Road Trip Retro, 2017: Now With Extra Family!

I know I make it seem like interrupting our Road Trips with airplane flights is an anomaly, but 2017 actually managed to involve a plane ride too. Just a short one, right at the start.

See, I’d pitched this new idea to my two older sisters: “Hey, as each of us turns 60, let’s have a Sisters Weekend Getaway, in a town that’s new to all of us!” Since that’s something we’ve never done in our lives–all 60 years of them, for some of us–they thought that was a pretty good idea. That early spring, the eldest of us was up, and she picked…

San Diego. So Road Trip VII began with me flying there to meet my Seesters. We rented a house, went for lots of walks, and ate a LOT. We weren’t full-on tourists, but we spent one full day at the famous zoo…

Getting ready to ride the tram–whee!

and another out on Point Loma.

Ocean 1, Land 0.

The tide pools got an A+ in my book.

Anemones rock.

First Seesters Getaway under our belts, we went our separate ways–one to Michigan, one to Texas, and me back to LA where I met The Mate and Red Rover. We visited with all our LA dear ones, and then headed out across the desert, like most other years.

The weather did NOT encourage recreation. This is a dust storm swallowing the scenery on I-10 in Arizona.

In Albuquerque, our friend Beth helped us indulge our craving for green chile at a very cool restaurant, The Range.

SUCH cool decor! Food was great too.

Armed with leftovers, plus the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocado (from my cousins’ tree in LA), we beelined for our favorite part of North Texas, Palo Duro Canyon, where it was just barely warm enough to camp.

Yes, that’s the avocado. Can we see the canyon now?
Still…not…warm yet…

Next up, Dallas, where our friends treated us to a bike tour around the less-well-known parts of the city…

…including places once famous…
…and places that might be famous someday, like this free-range grafitti lot.

As often happens on our late-winter road trips, the route from TX to NC was a blur, which means the weather was probably lousy. We did manage one hike at the TN-NC border.

Oh yeah. This’ll do.

During these days, a new tradition was born: “Noodlebag.” How’s that work? 1. Cook noodles at friends’ house; add salt & olive oil. 2. Steal some of their leftovers. 3. Over the next three days, add whatever’s in your ice chest, and heat in the microwave of whatever cheap motel you’re staying in.

Deluxe Noodlebag!

In North Carolina at last, along with my Amazing Parents, Son Two met us for basketball, BBQ, and Being a Good Son.

Emphasis on the BBQ.

Basketball. Family. Critters. Family. Basketball. Mama Dip’s Fried Chicken. Basketball. Wild trout lilies. If you’ve been following this blog for even a couple of posts, you probably know the drill by now.

Except for this part. Not planned.

Snow in NC, in March? OK. So of course when we left, we drove North.

If happens sometimes. This was one of those times. We had a brand-new little baby cousin to visit!

Not pictured: baby cousin. Pictured: the very deep snow that greeted us. In Vermont. In March. Duh.

But hey–at least New Englanders know how to deal with snow!

Snowshoeing on a perfect day up Mt. Bromley

Also, I grooved on being able to help our cousins bottle-feed some of their new lambs, overseen by Ben the Shepherd Donkey.

Not QUITE as cute as my parents’ donkey Stevie, but pretty close.

Heading home through upper-middle of the continent, we had a couple of notable recreation stops. First, a bike trail that was once the tow path for the Illinois River barges, just like the song I learned from my friend Lance: “Every day I work on the Illinois River/Get a half a day off with pay/On the tow path hauling barges/On a long hot summer day...”

Not pictured: a long, hot summer day

Second, we diverged into Colorado at the end of the Plains to meet our Intrepid Adventure Buddies (say it with me) Tom & Kate in Estes Park…

Aspens & Ponderosas! Ah, the Mountain West.

…on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. I got sick while in Colorado, and spent most of my time walking slowly and enjoying the scenery from the back of the car. Still worth it.

Zoomed-in view of Long’s Peak, before the clouds came in
Feeling much better now, thanks.

Finally, back in Montana, we stopped at this special spot where the mighty Missouri River is born from the confluence of three smaller rivers. Lewis & Clark camped here.

No camping for us, but I did go for a run up the bluff.

Onward! Homeward! Apparently quite a bit of snow had fallen while we were dallying in the Rockies, but we’d given Idaho time to clear its highways.

And rest areas.

So, a road trip with extra sisters, a son & a new, wee cousin? All gravy. Yes please!

Tune in next time for RT2018. Gonna ride this retrospective right up till the last one. Maybe then I won’t notice the lack of RT2021.

Road Trip V, Days 9-11, Albuquerque-Memphis: New Mexico Has a State Question; What’s Yours?

Red or green?” That’s it. That’s the New Mexico State Question. Simple as it is, it tells volumes about the culture of this mini-nation-within-a-nation. It’s different.

Forget the Republic of Texas, which prides itself on being the only state with the right to fly its flag at the same height as the US flag. Forget “Don’t Tread On Me” California. Both those states are as quintessentially American as you can get. Even if you’ve never been to either, you know them–from movies, TV, ads. They’re what foreigners think of when they think of us.

New Mexico? Here, an American from any other state feels like the foreigner, but in a good way. New Mexico is different. Although The Mate and I only spent two nights here on this trip, our family lived in Santa Fe for five months in 2004, and all those memories of first impressions now jump to the fore.

Think you know multicultural society? How about a state where the dominant culture is not only “minority” (Hispanic), but also older than the rest of the US? (Santa Fe is, arguably, the longest continually-inhabited town in the US, competing only with St. Augustine, Florida for this honor.) I remember seeing campaign signs for some local election in 2004; every single name was Spanish. That’s who runs the place, and they are NOT immigrants.

Think you understand the relationship of Indian reservations with surrounding towns and states? New Mexico’s pueblos are more numerous, vibrant, and front-and-center than anything I’ve seen from Arizona to South Dakota to Washington. This is NOT to say they don’t struggle with dire poverty and all its issues; they certainly do. But in New Mexico the pueblos are right there, not tucked away. It’s no accident that the annual Gathering of Nations, the largest powwow in the US, is held in Albuquerque.

Fancy-dancing at UNM's Pit (courtesy Nic McPhee, Flikr Creative Commons)

Fancy-dancing at UNM’s Pit (courtesy Nic McPhee, Flikr Creative Commons)

Architecture is New Mexico’s most striking feature. Between Pueblo Style, with its adobe (or, today, stucco) in the brown spectrum from beige to rust, its gorgeous curved lines, its ladders and vegas and juniper-post fences, its ristras of red chiles hanging at every porch, and Territorial Style, with its Spanish colonial Zorro-esque balconies, New Mexican towns can feel like movie sets. (In Santa Fe, where this look is coded into city rules, even Burger Kings are humbly brown and curvy.)

The Loretta Hotel in Santa Fe (courtesy Wikimedia)

The Loretta Hotel in Santa Fe (courtesy Wikimedia)

Now that I think about it, the curve is a fitting symbol for New Mexico. The adobe walls, the higgledy-piggledy streets, the mountains and dormant volcanoes; the white sand dunes and cottonwoods and piñons and chiles. Ah, the chiles…

Ristras for sake (courtesy wikimedia)

Ristras for sake (courtesy wikimedia)

which brings me me back to the State Question: Red or Green? It refers to your choice of chile sauce on your dinner. Can’t decide? There’s a third choice: “Christmas,” which means–duh–both!

Mmmmm...Christmas! (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Mmmmm…Christmas! (Courtesy Wikimedia)

If my current home state had a State Question, I think it might be, “Salmon or apples?” or perhaps, “REI or Cabela’s?” (Washinfton’s pretty polarized, east-west, but we’re all outdoorsy!) My native state, North Carolina, would probably ask, “Biscuits or cornbread?” Most states in the Lower 48 aren’t distinctive enough, in my opinion, to have a State Question. But if they did–what would they be? Use your imaginations, and let us hear! I’ll feature the most creative in my next post.

Road Trip V, Days 6-8, Bishop to Albuquerque: A Desert Buffet

Foodies, sorry–that’s “desert” with one “s.” You’ll have to try someone else’s blog for the caloric kind. I’m writing about dirt today.

We just spent a day and a night in Death Valley, where the dirt looks like this:

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

and this:

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

We were hoping for wildflowers, but a heat wave a couple of weeks ago seems to have sped them through their cycle too fast. We enjoyed a few glimpses of yellow and purple, but most of the color came from…dirt.

The cool thing about America’s deserts, though, is that they come in infinite variety. You may be familiar with the red-rock areas like Arches and Grand Canyon; we are, which is one reason we didn’t route ourselves that way this year.

Sorry, Zion, not this year!

Sorry, Zion, not this year!


Instead we found ourselves discovering little patches of Amazing, like the tiny tip of Nevada where we saw Joshua Trees and wild burros,

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

or the western edge of New Mexico, where the earth seems to have neglected to clean up the results of a brief spell of vomit:

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

Of course, this being the weirdest US weather year in recent history, everything we saw while pulling into Albuquerque was covered in snow, and I was too chilled to stop and take pictures. But I think I’ve made my point for now, which is that we Americans are SO lucky!! We don’t have our just deserts–we have a whole glorious smorgasbord of sand and dirt and rock to choose from.

So the next time you feel deserted? Think about it–is that really such a bad thing to be?