Thursday, October 31, 2013

On the Road: Winslow, AZ, to Las Vegas, NV

Today’s trip (October 15) is shorter than the one the day before, only 454 miles, but it is every bit as interesting, if not more so. Today we went from Winslow, Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada. However, we took a detour through the south rim section of Grand Canyon National Park. I’ll mention that detour briefly today, but focus on it more in a separate entry in my next post so that I can devote more space and more pictures to it.

We did not know until a couple of days before our trip if the Grand Canyon National Park would be open because of the government shutdown. However, the good state of Arizona decided to open the park just 2 days before we left home, picking up the cost of operating the park. 

Our route today is 454 miles. We opted to go through Laughlin rather than go straight to Las Vegas from Kingman.
So, we left Winslow shortly before 7:00 AM, following our old friend Interstate 40 west to Flagstaff.  The temperature was right at freezing as we loaded the car. Brrr! We weren’t ready for winter yet. Snow-capped Humphreys Peak, the highest peak in Arizona at 12,637 feet, sits just north of Flagstaff and guided us west. At Flagstaff, we exited, taking US 89 north so that we could loop through the south rim section of the park. A little over 40 miles north of Flagstaff, we turned west on Highway 64. Glimpses of side canyons were soon available, along with numerous Navaho jewelry stands. We passed from the Kaibab National Forest into the park, soon passing through the entrance gate. We followed this roadway west to the Visitor Center, then south where we rejoined I- 40 at Williams.

Williams, a community of just over 3,000, is the home of the Grand Canyon Railway, which carries passengers on a scenic trek to Grand Canyon Village in the park and back. The scenic town sits at an elevation of 6,800 in the foothills of Kaibab National Forest and is heavily visited by tourists. When you arrive in Williams from the west, it is quite refreshing to see tree-covered hills. Home to Bearizona, a wildlife drive-thru park, this little town is a place where I would like to spend a few days.

From Williams, we followed I-40 west through what I call high desert plateau country. After leaving Williams, the interstate gradually works its way out of the pine covered slopes onto lower elevation plains. This is grazing land, surprisingly well covered in grass with vast expanses from horizon to horizon. It’s good country.

From time to time, the interstate passes through rough, broken, rocky country. At Kingman, we briefly stopped for gas. Kingman is a busy, thriving town in western Arizona. We’ve always just passed through it, but one of these days we’ll take some time and drive through the town along old Route 66. 

From Kingman, we opted to go west through Bullhead City and Laughlin rather than follow US 93 directly to Las Vegas. From Kingman, Highway 68 goes straight west, gradually climbing into the Black Mountains, a north-south range that reaches a height of almost 5,500 feet. Upon reaching the pass, the road begins to descend, slowing twisting in serpentine fashion downwards towards the Colorado River, Bullhead City, and Laughlin. The casinos that line the river are always an impressive site, rising from the desert valley in a cluster along the clear waters of the river. We do enjoy Laughlin.

From Laughlin, we climb again, this time heading into the Newberry Mountains. I've documented this trip before; you can find it in "On the Road: Laughlin, NV, to Las Vegas, NV" (posted in March, 2013).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On the Road: San Angelo, TX, to Winslow, AZ

We’re on the road again. This is our first major trip in our new car. We miss traveling with our trailer, but we enjoy the ease of travel without it.

We’re on our way to Las Vegas, a trip we’ve made numerous times since retiring. This time, though, we’re taking a new route (see map below). Basically, we’re slicing northwest through the center of New Mexico in order to see country we’ve not seen before.

San Angelo, Texas, to Winslow, Arizona
It was drizzling when we left San Angelo at 6:00 AM Monday, October 14, and took US 87 through Big Spring up to Lamesa. It really looked wintry outside, but it wasn’t very cool. After a brief stop at the McDonald’s in Lamesa, we took Texas 137 up to Brownfield, our old shopping town when we lived in nearby Wellman during the mid 1980s.

At Brownfield, we turned due west on US 380, passing through fields of sunflowers, maize, and cotton before leaving Texas behind. Just before reaching the state line, the sun began popping through the clouds, and the day would become sunny and beautiful before we reached our destination.

The highway from Brownfield to Roswell, though only 2-lane, is a good road with good shoulders. As we moved west, the crops gave way to native grass land. Soon we were in Roswell, home of the UFO Museum and site of the mysterious crash of an airborne object in 1947. The road west from Roswell is 4-lane and 70 mph. However about 20 miles out, the highway enters the foothills and the speed limit drops. We would encounter low speed limits throughout the remainder of the day, especially in New Mexico.

We continued west, soon sighting the Sierra Blanca Mountains. At Hondo, the road turns northwesterly and becomes a narrow 2 lane highway with no shoulders. It soon passes through Lincoln, site of the infamous Lincoln County War, which climaxed in 1878 and set Henry McCarty, aka William H. Bonney, on his path with infamy. About 2 years later, he would come to be called by his better known name, “Billy the Kid.” There are numerous historic buildings in Lincoln, most related to the Lincoln County War. For the historian interested in this historic event, the small community is a treasure trove.

The old Lincoln County Courthouse in Lincoln, NM. After freeing himself from his shackles at the top of the interior stairway, young William Bonney shot and killed the deputy guarding him, James Bell. Hearing the shots, deputy Bob Ollinger approached the building from the Wortley hotel, where he was feeding other prisoners. I took this picture from in front of the Wortley. As he approached the building, Bonney stood in an upstairs window hidden by the trees in this photograph. He emptied both barrels of a double-gauge shotgun into Ollinger. It was the Kid's last -- but most spectacular -- escape.
At one time or another, we had traveled all of these roads before. Soon after leaving Lincoln, though, we were in new territory.

We passed through a portion of the Lincoln National Forrest between Capitan and Carrizozo, mountains on either side of the road. Capitan is where the legend of Smokey Bear was born. The mountains through this area are rather scenic with tree covered slopes. As the road continues west, through, the road drops down, slowly working down to the Rio Grande.

We passed through the small village of San Antonio on the west bank of the Rio Grande as we approached Interstate 25, where we would turn north for a few miles. San Antonio is well known for the Owl Bar and CafĂ©, famous for its green chile cheeseburgers as well as having been a meeting place for the scientists who detonated the world’s first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio on July 16, 1945.

After a brief ride on I-25, we turned west again at Soccoro, an area visited by Juan de Onate in 1598, and the site of the mission Nuestra Senora de Perpetuo Socorro, established in 1626. However, the mission was destroyed and its residents killed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

We followed US 60 west out of Socorro, past what is known as the Very Large Array and through the Cibola National Forest. The Very Large Array is a radio astronomy observatory responsible for much of what we know about black holes and other space mysteries. If you happened to see the 1997 movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster, then you saw this impressive observatory.

Antenna from the VLA on the Plains of San Agustin

Close shot of an antenna at the VLA

We remained on US 60 as we left New Mexico and entered Arizona, soon coming to Edgar and Springerville, where we turned north/northwest on US 180 for our final leg to Winslow. If you’ve followed my blog over time, you will recall our last stop in Winslow, where we visited the “Corner in Winslow, Arizona.

Our journey today covered 738 miles through farmland, forests, mountains, and desert. It was a long drive. We saw some wonderful country, but this is not a trip we plan to repeat. To be quite frank, we were exhausted when we finally arrived in Winslow. We’ve made trips this long numerous times in the past; what was different about this trip was the numerous slow sections on the road, making it much longer than the 738 posted miles. Throughout New Mexico, we were able to drive 70 for about a 20 mile stretch, and we drove 75 for about 9 miles on I-25. Probably most of the time, our speed was 55, sometimes dipping to 45 for numerous short stretches. We were able to drive 65 on several stretches.

But we're glad we made the drive. We saw country we had not seen before and probably will not see again. The largest town we passed through was Roswell, with a population of just under 50,000, so this was truly a rural drive.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Nevada Trip

Donna and I just returned from a 2 week trip to Nevada. After I catch up with chores around the house, I'll post some trip reports.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Good Haircut is Hard to Find

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a fossil, a relic from another time. I’ve always been old, even when I was young. I’ve always identified more with my father’s generation than with my own. My friends in college would laugh at me when they got in my car because the radio would be tuned to a local Huntsville AM station carrying the Texas State Network, which focused on state news, agribusiness, sports, and other items not considered very cool for college kids in the 1970s.

But I digress from the direction I had intended to go; old fossils do that . . . .

I just can’t seem to find a good barber shop anymore. I’m not one to frequent the trendy hair salons of urban malls. I prefer an old fashioned barber shop, complete with a barber pole out front. I want to see older men sitting in the chairs waiting their turn, and the conversation needs to be on the weather or the price of cotton.

I’m looking for a barber that gives a nice, clean cut, and finishes by using a straight-edged razor, complete with warm lather, to trim along my ears and neck. Without that final trim, I just don’t feel that I’ve had a real haircut.

The magazines need to be Progressive Farmer and related periodicals. There’s no need for a television; the magazines and conversation are all that’s needed.

Since moving to Angelo, I’ve visited at least 6 different barber shops, and I’ve yet to find one that I like. It’s getting harder for old fossils to stay well-groomed. I may have to become a shaggy old fossil.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Good Reads: The Man Who Walked Through Time, by Colin Fletcher

Serious hikers will probably recognize Colin Fletcher’s name because of his Complete Walker, first published in 1968 and revised three times since. It is one of the most influential books ever written for serious backpackers, and it is often referred to as “the hiker’s Bible”.

In The Man Who Walked Through Time, Fletcher hiked the Grand Canyon from the western boundary of the national park to the eastern boundary. Most people who hike the Grand Canyon normally do so from rim to river and back up to rim, either the rim where they started or the opposite one. But Fletcher chose to hike the entire length of the park below the rim.

Such a hike presented numerous challenges, the foremost being finding a route. When he set out on his walk, he was not even sure that such a hike was possible, for at places the canyon forms solid walls down to the river. Would he be able to find ledges, skirts, and other walkways where he could traverse the canyon entirely below the rim? Another large challenge was being re-supplied during his 2 month trip. He would have to cache supplies at strategic points, and he even relied on air drops on 3 occasions. And would he be able to find water along the route, especially in the western areas where water sources are less reliable and depend largely on basins that catch rain and snow.

As he recorded his actual hike, Fletcher provided his impressions on the geology and anthropology of the Grand Canyon. For those interested in these topics, you will probably enjoy his insights and his attempts to become part of the canyon experience. For those interested primarily in the act of backpacking, these numerous digressions might be a distraction. But, the purpose of the book is, after all, to “walk through time”, and to do so, Fletcher tried to fully immerse himself in the canyon.

But Fletcher also provided great insight into the art of backpacking. For example, in the second chapter, he went into great detail about his first night on the trail: how he “pitched” his camp, the equipment he used, the food he cooked, the application of rubbing alcohol to help his feet after a long day of hiking, and so forth. As a hiker, I appreciate these details. At the end of the book, he also provided a list of his equipment as well as the supplies he carried and received at each cache and air drop.

I admire people like Colin Fletcher who seem so comfortable with themselves and so confident that they can spend weeks, even months, alone in the wilderness with only the barest of supplies and equipment. Fletcher was quite an interesting person. He was born in Wales in 1922 and was a commando in WWII. Following the war, he lived in Kenya for several years before moving to western Canada and then to California, where we spent the remainder of his life before passing away in 2007.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mysteries of the American Southwest

                I recently wrote a review of Eric Blehm’s book, The Last Season, which covers the disappearance of back-country ranger Randy Morgenson in the Sierra Nevada in 1996. For 5 years, what happened to Morgenson remained a mystery until evidence was uncovered in 2001. I won’t go into detail just what was found in case you plan to read the book but haven’t gotten around to it yet. But even with the discovery of certain evidence in 2001, much still remains a mystery.
                And that got me to thinking about numerous other mysteries in the southwest part of our country that I’ve learned about in recent years. Here are a few that might interest you.
                Everett Reuss, born March 28, 1914, was a talented and artistic young man. As he neared  adulthood, he began exploring areas of the great Southwest, especially Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. In November, 1934 – just 20 years old – he left Escalante, Utah, heading towards the Colorado River. Leading 2 burros with supplies to last for at least 2 months, he disappeared into the desert. His burros were found grazing, but no trace of Reuss has ever been found. Although young, he had lived a rich life and had associated with the likes of Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange. He left behind an impressive collection of art and writings for one so young.
                The story of Everett Reuss is not as widely known as the story of Glen and Bessie Hyde. Glen Hyde (born December 9, 1898) and his wife Bessie (born December 29, 1905) were married April 12, 1928. In October of that year, they set off on a delayed honeymoon rafting trip down the Colorado River in a 20 foot wooden sweep scow that Glen had built himself. The couple was last seen November 18, 1928, after resupplying in an area now encompassed by Grand Canyon National Park. Their scow was later found intact down river, with no trace of the missing couple. Various theories exist, and I leave those to you to research if you are interested.
                One of the more bizarre stories from this part of the country concerns the family of Marshall South. From 1930 to 1947, South and his wife, Tanya, lived a hermit lifestyle in the desert. South (born Roy Bennett Richards in Australia on February 24, 1889) was a writer who authored novels, poetry, short stories, essays, and magazine articles. He moved his family to an area today encompassed by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of San Diego, California. There on Ghost Mountain they built their home, which they christened Yaquitepec. With no water in the area, they used a system of cisterns to collect rain water. Three children were born to the couple while they lived on Ghost Mountain, though the actual delivery of each child was done in nearby Oceanside. From his home atop his mountain, South published a series of articles detailing their primitive life, a series later compiled as Marshall South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles.
                I’m sure there are other mysteries of the area. If you know of any, please share with me as this is an area of great interest to me.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity

One of the side benefits of being retired is being able to go to movies during the day when most people are working or are in school. Not only are ticket prices lower, but attendance is low, so you often have the theater practically to yourself.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Donna and I went to see Gravity, a science fiction thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Donna likes any movie with George Clooney; she says he reminds her of me. I get that a lot.

In the movie, Sandra Bullock plays the role of Dr. Ryan Stone, a mission specialist on her first space shuttle mission. Clooney is Matt Kowalski, mission commander. These are the only two actors in the movie, though we do hear other voices via radio.

Space debris from a satellite hurls through space, damaging the space shuttle as well as other satellites. Kowalski and Stone, who are working outside the shuttle at the time, survive the high-speed debris, but the shuttle is damaged. They are, in effect, lost in space. The remainder of the movie concerns their efforts to survive.

One of the things I really liked about this movie is that it got into the heart of the plot almost immediately. In so many movies, it seems as though half the movie is over before the plot actually begins, with a great deal of time given to "background." That is not the case in this movie. The real action of the plot starts within the first 10 minutes and continues non-stop until the end of the movie.

I was impressed by the technology used to produce the film. Instead of Gravity, the movie could easily have been called Anti-Gravity for almost the entire movie involved scenes of weightlessness.

I'm not a big science fiction fan, but I did enjoy this movie. It was a good way to spend some time on a quiet afternoon.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Good Eats: Ginger and Spice, Fredericksburg, Texas

If you've followed my blog for very long, you know how I love Thai cuisine. Whenever Donna and I travel, we always are on the lookout for exotic food, especially Thai, Indian, Lebanese, and Greek. On our recent trip to Fredericksburg, Texas, I discovered a new Thai restaurant that had not previously been there.

Ginger and Spice is located at 116 North Crockett. If you are familiar with Fredericksburg, this is just west of the Vereins Kirche.

My favorite Thai dish is curry, especially coconut milk based curry. I was in luck at Ginger and Spice for the menu had 5 different curries to choose from. I finally decided on the yellow curry, which consisted of potatoes, carrots, and onions in a coconut milk based yellow curry sauce. You could choose to complete the curry with beef, pork, chicken, or tofu. For an additional charge, you could opt for shrimp. I usually prefer chicken in my curry, so that is what I chose this time.

I was not disappointed. In fact, I really can't tell you what the other members of my party had or even if they enjoyed their meals. To be honest, I really didn't care. My curry was really good and all I cared about for the next thirty minutes was the next spoon of yellow curry that went into my mouth. It had that rich, full flavor that only a coconut milk based curry has. I dumped my side-bowl of rice in with the curry and slowly worked my way to the bottom of the bowl, coming up for air on occasion.

I don't know that this was the best curry I've ever had, but it is certainly up there near the top. I would definitely return if in the area.

If you like fast food, then you won't like Thai food. I've learned over the years that the best Thai food is worth waiting for, and our wait time at Ginger and Spice was rather long. But for me, the wait was well worth the end reward.