This painting, which I’ve called “Low Flyers”, had been festering in my mind for some time before I was able to capture it on canvas. I knew it had to be imposing and I wanted it to take the viewer through a varied range of emotions. The canvas needed to be large to make an impact not only when viewed but I wanted it to be ‘heard’ too. So deafening yet so humbling that it almost falls silent, begging the question, if a young girl screams excitedly but no one can hear her, does she actually make a noise? I chose a 2ft by 3ft canvas and had to force myself to find enough time to put aside to create this piece. This decision was helped along by my family telling me that putting it on hold was starting to affect my commissioned work and I was also becoming impossible to live with! Incentive enough!
Canvas primed and eagerly grabbing my oils and brushes I was ready to capture the feeling of speed and raw overwhelming power.
So here it is. Just as the boys and the girl think they’ve reached the edge of a full adrenalin rush in their hot rods suddenly from nowhere comes the almighty sound and overpowering presence of a B17 Flying Fortress bomber accompanied by a P51 Mustang and a P47 Thunderbolt!
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 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 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 age man was sat on our chair at our dining table reading a book with a map opened up next to it.
“Hey Honey it’s 163 miles to the Arizona border and around 90 miles of drivable 66”
Honey? Who, where was Honey? Why hadn’t this guy seen us? What was he doing in our caravan?
“Oh golly you should see these quaint little trinkets in here”
Ok we had located Honey she was in our bedroom.
“It say’s Route 66 in New Mexico is all about making choices , and following short loop drives, looks like we are going to be on the freeway for some miles”
“They have an old bath tub, oh this is just so fine”
Why hadn’t this guy seen us? Honey appeared from the bathroom with my hairbrush and makeup bag.
“Someone has left these behind”
Mr Honey looked up and all our eyes met at once, it was Mrs Honey who spoke first.
“Oh hi, isn’t this place just the best, Vicki has such a gift, such an eye for detail”
Ok let’s just forget gifts and detailed eyes for a minute, she had her hands wrapped around my roadtrip survival kit in a way that suggested she had claimed them for her own. Panic and paranoia had set in and on quickly checking out Ian I noticed he hadn’t brought the bloody flamingo.
“They’re mine, thank you” This was not spoken like a genuine thank but more like one you would say to a small child whilst trying to prise your new shoes out of his mouth. Why was I saying thank you. I held out my hands to retrieve my precious things.
Honey introduced herself as Gina, Mr Honey was Mike. Mike seemed polite initially but obviously massively distracted by the book and the map.
“You heading east or west?” he asked, not really looking up from the book.
“We’re heading west, just as far as Barstow though then up to Bakersfield for the Hot Rod Reunion”
“Ahh, I’d always recommend east to west, that’s the way it was back then” Still looking down, “You know there’s a misunderstanding that Route 66 is only drivable in small segments these days, but 85% of the original 2500 miles is still there for your driving pleasure, saying pleasure it depends what your driving, some parts can be almost impassable, you’d need something sturdy with good ground clearance, so what you driving Ian ?”
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 a 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 it’s 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 it’s 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”
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 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 that 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.
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 a 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 …
Planting a Gravy Tree and getting a Mountain. Alien Seduction to Vegas Induction – by Mandy.
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!
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 it’s 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, a magazine has asked for an article (Yeah I know weird) and Ian is constantly asking me to write something for the blog on his website to keep it “Alive”. I struggle to keep the coriander alive in a pot on the kitchen window sill!!
So after a lot of moaning, because that’s what I do , here it is almost three years too late
Alien abduction, California Dreaming and an Ice awakening.
We drove around 9000 miles in total in almost 6 weeks. Hundreds of miles of long straight roads.
The day before we flew out I became ill and slept through a lot of the Pacific Highway and Californian coast . What I did see wasn’t at all as I had imagined. Somehow I had visions of girls in hot pants, roller blades and beach volleyball but the few hundred miles from San Francisco to LA included some of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen, often deserted beaches with craggy rocks and beautifully rugged coast lines. Speed Week had been cancelled due to flooding which gave us some time to drive back up the Pacific highway at the end of our holiday, fully awake I was able to take in all of it’s glory then.
When I woke up properly for the first time we were heading inland toward the Nevada state line on the third or fourth day and had picked up a part of Route 66 heading for Barstow. The plan was at that time to head north to Wendover for The Salt Flats and Speed Week with a stop over in Beatty Death Valley for a couple of nights. We pulled over at a gas station and I went into the store while Ian filled the tank , this was the first time I had noticed we were actually in a pretty cool car , gunmetal grey mustang with hardly any miles on the clock. Great guy at Avis had offered us an upgrade for an extra 2 dollars a day. We left the store with some sausage, potato salad, cold drinks, bread, wine, beer, cooked meats and a small fridge made of polystyrene!
This is what happened….. Beautiful older lady, possibly early seventies, long plaited hair , looked kind of native american.
“That’ll be $76.25cents, and ya’ll be needin some ice for ya cooler” She looked at Ian.
“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’
Flicking through some photos recently I came across a rarity, for me, in the way of a set of progress shots on one of my paintings.
I always try and remember to take progress photos when I’m painting, they make for a great record to look back on. But I’m usually so lost in the moment I totally forget. This time I’d had the great idea of sticking a post-it note on my studio door in the hope that when I headed for a coffee break I might just notice my sign to myself that reads simply “Take a Photo!”
So here I can share with you the few photos I remembered to take on the progress of a recent commissioned painting featuring some real American Icons, a Mustang, an F150 Pickup and a couple of Harley Davidsons all resting at a classic Gas Station.
I had a good few photos presented to me from which I was able to choose suitable angles to work with …
The brief was to capture these two as the main feature and, although the setting was left to me, a Gas Station had been suggested. This was going to be a present for my client’s wife, she being the owner of both bike and car. Knowing him as well as I do I thought with only a little detective work I just might be able to get hold of a couple of shots of his bike and truck and slip them in to the background somewhere as a little surprise for him too. Good old Facebook didn’t let me down as a good source of photos.
So a few quick sketches were doodled for composition and Gas Station design (sorry I’ve no photos of those) and then I was straight onto the canvas …
You’ll notice I’d progressed quite well into this painting before remembering to take a photo! But you’ll see a strong underpainting in sepia browns that I usually let dry overnight before working, as always, from the back to the foreground. In particular here you’ll see I’m already adding the surprise bike and truck, whilst leaning on my trusty self-made mahl stick with tiny brush in hand.
Working on the building here and also defining the road on the left, including the white stripe that really helps to add depth to this composition as well as maybe lead your eye off to the distance to go exploring.
Big jumps in the progress of this as, like I’ve mentioned, it’s so easy to get so deep “in the zone” you forget you’ve told yourself to stop now and then to take a snap-shot.
Here I am getting lost in all the chrome and details of the Harley. Motorcycles can take so much time to complete, and get right! So there’s my tiny brush again working overtime.
And here’s the finished result from burning the midnight oil. It’s hard to get a good photo of a shiny Oil Painting under artificial light but I’m sure you get the idea …
Scribbling away at trying to come up with a girl to feature in one of my paintings I was determined I didn’t want her to be obviously pretty and draped across a car, I mean, how often has that been done …
No, I wanted a character that left you asking questions.
Doodling frantically I was conjuring up a backdrop in my head, and the scene was quickly becoming rather apocalyptic. My ideas heading towards a gloomy uninviting American Diner with broken buzzing neons and unwelcoming signage. I was sketching an “Eat Here” sign and whilst going back over the lettering with darker thicker lines I stopped at EAT HER … and thought “Zombies!”
To The Canvas …
Although it’s not necessarily noticeable straight away, which is how I want it, the whole composition is based around the large image of a skull.
These early stages are always the trickiest ones where too much coffee is consumed and there’s a lot of sitting and staring …
As progress unfolds there’s something not working for me as I try to fit everything around the large skull hidden in the Diner …
At this stage I stop! … drink more coffee, stare and curse!
That skull just isn’t working where it is, it isn’t lining up with the car. But I’ve put so much work into it already. Yes, but it’s in the wrong place and also, those eyes are a little bit …. comical! Ouch, comical? Do I have to be so brutal and honest?! Well okay, you carry on then if you don’t want to hear it, but you’ll be cursing all the way through to the end of this one if you don’t do something about it now …
One more coffee and …
… and I have to admit that the skull was never going to work where it was, and okay it didn’t look angry it looked … comical
So I scrub it out and paint over it moving the skull just a little to the left so the top jaw and cheekbone lines up with the C pillar and roof of the Cougar and whilst doing so I work on changing the mood of the expression from, what I thought was, angry to a little more sinister …
Of course this is much easier said than done as I now have to re-work the Diner to suit. This entails subtle changes to the details, things like the corrugated iron, the layout of the windows, the doorway and the smoke coming out of the chimney. You’ll see I added another chimney …
Ok, now we’re getting somewhere, things are lining up, falling into place and looking good. Another coffee I think, and then on with the details, like some neon signs and that area on the left where the light is coming through. It needs something, or someone, to just catch the eye …
Coffee break …
Painting a Portrait
So now I’m really getting into the details and focusing on the area that’s going to grab the most attention, the girl …
I find the subject of pretty girls one of the hardest things to paint. One little misdirected brushstroke and all of a sudden no longer is she pretty. The face I’m painting here is no larger than my thumb nail …
… just a little more close up work …
… and I think she’s done …
So it’s time for another coffee before taking a look at the canvas again as a whole.
The Final Run …
With the girl in place and the major details dealt with it’s time to work around the canvas adding and tweaking …
I pull out skulls from the shadows and contours of the ground as they almost seem to present themselves to me. And I tweak the lights, not only on the Mercury but also the neon signs and the lights inside the diner. Adding highlights, shadows and details that complement the overall composition, including birds on the wires, I stand back from the canvas making sure the major skull is not lost within the picture and yet still not too obvious. Just a few more brushstrokes, a little more looking, maybe one more coffee, until …
It’s finished! Almost an anti-climax as I stand there with a loaded brush and nowhere to offload the paint. It’s done. I didn’t decide it was done, it kinda decided for me.
So there you have it, the ramblings of mind and coffee as another artwork is produced and another image is set free from my imaginings.
I’ve recently finished this commissioned oil painting featuring The Crop Duster Funny Car and it’s companion The M&R Special Slingshot Dragster parked up in the Grove at Famoso Raceway, Bakersfield, California. You may not notice at first that a crop duster light aircraft also appears in the artwork …
My clients for this one are long-term collectors of my work and now good friends. The brief was simple as they have come to trust in what I produce.
Working with a selection of their photos of the featured cars and plane and some of my own photos of the Grove at Famoso I was able to come up with a composition that not only worked well for featuring everything requested but, even at the rough drawing stage, excited me!
I was quick to grab a 20″ x 16″ canvas and set to work drawing up the composition in more detail and colour washing the canvas to get rid of the bright white background …
So here’s some progress pics …
I’m happy to say that my clients were very pleased with the results, as were the owners of the cars, and plane.
Prints are available, here’s a link, click on the image