My Arizona Road Trip

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I took a day off of work on Friday to drive to Prescott, Arizona for a women’s conference in the pines. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big driver. My parents and I used to drive on vacations every summer (mostly because my mum was terrified to fly), but also my parents thought it was important that I got to see so much of the country, and I actually started to look forward to it every year. So I thought nothing of driving 6 hours to get to another state to see some friends and be high up in the Pines to be without TV or any other media for a couple of days.

As usual, it started with the 134 to the 210, with a quick detour to the 57 and on to the 10. This would be my highway for the next 233 miles. Once I got past Palm Springs, it was all new to me. I had never taken the 10 E any farther than that. Thankfully there wasn’t a lot of traffic and I was able to put the cruise control on and enjoy the scenery without having to worry about people around me too much. It was hot, so I had to turn the A/C up a notch – I don’t like air blowing directly on my face – my next car is going to have those nifty cooling/heating seats, I don’t care what the cost is!!

There were a lot of places I started to pass that I’d heard of, most notably the Salton Sea. I remember the movie with Val Kilmer and thought of it as this exotic place, like the Dead Sea, that had some miraculous power to heal or something. That was until I read in the paper that the Salton Sea is so toxic and full of sulfur, millions of fish regularly turn up dead on the shores when the wind blows across it. And also that it has a huge Meth problem. Not that exotic.

Once past Indio and Coachella, I settled in for the drive. It’s a two-lane highway and I found myself playing a pass-and-move game with another car – he would pass me and move in the the slow lane ahead of me, I would catch up and do the same – this went on for about 40 minutes. The landscape started to shift; the earth turned a coral color and it was really barren and flat. For some reason it looked like huge planks of salmon with dill trees sparsely stuck in them. The wind made impressions like the sections on a filet. Weird image I know but it really did.

I had never been to Arizona before so I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be desert and sand, with not a lot of vegetation. When I crossed the state line, the town of Blythe was verdant and lush – there was a suspension bridge across a huge wash that was brimming with water. The vegetation was darker than California’s, especially on the mountainside.

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I switched over to the 60 and it really got rural. RV parks popped up everywhere, no trees for shade, just vast acres of land with these white and metal trailers dotting the landscape. It was hot. There was lots of scrap metal and other items strewn about in front of houses and businesses – like it was too hot to get it to where they really wanted to bring it. I kept going, even though I needed to stop and stretch and get some gas. A sign said, “You are now leaving Hope behind.” I “hoped” it was just the name of the town and not a fact. I kept going.

The 71 was next; more flat landscape, although now there were those typical-shaped mountains in the distance. Not as pointy, more flat and red. The cactus growing there all seemed to be giving me the finger, which seemed rude to me, how did they ever expect visitors with such a welcome?

I finally stopped for gas in Aguila. It had just rained, poured in fact, and the air was heavy and thick with wetness. People were just starting to come back out on the streets. Gas was $2.99 a gallon, so much cheaper than California! There was a feeling I got from everyone around, like they were trapped in this town, like cats poised to jump into any vehicle and see where it took them. I paid for my gas and hurried back to the highway. It got hotter.

The road was so flat the heat caused mirages. I could see maybe 200 ft ahead of me, that was it. The heat sat there on the road, fat-bellied and corpulent, shimmering the air above the road so violently that I couldn’t tell which way the road turned till I was almost there. It was a bit like “the Twilight Zone.” I wished I had someone I was driving with to talk to, to break the tension and laugh a little. But it was just me and the CD collection.

I pushed the cruise control to eighty and turned my “Gomez” CD on. I needed to hear some happy music to counteract the chilliness I felt on driving alone. I kept on going down the 71 till I got to the 89 and turned North towards the mountains. The clouds came back and covered the sun enough so that it wasn’t as toasty in the car. A few fat drops of rain spattered on to my windscreen and I turned the wipers on and off quickly. For some reason I started to smile, at last relaxing a little and really being humbled by the beauty of the landscape and having some time off to see it. I turned the air conditioner off and opened up the sunroof – instantly my car was filled with moist, warm air and the smell of pinon. I took my hair clip out and let my locks swirl about in the wind. It must have looked a sight as the pressure from the sunroof being open made all of my hair stand on end and get sucked out the roof! It felt amazing, like a massage from tiny fingers.

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I got to the base of the mountain on the way to Prescott and prepared for the drive up to my destination. I was a little worried about my ears as my vertigo was not completely gone, but I took it easy on the accelerator and started up. It was not too winding at the beginning, and I was really glad it was paved. Each direction was on a different part of the mountain, so no chance of running into another car that was careening down the hill and coming round the corner at you.

It was getting a little claustrophobic now, the road wound round and snaked back and forth, the pines were enormous and created a canopy above, and the sides of the mountain were solid rock and really close to the edge of the road. Thank goodness there were look-outs every few miles – I made use of them to pull over, get my dizziness and nausea under control and then get back driving. Motion sickness only ever happens when I’m a passenger, so this is all new to me, and I’ll tell ya, I don’t like it one bit. Haven’t tried any other method of transportation but I’m hoping I don’t get the symptoms then too. Vertigo has changed a lot in my life.

Prescott was waiting at the top, and I felt relieved that I was almost there. My back was aching from all the sitting and my legs were starting to twitch and jump from lack of exercise. The town was nestled in tall trees and had all the entertainment offerings of a much larger city. They even had two Wal-Marts – a fact I found disturbing in that it would be nicer to see more community-oriented mom-and-pop outfits than chains – especially chains that were so underhandedly dangerous to America as a whole. But I digress and that’s a subject for another blog.

Copper Canyon Road carried me up to the camp where we’d be till Sunday. The roads were unpaved and pocked with canyons where the wash had eroded away the earth, and I had to really slow down to make sure my little Mazda didn’t bottom out going across them.

It was so quiet and so beautiful when I got to the upper lodge, I just stopped and sat on the ground. The clouds were roiling across the sky, in every shade of grey imaginable, looking like big handfuls of minty cotton candy; there were birds screeching in the trees and darting through the sky, and small animals ran from corner to corner, checking the new arrival out and perhaps hoping for some food.

My two days in Arizona were so relaxing, so fulfilling, and truthfully I did nothing! I can’t remember the last time I laid in big Adirondack rocking chair and let my imagination tell me what the clouds were. I became so aware of the absence of noise, and acutely aware of sound. There truly is a difference. Even the screech of a mountain cat in the dawn wasn’t frightening, it was more exciting and almost brought tears to my eyes.

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I left on Sunday with the thunder clapping and the huge raindrops hitting my car and a heart that was so much lighter than when I got there. I decided to try the shortcut down to the 89 that I had noticed on MapQuest and headed out Copper Canyon Road the opposite direction than when I arrived.

Bad decision. The rain was causing fast washes across the roads, and I was terrified my car was going to get stuck. I put the gear into low and tried not to brake too much, as when I did, the road skittered out from underneath me and made the car fishtail as the tires clung on the dirt roads.

I kept going, and going, and going down the mountain. There weren’t any road names anywhere and no where else to go, so I just kept on going. I prayed that the road didn’t dead end, as I knew there was no way I was going to be able to get back up the mountain with the road as slick as it was. I came upon a truck ahead of me, and flashed my lights to him to let him know I wanted him to pull over. My stomach stopped flipping and I relaxed a little as I pulled up to his driver’s side window. His license plate said Texas, and he was as reserved of strangers as I know a lot of Texans are.

I asked him where the 87 was, confusing the highway numbers. He said, “you mean the 89?” I said, yes, the one that hooks up with the 60 – totally forgetting the connector 71. He looked confused and said, “Where are you trying to get, what’s the name?” Los Angeles, I said, and I might as well have said Mars from the reaction he gave me. “You missed that I think,” he said. No kidding, I thought. “How the hell’d ya end up here?” Too long a story. He told me to keep going down this road and it would t-stop at the 89. He took off ahead of me and I kept him in sight, barreling down after him, afraid to lose the humanity I’d found in all this wilderness.

I came upon a religious family – not sure what they were, but they were dressed plainly, maybe Hutterites or Menonites, but they smiled and waved as I passed through their small town. “Skull Valley” was painted on the side of a building, and I panicked ridiculously and thought, Oh geez, it’s “Deliverance” and I’m the one with the pretty mouth. Los Angeles has never felt like “home” to me, but I was so desperate to blink my eyes and be there right then.

Finally, the highway came into sight. I actually started to cry as I took off towards the way I knew would lead me to home. I’m better with markers than directions, and being so happy on the way up here, I didn’t really take into account ones that would help me on the way back. It wasn’t till I saw the on-ramp to the 10 E that I really felt calm again, knowing I was only a few hours from a hot shower and soft bed.

Moral of the story: although there is something to be said about traveling alone and the peace and divinity you can experience by yourself, road trips are a little more fun when you have someone to share your insanity and panic with. And in cannibalistic Deliverance situations, there’s a 50/50 chance they’ll pick your passenger and send you on your way!

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