Arizona Road Trip 2006

November 2006 road trip from Chicago to Phoenix via I-40/44 and parts of old Route 66.


“I could never go on a road trip with you.  I couldn’t pay attention to the road.”

“How often do you need to pay attention to the road?”

“On a road trip?”

This was a most unusual trip for me.  First, I'm traveling by car and even doing some of the driving!  Almost twenty years since I've done that.  Next, it's a whirlwind trip for the distance -- Chicago to Phoenix and back again in less than ten days.  Plus I'm not really going anywhere unusual, just seeing fairly standard sights along the way.  Finally, I'm planning on doing some camping with a woman who has never even car-camped before.

Unusual can be a good thing though.  As we HEN have learned/borrowed from the Bokononists: Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.  So, when Michele suggested that we undertake this whirlwind Chicago-Phoenix and back again trip, my initial thought was that it was ridiculous, but also that I like ridiculous.  Ultimately, my philigious beliefs compel me to agree.



So, Michele gets us out of the city before traffic gets too bad and we drive through strangely alternating fog and clearing down to Springfield, arriving just as the new Lincoln Presidential Museum is opening.  This museum opened to a lot of fanfare and controversy last year.  It's chock-full of flash, whiz-bang shows and exhibits, looking much as if they hired expensive Disneyland designers and instructed them to grab and stranglehold the attention of visiting seventh grade school kids for an hour and a half.  The shows in particular are full of annoyingly cheap theatrics, including smoke effects, strobe lights, explosions, and holographic trickery.  It's actually designed by BRC Imagination Arts who proudly tout their expertise with "experiential marketing" and a "showmanship meets scholarship approach". 



It's not all bad, mind you.  Some of the exhibits are particularly effective in utilizing a modern approach.  I'm thinking of the playful scene of Lincoln with his young kids romping through his law office, or the haunted house feel of the corridor displaying political cartoons lampooning Lincoln.  For me, the best exhibits were the moving scene of Lincoln and his wife nursing their dying son while the music from a presidential ball plays downstairs; and a wonderful map visual that displays the battles/casualties of the Civil War in a four minute loop.  All great stuff, but there's just as much to make us cringe, such as an awful room trying to cover Lincoln's election with modern day television coverage.  Overall, there is far more poor showmanship than scholarship and the considerable amount of money spent here could have been put to far better use.  Still, we're happy with our visit, even if we're not anxious to return.


We excitedly enter our first new state, leaving lovely East St. Louis

to cross the mightly Mississippi and catch a glimpse of the St. Lous arch:

We'd originally meant to push on, but it is such an unseasonably warm day (mid-November and 70's) that we can't resist stopping at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.  Turns out they have a "Glass in the Garden" Dale Chihuly exhibit inside the Climatron, which makes for some fun photos:

There are a few more glass pieces outside the Climatron as well, plus the venerable Japanese Gardens there are in full autumnal colors.




Back on the road, we quickly notice that Missouri has more than it's share of trashily interesting signs along I-44, such as the "Adult Superstore" with a gigantic bowling pin out front; "Ann's Bra Shop.  Got a Bra Problem?" and the mysterious "Den of Martial Arts".  And of course I'm intrigued by the "World's Largest Precious Moments Gift House" and their infamous chapel.  Even the signs inside are great, such as this "Baby Hanging Station" seen above a gas station toilet in Springfield, MO:

We wanted to camp out and take advantage of the warm weather while we have it.  Unfortunately we can't find a spot to do this before nightfall, so we wind up staying in our worst motel experience of the trip: a ghastly Knight's Inn near Saint Robert Missouri.  This is a truly awful motel that should be avoided at all costs.  Honestly, you'd be better off sleeping in your car and saving the $70+.

Next day, we stop off for breakfast at a Bob Evans in Joplin.  There's an unusual car parked next to us:

I've only known Michele for a few months, but we've become very close, very quickly.  In fact, she's pregnant and we've already gotten beyond the panicky feelings of uncertainty that this inevitably brings to a new relationship.  We'd gone in for a CVS test before our trip and we get the results via phone while at the Bob Evans.  Since the news is good, no Down's syndrome, etc, we have fond memories of the place and actually stop back there on the return trip.  Strangely though, they have no spinach here even though the e coli spinach scare has been over for weeks now!

Another beautiful day, so we lounge about outside the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma after walking through the interior.


We finally get to camp out at peaceful (this time of year anyway) Red Rock Canyon State Park in Hinton.  It's exactly the gentle introduction to camping Michele needed -- good star watching and pleasant, easy hiking.

I'm driving the next morning:


I'm just going to pause here for a minute because I know how hard that is for some people to believe, but there's the picture!  Anyway, the point is that not long after entering the Texas Panhandle, I start to feel violently ill.  I'm not sure if this is a reaction to some bad water at the campsite or to the Panhandle itself, but I swerve off the highway at a lonesome exit and drive up to the first thing I see, which happens to be a hideous abandoned gas station.  I stagger out and vomit all over the place.  Then I push a huge tire out of a chair and sit down in a howlingly frigid wind, trying to recover.  Michele jokingly asks if I want her to photograph the scene for posterity and I say: "Absolutely!!"

Eventually I feel well enough to get back in the car and make it until the next incredibly windy and cold rest stop to throw up some more.  It could be that this part of Texas just doesn't agree with me.  We only drive to Amarillo before stopping for the day.  We want to use Michele's Marriott points to stay at the Fairfield Inn, but they are full, even though it is quite early in the day!  There seems to be many people from a rodeo trade show.  Fortunately there is room at the Residence Inn next door.  We wind up staying at the Fairfield on the return trip, as Michele leaves her Blackberry charger behind at the Residence and we need to pick it up again.  Both are good.

Leaving Amarillo, we come across something neither of us has ever seen before.  People driving across a grassy median to merge onto the highway!  Traffic seems unusually bad around here due to construction, so people seem to have adapted this novel method of getting around it.  So, we figure, "when in Rome" or Amarillo....  We make a "Panhandle merge" onto the highway.

Texas Stuckey's signs: "T-shirts -- 3 for $10.  Gator Heads & Bull Horns.  Souvenirs From All 50 States.  Foot Long Hot Dog."  We cross through "Deaf Smith County Line" and are happy to reach New Mexico.

In Albuquerque we stop for a pleasant hike at Petroglyph National Monument



Not that Gallup, where we stop for the night, has much going for it, unless you really want to purchase some Indian jewelry or hock something at a pawn shop.  We eat at the Panz Alegra restaurant and are so unwilling to move much afterwards that we stay at the dubious looking Arrowhead Lodge next door.  Actually, it's better, and far cheaper, than the first night's Knight's Inn, but it seems like we hear about 150 trains scream past about a foot from the bathroom.


We're finally in the real West now though and feel up for a detour north to the famously flash Canyon De Chelly National Monument.  It's too late in the year to get an Indian guide, but the weather is still well above normal for this time of year, so we spend a lovely day stopping off at the viewpoints along the South Rim Drive and hike down into the canyon to get a glimpse of the White House Ruins.




We spend the night at the rather nice Quality Inn in Tuba City and eat at their restaurant.  Neither Michele nor I have ever been to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, so we set out early the next morning to rectify that surprising oversight.  I'd mainly been avoiding it because of the notorious crowds, but we couldn't have picked a better time to go.  First off, they're having computer problems, so we get in for free.  Next, we're early enough that we're the only ones at several spots and have no difficulties finding parking.  Finally, although it is chilly, it's clear and once the sun is full up we're plenty comfortable during our long hikes along the rim.  Two great days in a row of unsurpassed canyon views!

Driving south towards Phoenix, passing through lovely Oak Creek Canyon and trying to decide where to spend the night, I come across a description of Sedona's energy vortexes/vortices in some books and guides we've picked up.  We both immediately get the idea to incorporate these into our annual tarot card throws that we were planning on doing at some point during the trip.  It just seems like a perfectly fortuitous match.  So, we check in at the Desert Quail hotel, just south of Sedona, and near the Bell and Cathedral Rock energy vortexes.

Next morning we quickly start out early with the idea to do our joint throw at Bell Rock, and then if we have the time, to do Michele's throw at Cathedral Rock and mine at Airport Mesa, taking advantage of the respective feminine and masculine energies there.  Interestingly, we'd stopped off near Bell Rock the previous evening, and Michele felt drawn to it even before we knew what it was.  She even took a photo of it.  She now takes another with me in front, ready to begin our hike.



We scramble (Michele earns her Junior Scrambler 1st Class badge) about 3/4ths of the way up and I do our throw on a small flat space facing Cathedral Rock. 


 It does seem like I can feel some energy in the ground here.  In fact, it seems like I can feel something at all three spots, but I'd say that Bell Rock felt the strongest, followed by Cathedral and then Airport Mesa.

Near the base of Cathedral Rock, in a comfortably enclosed river bed at the base of the rock, I do a throw for Michele.


  Finally, we hike to the top of Airport Mesa and I do my throw in a spot facing both Bell and Cathedral Rock.  It all seems very much in alignment.


We decide to treat ourselves to lunch at the excellent Heartline Cafe in Sedona, recommended to us by our friend Ed, who we are headed to visit in Phoenix. 


Since Michele and I attended the same schools, we have several common school chums.  Ed and his wife Shari are both examples.  It's wonderful to meet with far off friends, who we don't see often enough, in their home.  Now, one would think that after driving all of this way to see our old friends we'd at least have one picture of them and their two lovely daughters to include in this travel blog, but nooooo!

Instead we have some mundane photos of nearby Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well.


While driving away from the rough dirt road exiting Montezuma Well:

Michele: "I had visions of getting a flat tire on that road -- and then you'd see how I change a tire."

Me: "I know how you'd chage a flat tire here -- you'd have me do it."

Michele: "You're full of good suggestions."

On the way back now, we stop for lunch in Holbrook, which is full of good photo opportunities:

 Right after Holbrook is Petrified Forest National Park.  Despite the fact that Michele is a camping neophyte, nauseous, and three months pregnant, and that it is forecasted to be in the low 20's overnight, I somehow get it into my head (and even more amazingly, into Michele's) to take us out into the Painted Desert to sleep in the tent.  I pick up a backcountry permit for the north end and we're the only people crazy enough to venture out there this night.  I'm actually more worried about myself than Michele because I've at least given her my winter sleeping bag.  As it turns out, I am, just barely, warm enough in my lighter bag.  The terrain out here is quite tough to hike on, and it's easy to get lost in the maze of scree-sloped mounded desert.

 We drive a bit quicker on the way back -- past the large New Mexico Indian casinos; and zipping by car stickers: "Hard Core Jesus Freak" on van, and "Don't mess With Texas Women"; and past a pickup truck with a dead deer in the back, four legs sticking straight up into the air.

Two surprises await us on our return to Amarillo.  First, when we arrive just at that point where the traffic jam spurred people to do the "Panhandle Merge" we now find people exiting the highway over the grassy median to escape traffic.  So, we emulate the "Panhandle Offramp".  Next, when we finally manage to retrieve Michele's Blackberry charger we find that we are also given the bag of dirty clothing we'd tossed away when we stayed the first time.  Yikes!

While passing by the site of my previous ignominy, the deserted "Trust Jesus" gas station, we are amazed to see a car parked there and a guy wandering around.   Maybe he was just feeling sick?

In Oklahoma City, we pause in the city center to see the Myriad Gardens.

 Zipping along, alternating between listening to books and music on cd, we have our last stop at the touristy, yet fun Meramac Caverns.  Overall a good cave, but the tour had us cringing at the end when they project a hyper-patriotic music and video on one of the most impressive cave formations.


 All the photos can be seen together here: