Ian”
“Was thinking the same”
“This is kind of rough”
I was starting to feel a bit uneasy. We had bought an American Sat Nav in the UK and we decided to use it for the first time.
It was a woman’s voice and she was terribly excitable. Like she hadn’t been out of that box for years and when she realised she was going to Vegas was hardly able to control herself.
We set off,
“Go Straight” She said
“At the next junction go straight”
We were in the middle of a three lane carriageway.
“Ian this car at the side of me (Black Range Rover with completely blacked out windows) is driving really close to my window, we’ve almost touched a few times, he’s swerving in and out”
“Yeah I’ve seen, I have got the same going on my side with an identical Range Rover, every time I speed up or slow down so does he, in fact it’s going on both sides. Looks like they’re together”
“What the f**K”
“I don’t know”
At this point I almost leave my seat and end up on the bonnet of the car!
“What are you doing?”
“Braking!” another one, identical, had just pulled straight in front of us! “Have you seen the number plate?”
“THE FIRM! haha, some kind of joke, we are in Vegas”
This went on for a few more minutes, both cars on either side swerving inwards missing us by inches each time with the one in front determining our speed.
“Ian they either think we are the Queen and this is some kind of royal escort Vegas style, or we’re in trouble” He subtly flicked the central locking switch.
In the meantime Sally had gone into Sat Nav Breakdown.
Make a U turn where possible was on repeat!!
Just when I was wondering if it would have been a better idea to stay in bed, at the next junction the car in front wheel spun off the lights and disappeared into the distance, the car on my side turned right, Ian’s took the left turning and yes all had matching number plates, we were out of the city. To this day I still have no idea where we went or what happened and why.
“Ian lets pull over”
“Just to try and work out what happened, where we are, and let’s put bloody Sally back in her box she’s lost the plot”!
I carried on “That was weird, let’s get out of here, shall we use the Sat Nav on our phone”?
“OK, but where are we going?”
“Welderup baby, Sin City Motors, they’re just outside of Vegas I’ve put the address in the phone already”
And thus we woke up Patricia via Samsung a really expensive way to get around we discovered when we got our next phone bill, it was Sunday and she was pretty Chilled.
“Ok guy’s, I can sense tension in the air” she rose from her lounge chair and floated over to the patio window staring out at the view of the wonderfully changing colours of the English countryside in the autumn. She leaned over and stubbed out her cigarette on the edge of a large vintage oak table.
“Welderup, don’t worry you’re going to be fine with me, you are in safe hands”. Sure enough twenty-five minutes later we were parked outside the large metal gates of Ian’s latest man crush and all of his fabulous toys.
A little explanation, at the end of April 2014 TV trailers on UK Dave Channel were advertising the start of a new series of shows “Sin City Motors” filmed at their Car Customization shop “Welderup” in Las Vegas where Steve Darnell is the mastermind behind every creation, and together with his truly talented team of welder fabricators, engine builders and an artist they will take on any challenge and bring any vision to life!
So by May 2014 the tension was quietly building in our house and Ian was more than ready for the first episode of the show, and after speaking to like minded friends they were too. I missed the first part of the first episode, don’t get me wrong I love the cars and what these guys do but I was just going to let him fill me in with the details.
Ian watched the first part of the first episode up in his studio, I was in the lounge. After around fifteen minutes he came down the stairs so quickly I thought he may have just thrown himself down or rolled.
He burst in “You have got to switch channels, it’s the break, you’re not watching anything in particular are you?”
“No not really”
“Watch it with me and tell me what you think, it’s unbelievable”
“Just watch, you can’t miss it, it’s almost unreal”
So the show comes back on and Ian’s eye’s are on me then back on the TV then back to me.
“Oh” he says
“What?” I say
“They’re not as impressive on this TV, still really beautiful but not the same”
“Steve Darnell’s eye’s, absolutely stunning on my TV!”
I had to agree he did have very pretty eyes. And there we were five months later parked outside his front gates and I was about to look directly into those beautiful blue eyes and strike up a conversation with him about his life, work, kids and his relationship with his brother and his dad ……….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
“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?”
“Yeah would you want to see Elvis stuff?”
“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, magazines have 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.
“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.
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!
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”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 ……….
Quite often when we are trading at shows people will ask us what Ian gets up to when we aren’t at an event? What happens on a daily basis? What is a day like in the life of an artist? Sometimes I will be asked what part I play, what is it like “Living with the artist”? I never know how to answer really because it’s definitely not the romantic vision some might have.
Ian suggested a few months ago that maybe “We” could possibly put something down in writing, he thought it could make more sense than the drivel that comes out of our mouths at shows!
Okay so what would I write? The most interesting things that happen in the studio are the result of all that is confined to the space between Ian’s ears and wouldn’t I just love to pop there for the day and have a good look around, possibly come back to my world needing a lie down, a massage, and a few shots of something strong! I will never have what Ian has, I believe it was something he was born with. It’s personal, it’s vastly complicated, emotional, and so many other things that only Ian could unfold in a wonderfully descriptive way and it would just flow from him and make complete sense. So my argument is that surely he is the man for the job. His argument “I do drawing not writing and I’m not very comfortable talking about myself”
He asked if it could possibly be some kind of article for the blog on his website, he says it could help to “keep it alive”. He gave me a couple of titles to choose from and I laughed because I felt like a kid in school again.
Anyway I’ve given in, not because he nags so much but because he does this weird thing with his eyes, a bit like the snake from Jungle book, and I’m sure in that space between his ears he also has stored waves of persuasion and once he finds a victim there is no chance of escape! I didn’t give in easily though, oh no! there was a fair amount of moaning in an already defeated way, something along the lines of how a kid would act when asked to clean the bath for the first time. “I can’t do it, I just can’t think of anything about our day that would be worth writing about! Who is going to read it anyway? What does alive mean? Not sure if I want the responsibility of keeping anything alive!”
So here it is. One thing I’m sure of is it won’t be what Ian expected because I actually have no idea where this is going, so please don’t ask to see me at the end of class.
Back to the question in hand, generally if we aren’t disturbed by the outside world, Ian can spend up to 14 hours in the studio in any one day. He’s always working to a deadline with a list of commissions taking him through to 2020. Most will be gifts for special occasions so he has had to be really strict with his time, something he has had to learn and if I’m honest something he has really struggled with, but to this day he has never missed a deadline even if it has meant going to bed at 5am.
After years of hard work building up the business to where it is now I would say we are in a happy place. Day to day life in the office/studio is pretty routine with the exception of occasionally being sideswiped by the excitement of an offer Ian just can’t refuse. They can arrive by email, post, telephone, good old facebook, and sudden phone calls from people who say “We are in the area, is it possible we could pop in?” It’s always exciting and you never quite know what you are going to get next.
For instance, a while ago we had an email from the very well known and respected Ken Schmidt from The Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop in New York. He commissioned a piece from Ian for inclusion in his ‘Book of Gow’, a double page fold out no less, exciting times! The book is now available to buy in the US and Graham at American Automags here in the UK has been given exclusive distribution rights.
There can be really quiet days, usually in between commissions, when Ian wears his snake eyes and seems to breathe differently, kind of looking through things instead of at them. I have discovered this is when he is creating in his mind. It can happen at any time. Route 66 on a holiday of a lifetime, the inspiration behind a lot of Ian’s paintings, I lost him for a whole three days. I’ve learnt not to take it personally.
We were at school together, I considered him my best friend and he was already a fantastic artist. I kind of had a crush, nothing I would admit to though because I was way too cool. Turns out he felt the same but we went our separate ways at 18 because I did take it personally.
If I would have taken the time to look deeper into what was going on I possibly could have seen that great art doesn’t just emerge from empty minds and maybe things would’ve been different, or maybe not. Our homes were miles apart and whilst I was out drinking with friends and generally misbehaving, Ian was at home alone in his bedroom creating. He was the only child of an extremely possessive mother, his dad was killed when he was just four. He can now see that drawing was his escape, a way of coping.
The first time Ian noticed me at school I was 13 and hula hooping for a charity event, the zip broke on my skirt and it ended up round my ankles. I carried on regardless.
There is no part of me that has any kind of artistic flare, not through want of trying either, but at 14 when it came time to make subject choices I decided I was going to be an artist. I didn’t ever get anywhere near creating anything decent or even recognizable, but by the age of 16 Ian and I were spending a lot of time together, he was studious and mostly well behaved but he had started to join me at my secret skiving locations and I’ve got to admit it felt good to be leading him astray. I remember us talking endlessly about road trips, finding the longest straight road we could in the world to drive down, making it our mission. What vehicle would we choose? How fast would we go? Sleeping in an old pick up under the stars.
I decided to take art at O Level merely for the purpose of being in the same room as Ian and watching him draw, I’d had just about enough of school by then.
What I didn’t expect or understand at that age was the often daily transition from Ian to Artist. It mostly happened somewhere between the skiving place and the art room, I lost him completely to his creativity and there was absolutely nothing I could do to create any kind of distraction.
This became even more evident when we met up again nearly 20 years later and he couldn’t remember me ever taking art as a subject at school, he still can’t , he did admit to being wildly in lust with me though, which kind of made me realise the power of that transition !!
At 18 Ian went off to college and gained a national diploma in Graphic Design, a path he said he had been lead down after leaving school, he admits to not really having a clue where he wanted his art to take him, he just liked drawing. At the time though, in my eyes, he seemed to have a strange kind of confidence. I thought he was sorted, he now says he was just lost. Ian spent a couple of years after college at the beck and call of his mother and in the Mid 80’s in a desperate bid to be free and gain some kind of independence he bought a Gallery in St Ives Cornwall! (it was the days when you could get a 100% mortgage on projected earnings.) St Ives was somewhere he discovered had held a special place in his dad’s heart too. Ian spent almost 15 years there, it was successful to some extent but his customer base was restricted to tourists and he was painting seascapes just to pay the bills, it didn’t end well.
I had left school, messed around a bit in different jobs. Got married, had a daughter Lucie and when she was just a few months old drove with her to Hungary in my old VW Golf to start a new life. I stayed there until my marriage fell apart 10 years later. Strangely Ian lost his Gallery roughly around the same time as I arrived back in the UK. We were both lost and having separately to start a new chapter in our lives.
Ian and I found each other again in 2002, but that’s another story and I feel like I have gone massively off track.
Hugely insecure, and definitely not at all confident in his abilities as an artist, Ian would subconsciously restrict himself , I believe through a fear of exposing himself to an audience where he would possibly be ridiculed, one negative comment would’ve sent him running for the hills. It frustrated the hell out of me, all those years, all that hard work and he didn’t have a penny to his name either.
The next few years were difficult. Ian helped me run a small business restoring garden statues/ornaments from house clearances, something I had built up since moving back to the UK.
At home in our new flat though I was sorting through boxes and bits and pieces that Ian had brought up from Cornwall and I came across some of his old drawings and paintings in an old suitcase, mostly of cars in beautiful locations. At that point it hit me, I remembered this is what he doodled endlessly in our school books, Hot Rods, Muscle Cars, Chopper Bikes. But Motoring Art wasn’t accepted as art in schools so he’d been restricted.
With my head in the suitcase suitably gobsmacked at what I was seeing I got some kind of weird adrenalin rush, running around the house shouting things like “What the f**k are we doing? What have we been doing? What a f**king cock up!! Come on just believe it you’re f**king awesome now lets get on and do something about it!!” I Scared the Crap out of Ian. I’m sure I saw some of his creativity leak nervously out of the top of his head.
Strangely the same day my sister called and, knowing Ian was into cars and bikes, told us about a bike show that was taking place locally the weekend after next, she thought that Ian might like to check it out. A few days later we bought a small gazebo and traded at the show with some of the paintings and prints from the suitcase. It was a success but not enough of a success to bring a smile to Ian’s face. So I checked out Ian’s car mags and found other shows across the country, car clubs and shows he had followed since he was a kid, venues he had only read about in magazines. Now after almost 15 years of trading at these events up and down the country he still thinks that our more successful shows are just a fluke and he’s still never completely happy with any finished piece or commission. I once asked him why and it took him a few days to answer….
“I think the day I reach the point where I am totally happy will be the day to hang up my brushes, and I’m not ready for that yet”
We have realised however how lucky we are in that we are able to incorporate work with travel. It might not be quite how we had talked about it in the skiving place but through the summer almost every weekend we are travelling to an event or show. We have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing like minded people and there is an understanding, everybody looks out for everybody else, it is what it is and I would never change it. That side of things just evolved for us without effort and we have pleasure in knowing some great people and have made friendships that will last a lifetime. Ian has always been an extremely talented artist but he has struggled with confidence issues, as most artists do. The person Ian is today has a lot to do with the massive appreciation of his work from all of the wonderful people we meet, and I know it sounds a bit sickly but also allowing Ian to be Ian and not just ‘The Artist’.
I can really see that I have gone massively off track, didn’t mean to write so much or go into so much detail on personal histories but I have just read it to Ian and he says he likes it, but is still asking if I could possibly do ‘A day in the life of ’ as it’s what people have been asking for.
So this is where I start moaning again like a kid.
“Oh Ian, I don’t know how to explain what we do through the winter, what do you want me to say? Nothing happens that’s worth talking about really does it? “The winter months can be really long and the days even longer, you concentrate on your commissions and are always working to a deadline. I know it’s always bloody cold here too and we are often up until 3am working because that’s the only time we get any peace. I know you eat too much cake, drink too much coffee, and I drink too much wine, and your constant nose bleeds, what’s that all about?
And when is Keith ever going to leave us alone we only have to leave the house for a minute and he’s there, have you noticed? Where does he actually come from? Do you think he sits there in a bush or something just waiting? I want to clean the windows, have you seen them? Of course you have you can’t actually see out! I can’t go out, he’s just there and he smiles weirdly and keeps stroking me.”
“You sing a lot I could tell people that”
“Yeah you often sing something that gives away what you are thinking. During your creative blank face phases it’s the only way of telling your mood and it’s actually quite helpful for me to know what I’m dealing with”
“Yes Really. You’re going to make a mental note now and stop doing it aren’t you, I shouldn’t have said anything because it can be quite entertaining too sometimes, you have given away so much”
“Have I, like what?”
“I don’t remember”
“Yeah go on give me an example?”
“Ok Chris Rea, Road to Hell”
“So what did that tell you?”
“I don’t know, couldn’t work that one out ….
The Interlink courier guy is nice, he comes here a lot we could tell people about him. He’s almost always on time you don’t get that often these days. The people opposite are moving out did you know? They’ve only been there a couple of months, what is it with that house? The people before put Christmas lights round their door in July, remember we helped them push that old Gypsy caravan in to their front garden and just when I thought things were getting interesting they took down the Christmas lights and a man called Colin came for the caravan and that was them gone! and where was Keith in all this? It’s just us, he’s not too bothered with anyone else it’s creepy” (Artist frowns in an ‘unsure where I am going with this’ kind of way)
“Hey I could tell people we saw Richard Hammond in Morrisons the other day, and how we actually finished our shopping and sat in the car for twenty minutes just to watch him come out so we could see what car he was driving. Do you think he has a Ford Focus just to stay inconspicuous? (Artist frowns again, I suspect pondering other possible reasons why Richard Hammond could have a Ford Focus)
I wonder what Richard Hammond does on a daily basis when he’s not driving cars on TV? I know what his wife gets up to she’s got a column in the Daily Express. I read a couple of articles, one was about the wonderment and chaos that ensued one night when her dog brought a live hedgehog into his kennel. She put the hedgehog carefully back in the hedge and they all lived happily ever after. The other article was about the pains of trying to decide what theme to have for her 50th Birthday party, I know 50!! She’s looking good on it, she’s very active and gets lots of fresh air. Anyway the theme also meant fancy dress and she had about 5 different ideas at different times leading up to the event. She made 5 different invitations for each idea and then went on holiday to Cyprus where she had a change of mind, asked for Richard’s thoughts and reading between the lines it sounds like Richard just wanted a theme which would involve the ladies wearing very little. I think they decided on Hollywood Glamour. We did get an invite you know, it was for the pirate themed idea though and I had already bought the outfits, I suppose pirates would have been fine for a Hollywood theme but I didn’t want to be ridiculed, Jeremy Clarkson can be a complete bastard!! I kind of like him for it though in a weird way” (Artist looking sad, I’m guessing having learnt that he had missed out on yet another celebrity party, together with the opportunity of being able to dress up as a pirate again)
He stops me ranting any further with
“Ok so what about a day in the life of though, an article about us, day to day, what people have been asking for?” (Artist getting impatient)
“Ian I just don’t know, an average day involves you stood with your back to me at the easel being a creative genius, you drink loads of coffee and eat cake. I sit in the opposite corner writing lists, answering emails/phone calls,
ordering stock, doing sums, framing pictures, packaging orders and putting them in piles by the front door for the Interlink guy. I’m probably responsible for logistics too if I completely understood what that meant.
If it means all of the organising and all of the packing for the shows and then telling you how to get there then yeah I do logistics. Do you know that every time we leave for a show once I’ve sorted and packed everything and you have hooked up the caravan, we get to the end of the drive and you always ask left or right?”
“Yeah I do that on purpose, for effect, its funny”
“Oh ok, so you know where you’re going then?”
“No not always”
“Not even if we’ve been there a million times before?”
“Sometimes but mostly no, things change, roads move around and stuff”
“So Ian is it enough that I write just about you always being stood at the easel, working to deadlines but with regular cake and coffee breaks, and that we go to bed mostly around 3am?”
“What time is it?” (Artist getting tired)
“Nearly half past two”
“Ok that’ll be fine, I think you’ve said enough.” ….. Artist giving up and sending me to bed whilst humming ‘Stand by your Man’