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Excerpts of Arizona Travel Diary
State 22 -ARIZONA 17 MAY 99 - 31 MAY 99

 

Crazy Woman & Gumby

Today we wake a slumbering Harvey for the long haul from San Antonio to Phoenix, a 1000-mile trek that is sure to test Ruby's temper. At first, the ride is full of pleasant highway surprises as we enter Texas Hill Country, so different from the terrain in San Antonio. Instead of palm trees, crusty brown earth and bristly bushes, we see fabulous limestone cliffs and verdant hills trimmed in brilliant Texas wildflowers of gold-and-brown Mexican Hats, Black-eyed Susans, orange Indian Blankets and coral Indian Paintbrushes; these fiery wildflowers are tempered by cool blue-and-white Texas Bluebonnets, pale Evening Primrose, and deep purple Texas Thistle that seem like bouncing purple golfballs on the side of the road. Thank you, Lady Bird Johnson. A while back Lady Bird lead a crusade to fill the highways with the colors of Texas. And an interesting side note, her husband, LBJ, was instrumental in introducing highway rest areas, making Texas the first state to implement these little oases for weary drivers. So we tip our hats to the Johnsons this afternoon for making the ride more pleasant for travelers like us. But beyond the Hill Country and the Sierra Diablo Mountains, the ride takes a dreary turn. Leaving this scenery in our rearview mirror we head toward El Paso as the roadside entertainment turns deathly dull. From El Paso through New Mexico and into Arizona, the sunbleached landscape is unchanging and the mood in the cab is parched boredom. Nothing to talk about. No scenery to remark on. Just a dull daze out sunstreaked windows. I'm quietly going insane. The hot sun, the arid earth, the lack of green, no even a green highway sign, drains me of all energy, all hope. Snacking from the goodies in the backseat picnic basket brings a mild diversion, but alas, even the tea cookies are stale. I recall now "Crazy Woman Mountain" in Montana named after a pioneer woman who broke from the wagon train and went screaming into the hills. That's how I feel. I have an irresistible urge to jump out and run from the boredom. The unchanging scenery gives the impression of not moving at all. And with no road signs telling us how far we've come or how far we have to go, the ride feels as though sitting on a stationary bike: there's movement, but the scenery stays the same. At last the monotony is broken by sand tornadoes called dust devils. Little twirling dust demons playfully toss tumbleweed to the heavens, offering some bemused entertainment until we reach Tucson and life greets us once again with tall palm trees, cheerful, pink buildings, mountains, and acres of saguaro cactus descending from the hills looking like an infantry of giant green Gumby figures, limbs outstretched to their sides as though under arrest, surrendering to some unseen authorities.

Note: Arizona does not do Daylight Savings Time. So during the summer months, instead of Mountain time, which one would expect, they operate in Pacific time. Takes some getting used to, especially the extremely early sunrise.

Out in the cold again

It's chilly in the RV, but it feels good to be cold again after sweltering in Texas heat for three months. Never thought I'd be wearing long pants and socks again. Thought they were put away for good. But it's a nice chill, not damp like in Washington. It's an invigorating chill of crisp, dry mountain air that makes you want to get up and go. The winds, too, are different than we've experienced. Every night when the sun dips behind Elden mountain, just outside our window (see Campground description in Travel Tips), the wind picks up, really strong. Not like the tornado or hurricane winds that violently shook the trailer in previous states. No. These winds are strong, but, somehow tender, gentle, loving. The trailer actually shakes more than it ever did, but it's not frightening. The wind seems to come from *under* the trailer. Feels like it will pick us up and carry us away like a magic carpet ride. A gentle sweeping off into the sky. One night when the trailer seemed sure to start flying, Ken and I discussed that it wouldn't be a bad way to leave this life, holding onto each other and flying off with Harvey, the magic flying machine.

Who am I?

It dawned on me this morning that I don't know who I am anymore. And now I wonder . . . did I ever really know? Or, did I simply accept the image reflected back to me by friends, family and coworkers? Am I a fun friend? A dutiful daughter? A loving sister? A conscientious worker? Or, as I fear deeply, almost knowingly, am I an old lady waiting to happen? In some ways I want to get youth over with so I can just sit in a rocker and knit. Or garden. Or talk aimlessly to pets and inanimate objects. But as a healthy adult, people expect performance. They expect you to do something. "What do you do?" They ask. Does one's occupation define oneself? Does it define one's life? I almost feel that I'm taking this trip to give me license to do nothing later. So when I sit in my rocker and some young-un scornfully asks, "What have you done with your life, old woman?" I can snap back, "Listen you! I quit my comfortable, corporate job and backpacked through Europe in my 30s. Ten years later, I quit my job again and RV'd across America, seeing all 50 states. And, now, dammit, now I'm sitting in my rocker and reminiscing, so go away!" Then I'll throw a flower pot at 'em. You can do that when your old. (Sigh) That's what I look forward to.

Potato chip skin

Went to the Painted Desert today and developed one of those awful headaches that I got back in the Dakotas and other dry states. It feels like a vice squeezing my head in all the areas a ski mask would cover, such as the head, neck, eyes, nose and jaw. Everything hurts. Compounding this confounded pounding is the accompanying nausea. Don't know what to do with myself. Hurts when I stand. Hurts when I sit. Hurts most when I lie down. Where can I go? A National Park Service brochure says that it's a dehydration headache from being out in the sun and not drinking enough water. Dehydration is something I never thought about when living in New England. But here and in other dry areas it is daily life. Our skin is as dry and a brittle as a potato chip. We look at least 5 years older. But we're not worried cuz we know from past experience that when we reenter moist climates, our skin will bounce back. Unless this time it's been pushed too far.

Everyday people

Up at 2:30 this morning to get to the Grand Canyon at sunrise. Y- a- w- n. It's a beautiful ride through the Coconino National Forest with the San Francisco Peaks shadowing us. Of course, we're the only people out on the road, except for two scruffy guys who seem to be breaking into the cashbox of a phone booth. Could be mistaken, though, sleepy eyes and overactive imagination can do that. We arrive at the Grand Canyon in time to see the sun ascend on these ancient towering rocks. The scenery, of course is magnificent, but I'm more impressed with the tourists. Everybody is smiling placidly, stupidly, like they're all doped up on something. Everybody happy. Everybody saying hello. Everybody childlike. This is what makes the Grand Canyon special. People from all over the world, communicating in the universal language of a wondrous smile. Interesting, too, we see a lot of foursomes made up of a mother, a father, a son and a daughter. Each offspring is about 30 years old. The sons and daughters don't look like brothers and sisters, but like husbands and wives. So it seems one came with his or her parents while the other agreed to share their vacation with the in-laws. We see at least four sets of these foursomes. Quite a large number considering the few people roaming about at this early hour. The teasing that takes place among these groups; the inside jokes they toss back and forth; the love beaming on their faces, make me miss family terribly. And makes me sad that I never got to meet Ken's mother and he never got to meet my father. We'll never have that foursome. As I watch these groups, I try to figure out which is the in-law. But no one seems the outsider. They are unified in their happiness. So loving. And always laughing. I offer to take a photo of one such group and the mother is overly pleased. "Thanks!" She says excitedly as though I just offered to buy her lunch. "One of us is always left out." Then her son, (or son-in-law) offers to reciprocate, "You must have the same problem . . . just one of you in the picture." So we agree and hand the camera to him before I realize, "Oh no! Now there's a permanent record of this stupid hat I'm wearing." This extra-large straw hat I now wear everywhere, after that bout with skin cancer a few years ago. But today the hat is especially ridiculous because to prevent it from blowing into Grand Canyon I tied a black scarf over the entire hat, kinda like those mysterious Victorian women in Sherlock Holmes films. As we walk away I analyze the hat situation, versus fashion sense. "Ya know, it wouldn't look so bad if I had a sheer beige scarf tied over it, rather than this black cotton thing," I mentally assess. Later we go into the Park's bookstore, and, no kidding, there is a customer in the store with a straw hat on like mine, covered with just the scarf I was thinking about. No lie. A nice sheer scarf tied over a big straw hat. But it, too, looks weird. Not as weird as mine, but weird nonetheless. When will parasols come back in fashion? Everyone talks about the dangers of the sun, but fashion designers just haven't stepped up to the plate to work protection into a fashion statement. Our last stop before leaving, we tour one of the historic hotels. The lobby is bustling with people coming and going. As we approach the exit I see a husband and wife, each about six feet tall, weighing about 300 pounds. The husband directs his wife's attention to a scale that says "For Mule Rides Only." He hollers across to the man behind the desk, "What's the maximum weight for a mule ride?" Everybody in the lobby stops talking, turns and looks at this large man standing before the scale. The desk clerk replies "200 pounds." The fat man jokes, "Can I rent two?" He's clearly making fun of himself, and trying to make a joke of the situation, but the desk clerk doesn't participate in the kidding. Without so much as a smile, he responds with a flat "No." The lobby is quiet. The dead end of a serious, "No" makes the joke hang uncomfortably in the room like a big stink bomb. Embarrassment races across the big man's face as his smile sags. He goes out the door just as Ken and I are also leaving. Once outside, his wife smacks him in the arm, "You couldn't wait till I was out the door before you did that!" But a minute later she bursts out laughing. Then he laughs with her. The two of them laugh all the way to their car in the parking lot. That's the Grand Canyon. Everyone makes fun. Everyone smiles. Everyone jokes. Except, evidently, desk clerks.

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